Give “Fake” Vegans A Break

Vegans: they’re everywhere now; but eating no meat, eggs or dairy takes organisation and discipline. Can you occasionally lapse and still call yourself a vegan? Shouldn’t we all just be more relaxed about an individual’s food choices? I’ve been judged by many angry vegans as being a fake.

A Vegan who Sometimes Eats Meat – Hear Me Out!

I’ve been ‘vegan’ for more than two years now, but I am the first to admit that I’m not perfect. I try to eat a vegan diet at home, and buy only vegan products from the supermarket, but there are a couple of times over the last year that I’ve eaten a small amount of meat or dairy.

Many would say that doesn’t qualify me to call myself a vegan at all – but let me explain. I choose to eat a vegan diet for health reasons; I eat plant-based foods because they make me feel healthier, more vital and lighter on my feet.

I’ve eaten restaurant salads that unexpectedly came with mayonnaise, I’ve eaten ‘just the sauce’ from a friend’s curry because I didn’t want to be left with only cucumber salad and I’ve blatantly eaten tofu Tom Yum soup, not bothering to ask if the stock used was fish-based.

Recently my boyfriend took me to his 85 year old great aunt’s house, forgetting to tell her about my food preferences. I ate the two wobbly, boiled chicken drumsticks that were put in front of me, then I struggled through eggy custard for dessert and remarked that “Yes indeed I would like the recipe” when she asked me after the meal. I put politeness above my ethics on that one occasion – but many ‘true’ vegans may not have made the same choice.

People, hear me out…please.

More and More People are Turning to a Vegan Lifestyle

Bill Clinton, once known for his love of hamburgers, recently turned to a mostly vegan diet after surgery in 2010. Anne Hathaway recently caused a stir when she wore Tom Ford vegan boots to the Les Miserables premiere, reflecting her desire to be animal-product free. Joaquin Phoenix has been a determined vegan for decades and Justin Beiber got veganism some bad press when friends accused him of becoming a ‘jerk’ once he’d ditched the meat, eggs and dairy.

Eating More Vegetables and Wholefoods is Good for Us

Eating a vegan diet is good for your health. By including more plants in your diet, the idea is that you’ll get rid of some of the fatty meat and dairy products and their associated health risks. Some people choose to go vegan strictly for health reasons.

According to Veeg.com “Some studies show that a carefully planned vegan diet can have enormous positive impact on heart disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity, allergies, and a host of other health problems.” However, it’s no magic bullet. A vegan diet has to be well planned, low on ‘junk food’ and preservatives and balanced to be healthy, just like any other diet.

But Let’s Face it – it’s Hard

I found that the more I learned about veganism, the muddier the waters became for me. My questions started when I was dating a guy who could not eat pork or pork products for religious reasons. He carried around a little card which listed the “E numbers” of additives which could contain pork products. These days you can buy smart phone aps for this. (Editor’s note: here are some vegan apps.)

He’d examine every packet, every can and every dried herb I’d used to make a pasta dish, often refusing to eat what I’d prepared because it contained an additive that may or may not have been derived from pork. I found this extreme, but it was important for me to accept his food choices.

A particular company’s products may be technically vegan, but foods from that manufacturer might still be avoided by vegans if they believe that the company is unethical, and supports practises that are not animal-friendly. So where do you draw the line?

Vegans with a Bad Reputation

There is a perception in the meat eating population that vegans can be quite judgemental – the “angry vegan” stereotype. Whereas many vegans can be self-righteous, many are just as relaxed as anyone else. Choosing not to eat animal products stirs up more debate and emotions than a person who might elect to follow another type of restricted diet, such as gluten free or organic.

A Ex-vegan Blogger Receives Angry Threats

There was a case of a vegan blogger, Natasha (who wrote under the name Voracious) who received angry threats after she turned back to eating animals, citing health reasons. Natasha recounts exchanges with several other well-known vegan bloggers who admitted they “weren’t really vegan behind the scenes. They ate eggs, or the occasional fish, or piece of meat, all to keep themselves healthy, but were too scared to admit to it on their blogs.” [Editor's note: there's no proof to back up Natasha's claim.]

Is it alright to describe yourself as vegan if you slip up? Is it OK to call yourself a vegan if you eat a 95% vegan diet? Is it legitimate to call yourself vegan if your version of vegan differs from someone else’s? Or can we encourage more people to take veganism by supporting and accepting the “flexi-tarian” way of eating?

People Too Quick to Give up the Vegan/Veggie Lifestyle

In my experience, some people feel that if they have one slip up, they feel that they’ve “failed” and they decide to give the vegan diet up altogether. Could these people should be encouraged and supported to continue with their lifestyle, despite sometimes inevitable setbacks?

If everybody in the world made their diet even 50% vegan, wouldn’t that be better than the current climate that sees vegans and meat eaters pitched against each other in some sort of “holy war”? Take this comment, for example, from a Tumblr blogger, “If you are not vegan, I just don’t like you very much. If you talk about your love of bacon, I have probably visualized punching you in the face.” Sheesh.

Here’s What I Propose

Most vegans would love it if more people chose this way of eating, but to get the maximum number of people on board (which would maximise benefit to the planet) a bit of sympathy is called for. I’ve found that the more I transitioned away from dairy, eggs and other animal products the better I felt. I also found that the more relaxed I was with myself, the more I stuck with it in the long term. If I can eliminate most of the animal products from my life (and really, it’s nearly impossible to eliminate them all, depending on your point of view) I know that I’m doing better than if I’m not trying at all.

Part time Vegans

  • Go easy on those starting out
  • Don’t treat being vegan like a fanatical religion
  • Accept that one person’s idea of vegan may differ from another’s
  • There are no perfect vegans
  • Encourage those around you and don’t criticise them, people who choose a non-animal diet get criticised enough

Tolerance is the key. There’s no harm in people dipping in and out of a vegan diet. Even Oprah gave part-time veganism a go. Support those around you who are trying to make the change and make veganism a world-wide diet choice that everyone feels is attainable (even part time) – no angriness needed!

About the author: Yvette Maurice is freelance journalist, former radio producer and professional copywriter.

Would you like to contribute a guest article? See our submission guidelines here: http://www.vegansoapbox.com/about#submission

25 Responses to Give “Fake” Vegans A Break

  1. This is a good article because it raises questions many have and might be afraid to ask. I have three observations:

    1. “vegan” is defined as a way of life, a life spent avoiding the consumption or other exploitation of animals. All vegans are “on a path” to this goal because it is impossible to avoid the use or abuse of some animal products in our lives, even if those animals are insects. Often we are unaware of them. So in this sense I agree with the proposition that a slip now and then or a less rigid approach to eating animal products (like occasionally eating something at a restaurant that may not be vegan but could be) is a better way to approach life. In the end, the difference to the animals is minute if you are conscientious most of the time.

    2. A person who eats as you do, for health reasons, might be better off saying she eats a “plant-based diet”. This term fits to a T how you eat, and you aren’t going to get any arguments about it. Or shouldn’t.

    3. A person who is vegan primarily for the animals finds it easier to stay vegan. Somehow the temptations go away when we think about the animals that were harmed to create certain products. In my experience and in some studies I have read those who are vegan for ethical reasons find it easier and tend to stay vegan longer than those doing it for health or environmental reasons. Perhaps, in your case (as in mine), your concerns about your health will expand to include concerns about animals and you will then find it easier to stay vegan and to call yourself vegan.

    I do find the concept of “part-time vegan” a little off-putting. Personal, of course. Others may love it. On the other hand, if using the term encourages people to drop the meat for longer periods of time, I’m all for it. Anything to get us away from the animal products. Just one meatless day a week can have dramatic effects. Better for us, for the animals, for the planet.

  2. Animals dont wait to die for the sake of taste anymore than you do. They are in fear for their lives and their babies lives as we are.I no longer will read your posts. You are not vegan. You are a wanna be.

  3. I understand where you are coming from! I even wrote a blog post about it (shameless plugin here: http://vegetariansupplementsguide.com/blog/ex-vegans-were-never-vegan-to-begin-with).

    The vegan community has (deservingly) gotten a bad reputation for their superiority complexes. It is impossible to be 100% vegan. So, should we ostracize the vegan who occasionally eats meat, or should we start promoting an ultra-strict form of veganism which aims to be 100% cruelty free but no one would/could actually follow???

    We each have to draw our own moral lines. For some, that means not eating animal products ever. For others, it means eating only dumpster-dived meat (the infamous freegan). It seems like you’ve figured out your own lines, so you shouldn’t let others make you feel guilty about it.

    The most important thing is that people are INFORMED enough to make these choices. Vegan activists could achieve a lot more if they focused on informing people instead of criticizing them!

    ***I know I am generalizing. Not all vegans have a superiority complex and judge everyone :p

  4. Being vegan is not hard. What is hard is living your entire life in filthy, smelly conditions where everything that makes your life worth living is taken from you. Being vegan isn’t hard. What is hard is having your baby stolen from you – or being torn from your mother. Being vegan isn’t hard. What is hard is facing your violent death and having no way out.

  5. I am afraid I would need to mostly disagree here. I I have not eaten any meat products in over a decade. At one point I did slip into vegetarianism and used dairy again for a couple years. When I went back to being vegan I felt better. I do agree in not being superior or rude to others. But I feel if you are friends with someone and you eat at their home they will respect your beliefs and provide you a vegan option. That is just being polite. And as someone mentioned above being vegan is more of a lifestyle than a diet. If you partake of meat or dairy on occasion even you are not a vegan. At least at that moment. And ever time you partake you are continuing to support the abuse of animals. I recently bought my daughter a coat and she loved it. Then I read the tag and it was 17% wool. I took it back and got another one. She loved that one too especially after I told her it was vegan. Some would call that extreme. I call it making a point to the industry. I have noticed as I and millions of others have turned vegan the industry is responding with more options. Hopefully one day we will have flipped things to where most are vegan. I would even love it if food animals did not even exist. I also recently embarked on a more whole food vegan diet. I have been more of a junk food vegan. I have lost 6 lbs in a week and I feel great. Vegetables have the energy from the sun so enjoy.

  6. My personal opinion is that someone who eats animals should not call themselves vegetarian or vegan. I think people who use the term vegan should at least not eat animals. I can understand some flexibility on honey or trace ingredients (bone char in sugar for example) but animal flesh is a bare minimum.

    There are more accurate descriptions of the eating habits of people who eat a mostly vegan diet: flexitarian or part-time vegan or veganish or VIP (vegan in progress).

    Although I generally don’t admonish people who call themselves vegan when clearly they are not, when they invite discussion on the issue (as has been done here) I am willing to throw my two cents in. I think saying we should “put politeness above my ethics” is just saying ethics don’t matter.

    I’m curious as to why someone would want to identify as vegan if they eat dead animal flesh sometimes? I simply don’t understand that. Why not just not identify as vegan? Why not just say you eat a plant-based diet? Anyone have any input on that?

    Again, we welcome guest submissions here at Vegan Soapbox. If you follow the guidelines here http://www.vegansoapbox.com/about#submission then there’s a very good chance your article will be published. I’d personally love to publish a response to the above piece. Anyone up for it?

  7. Thanks very much for all the great comments. I guess where I was coming from was that most vegans would love it if more people would take up the vegan lifestyle. I think a lot of potential vegan folk have been scared off from living a lifestyle which they feel they could not restrict themselves. I became ‘vegan’ for health reasons and not ethical reasons, but it’s true – the more you read and learn about veganism and the cruelty that animals are subjected to – the less you want to eat meat. What I was trying to say is “encourage imperfect vegans” rather than admonishing them. If we all help people with a smile, then more people might think before they eat. After all, non-cruelty extends to humans too! Let’s face it – none of us are perfect vegans! But the more people are encouraged, the better! If we have a realistic approach to how the masses view veganism, ‘good vegans’ could encourage more people to have an ethical diet by displaying an encouraging, understanding attitude rather than an unnecessary judgemental one. I’d rather be an imperfect vegan than a meat eater any day :)

  8. So…then why are you a meat eater?

    I think it’s great that vegan is something people want to be, and happily encourage any steps in that direction, but I’m not willing to define away veganism in the process. Being “flexible” about it doesn’t show people that we’re relaxed and tolerant, it says we’re hypocrites and this lifestyle is impossible. And it absolutely is not. There’s a learning curve, sure, because it’s different from what (most of us) are used to, but after that it’s easy. Just do it! You’ll love it.

  9. Let me first say that I’m fine with whatever dietary choices other people make. I can educate, I can encourage, but at the end of the day it’s your life and your choice. That said, if you eat animal flesh, even if you only eat it occasionally, you are not a vegan. You’re not even a vegetarian. It’s not a matter of morality or judgment; it’s a simple matter of definition. Vegans and vegetarians do not eat animal flesh. Period. It’s sort of like saying you’re a non-smoker because you only have a cigarette every now and then. Nope, sorry, you’re still a smoker.

  10. I agree: we shouldn’t admonish non- or “imperfect”-vegans. After all, by strict definition, all vegans fall into the “imperfect” category. But that’s just a straw man. By analogy, let’s strictly define anti-racist as abstaining from all racist practices. (I understand that that isn’t the definition; but “veganism” is not just about abstaining from non-vegan practices — it’s about Ethics.) So where do we draw the line re: anti-racism? After all, our culture, and political and economic practices are structured by white privilege. So in a sense, all white anti-racists are “imperfect.” But should we then, condone blatantly, but infrequent racist practices? Of course not! We recognize that “perfection” isn’t possible, but we know racism when we see it, and so we have pretty solid standards for anti-racist practices. Likewise with veganism. We recognize that “perfection” isn’t possible, but we know non-vegan practices when we see it — eating meat, most clearly. The whole “line drawing” argument, in other words, would render all of Ethics rather baseless, and hypocritical. So we should give “fake” vegans a break, but only in the sense that we give “fake” anti-racists a break. We acknowledge that “perfection” isn’t ever possible in a racist, speciesist world. But we abide by the clear standards — without equivocation or bad rationalization — and strive to push that standard further and further.

  11. Good article indeed. After nearly five years of being vegan I can only conclude that there’s a sizeable portion of vegans (online at least) who seem to prefer a pure and exclusive vegan club, rather than an impure and inclusive vegan world. If we really want the percentage of vegans to be closer to 10% than 1%, then I think we need to be more welcoming of those who are aspiring to become more vegan. And since technically no one can be 100% vegan anyway, maybe we should ditch the rigid and unhelpful “you’re either vegan, or you’re not” stance, and refer to ourselves as 99.9% vegan, 98% vegan, 95% vegan, 75% vegan or wherever we feel we fall on the spectrum. That way, more folk can feel they belong to the vegan movement (isn’t that one of our goals?) without being criticized for not being pure enough.

    As for your question of whether it wouldn’t be better if everyone made their diet even 50% vegan – why yes, animals would certainly benefit (and isn’t that the primary goal?), but I daresay a number of vegans are more focused on keeping the label pure.

  12. Animals dont wait to die for the sake of taste anymore than you do. They are in fear for their lives and their babies lives as we are.I no longer will read your posts. You are not vegan. You are a wanna be.

    What mamabird said.

    Being vegan is not hard. What is hard is living your entire life in filthy, smelly conditions where everything that makes your life worth living is taken from you. Being vegan isn’t hard. What is hard is having your baby stolen from you – or being torn from your mother. Being vegan isn’t hard. What is hard is facing your violent death and having no way out.

    What beth said.

    if you think you can eat dead animals occasionally and still consider callingyourself to be vegan, then you became vegan for all the wrong reasons. yes ethics matter. maybe you should make better choices. fact is the animals have no choice and suffer horrible and cruel fates on factory farms, on feedlots and are brutally and unforgivingly slaughtered in a barbaric fashion in slaughterhouses.

  13. The problem is, telling others you are “vegan” when you actually are not undermines the entire lifestyle choice of being vegan. It allows people hostile to veganism to say, “See, even ‘vegans’ aren’t actually vegan. What a bunch of hypocritical loonies!”

    Actually, the non-vegan who “just eats the occasional burger” is NOT vegan, but try explaining that to a hostile meat-eater. All they think is “hypocrite” and they move on with their smug “bacon is delicious” bullcrap.

    What is the actual point of claiming to be vegan? For most vegans, it’s a convenient term encompassing a number of lifestyle choices, and maybe to lead by example. It’s a tangible demonstration to non-vegans that their unexamined lifestyle choices are not only unnecessary, but cruel. And yes, they are unexamined: almost 100% of persons shown factory farm slaughter would not be able to eat a hunk of flesh thereafter.

    For the non-vegans who claim to be vegan? Imposters who want to sound cool and feel a sense of accomplishment for something they haven’t actually done: remove animal products from their diet and life. Until you’ve done so, please stop misrepresenting ACTUAL vegans. Your misguided efforts do more harm than good, and make you look like a twat to all involved: meat-eaters because you’re a hypocrite, vegans because you’re a poseur.

  14. I think the point is that there are people out there who maybe are interested in becoming vegan but may be intimidated by people who already follow a very committed vegan lifestyle.

    While I was able go go vegan literally overnight without looking back, it wasn’t hard for me because I was mentally already there. Someone else may want to make the same choice but find it harder to commit. They need encouragement to take the baby steps they need to see if the lifestyle is for them.

    By embracing anyone considering the change to commit to a vegan lifestyle, we make it easier for them to become “real” vegans in the end. That’s good for everyone.

  15. Ya know….here’s the thing…I’m not vegan, but I watched an excellent documentary about the health and ethical benefits of making “vegan” choices, and it interested me enough to make instant drastic choices about my diet, and made me want to learn more…which is ultimately what landed me here on this blog.

    I enjoyed this article, but then I read the comments from other posters, and I am deeply saddened and in fact angry that the focus for some is whether or not someone can call themselves “vegan”, and not on how to save more animals and forward the vegan cause.

    It’s quite ridiculous, and makes me angry that the so called “real vegans” care so much more about who gets to join their little club than they do about decreasing the consumption of meat and dairy. They claim to want to save lives of animals, but they won’t do so by pushing people away, criticizing, judging and turning their nose up at people who actually want to make a difference, and are real enough to be honest and accepting of those “mostly vegan” or making intentional vegan choices in their daily lives. Shouldn’t you be celebrating those who are eliminating, or even greatly reducing animal products as an attempt to make an impact? Just saying…

    For potential “vegans” like myself who are on the Internet trying to find “vegan” recipes and find out why changing my diet has made me moody and tired, coming across a thread of comments like this has made me not want to be associated with the label ” vegan”. It’s very discouraging, because after watching the documentary I was left with the impression that the vegan movement consisted of normal people making plant based choices to better our environment and health, and the quality of life for animals…but now it appears to be just a competition of who can be “more” vegan. It seems more like an excuse to be different from everybody else…like they want the club to be so exclusive that nobody can get in.

  16. I think the points raised by Proudly Non Vegan demonstrate nicely the real harm that some of us “real vegans” can do. So sad. But hopefully more of us can start undoing some of that damage.

  17. I really appreciate this article. I eat a mostly vegan diet, more than 95% for sure, but have never been sure if I should call myself vegan, typically I avoid categories/titles because I believe they create bias (and I believe it even more after reading some of these comments).
    In my own home and when I dine out I am always sure to avoid any animal products. But I have on occasion put politeness over my diet choice. My family is Southern, I was raised on a small family farm with cows, goats, chickens and fresh fruits and veggies. Growing up with animals, you really get to see that they do have personalities. Being Southern my family are all meat eaters and don’t always understand what a vegan diet really is, so when my dad makes lentils and rice for dinner and throws in a ham hock for seasoning, but then removes it proclaiming its “meat free” or when he serves salad, but only has caser dressing. I tend to give him credit for trying. Or when my Grandmother makes me a cup of tea or coffee with milk (she’s vegetarian, but she sometimes forgets the difference) I would rather drink the tea then make her feel bad for not getting it right. They are not trying to disrespect me in anyway, they are trying to accommodate me to the best of their knowledge. I know some might ask, why I don’t just educate them more on my diet, but at the end of the day I live 1600 miles away so when I see them once a year (if I’m lucky) I would rather it be all smiles and laughs than anything else.
    On another note… I am honestly surprised that so many people have commented so many negative things about “fakes”, “posers”, etc. when a “vegan” makes a slip or an accommodation. And also that meat eaters are calling vegans hypocrites. I’m sure the truth here is that vegans are calling other vegan hypocrites for making slips.
    Almost all of my friends and co-workers are meat eater and I almost never had anyone even question me about my eating habits. I’ve never said much at work about my diet choice and I have had co-workers run out for lunch and pick me up a veggie wrap or something and if it had mayo/cheese on it they would get it put on the side saying “I didn’t know if you were vegetarian or vegan”. But then again, I’m not the type of person that preaches a lifestyle or judges people on their life choices so I guess they treat me with the same respect. Maybe some of you need to try not preaching your beliefs like religious fanatics, trust me, if people what to know they will ask. When people do ask why I don’t eat meat, I simply tell them about my Dad’s cows, 1 that was shy and aloof and the other that would get so crazy excited to see my dad that my dad would have to pet his head to calm him down before he could walk through the gate. I’m pretty sure he thought he was a puppy.
    And to “Proudly NON vegan”- The few vegan / vegetarian friends I have are absolutely normal. I don’t typically read these articles, I found this site while looking for new recipes, but the title caught my eye. I found others comments to be embarrassing. I believe above all we need to show kindness, respect and appreciation toward humans, animals and the earth alike. Don’t let people who follow this lifestyle like a cult deter you from making changes that make a difference in the world and your health.

  18. Its quite simple. If you eat a vegan diet for health then you are a DIETARY Vegan. If you eat a Plant based Diet, then you eat a plant based diet, but if you are not a Vegan for abolition or Animal rights then you cannot call yourself a Vegan. Simples….

  19. I am glad to come across this article, and to see some of the supportive and interesting comments people have left, and good points raised.

    I was vegan for four years, and recently I went back to eating a 95% plant based diet (with exceptions being rare and usually unexpected components in restaurants or hosts’ dinners). My experience is that socially and on a personal level this makes life a whole lot easier while sacrificing none or very little of the real-world benefits from eating a plant-based diet for my health and the animals and planet.

    Dropping the label “vegan” from my self-identity has been a huge relief, because it means I no longer have to identify with others by means of a shared label (the same goes for any of the “isms” in religion, politics or philosophy), I don’t have to affirm membership of or association with a movement or ideology, and I don’t have to bring these connotations into situations of being in restaurants with friends or at dinner (I just say I eat a plant-based diet). I can just be a label-free me.

    When – and only when – people ask me about my eating habits, I may casually mention a few of my personal reasons based on experience, but I really don’t care about influencing other people unless I feel it would be in their interests to do so. A huge potential barrier to communication is gone.
    I enjoy eating this way and feel healthy, and I am aware that any reduction in animal product consumption is good for the animals and the planet. Even if 10 people cut down by just 10% that is the equivalent of one person going vegan.

    It should go without saying, but these comments are strictly experiential and are not to be taken as implying anything about vegans or the validity of veganism for others. I can’t judge what’s right for you, nor you for me.

  20. Personally, I think people who are vegan/vegetarians for animal welfare reasons, tend to stick to their dietary restrictions. But when it’s for health/environment/trend-setting, people cannot stick to their dietary restrictions. Also, actions speak louder than words. It’s easy to brag and call yourself this or that…it’s harder to live what you preach. People tell me I shouldn’t be declawing my cats, but I am the one with 5 cats, and the people criticizing me don’t have any pets. People tell me I need to wear leather and silk, but I don’t owe them any explanation. Also, I believe there are anti-abortion fanatics who have infiltrated the animal rights movement, and this explains why some supposed vegans eat meat (pretty bizarre) and why they wear leather and silk.

  21. I’m all about giving “flexitarians” as you said some leeway, but there is only one idea of veganism. They should understand that, especially if they are putting it out there for everyone to know and openly advocate for animal rights. I know I messed up unconsciously and consciously, but again I’m a beginner. Now, fully in it, I will never consciously eat animal products again. Plus, it just doesn’t taste as good as I thought it did.

    Anyway love your website!!!!! Sorry if I offended you.

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