Don’t label me, please


Since assuming a vegan lifestyle and an ethical stance against animal cruelty, I’ve heard a couple of stories from friends about the strict labelling that comes with being vegan. By that I mean the term “vegan” seems to attract some sort of expectation of behaviour that is not applied to any non-vegans. I heard the second story tonight and it seemed directed at me, and it made me angry…thus this slight rant.

In the two stories I’ve heard, one couple were self-enforcing the vegan label so vigorously that they would call out anyone who didn’t strictly adhere to veganism and would feel it a personal failure to step outside that realm themselves. In the story I heard tonight, it came from the other side of the coin; a non-vegan who was ready to challenge my use of the “vegan” term as I have indicated that I intend on living a 90-95% vegan lifestyle because I don’t want to become one of those people who make life difficult for others because of the lifestyle I am adhering to. Also because I want to be realistic.

I probably didn’t make that clear to the second friend when I started a vegan lifestyle because — I imagine like most born-again-vegans — we make a sudden thrust into the vegan world for either moral/ethical, health, environmental or animal rights reasons (or some or all of the above) and so we immediately gravitate strongly to the “vegan” label. To be fair, it’s initially empowering to call ourselves that, to clearly differentiate ourselves from the animal-murdering masses.

For the record, these are the terms of my vegan lifestyle:

  • On a daily basis, I will refuse to consume dairy, meat, fish, or things containing these items.
  • If at a friend’s home, I will shift to vegetarian eating if that is all that is available and let them know I eat vegan for future reference.
  • I eat eggs that I know are from cruelty-free sources, like friends’ chooks or a certified humane farm. I am very strict about the living conditions for the chickens.
  • I will refuse where practical and possible to buy items using animal hides, like leather. I will never buy fur (besides, it’s just so last season! 😛 ). I might buy a second-hand leather item as the deed has been done and I don’t believe the wearing/using these items incriminates me because it looks like I’m supporting this industry
  • I actively support animal rights through charitable donation, researching and sharing information, plus joining activist rallies like Ban Live Export.
  • I am adamant about protecting the environment by fighting for a reduction of factory farming and changing agriculture practices.
  • However, I respect the traditional hunting practices of people who live far in the bush or like the Inuit people who take only what they need to personally survive and who ritualistically cleanse the animal when they kill it, respecting the life they are taking.
  • I actively take care in knowing which companies do animal testing on their products and then boycott that product if they are animal abusers.
  • I plan to work more directly with protecting animals in the near future

With all these things, I aim for a 90-95% success rate as I believe that we have to be realistic: while I want animal suffering to cease, I recognise that a vast reduction would be considered a “win”. We cannot change this world 100%…it is impossible. And perhaps we don’t need to either.

For all intents and purposes, I am quite comfortable working within these boundaries and still consider myself following a vegan lifestyle. What’s more (and perhaps more importantly), I don’t care if I’m not living up to someone else’s labelling (and therefore their judgement). Another person I know heard that I was eating eggs (even with my strict policy for choosing them) and announced “so I guess you’re just a vegetarian then” as if I didn’t meet the vegan standards and was therefore stripped of my title.

I must admit it makes me laugh when I hear someone judging me for attempting to live a very challenging lifestyle, one that has health and ethics at its core, but where I am perhaps not living up to the dictionary definition of it. And by “makes me laugh” I mean I want to beat them with a hypocrisy stick. There is not one single way a meat-eater can make a judgement on the effectiveness or competency of someone who is working hard at their vegan lifestyle without sounding like a complete tool. That’s why I really dislike the label; it’s too easy for people to want to score you on how you’re doing with it.

I know this is sounding a bit like a rant but my wish is simply this: if you know someone trying to follow a vegan lifestyle, please support what they are doing even if it isn’t what you personally want to do in your own life. No one is judging your meat-eating ways even though the destructive nature of meat and dairy consumption gives vegans a lot of ammunition to fire at you.

If you are a vegan, my hope would be that you can see that we live in an imperfect world and we need to do our best but not beat ourselves up (or others) who aren’t perfect vegans all of the time. Plus, we need to gently inform meat-eaters of why it might not be a bad idea to cut back on their consumption, for the better of the planet and the rest of us who must deal with the fact that agriculture is destroying it. In other words, no one should judge anyone else, but we should all be prepared to listen and adapt for the better of our lifestyles, needs and the world around us.

Let’s not be so fussy with our labelling of each other!


P.S. There is a lot of self-righteousness that comes with our choices, particularly food ones. My wish would be that everyone be open to arguments on both sides of the meat/vegan debate, concede when someone has a valid point on either side, and stop letting personal pride dictate how “right” you think you are about following what you believe. Let’s all just try to make informed decisions and then we might see that personal labels are pointless anyway.

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