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Am I vegan? Clearly defining who is and is NOT vegan

“I feel in my heart that animal exploitation is wrong and I love animals, but I don't check ingredients when I purchase food, clothing, cleaning products, toiletries, etc.” Am I vegan?
If you are still demanding animal exploitation with your product purchases or funding practices that use animals - this is not vegan. I say this with the hope that you will align your actions with the love or respect you feel for other animals.

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“I went vegan to cure my diabetes, reverse heart disease, to lose weight or control my eating disorder.” Am I vegan?
Living as a vegan is not the same as eating the diet vegans eat; an herbivorous diet, pure vegetarian diet, or a plant-powered diet, contrary to media inaccuracy. When we stop eating flesh that putrefies in our gut, milk meant for another species, and too much fat and cholesterol, we naturally start to feel better. However, veganism is not a diet, it's a way of life that encompasses more than food. It's a stance of non-participation in animal exploitation, as far as practically possible. Its essence is about basic respect for other animals. Understand that, and the path becomes easy; with no feeling of deprivation, whatsoever.

“I feed my dog vegan, I wear pleather - not leather, but on occasion, I “cheat” when out and have a little cheese.” Am I vegan?
It's not a diet that you can cheat on. Vegans make mistakes, and then move on, but don't knowingly "cheat". Would you participate in rape or murder of a human every once in awhile and call it “cheating”?

“I'm vegan and don't cause suffering, except I have 'free-range' eggs” from a neighbor.” Am I vegan?
Animals and their bodily secretions are not seen as food by vegans, as a matter of rights. Also, the egg, with the highest concentration of cholesterol, is not healthy for human consumption. Leave the eggs for other animals.

“Am I vegan if I drive a car (stearic acid is used in the vulcanization of tires and is often animal-derived), have a refrigerator, a computer, and other things we need on a practical level that do contain minute animal ingredients?”
Since its inception, the founders said that the practice of veganism takes it as far as "practically possible". We're living in a speciesist world and it is impossible to live completely free of products that contain animal ingredients. Vegans make an effort to avoid whatever products they possibly can that are animal-derived. However, most of us need to drive, we need refrigerators, and many of us use our computer to spread the vegan message. However, all food, supplements, vitamins, beverages we consume, toiletries, cosmetics, cleaning products, pillows, blankets, candles, clothing, shoes and accessories - can be plant-derived and not tested on animals. Just because none of us can live completely vegan, does not mean that we should not make the effort when we CAN literally protest animal exploitation by not funding it. Yes - to owning a car, but No - to leather shoes; hypocritical sounding? I don't feel I can actually survive without driving a car, however I can survive without having non-vegan wine in a restaurant. Do you see the distinction? I believe "doing the best we possibly can" really has to mean something. We are literally protesting animal use by not being a part of the demand for it; it's direct action. One little non-vegan ingredient in a product is 'big business', oftentimes.

“I am plant-powered, but I can't afford to buy organic.” Am I vegan?
Yes. However, some vegans try to grow some food for themselves using veganic agriculture; which uses no slaughterhouse byproducts or animal ingredients, as well as no chemicals that are reaping havoc on our planet.

“I eat honey, but beside that no animal products.” Am I a vegan?
The general consensus is that vegans don't consume honey. Honey is easily replaced, and is derived from needless exploitation and harm to bees. Many believe insects to be sentient. Here in New Zealand, if I wanted to help the threatened bees of our planet to thrive, rather than bee-keeping them, stealing THEIR honey and using them, I can plant Blue Borage flowers (Echium Vulgare). The bees get a buzz from this plant; and they hang around and pollinate all the fruit trees nearby.

“I don't buy fair-trade chocolate, and I sometimes buy products with palm oil, but otherwise I live vegan” Am I vegan?
You would generally be considered vegan, but some vegans maintain that you would not really be vegan. If you support the slavery of children near the Ivory Coast of Africa; where nearly half of all the cocoa beans come from, by purchasing non-fair trade chocolate, you are supporting human slavery. Humans are animals. Many vegans avoid products of slavery; whether human or nonhuman.

Palm oil plantations are stealing the habitat of orangutans. If we have this information and don't avoid unethically sourced palm oil (not a necessity and maybe not even healthy), our standard of veganism could be elevated. If we can avoid something that is harming animals easily enough, we should. We really do need to look into how the products we purchase are sourced. We have to read ingredients to be vegans. It's not too daunting. We're living in the age of information. Knowing if something is vegan is a click away from our fingertips. (When I became vegan 33 years ago, pre-internet, it was a bit daunting to find out if products were animal-derived.) The greatest power we have is to NOT purchase products derived from animal exploitation. However, it is impossible to be pure unless you grow all your own food, veganically. When we buy fruit at the local farmer's market; the farmer probably kills his possums (here in New Zealand). Mice can get killed from harvesting the organic grains our family consumes...it can get nearly impossible to totally avoid harming other animals. It's unintentional harm, though. Striving for 'vegan purity' is a worthwhile endeavor that some vegans are attempting, not because they want to be "more vegan than though" but because they care about changing the speciesist paradigm that is prevalent today. None of us is a perfect vegan, but trying to be - is a good thing.

“I'm vegan except I don't bother to check if my wine/alcohol is “fined” through animal ingredients.” Am I vegan?
It's fairly easy to source vegan wines/beers these days and there are online guides to help, so if you call yourself a vegan, but purchase products that use byproducts of animal exploitation that are easily avoidable, do you think that's vegan?

“I'm a vegetarian for 45 years.” Am I a vegan?
It's time to become one. I was a vegetarian before I became vegan, however since then I've learned that vegetarians still support horrific animal abuse. Veganism is the minimal stance for those who care about other animals. It's not the end goal, but the first step. I don't promote or support 'vegetarianism' as a step to veganism, because I don't promote animal exploitation. If someone wants to become a vegetarian as a step before becoming vegan, that is their choice, but I'm calling to people's conscience and soul - and asking them to become vegan, not vegetarian. Honestly, vegetarians that consume milk or eggs, or leather or wool, for example, literally fund extreme cruelty to animals. Being vegan is the least we can do to show basic respect to other animals. I wish someone spoke the candid Truth to me back then when I was a vegetarian 4 decades ago.

“I have a bird in a cage, but otherwise don't purchase anything that is not vegan” Am I vegan?
It would depend on if you went out and bought that bird from a pet store for your pleasure and/or if you would do it again, or you rescued the bird. Do unto other animals as you would have them do to you. If that bird CAN live in the natural environment and fly – set him/her free. Purchasing animals from pet stores supports their commodification and exploitation and is demanding them to be caught in the wild, have their wings clipped, or to be purposefully bred to live a life unjustly imprisoned in a cage. You may want to set-up a way where the bird, if he/she chooses, can fly back to your home for food, protection, and friendship - but can also fly freely in the sky.

“I eat totally vegan to help save the planet.” Am I vegan?
Opposing animal agriculture in order to save the planet is commendable. However, veganism is not just about diet, it's about basic respect for animals and extends beyond dietary habits.

“I am vegan so I can have sex with my vegan girlfriend.” Am I vegan?
Maybe, but I doubt you will stay vegan-for-life unless you “get-it” for the right reason. So use your love relationship with a vegan to help you understand the moral imperative of vegan living, so you will stay vegan whether you are with this woman or not, in the future. We can enter into vegan living through many different doors.

“I eat processed and junk food, basically, but I don't purchase any animal products.” Am I vegan?
Veganism is not a health plan, though vegans usually find themselves in good health. One can be a vegan and eat unbalanced. One can also be vegan, and then on top of that, be a health conscientious individual. There are unhealthy vegans and super-healthy vegans. Generally, vegans are healthier than the general public. Many learn more about health and nutritional requirements from becoming vegan.

“I don't consume any animal products personally, but I don't clean my dishes at night, which knowingly draws mice for the resident snake or cat to eat – it's a part of the natural order of things.” Am I vegan?
You would be considered vegan, however, some vegans will clean their kitchen at night in places where it would attract mice; cornering them where carnivores can easily get them. Hopefully, vegans live in such a way as to avoid harming animals in the environment and also helping them. In this case, you would be helping the snake or the cat, but certainly not the mouse, and I think it is best if vegans avoid, as far as possible, any involvement in the food chain mentality. If it were a person being stalked by a snake, would you try to help? But not if it's a small mouse? As Dr. Seuss so eloquently stated “a person's a person, no matter how small”. Animals are persons, not 'places' or 'things'.

“I'm 90% vegan...I'm almost there.” Am I vegan?
To say you're 90% raw foodist is fine, but to say you're 90% vegan is not seeing the vegan ideal - correctly. In essence, it is saying that only 10% of me supports violent assault of other animals.

“I'm vegan because I stand for non-violence.” Am I vegan?
Being vegan and being opposed to violence are totally aligned values. That is why animal rights activists that promote violence towards humans are really not in accordance with veganism. Veganism is a social justice and political statement of non-approval of the violence inflicted on other animals; and humans are animals. However, there are "militant vegans" who don't necessarily believe in non-violence, and yet they live without participating in nonhuman animal exploitation. Yes, they're vegans. The general consensus, however, is that vegans don't want to be violent; that's the very thing they oppose.

“I'm into vegan health and fitness, bodybuilding, running, etc.” Am I vegan?
It's intelligent to take your own health into your own hands. Being healthy and fit is good for you, and is good activism. But if you participate in animal exploitation in other ways beside diet, you would be an herbivore, pure vegetarian, plant-powered eater, or a raw-foodist if you eat raw foods. (There are raw-foodists who consume raw animal flesh, by the way. There are raw foodists who wear leather, use products derived from animals, and are therefore - not vegan.)

“I don't actively protest animal experimentation or attend demos and protests.” Am I vegan?
Just being vegan you actively protest animal exploitation by not being a part of the “demand” for it. However, being vegan is a moral baseline, just the first step. Getting involved with vegan education, protests, public speaking, vegan educational events - are encouraged and important for those who see veganism as a social justice movement, and want to help usher in change from our society's ways. The more we spread veganism, the easier it will be for everyone to live vegan...we will have more vegan restaurants, products and choices - as we reach for that tipping point when humanity has awakened to vegan living; the goal.

“I post dog-rescue info and actively work to help animals. I literally do more for animals than many vegans, but I'm not vegan?”
From my point of view, nobody does more for animals than those who live the vegan way of life. But you are welcome to be vegan too; it's not an exclusive club. In fact, we want everybody to join! Vegans believe all species, not just some, deserve basic respect and are working towards their rights being recognized. Vegans have stopped being a part of the demand for ALL animals to be harmed by humans. They are ushering in a new way of life on earth that will benefit all. However, there are many non-vegans who do help individual animals and we thank you for helping to save lives, adopt, and care for animals in need. That's a good thing. We wish you would see that all animals of all species deserve our help, which would result in becoming vegan.

“I don't care why someone's vegan...just that they're vegan.” Am I vegan?
In order to be a good vegan educator, you need to realize that since its inception, veganism has always been about avoidance of products derived of animal exploitation. The meaning of the word 'vegan' has been hijacked and made to be less than what it really is. The masses, including so called vegan outreach groups, have lowered the standard of the vegan ideal to meet where the masses can grasp it - so they think. I think the public needs to hear the real reason one becomes vegan, whether they want to or not. Of course, they don't want to hear that they daily fund abuse, slavery, oppression, rape, kidnapping, and murder. But – like it or not, they NEED to hear the truth. We are lifting the collective consciousness to the Truth of veganism. Then they will be equipped with the information they need to endure as vegans. This is not to say that we can't also educate about the many benefits and rewards that come with vegan living.

“I'm vegan, but I own, ride a horse with a bit and leather saddle.” Am I vegan?
The leather saddle, right off the bat, disqualifies you. Let the horse decide if your are someone who avoids animal exploitation and use, as far as possible. Are you using the horse for your own entertainment and enjoyment? Is putting a bit in a horse's mouth a right way to act as a vegan? Is putting the skins of another animal on the horse's back a vegan thing to do? I would think there are exceptions where the horse and the human are friends and the horse wants the human up there, bareback or with a synthetic saddle. Rescuing and befriending horses is vegan. We can walk with them, side by side, and then take them where they can freely run in a field, rather than riding them. Though some debate this issue, my perspective is that riding horses, donkey's or camels, or partaking in horse-drawn carriage rides - are not vegan practices.

“I'm vegan because of global warming – if the planet goes, we all go!” Am I vegan?
If you are vegan for global warming, I sincerely doubt you live totally vegan. You might EAT vegan as a protest to animal agriculture; the biggest culprit in environmental devastation. Vegans don't fund zoos, seaquariums, circuses, dog or horse races, animal acts, pet shops and breeders, as well as boycotting the dairy, egg and meat industries, as well as wool, leather, silk, honey, pharmaceuticals, vegan and cruelty-free toiletries, cosmetics, and cleaners, products with animal ingredients, etc. - many of which don't correlate to global warming. Protesting animal farming for environmental reasons is a good thing, but it's not veganism...however certainly a big step in the right direction.

“I'm vegan but I purchase mainstream commercial dog/cat food for my rescued companion animals.” Am I vegan?
This is a difficult decision. Probably yes, even though you are directly a part of the demand for animals to be harmed. You might want to alter your decision to support the exploitation of some species of animals to feed your companion animals. Cats are difficult; being true carnivores, though some are feeding their feline friends nearly vegan or vegan (one would have to be very careful). But dogs can live as long and healthy as their meat-eating counterparts with a supplemented, carefully balanced vegan diet, so why demand with your dollars for other species of animals to suffer for your furry friends? Please read my "Dogs Can Eat Vegan, Too!" essay and join 'Vegan Dog Nutrition' group on Facebook. But because some rescued animals literally can't eat vegan, and because of the serious undertaking of properly nourishing animals that are not natural herbivores on a purely plant diet, it brings this issue into one of those vegan grey areas. It's a difficult one for many vegans. Prominent vegan activists feel differently on this subject; there is not a general consensus.

“I'm vegan as a protest to factory farms and inhumane abuse towards animals.” Am I vegan?
If you avoid animal ingredients and exploitative practices, yes you are vegan, but in my opinion, you could evolve your reason. Rather than it being about “treatment” - make it about “rights”. ALL farming and using of animals is abusive! Become vegan to honor the inherent rights of all sentient animals, not because factory farms are cruel. Yes, they are horrifically cruel beyond conception, but turning 'a someone' into 'a something' is always cruel; no exceptions. There is NO humane animal exploitation. We can live beautifully as vegans, therefore it is unjust to harm those who are so similar to us that they are used in grotesque animal experiments to extrapolate findings to human anatomy. We inflict torture and death on other animals that feel much like we do. Being vegan is about respecting the basic birth-rights of all conscious, feeling, breathing animals. In other words, we would still be vegan even if animals were not bred and farmed in factory farms.

“I'm a raw vegan”.  Am I vegan?
If you eat all raw foods that are of plant origin, but you still buy and wear leather accessories and shoes; and exploit animals in other ways beside food - you would not be considered vegan, but a raw or live foodist. This may be healthy for you, and healthy for the planet, but veganism is also about what is healthy for other animals.

“I take it as far as eating a purely vegan diet and I identify with being a vegan.” Am I vegan?
Veganism is not a diet, but an ethical stance. It covers not using animals for food, clothing, entertainment, experimentation, labor, breeding, product ingredients, and other human uses of animals, which are all unnecessary, therefore humans use animals for their own pleasure. Our profoundly misguided society derives pleasure from the misery of other animals. Many long-time vegans prove that 'animal use' is unnecessary.

“I consider myself vegan but take my kids to the zoo for educational reasons.” Am I vegan?
Zoos are animal prisons. Animals are innocent – they don't deserve enslavement and imprisonment, or being 'objects' of amusement. Those who fund that, whether they call themselves vegan or not, are not yet vegan. There might be some unique case where a zoo is actually helping animals that would otherwise be harmed.

“I'm vegan but do use pharmaceuticals because they are necessary.” Am I vegan?
Yes, but only in emergency or serious health issues that call for pharmaceuticals. (Something like birth-control pills as mentioned in the comments would be left to the discretion of the vegan. Birth control is indeed important, but there are also non-pharmaceutical means of birth control. I did not personally like the physical effect of birth control pills.) Otherwise, the frivolous use of pharmaceuticals is not vegan. They are tested on animals (or have been) and may contain animal ingredients. You could go to a compounding pharmacy to have them make you up what you need without animal ingredients, at least. Vegans try to avoid pharmaceuticals by using preventative health measures. Eating a healthy, balanced vegan diet with lots of raw fruits and dark leafy greens, mild sunshine exposure on the skin, use of herbal medicinals, nutraceuticals and super foods found in health shops, periodic fasting, fresh-air walks and keeping active - often keeps the pharmaceuticals away! It has for me in my 3 decades of vegan living.

“I still wear my old leather shoes from my pre-vegan days because I can't afford to get new ones or throw away perfectly good things, but I won't buy non-vegan anymore.” Am I vegan?
Yes. Though I personally can't understand why you would want to wear the skins of tortured and murdered fellow sentient animals. Would you wear human skins? Modeling products of misery is not my conception of veganism, however if you have stopped purchasing animal products totally, yes you're vegan...you are no longer a part of 'the demand' for using other animals for human desires.

“I just proclaimed myself vegan, but I didn’t go through my entire house and wardrobe to rid myself of every item containing animal ingredients, like candles, soaps, leather furniture, leather seats in my car, wallets, etc. And it would cost a lot of money to replace them all with vegan versions. If I still have my non-vegan possessions from before I converted, am I vegan?”
To know circumstances is important. If someone is homeless, destitute, and can’t afford to replace an old leather bag, but otherwise lives and shops vegan, yes they would be considered vegan. Try thrift stores, garage sales and flea markets for replacing non-vegan items. Certainly a car with leather seats might not be as easy to replace as shoes and accessories. For myself and many other vegans, I did rid my closet and life of all animal products upon becoming vegan. I don’t want to live with products made of the skins of other animals any more than I would live with clothing or furniture made of human skins. I find seeing leather shoes upsetting. My own little world is a haven from the speciesist society that thinks they have the right to make pillows, shoes and products out of the bodies of exploited, assaulted, oppressed, enslaved, objectified, fellow sentient animals. I want nothing to do with 'the animal holocaust' and certainly don’t want to model animals' skins. To me, that would be like a 'seal of approval'.

This article originally appeared on the Veganism: A Truth Whose Time has Come website

M Butterflies Katz

M Butterflies Katz is based in the USA and New Zealand and has been a vegan for over 3 decades. She runs the blog Veganism: A Truth Whose Time has Come, previously wrote for the now-retired Australian Vegan Voice magazine and is the Co-author of Incredibly Delicious; Recipes for a New Paradigm by Gentle World

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