Ten years in, my thoughts on veganism

This is a few months premature. I quit eating animal products in, as best I can guess, February 2001. Regardless, I’ve had thoughts stewing in my head about this thing that I’ve chosen, so I might as well spit them out.

What veganism is to me

It actually hadn’t occurred to me that I would need to define (or describe) veganism to a general audience. As far as I’m concerned, being a vegan means that you don’t consume animal products. I don’t eat anything with meat, milk, or eggs. Veganism is a dietary choice that some people make. The reasons vary tremendously, which is something I’m totally fine with.

The reason I feel the need to define veganism is because of a recent encounter with a vegan who, as far as I’m concerned, tried to take the label away from me. He felt that veganism wasn’t just a diet, that veganism was a commitment to a lifestyle that supported the concept of animal rights and opposed speciesism. He said that an omnivore who burns down a factory farm has more claim to the title than someone who eats vegan but doesn’t do anything else for animals. And while I agree that said omnivore is a better champion of animals, I disagree wholeheartedly that this entitles that person to claim the title veganism.

Why is this distinction so important to me? For one thing, because I care about veganism as an idea that can spread (among those willing). I’m not interested in defining ourselves into a more and more specific, more and more pure little niche. I’m interested in minimizing the number of animals that are slaughtered in factory farms, not being an elitist.

And the distinction is important to me because vegan is a handy word to use to describe my diet to people when we talk about where to go out to eat. I don’t want some damn whippersnapper kid taking it away from me. He can find something else to call himself. Fifth level vegan or something.

Against militant veganism

So this is the thing. I’m, by and large, what could be considered by militant vegans to be a self-hating vegan.

I suppose I need to distinguish something quickly: I’m not opposed to militant actions to rescue animals or to end factory farms. I’m against the militant stance of veganism that would suggest that anyone who isn’t vegan is somehow evil. Or that eating animals or their products is in any way unnatural.

I’m not really a self-hating vegan. I’m glad I’m vegan. People get bonus points in my book when they’re vegan… they just don’t lose any points for having other diets.

I lived at a house once where the rule was that in order to live there, you had to be a vegan. Not that you had to eat vegan in the house, but that you had to be a vegan. No meatmouths allowed. I didn’t think anything of the rule, because I was a vegan. Things quickly turned sour. I remember how people who lived there were appalled that I was dating (gasp) a vegetarian. That I hadn’t convinced her to be vegan (nor had I tried).

Nevermind that every meal her and I ate together was vegan, and that by dating a vegetarian I helped reduce animal consumption more than if I had refused to date anyone who wasn’t vegan.

propaganda of the deed

Snotty elitism polarizes people. Either they want to join the cool kids club, so they go vegan, or they say “fuck you” to the cool kids club, and somehow start actively identifying as an omnivore. If the first vegans I’d met had been militants, I’m not sure I ever would have gone vegan myself, because I’m stubborn and reactionary and have issues with cliques and elitism, even when it’s unintended.

There’s a concept in anarchism called propaganda of the deed. Originally, it meant that since the people we were trying to recruit to anarchism didn’t know how to read anyway, writing books wasn’t as useful as just doing anarchism. It started with actions like liberating villages by burning the tax and ownership records. Eventually, it turned into killing kings, and descended from there into killing rich people, and from there to killing their servants. Sigh. But I digress. The way, I believe, to spread the idea of veganism is just to present it as an option, and a reasonable one, and let people make up their own minds. I don’t need to go around screaming at people or even ranting at them: people ask me from time to time why I’m vegan, and over the years more than one has made the switch because of this. Propaganda of the deed: just be a fucking vegan and a good person, not some preachy bastard.

meat isn’t murder

Sorry Morrissey, you’re wrong on this one. (You’re also a racist, but that’s besides the point most likely). Meat is killing. Some killing is murder. There’s a logical fallacy here.

If you kill an animal because you don’t like the way that it looked at you, that’s murder. But if you kill it because you’re hungry, that’s just, well, killing. Killing isn’t right or wrong. I don’t believe killing is inherently ethically charged.

Factory farmed dairy might be rape though. It’s pretty hard to excuse.

animal rights

here’s why I might get a little wingnutty: I don’t believe in animal rights, per say, because I don’t believe in “rights.” I feel like rights are things that are granted you from an outside source: I don’t have the right to free speech because I’m American, I have the right to free speech because I’ll defend my ability to say what I want.

I would suggest that the whole dialogue around animal rights presupposes our governance over animals or our governance over each other, two concepts I’m not really excited about.

dietary vegan, ethically and fashionably freegan

The definition of freeganism got distorted by the media and I would suggest that the current generation of freegans don’t define it the same way that I did when I was more consciously freegan. But that’s okay. The definition that I still use for freeganism is to describe, once again, a diet. Or at least a pattern of consumption. A freegan does not purchase animal products, but consumes them if they would otherwise be (or have been) discarded. A freegan might eat dumpstered eggs, for example.

I whole-heartedly support freeganism as just as ethical, if not moreso, than veganism. But since I’m vegan for health issues as well, and I don’t really care for animal products at all any more, it’s easier to just be vegan. Though personally, I wear freegan leather. Actually, I wear a lot of it.

A freegan friend of mine, who eats almost entirely vegan, went in to buy food at Food Fight, a vegan junk food store in Portland, Oregon. They [my friend prefers the pronoun “they”] had their roadkill bag with them. The store clerk took everything out of their hands and yelled at them for awhile and then kicked them out of the store. The essence of the claim against them was that they were a bad person for having roadkill.

It makes me angry just to type.

Then, afterwards, the clerk went and bragged to other friends around the vegan mini-mall (I hate the capitalist model of veganism, by the way) about how they’d kicked out “some fucking primmie.” (with “primmie” being used as a slur against my quantum physicist friend for their presumed “primitivism.”)

And half of my vegan friends hem and haw about it, suggesting that they shouldn’t have brought a roadkill bag into a vegan space, that it was disrespectful, that they had it coming.

But if the point of veganism is to stop the capitalist exploitation of animals, then freeganism is at least as valid as veganism.

why I’m vegan

I’m vegan because I oppose the capitalist exploitation of animals and because I’m lazy. Veganism, and the politics of personal choice, are not going to have a revolutionary effect on society. The way to end factory farms is to destroy factory farms. But that doesn’t mean that I’m going to support them in the meantime. There’s no reason to get all high and mighty about it though.

I’m also vegan because my body and I made amends when I adopted the diet. Until I went vegan, I had an easily upset stomach that made traveling, or anything stressful, into an incredible obstacle. That disappeared essentially overnight when I went vegan.

lines in the sand

I have two ethical lines. There is the line that I hold myself to, and the line that I expect others to adhere to. They’re quite far removed from each other, which I think is good.

I won’t support factory farming. Hell, I won’t support raising animals for slaughter or exploitation as “resources,” because it sickens me. Factory farms are the worst of it, but I don’t want to hear about your goats, and I know it’s trendy for punks to raise chickens these days, but I’m not into it.

But I don’t get angry at other people for weighing their ethical choices differently. I’m certainly not beyond reproach: I often drive a van, supporting one of the most destructive industries in the world.

And yet there is a line I won’t let people cross. Those who own and run factory farms? You’re dead to me. Those who plan offshore drilling projects? Cut it out.

I guess this is the fundamental difference between myself and the militant vegans: for them, these lines are closer together. If I truly believed that meat was murder, I would condemn people for partaking as surely as I would condemn a Third Reich german citizen who profited from the genocide of the jews, roma, queers, and radicals. (The same as if I believed that a fetus was a sentient human, I would condemn practitioners of abortion. For what it’s worth, I sympathize with animal rights activists and tend to scream obscenities at abortion clinic protesters… just because I’m on a side doesn’t mean I can’t understand the nuances and similarities between ethical stances.)

6 thoughts on “Ten years in, my thoughts on veganism”

  1. Thanks for this, I’ve been vegan three years and was slowly and sadly coming to terms with the fact that I may in fact hate 99% of vegans. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who can be happily vegan without being militant and preachy.

  2. I’m sorry you’ve had the experiences you’ve had. Truth be told, most vegans I meet are either horrendously racist, sexist, homophobic/transphobic or oppressive in other ways. But luckily we can look past that and see the valid reasons why we need to be vegan. But, it is a defined movement. Veganism is defined by the Vegan Society as “a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.” Anything else is a plant based diet. All movements have wiggle room. We strive to do the best we can, and that means not contributing to animal testing or using any other animal products to the best of our ability. We could argue semantics until the ends of the earth. While feminism is a little more loosely defined, I would include not being transphobic an important part. But TERFS call themselves feminists. Racists call themselves feminists. It doesn’t feel all that productive to argue with them about what they call themselves, even if they don’t fit the definition.
    Are you a terrible horrible human being for not being fully vegan? Most people just don’t know about the cruelty involved in what they eat, use, or wear. Does ignorance excuse torture? It’s not really my place to say. I advocate knowledge, but vegans know the utter torture that happens and this can make us quite emotional to see it defended by those we love and care for. That’s where we get the name “preachy” from. I’m not sure what else to say, other than you might confuse some people if you call yourself vegan without learning more about it. Killing is just as bad as murder. Same definition, different connotation. We do not kill to survive. We shop at food markets. Some people may kill to survive, but they are a small minority and not the people we are trying to get to go vegan. Animals live and feel as much as we do, that should be the only reason needed to oppose their murder. Anyway, this is my absolute favorite blog and it really made me incredibly happy when I thought you were vegan and gave me a panic attack when I realized you are against us. C’est la vie!

    1. It’s been another five years, and I’ve been proudly vegan for more than fifteen years. But I AM vegan and being told otherwise (and being compared to a racist feminist or a TERF)… well, those are fighting words. You probably realize that, though?

      I don’t care how the Vegan Society defines veganism. I never gave them my mandate to speak for me. I use vegan the way that society uses it: I don’t eat animal products. Yes, I have freegan ethics as relate to leather, but I do not participate in the industry of animal exploitation.

      I still believe that focusing specifically on making vegans is a bad strategy that creates a self-enlightened clique (from which many, many people fall out) instead of saving animal lives. I understand why your ethics might allow you to believe that anyone who eats an animal is acting monstrously, but those aren’t the same as my ethics.

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