Louise recently did a post questioning how vegans know for sure that they’re not accidentally consuming animal products in some way. She points out that the H1N1 vaccine contains squalene, which is derived from shark livers. She later asks:
But can you really call yourself a vegan if you knowingly use or eat something that is made using animal products?
It’s an interesting question.
I actually wonder how many people no longer label themselves vegan or vegetarian in order to avoid challenges like this.
I usually just say, “I don’t eat meat.” “So, you’re a vegetarian?” people then ask. “Well, more or less.” I say. “I occasionally eat fish.” Then people get very excited, point at me and gleefully say, “You’re not a REAL vegetarian if you eat fish!” Like they’ve caught me committing a crime of some sort.
Or if we’re out at a restaurant, they make a big show of cutting into their bloody steak and waving a forkful of it in my face saying “Yum, yum…dead cow.” And I guess they expect me to hurl all over the table or something. But really, I don’t care what you eat. You’re a grown-up; you make your own food choices. And no, I’m not all that concerned if my veggie burger is cooked on the same grill as your sirloin burger
Some people are afraid to invite me for a meal because they think that if I don’t eat meat, I don’t eat anything. “But what do you eat?” they ask, befuddled, as if there were no food available on the planet that doesn’t involve meat.
I guess if you’re going to do anything against the mainstream, you’d better have a clearly defined and publicly-posted mission statement and stick to it like Krazy Glue or people are going to get really confused and even angry. “You’re a hypocrite!” they exclaim. “You’re not adhering to your principles!”
As far as I know there is no vegan/vegetarian manifesto to which anyone wanting to call themselves vegan or vegetarian must swear an oath of allegiance. There are no rules, except the rules of common decency:
- If you’re invited somewhere for dinner don’t expect your hosts to cater to your dietary choices. Bring along a nice protein dish to share if you’re not sure of the menu. By the same token, if you’re hosting the dinner, it’s okay for you to not cook meat
- If you’re dining with omnivores, don’t point out to them exactly how their delicious chicken was slaughtered. That’s just as rude as the guy mentioned above who’s waving the bloody steak in the veggie’s face.
- And speaking of steaks, don’t go to a steak house and make a big scene if they don’t have a vegetarian option for you. That’s just as ludicrous as an omnivore making a scene at a veggie restaurant for not being able to rustle him up a pork chop.
I think that’s about it for rules per se.
But still, if you avoid consuming animal products, but wear a woolly hat in the winter, you will be sneered at as some sort of vegan pretender. Wearing that woolly hat seems to negate all your professed concern for animal welfare. You are now no longer worthy of the vegan label and might as well dive into a vat of offal.
And yes, there are some vegans who will not wear a woolly hat or use Burt’s Bees Lip Balm because both of these things involve taking something from living creatures. And there are some who will scream at you for holding your pants up with a leather belt. But I think such strictly principled people are rare.
I think most of the people who are doing what they can to live a healthier lifestyle or one more earth friendly are pretty flexible. It can’t be emotionally or physically healthy to be too extreme about anything.
The fish thing, for instance. While I’m all in favour of eating as far down the food chain as possible and not killing anything just to fill my belly, I happen to think that the health benefits of fish outweigh my general objection to killing things.
And I would wear woolly things if they weren’t so itchy. And I like leather because it lasts forever. Because when you think about it maybe buying one leather sofa that lasts 40 years must be more economically and ecologically sound than buying 5 or 6 fabric sofas in that time, right?
And those uncompromising vegans may think that eating soy products are more cruelty-free than eating eggs, but if you’ve ever lived on a farm you’ll know there are probably a million critters living in a soy field – many of whom will get mangled in combines at harvest time.
And probably a lot of vegans will have the H1N1 vaccine despite the squalene and many vegetarians will eat cheese in a restaurant even though was probably made with rennet.
So, really, most non-PETA vegans/vegetarians don’t go around beating people over the head with their beliefs and probably don’t even make a point of calling themselves vegans or vegetarians. Because they know compromise is knowingly or unknowingly necessary all the time and you can’t get too mental about it. If you want people to think your lifestyle choices are sound, acting like a crazy person isn’t going to be very convincing.