Compassion Will Cure More Sins than Condemnation

compassion world heartI was chatting away on some vegan thread yesterday and was told, for the second time, that I'm not a vegan. Apparently this post, where I mention that I slipped, disqualifies me. Then there was the indirect attack thrown at me, "damned, stupid, half-vegans."

I have to say, I'm not sure why deliberately having one non-vegan meal in over six months of vegan meals disqualifies me from being a vegan. I was in a social situation where there was nothing else for me to eat but pizza and Guiness (two of the things I miss the most) and potato chips and coke. But even if that weren't the case, why does one meal out of 6oo make me a vegetarian (or as someone else called me, a carnivore)?

I'm sorry, I'm not going to categorize myself as a vegetarian. I don't buy cheese or dairy products. However, I am on the fence about honey and sugar, and wool. When I shop I look for vegan products. I try my best to eat vegan when I'm not in my home, but I cannot control everything. The waitstaff at any given restaurant isn't likely to know every ingredient, and the refining processes of those ingredients, in every meal prepared in the restaurant in which they work. Nor will they have the time to go into the kitchen and speak with the chef during the busy dinner rush. So, I do the best I can. And I feel good about my choices. I know I'm making a difference.

Yes, the exact definition of the word vegan is to consume (in any form) no animal products.

From Wikipedia: "The term "animal product" in a vegan context refers to any material derived from animals for human use. Notable animal products include meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, dairy products, honey, fur, leather, wool, and silk. Common animal by-products include gelatin, lanolin, rennet, whey, casein, beeswax, and shellac."

But does that mean I'm not a vegan? There are some people who will unequivocally say "yes, that is exactly what it means." But I don't agree with that. Whatever your objective, be it physical health, environmental impact, or animal welfare, doesn't the first step start with a reduction in the consumption of animal products? Any change in behavior requires a period of adjustment and there will always be the occasional lapse in discipline. One step off the path doesn't mean I've changed my direction.

Do you say someone isn't a democrat if they voted green in the last election? Do you say someone isn't a Catholic if they only go to church once or twice a year? Do you say someone isn't a Jew if they don't keep kosher at home? Or if they do keep kosher at home, but don't when they eat out? Or how about the people who only recycle at home, are they not environmentalists to some degree? Lighten up people!

It's this militant, self-righteous attitude that is most off-putting when people consider going vegan. To know you are going to constantly have to defend your decisions to other people is wearying, and forbidding. In this country, we all have the freedom to choose our own paths.

And finally, if we are so busy preaching compassion to animals, doesn't that include compassion to the human animal?

“Compassion will cure more sins than condemnation.” --Henry Ward Beecher


  1. Hey, you are a vegan. I learned a few things on your site like that beer has bits of creatures in it which I didn’t know. I don’t drink alcohol anyway though. I am a vegetarian, but sometimes think about becoming vegan. The Buddha taught that the important thing is compassion which leads to not killing nor being cruel, so it is not about being strictly vegan or vegetarian.

  2. These people simply need to let it go. To err is human, after all. Letting go is another teaching, along with compassion, that needs to be internalized. Along with letting go of materialism and things of this world, which in fact are followed by most vegans as part of their spiritual path, comes the attachment of the concept of being vegan. You slip, you fall, so what?

  3. Thanks Ray and Benjamin,
    I really appreciated your comments, I guess I was more troubled by that attack than I thought. It’s not that I only want to hear my own ideas validated, but I honestly don’t see why a personal attack is warranted in this kind of situation. As you said Benjamin, “you slip, you fall, so what?” So I’ve gotten up, dusted myself off, and am back on my journey again.

  4. Thanks for visiting my site and leaving that kind comment. I have been vegan for long periods in my life (not now) and understand, word for word, what you’ve written in your post.Especially your kindness to humans thoughts.

  5. Found your site through StumbleUpon, and this is my first time commenting here. Just needed to share that I completely agree with you. I had a similar experience, when I was first starting to go vegan. I posted to a vegan community asking how long it would be before dairy would start to make me sick. The reason being that I wasn’t sure I was ready to sacrifice my Mom’s Christmas lasagna, a longtime tradition for my family. I was immediately lambasted by people (who were even chastising my “unsupportive” Mom.)

    Turned me off really quickly, but luckily I stuck with it and now my slip-ups are mostly accidentally. 🙂 But I still absolutely consider myself a vegan, as you should too!

  6. Interesting thoughts. I think you could easily apply that to just about anything–it’s easy to criticize others, but generally is only done when we, underneath it all, are unsure of our own self. I find that knowing who I am, being comfortable in my own skin of identity (be it religion, or food, or other) makes me more compassionate towards people who walk different paths.

  7. Wow, some people need to unclench… What I have found in my mere 4 months of being vegetarian is that there are so many shades of grey, it’s hard to categorize yourself in one of the two standard buckets anyway.
    In my mind, you’re completely vegan, and those who jumped down your throat really need to relax. I’m sure a couple of them slipped at some point.

  8. I hear ya. We Vegetarians and Vegans should support each other.
    Remembering compassion is not just for the animals but humans too.
    Love your blog!

  9. I think so long as you are currently avoiding animal products you can call yourself a vegan. Who cares what you did in the past, you’re a vegan now and that’s what matters.

    Also, I sort of prefer the term veg*n in writing because it’s more inclusive. It includes all the various stages people may be at in their veganism journal. Veganism is definitely a journey and not a destination.

    I called myself vegan way before I gave up all my nonvegan foods. Identifying as a vegan was a big part of the journey for me and helped me give up nonvegan foods. And even now I slip up every now and then, for example I still learn new things to look out for or ask about.

    However you self-identify, that’s your business. It might not fit other people’s definitions, but don’t let that stop you from working on becoming the person you want to be, a person I hope is vegan 🙂

  10. Of course you’re vegan! You just slipped up, that’s all – it’s easy to do when you’re starting out. Some friends ordered wonton soup at this place a while ago and I didn’t realize until I had eaten a bit that it had pork in the dumplings. D’oh! Oh well, better luck next time, right? 🙂 An’ thanks for stopping by FlyingVegans, too 😀 happy blogging!

  11. After having such a negative reaction the other day, I experienced a moment of trepidation when I hit the “publish” button. Thank you for all your kind comments. It’s reassuring to know I’m not that far off base in my thinking.
    I especially loved the statistics. .02% sounds a lot less damaging than three slices of pizza and a few Guiness’

  12. hi again! i just wanted to give my two cents… i really can’t stand when people get on their veganer-than-thou soapbox and judge others on their degree of veganism, or success at veganism. you do what you can and as much as you can, and i certainly can’t fault someone for eating vegetarian rather than going hungry. everyone makes choices in life.

    people who get all high and mighty about being a better vegan or being militant about calling someone out on being not vegan for an hour in 6 months make me cringe, because it gives *all* vegans a bad name, both among the vegans and among the non-vegans who are judging us by our decisions in life.

  13. “Veganer-than-thou” – love that phrase. I’m going to have to co-opt it for the next time I’m forced to write a post like this. (And I’m sure it will come up again!)

  14. Hi CV!

    I guess I don’t understand why it’s a “veganer-than-thou” thing as Jennifer coined it in her comment above.

    Personally, I would think that if you are militant about animal rights, you’d want everyone to start moving in that direction, regardless of how far they’ve gotten. I’m of the philosophy that every little bit helps.

    I really like this post as well. I too am seeking to exclude animal products from my life. But I’m simply never going to be aware of all the processing the goes on in every item I consume.

  15. It’s too bad people act like that. It’s all the negativity that made me put of my decision to go veg for so long in the first place. And now that I am vegetarian, I get flack simply for not being vegan.

  16. The thing I find most ironic about all this is how do these militant vegans know they are actually 100% vegan?
    I’m sorry, but in this society you simply cannot know every ingredient or the refining process of every ingredient in every dish you eat. Which means, by their definition, they are probably not vegan either!

  17. Lane,

    Thanks so much for encouraging me and letting me know that I am not the only one out there who runs into this. My current podcast deals with this issue. i share my thoughts on whether or not I am “a vegan”.

    I am so antsy visiting other vegan forums because i just had the ridicule.

    However I also look at the number of people I have helped transition without hassle and it is such a blessing to me.

    Reading the comments here has helped as well.

  18. the damned vegangelicals make me want to slit my wrists.

    they even often make me want to gorge on anything that will make their hearts go up in agony and make their faces all awash.

    about 8 years ago i stopped even calling myself vegan, as i hate how others view me in the same grouping with the vegan food police. eff you guys.

    seriously, no one is better than anyone else, so while you one can judge anyone, by doing so you lose any credibility you had.

  19. It’s interesting how many people are so passionate about their particular cause that if you don’t follow their exact path, they’d rather have you in the other camp.
    Personally, I don’t understand that behavior, but to each his own.

  20. hi you’re still a vegan. i do speak to vegans who by choice make exceptions to their diets eg a certain brand of chocolate, or the choice between sitting safetly in the shade and buying an animal tested sun cream.

    i draw the line at, who would suffer most? you missing one meal or the cruelty to animal? if ur sick that’s another story.

    i usually try and hold out as long as i can. when i was in india i was ill so i had to drink milk and eat eggs, cos i was vomiting and starving. i feel bad and will try and think ahead next time. i think the higher our standards are the more we achieve.

  21. it is difficult, when i am at work they have animal tested soap in the loos, which i use even tho i don’t contribute financially. maybe we should be thinking further afield as vegans and maybe asking our employers to source cruelty free???

  22. I certainly can relate to the pain you have from feeling attacked and judged based on your choice to eat a non-vegan meal once in a very long while. Your efforts to promote veganism and live a vegan lifestyle are clear and for that dedication to be questioned seems mean-spirited and based in ignorance.

    At the same time, are you practicing compassion towards those who have hurt and angered you? Or are you practicing condemnation?

  23. Vegetarian, Vegan, Raw Vegan, Fruitarians are all reaching for the same goal better health,to end animal cruelty & to heal the planet we just go about it differently not better not worse.No one is better than instead of division let’s respect each others difference & keep it moving.No one has a heaven nor hell to put us in so stop feeling condem by people with huge egos (pride before the fall) (judge not less ye be judged). We should all practice compassion towards those who don’t practice the above lifestyles.I admit sometimes it’s hard to have compassion but if we want to see change then Compassion is the only way. PEACE & LOVE

  24. It was great to read all these comments. I have just started the Vegetarian/Vegan journey recently and it is so encouraging to read such positive feedback. It really makes me even more convinced of the new path I am chosing.

  25. I have been a vegetarian by my own choice since I was 14. I am now 37, which means this is my 23rd year of being a strict vegetarian. I live in Portland and have a young child, and he sometimes has a hard time because he doesn’t know any other vegetarian kids, and he feels a little weird. All of our friends with children are meat eaters, and the veg (both vegan and vegetarian) group I belong to is all adults. I even asked if it was ok to bring my son to a breakfast at a local pancake joint, and other people (who had never met me or my son) emailed the organizer to say that they weren’t comfortable with my child coming and asked her to tell us not to come!!!! The leader of the group tried to remedy this and told me as far as he was concerned, kids were welcome, but I simply don’t feel comfortable bringing my son to this group’s events after that incident. Since I am a single mom who has my child 24/7, this greatly impacts my ability to go to veg outings.

    After this experience, I was looking for a vegetarian family Meet Up group and found a local group that caters to families, but alas, they were vegan. I asked if a vegetarian would be welcome, and said I’d be happy to eat vegan when I was with the group, and they said the group was “only for vegans or people in the final stage of transitioning to vegan.” Ok, so being judgmental of my family’s vegetarian lifestyle is more important that supporting a young vegetarian child and helping him feel less like a freak when he attends a school with all carnivore kids?

    So it looks like either way you slice it, I am running into either kid-haters or vegetarian-haters! Seems like a pretty pathetic situation, if you ask me. Like you’ve mentioned, where is the HUMAN compassion? Like many of you have said, isn’t it better to have people 70-80% on your team rather than not on your team at all? How many animals have not been consumed because I’ve been a vegetarian for 23 years? That should mean a lot, as far as I am concerned! We definitely have the vegan snob thing going on here, and after being raised fundamentalist Christian (a belief system that was no longer part of my life after about age 13) I see a lot of similarities: either you’re with God (vegan) or with the Devil (not 100% vegan). There is no gray allowed, just black and white. I think that’s ridiculous and is probably more likely to push people away from being vegan than anything else. Does that help animals? I think not!

  26. Vegetarian Single Mom,

    I am sympathetic to your situation, as I have had some similar types of experiences with children and with some vegans. I think it’s important to note that not all vegans are alike, just as all vegetarians are not alike. I am getting a little dismayed that so many comments here generalize in this way. I really don’t think one can assume anything about all vegans.

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