Vegan And Other Food Labels – Revisited

On Friday, I wrote about food labels, specifically the definition of vegan. As I was writing responses to the comments we received, one of them, a response to Elaine Vignault, grew so long it became a post of it’s own. I had planned on writing about the Veggie Pride Parade, but this took precedence. Coincidentally, Elaine wrote about that tonight so you can read about it over at her blog. Click here if you’d like to see the comment that inspired this post, scroll down a bit, it’s #11.

Hi Elaine,
Thank you very much for your thoughtful commentary. You presented the issue of strict labeling very well. However, I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree. While I respect your conviction, it feels to me like you’re trying to make “vegan” exclusive.

For my purposes, vegan is about food — whether it’s an ethical decision or otherwise, it is about what you don’t consume. Therefore, the ethical part of it doesn’t have to come in to play in the definition.

If there has to be a strata of definitions, then I would think “vegan” would be the general category (not eating animal products) and there would be modifiers around that: “strict” to mean avoids all products derived from animals/insects; “ethical” to mean animal rights oriented; “dietary” to mean health oriented; etc. But they’re all still vegan. The modifiers could clarifiy the degree to which you practice your veganism. Kind of like Reformed, Orthodox, or Conservative Judaism.

I eat honey. I don’t eat animal products. I am a vegan. I do my best to avoid by-products, but I drive a car, I feed my cats “regular” cat food, I use crayons with my nieces and nephews, the walls that surround me are made of sheetrock. I am a vegan. (All of these contain animal by-products.)

I do agree that it might be unfair to the “strict” vegans if it becomes commonplace to include honey as a vegan ingredient. However, there are many of us vegans (people who were vegan long before I was) who think honey is an acceptable ingredient. If I understand you correctly, we’re “strict vegetarians” and therefore should be looking for “vegetarian” products. But often those contain dairy and eggs. I don’t eat those, I’m a vegan. I’m noticing that more often, food manufacturer’s are including a list of potentially objectionable items (wheat, soy, nuts) after their main ingredient list, and those key ingredients are often in bold text. Perhaps honey can be included in this list. Since there are vegans who consume honey, this makes more sense to me than saying the foods we’re eating are vegetarian when we don’t consume non-vegan food items (dairy, eggs).

I hope this didn’t come across as being antagonistic. I like to think I’m tolerant and accepting of others’ viewpoints. I have a bit of an issue with labels, though. I think they’re more divisive than helpful. I understand the need to categorize foods in some way, however, I feel that all of these sub-labels are confusing, and simply set us up to be “wrong” in the way we choose to practice being vegan.

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