Vegan And Other Food Labels

food-labelLast night I wrote a post explaining why we (the collective we) should cut down on our meat consumption. Now as vegans, Jane and I have done that to the extreme. However, we have omnivorous friends and family members who have chosen not to go down the vegan path with us, some of them may even be you (our readers). As I've written before, I believe diet is a very personal choice and you are entitled to make whatever decision you feel benefits you the most. The only thing I ask, is that you truly consider all the facts surrounding what you choose to put in your mouth.

We've received a few emails suggesting that we should take a more militant stance. Someone actually went so far as to say that we are not true vegan advocates as we aren't demanding that people become vegan. Instead, we've "gently" asked people to consider cutting down their consumption of meat. Well, here's something to consider: If every omnivore would simply eat meatless one day every week that would result in an immediate 14.3% decrease in the consumption of meat. That's a pretty significantly impact.

There is a small, but vocal, minority of vegans out there who think that if you eschew animal products for any reason other than animal welfare, then you are not a vegan. Or that if you're not being vegan to the extreme (this includes scrutinizing the ingredients and processing of every food item you're going to ingest) then you may as well eat meat. We emphatically disagree. Every little bit helps, and if that means embracing the omnivores who choose to "eat vegan" one or two days a week, I say welcome to the fold! Yes, you can be vegan one day per week. And I have to ask our less flexible members of the vegan community, what exactly is the goal here? Because it seems to me, if you are coming at veganism from an animal rights or environmental perspective, an immediate 14.3% reduction is something to happily embrace.

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Comments

  1. everyone has their own reason for doing things and their own set of beliefs…and I for one don’t like to shove mine down other people’s throats—I can’t stand it when people do that with religion, so I’m not going to be a hypocrite and do that with my dietary/ethical choices. The best we can do is set an example, and give people a reason to join us.

    Check out this article, it’s a good one!
    http://www.mndaily.com/articles/2007/01/26/70501

  2. It’s so funny how no matter what you do, you can’t please everyone. You guys are being harped on for not being militant enough, and I’m being harped on, for being too militant… which couldn’t be farther from the truth!

    I don’t believe that shoving anything down anyone’s throat is going to make anybody change, people will either get it or they won’t. Trying to force feed people on veganism only pushes them farther away from it, if only on principle. Trying to educate people is one thing, being a food nazi on the other hand is just obnoxious and does more harm than good.

    I am vegan. I don’t eat animal flesh, I don’t eat eggs, cheese or other dairy products. If someone out there wants to claim I’m not vegan because now and again some unknown amount of casein slips past me or because some otherwise animal and dairy free desert I ate had honey in it, then frankly, those people can go shove it.

  3. I only found this site tonight but I think you guys are doing a great job. In my experience, it is often more effective to share your experiences with people, rather than challenging them. This can come across as you being aggressive and they end up feeling uncomfortable. Keep up the good work!

  4. Lane,

    This is a great post and you know that I too have been ridiculed for not beating veganism over people’s head. I am a follower of Christ and as such I pay close attention to the walk he led. He was gentle and non-judgmental in his approach. He led by example.

    That is how I try to live my life in everything that I do. I have been raked over the coals by people about my mission at Vegan Family Living but you know what, I enjoy what I do and it is making a difference. I have people email me often stating that they are not vegan but that they are eating less meat and thinking more healthy smart.

    That’s what it is truly about.

  5. I’d agree….. everyone reaches their own path in their own time – “pushing” does nothing but alienate omnis….. “gentle persuasion”, a “nice an easy approach” will entice more people to veganism than not. Guess it’s all about patience…..

  6. Hi Chelsea,
    Thanks for the link. I really enjoyed reading what Jason had to say. Especially #4 (about not being a militant, in-your-face vegan).

    FoodEater,
    It’s ironic isn’t it. But it just goes to show you can’t please everyone. Interesting that PilotBoy chose to leave a fake email address though. I guess it’s easier to anonymously criticize people rather than engage in a meaningful dialog.

    Hi Kristin,
    Thanks for the kind words. Yes, that’s what we’re striving for here. We’re sharing OUR experiences and thoughts. Hopefully we can be of help to others.

    LaTara,
    I just find it amusing that there is a faction out there that thinks if you’re not doing it (the vegan thing) their way, then you’re doing it wrong.

    Hi Bea,
    Patience and tolerance. I say that because Jane and I came to veganism late… we’re in our 40s. So there was a full 20 years of omni eating, although I was vegetarian for an eight year stretch.

    Thank you all for your supportive comments!

  7. “Late”? …..I’ve come to vegan at 53 – was vegetarian for 5 years prior….. (and even some years as a teen) – Therefore, patience is an effort – as my time left is shorter than most. Unless there is some great change, I fear I may leave with great saddness and misanthropy. Beside, it’s the 21st century – isn’t it overdue time for animal rights?

  8. Thanks for this post. This is the kind of gracious attitude that will draw others in to what vegans are doing, and not turn them off. Personally, I’ve been experimenting with vegan living for the past couple months and don’t know if I’m going to stick with it permanently. It is, however, good to know that even if I do decide to eat a little dairy or meat once in a while I can still make an enormous difference by significantly reducing the amount of animal products I use and eat.

  9. To Nate V – if you’re still listening – How wonderful that you are giving veganism a chance. Dairy is difficult to do without. I agree. Fortunately, there are so many delicious soy alternatives. Granted, they are a bit more expensive….. but before you decline on the “price” – think of this: that there is more suffering in a glass of milk than a steak. Dairy is an industry with very evil practices. May I point you to this video on youtube:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sr-EyIaXAD4
    and here:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MWBprYs36tM&feature=related
    and finally here:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8MXNSUgXM-s&feature=related

    I am of French decent…. few “love” dairy & “formage” as much as the French – I worked in a Hickory Farms store for 3 years….. I know (and love the taste of) 100+ different cheeses – once I saw thee truth about dairy from the health issues to the cruelty – I could not excuse supporting their industry ever again.

    Good luck in your attempt to veganism…. perhaps joining a forum? There’s plenty of kind people that might help you on your way…

  10. Very well said. I agree that it’s important not to judge people and encouraging them to decrease their intake of animal products is significantly better than doing nothing at all. Every little bit helps.

    And any reason for being vegan is a fine reason, in my opinion. The end result is the same, so I don’t care if you do it to save the cows, save the planet or save your wallet.

    If everyone went vegan two days per week, that’d be awesome. Or if they went full time vegan as long as it was “obvious” (and didn’t read labels all day), that’d make a huge impact, too. The sticky area here is whether or not these people should use the word vegan. I’m not saying they shouldn’t, but it does complicate things.

    When someone says they’re a vegetarian, I don’t know what that means. Do they eat eggs? Do they eat fish? If I was an omnivore and we were eating lunch together, I would not know what not to offer them, based on that description. I think it would be a shame to see the same thing happen with the word vegan.

    That doesn’t mean I have any less respect for people who leave a close-to-vegan lifestyle, but applying the label “vegan” to something that isn’t 100% makes things more difficult for people to know what vegan is and how to handle it.

  11. I agree that intent doesn’t matter as much as the action – anyone who doesn’t eat meat or who eats less meat is doing something good. The animals don’t care why people choose not to eat them.

    I also think that people often don’t seriously consider animal rights unless they go veg for health reasons. I’ve met far too many people who ditched meat to get healthy and only after they’d given up meat were they able to think clearly about the ethical implications of eating meat. See, because their previous habits of eating flesh contradicted animal rights ethics, they rationalized their meat-eating in various ways and denied the ethical argument. But once their habits changed, they didn’t need the delusions any more. They embraced animal rights.
    So… I think encouraging veganism through health or environmental means is acceptable because once the habit is changed, the person can think more broadly and clearly about many other issues and will often eventually come around to a pro-animal rights stance.

    However, the definition of ‘vegan’ doesn’t truly include people who eat vegan only for health reasons. And there are words that describe those people. They can call themselves “strict vegetarian” or say they’re “90% vegan” or they can say they eat a “plant-based diet.”

    I think it’s important to ethical vegans, the vegan community, and vegan philosophy to be careful when we use the word “vegan” to mean people who abstain from causing harm to animals, not simply to mean a dietary choice.

    It’s important not to dilute veganism into something it isn’t. For example, if prominent people start claiming ‘vegan’ includes honey and leather products and then a business labels their non-vegan products “vegan” based on the wrong definition, it could mean the business will mislead true vegans. And that’s not fair.

  12. Hi Nate,
    Thank you for your kind comments. We absolutely believe that every little bit helps. Over time (we hope) there will be a sea change in the way people think about how their food arrives on their plates. And hopefully that will result in humans consuming a plant based diet.

    Bea, — Okay, maybe not as late as you, but still, we didn’t come to this in our teens or early 20s as most people seem to have. Thank you for the links. Although, not as good as Earthlings, they’re much shorter and get the point across about dairy. (Which is our most challenging vegan thing.)

    Hi Seitan,
    (Obviously) I agree with your comment that you don’t care how someone came to veganism as long as the end result is the same… A reduction in the animals consumed/a better planet/and presumably, a healthier person.
    As for the confusion as to what people eat… I think that is just part of the hosting game. When we were omnivores, Jane at pork but not beef except for the occasional cheeseburger. I didn’t eat anything that walked on 4 legs, but ate poultry and fish. Then you have the allergy sufferers, the raw vegans, the fruitarians, etc. We have always asked what our guests do not eat. I understand that there is a desire to keep the word “vegan” pure, but I can’t honestly say I agree. I am vegan. I eat honey. To date, I have had one experience outside a vegan restaurant where I wasn’t asked what vegan meant. I don’t think it will be any less confusing if I say I’m a strict vegetarian. People still ask if I eat fish when I say I’m a vegan. Is fish a floating vegetable?

    Elaine, my response got so long it grew into a post… Vegan And Other Food Labels – Revisited

  13. so, is there any sort of national/worldwide event/day planned in the future to encourage a day of animal free eating? You know, how they’ve got the great smokeout to quit smoking, and blackout sabbath to encourage energy, etc….what about organizing a day that’s meat free—and the best angle to move people to do so would be to remind them that over 18% of the world’s greenhouse emissions actually come from cattle gas. Whatever angle–the environment, personal health, ethical and compassionate living….I think it would be a great day!
    (here’s another thought just on your own local level—plan a meat free bbq for your friends and neighbors–I think the meat eaters would be surprised what great things can be made without involving any animals!)

  14. Maybe I’m a hopeless romantic? I see vegan as a more than a “diet”….. for me, it’s a philosophy. One of non-violence….. any living being that is harmed (killed) would be against this philosophy. And I don’t think one could be “vegan” and still buy leather products – or support puppy mills which have little to do with “food”….. but that’s me -

  15. Chelsea: Meatout (http://www.meatout.org/) is an annual event with programs throughout the country that encourage people to go meatless.

  16. Hi Chelsea,
    SeitanSaid has already mention Meatout which usually takes place the first day of spring. Also, this week is World Vegetarian Week, not a vegan event, but they do promote meatless eating.

    Hi Bea,
    No, I don’t think you’re a hopeless romantic. This is your philosophy, and it is an attractive one. I’m coming at it from a more practical approach. I’d rather see fewer animals abused, regardless of the reason. Which is why I define vegan to be primarily a choice in food options.
    Personally, I don’t think I could ever buy leather again, it results in the same abuse of animals. But more animals are slaughtered for food than leather…

  17. a friend of mine who’s been a vegetarian for years recently bought a leather sofa and love seat—my mouth dropped when I saw it, knowing that he doesn’t eat meat….I was intriqued by his response to me (I don’t agree with it, but was intriqued by the thought process) He felt that overwhelmingly leather is a byproduct of cattle raising for meat…and he’s not eating the meat and not creating the demand and instead was just piggy backing on someone else’s demand. I don’t know all the stats–so I couldn’t argue much–but all I could think was that to me having a couch made of or wearing leather is the same as wearing fur….it’s something that used to be a living being. I don’t care what the “main” reason for slaughtering the animal was–bottom line the animal was slaughtered for and by humans for their own selfish desires… Idon’t want anything to do with it.

  18. I have a “leather” story too. A few years ago (while I was vegetarian) my husband and I remodeled a room – complete with new windows. This room has a smaller than average door off the pool (it’s an addition) – the windows however are “huge”. I knew I wanted the additional sleeping space for guests so a sleeper was in order. The sleeper could get into the room while the windows were uninstalled…. so yes, in my vegan-lessness I combed the paper for an attractive “used leather” sleeper. Found one “nearly new” at a very good price.

    Hubby and I go to the home to pick it up – there was extreme effort, trouble, difficulty getting it out of the home and then finally through my windows and into my new room…. All that agony, trial and work – not once did it ever dawn on me the suffering it took to make that sleeper – The pain and loss of life. I was indeed “blind”…..

    Well now, it’s in this room (and can’t get out – nor can a substitute come in)….. It is a constant reminder of my insensitivity – my ignorance – my dis-connect….. I’ve thrown quilts on it – and “make the best of it”….. It’s certainly demonstrated how many layers need to peel away to see things for what they are.

    Would I ever buy leather again? Not in a million years! Which is probably how long I’m stuck with this sofa as well….. There is a “practical” side that makes up for the romantic in me. And learning lessons has its scars.

  19. Bea, try not to feel too terribly about your leather sleeper. Many vegans are comfortable buying leather, wool, etc. second hand because it doesn’t contribute to the manufacture of the product, the original producers don’t benefit from the sale, and it beats allowing the original buyer to throw it out (I’m not sure how I feel about this, personally, but many are cool with it).

  20. SeitanSaidDance – thanx much for the compassionate response :) What I’ve done in the past must remain lessons – and I’m okay with that….

    Buying thing “after market” – like used or re-claimed from thrift stores, yard sales don’t offend me as much. The manufacture has already made their money – and that can’t be un-done.

    My husband who does not eat land flesh does still eat “cheese” but only when he finds it at a local foodbank: “Meals on Wheels” – it’s definately passed the point of “supporting the industry” – so, that’s how some things can be worked around. Me, I can’t get past the “pus” part of dairy – so, I’m good without. :)

  21. Bea- thanks for the words of encouragement and the links. My wife and I have seen videos like that before, but yesterday she said she’s actually thinking about going vegan for the first time! (she mostly does eat vegan b/c she eats what I eat in general)
    We do have some help from others in this area. We actually first got interested from a couple friends in our church small group as we began to talk about creation care – and they’ve been very helpful, and we just keep meeting others!

  22. Hi Chelsea,
    I own leather accessories from my pre-vegan life. I continue to wear them, and will do so until they fall apart. The animals were already sacrificed, and (in my opinion) it would be more wasteful to throw away perfectly useful goods. Having said that, I don’t intend to ever buy leather again. From what I’ve read a number of people consider it to be a by-product of the meat industry. But it is a primary by-product, meaning it is a valuable, sought-after commodity in and of itself. Also, there are animals that are slaughtered primarily for their hides. The meat is then the by-product. In either case, it supports an industry I choose to boycott.

    Bea (re #18) I had to laugh — you criticized Mark Bittman for saying “never” and here you are saying not in a million years… ;-)
    Seriously though, previously-owned goods are different. I’m not beating myself up over the leather shoes I still wear. They were purchased pre-vegan. I don’t intend to buy leather again. But I don’t believe in waste. Ignorance may be no excuse for the law, but you can’t beat yourself up over things you weren’t aware of.

    Hi Seitan,
    Re your comment to Bea about second hand purchases. My initial thoughts are that by continuing to wear/use things that are controversial (leather, fur, diamonds) we are continuing to perpetuate a desire for these things. I aware that I’m being hypocritical here, because I’m still wearing the leather belt I got for my birthday last year, and will until it dies. I don’t believe in waste, and whether I wear it, or I donate it to the Goodwill and someone else wears it, it still becomes a good other people will see and potentially covet.

    Bea (re #20) The pus is one of the things Jane and I force ourselves to think of when we’re really craving dairy!

  23. “My initial thoughts are that by continuing to wear/use things that are controversial (leather, fur, diamonds) we are continuing to perpetuate a desire for these things”. Agreed –

    I have a fair share of pre-vegan leather articles – shoes & bags…. But I think I’m relating to them in a similar way as “pus to milk”. Maybe I’ve seen too many “hide stripping slaughterhouse videos”, but even handling the items – sort of makes me cringe….. knowing the pain and suffering it took to make them. They just feel and look “icky”. Hey! Are you vegan terrorists trying to brainwash me or something? :)

  24. Hi Lane,
    I don’t plan to buy any animal products, second hand or otherwise (please remind me I said this when I use up my stash of pre-vegan wool for knitting!), but I still don’t see much of a problem with wearing it. If other people coveting our possessions is an issue, and we should lead by example, how do things like pleather shoes and meat analogues fit in? To an outside observer, it looks like we’re supporting the animal products industry, but we know better.

  25. seitansaid,
    that’s a really interesting and good point about pleather and meat-like substitutes. From the casual observer, it most likely does look like we’re wearing leather and eating hamburgers……it’d be ideal if we were all wearing hemp and eating brocolli–but we know that’s not going to be the case. Then again, you need to decide if you’re doing this as a PERSONAL decision or a social statement and example. Food for thought (um, no pun intended)

  26. Hi Seitan / Chelsea,
    Neither Jane nor I have sat down and given this a good “thinking-through. ” The pleather products have actually improved to the degree that we often feel we HAVE to look at the label to see what the product is made of. So using them could continue to increase the demand for real leather in the marketplace. I think the meat analogues are a little more obvious, and therefore don’t necessarily increase demand for the original products. But in either event, we’re potentially perpetuating a practice we don’t believe in. So yes, one’s ultimate motivation for eating vegan will certainly play into the decision to consume “faux” products.
    I know Jane and I will continue to use what we currently own. I’m not sure how our future purchases might be impacted by this thought.

  27. Hi again,
    I haven’t thought about a lot of what we’ve been discussing before now, which is part of why I like it. This conversation has brought ideas to my attention I may not have come up with otherwise.

    I always thought the difference between real and faux meat was obvious too, then someone showed me this article: http://tinyurl.com/3wa4ep

    I think it’s just ingrained in all of us (even the vegans at PETA) to assume that people are eating real meat. Keeping that in mind, I’m never giving up my BBQ seitan sandwich. Never!

  28. Hi Seitan,
    Agreed, the comments on this post have been food for thought.

    I just spent the last few moments looking at the link you provided. (Pamela Anderson is photographed eating a hot-dog. The assumption the author makes is that it is a real hot dog, as opposed to a vegan dog since “they don’t sell vegan dogs at kids ball games.” Of course, in a number of “vegan-friendly” cities I would suspect that is not the case, especially in Los Angeles and Portland. PETA claims the dog is vegan.)
    Yes, it’s interesting how we all make assumptions, it’s one of the reasons I’m considering my use of some of the faux products. I don’t want to help perpetuate the demand for those products. I believe in voting with my wallet. But if my vote “appears” to be for a different product to the outside world…

    As for the sandwich. I’m backing away slowly… You can keep it… No one is trying to take it away from you. ;-)

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