This Is What a Vegan Looks Like!

I’m excited for the upcoming Carnival of Empty Cages. I hope the carnival will help me find and join the vegan blog scene now that Tekanji has provided me a place to discuss my herbivorism. I begin by defining vegan because it’s a fluid term. I intend this post to be a gateway to future discussions about my veganism coinciding with my feminism (and how I got here), the intersections of animal exploitation and human oppression, and even some critiques of the animal rights movement from an anti-racist feminist perspective.

Motives for Writing

what's a vegan?

Last quarter, in my feminist theory class at university, I focused on the intersection of animal liberation and feminism for my term paper. As I expected, the authors I consulted argued that veganism coincides with a feminist lifestyle (I’ll talk more about this connection in future posts). But some of the authors assumed I already knew what veganism was; a definition of vegan was missing. How did they hope to persuade the feminist who pictured an anemic, maligned salad-eater?

So what is it already?

Vegan is a fluid identity. I want to lay out what it means to me because not everyone shares my definition and I want readers to know what I’m talking about when I say vegan. Fellow veg*ns are free to disagree, so long as they don’t tell me I’m not vegan–I still have a few outstanding warrants from the Vegan Police to dodge first. (Veg*n is a catch all term for people on the spectrum of vegetarianism.)

My definition:

A vegan is someone who boycotts direct support of animal cruelty. This primarily comes into practice with my choices as a consumer. I ask myself: is my money going towards animal suffering? If we’re talking about the eggs in a pastry, yes. I’m supporting an industry that even in cage-free settings must slaughter male chicks and the hens past their reproductive prime because keeping them alive would be too expensive.

I don’t avoid items far removed from animal harvesting. For example, how would I be helping animals by not purchasing a bike produced with glue containing animal ingredients? Those byproducts of animal slaughter will be replaced by plant-derived sources, which will become cheaper when less animals are slaughtered for meat. Veganism is lifestyle that incorporates a boycott of direct forms of cruelty.

Although I don’t purchase leather or wool items, and avoid products tested on animals, my veganism in practice primarily focuses on what I eat. Because 99 out of 100 animals raised in my country are slaughtered for food, I believe my efforts will have most of an impact focusing on the consumption of animal products. I don’t eat meat, diary, or eggs because harvesting these foods requires animal suffering. I do make other food considerations that don’t fall under veganism. For example, I prefer local produce to support sustainable agriculture and avoid partially hydrogenated oils for my health.

If a food item is labeled vegan, it doesn’t contain meat, gelatin, dairy, eggs, or honey. When I say meat, I include poultry and seafood.

Veg-in? Vay-gun? Veegan?

I pronounce it vee-gan. I haven’t heard a vegan pronounce it otherwise, so be prepared for some funny looks if you call us veggin’s or vay-guns (rhymes with ray-gun).

Animal Rights and Animal Welfare

I want to clarify the difference between animal rights and animal welfare. Animal welfare is what most of you (and me) are in favor of: humane treatment of animals. Animal rights advocates entire liberation from human use. We both don’t want animals to suffer unnecessarily, but we don’t agree on what’s necessary.

I compare animal welfare and animal rights to liberal feminism and radical feminism. Animal welfare and liberal feminism both work for change within the system, while animal rights and radical feminism want a revolution that will dismantle oppressive hierarchies. (Ecofeminism joins the two and recognizes the ways in which animal and human dominion are interconnected.) I prefer to focus on our common goals rather than our differences. Fighting amongst ourselves takes time away from changing the world.


Ariel and her pizza

Veganism isn’t an exclusive club, nor does it have to be all or nothing. I encourage people to do what they can in their own lives. If you want to be vegan but would never give up cheese pizza or Turkey on Thanksgiving (and the faux stuff doesn’t do it for you), that doesn’t mean you can’t boycott other forms of animal cruelty from your life.

My veganism is largely inspired by the group Vegan Outreach (I recommend their website if you want to read up more about reasons for being vegan and what it entails, or there is always the Wikipedia article). They taught me that veganism is not about avoiding a list of ingredients. What fun is that? I’m the last person who wants her options limited. I remind myself that this is a choice (although I seldom remember these days that animal derived foods are an option). This is who I am, who I always will be, and I have fun with it.

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9 thoughts on “This Is What a Vegan Looks Like!

  1. For me everything is connected. Feminism-veganism-human rights-the environment.

    I have to admit though when it comes to activism, veganism is by the far the easiest. Every day a few times a day I make a conscious effort to avoid animal products. Unfortuantely its not that easy to demonstrate every day how passionate I am about the environment, feminism or human rights.

    Btw, how long have you been vegan for?

  2. I honestly can’t remember, isn’t that horrible?

    I know it had been about 3-4 years. I count it by the number of vegan xmas I have had.

  3. That’s funny cuz i have been putting together a post in my head about my own definition of vegan. I’ll post something soon. What got me started was when someone asked if i was vegan for health reasons. You’d think i’d be used to the question after hearing if for eight and half years, but out of nowhere my response was “i don’t think you can be vegan for health reasons”. What i meant was that, for me, veganism is a selfless act of compassion that extends from a desire to end oppressive systems. And vegan for health reasons just seems so arrogant and self-centered that it couldn’t possibly include a defition of social justice. I began wondering if we needed a new word (like the so-called octo-lacto-vegetarians) for vegans for health reasons. We shouldn’t forget the story of the word vegetarian either. Until recently, vegetarian meant what we call vegan today. It was only when folks started getting a little weak with their principles that it was decided to create a new word to distinguish those of us that don’t make excuses. I sound a little hardline, huh?

    I like saying that veganism is a diet. Because diet, if you look at its root, means “way of life”. For me, i’m creating a compassionate way of life where my actions are not malaligned with my principles. And if we look at it that way can it ever be “just a diet”?

    Oh, and i pronounce it v-gun 🙂 Ever since some friends and i did some really fun anti-fur street theater with some cardboard guns that had written on the side “v-gun” i haven’t been able to get it out of my head. Thanks for the post. I’ll be including it in the Carnival!

  4. I call the “health vegans” strict vegetarians, since they don’t have any obligation to avoid leather or even gelatin other than fitting into a label.

  5. Great post! And I’m not just saying that because it makes me happy when you post here. 🙂

    Veganism isn’t a practice I feel I can adhere to at this point in my life, but I’ve tried to do what my mom does: be conscious of where my meat/dairy is coming from. She’s even made a point about contacting different farms in order to get a better idea of how they treat their animals.

    She also adamantly speaks out against fast food organizations (like McDonalds), who are truly awful on so many levels – treatment of animals included. Actually, if you’re interested in knowing more, I’d recommend Fast Food Nation. I began my general boycott of most fast food restaurants because of health reasons, but the info in that book made me add political ones to the list.

    I look forward to reading more posts by you on the subject. Maybe some of those recipies you promised? I suck at baking, but your food is so tasty I might just force myself to learn how to use the oven in order to keep the tasty flowing during my several year journey into the land of the rising sun o.o;

  6. This is years and years late, but I just wanted to express my appreciation for this article and for this site in general. I’m very passionate about feminism, human rights, the environment, and animal welfare, so finding this site last week was spectacular. I especially appreciated this article because I’m what I used to call a “half vegan.” I don’t eat meat at all and try to stay away from dairy, eggs and other animal products, like leather, wool, or gelatin. For both health and financial reasons, this isn’t 100% effective, meaning I occasionally (as in “very, very rarely”) have to buy free range eggs or cheese from local places I trust. I’m also okay with keeping old leather/wool items from before I was vegan, or purchasing them at a thrift store (maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t see this as a direct contribution to institutions that harm animals). So I know I’m not a “typical” vegan, but it’s good to have someone describe what being vegan means and how each vegan is different. So I may be five years late to the party, but thanks.

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