Did you see the news earlier this year that Beyoncé and Jay-Z ended their vegan diet? Let’s see, celebrity starts vegan diet only to ditch it the next month. How is this even newsworthy? Of course, it’s easy to jump to conclusions that a vegan diet is just too hard, but truth be told, Beyoncé and Jay-Z only committed to a 22-day challenge in the first place! Jay-Z is quoted as saying when he started his Vegan Challenge late last year that he didn’t know what to expect when the vegan challenge was over. Would he stay on the plant-based diet or become a semi- or part-time vegan?
Vegan by Degrees
That article about celebrity vegans got me to thinking (always a dangerous thing). Can a person be vegan by degrees?
Then I thought about some of the conversations I’ve had with folks recently. People who started a vegan diet but found the day-in, day-out commitment to be less than palatable over the long-term.
And all this thinking led me to a conclusion: you don’t have to be “whole hog” to be vegan. Um, I think I violated a major vegan law just by saying that.
In fact, after even more deep thoughts on the subject I realized there are probably very few who could be considered 100%, full throttle vegans in the first place. Let me explain. If the definition of vegan is to eat or behave in a manner that causes zero animal suffering, then it’s nearly impossible for the average city dwelling person to be 100% vegan. Tires, for example, have animal products in them. You can choose not to have a car, but does that mean you won’t ride in any vehicle that has tires? It’s hard to imagine most people making that choice. Thousands of small animals are killed each year in the harvesting of grains and vegetables. Does this mean to be completely vegan you must grow your own food? Like I say, for most city dwelling folks, that’s a tall order.
Even for those who are so committed to veganasm that they choose to walk on dirt roads and resist the glares of their neighbors by planting their front yard with vegetables, is that truly something they expect from everyone around them? That would make veganism such a hardship that would severely limit the number of people who could adopt it as a lifestyle.
And when vegans shun leather for synthetic materials, is it worth noting what those synthetic materials are made from (such as petroleum-based products)?
I’m not actually arguing against becoming a vegan. What I am suggesting, though is that it’s nearly impossible for most of us to be 100% vegan.
Once the average person realizes it’s nearly impossible to live in the every-day world and be 100% animal cruelty free, then it’s easy to understand the concept of Vegan by Degrees. The thing is, there are already many different kinds of vegans in the world. I’m going to share some of these here with you now!
Ten Ways to Be Vegan
There are many ways you can slice and dice a vegan lifestyle. Here are a few I’ve come up with:
- Dietary Vegan – These are folks that don’t eat meat, dairy, or eggs, but are not as picky when it comes to things like leather or non-food animal-based products.
- Ethical Vegan – Ethical Vegans also don’t eat meat, dairy or eggs, but they take it to the next level by steering clear of animal-based products like leather.
- Green Vegan – They may appear the same as an Ethical Vegan by following the same lifestyle, but they do it for a different reason. They avoid animal products because of the impacts that industrial farming has on the environment. A good example that comes to mind for me is Jane Goodall. I read that she chose to give up meat and dairy after visiting factory farms and seeing how the animals were treated and understanding the impact this has on the environment as a whole.
- Raw Vegan — As the name implies, Raw Vegans eat their food, well, raw! It’s a strictly plant-based diet and they don’t eat anything that’s been cooked over 105F. If it sounds too restrictive, you should just see some of the amazing meals they prepare. It can be a time-consuming way to live, but there’s no doubt it’s healthy!
- Plant-Based Vegan — The main difference I see between a Plant-Based Vegan and other vegans, is that they’re picky about the source of their food. Whereas a dietary vegan may feel free to eat processed foods, such as non-dairy cheeses or processed veggie burgers, a Plant-Based Vegan will eschew processed foods for whole foods such as beans and legumes.
- The Paris Vegan – Otherwise known as the “Paris Exception” this diet’s poster child is the philosopher Peter Singer who describes it this way, “If you find yourself in a fine restaurant, allow yourself to eat what you want, and if you have no access to vegan food, going vegetarian is acceptable.” Translation? Eat vegan daily, but when you find yourself in a tough spot, don’t beat yourself up for going vegetarian.
- VB6 – Food writer Mark Bittman is the author of the book VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health for Good where he encourages a strict vegan diet (including no meat, dairy, or processed food) before 6 pm each day. After 6 pm you can eat whatever you want (but within moderation). For Bittman, who had been diagnosed pre-diabetic, it was a solution that allowed him to avoid a lifetime of medications.
- Weekday/Weekend Vegan – Some people have adopted a lifestyle of being vegan on weekdays and eating whatever they want on the weekends. Following this kind of eating plan may work better for people who are not ready for a full-time commitment.
- Virtually Vegan — This is the category of vegans that don’t eat meat and for the most part avoid dairy. They don’t buy eggs or milk, but if a trace amount of dairy happens to be in their favorite 12-grain bread, they’re not going to worry about it. They also aren’t worried about using honey. You know, if you think about it, honey is a very natural sweetener and bee keepers are very motivated to take good care of their bees. Virtual Vegans probably live a high percentage of their day avoiding animal products, but they’re not going to sweat the small stuff.
- Travel Vegan — My daughter created this one and I think it has some serious merit. A Travel Vegan is someone who is vegan most of the time but makes exceptions when traveling. One of the benefits of travel is exposing yourself to new experiences and cultures. Most cultures have their own music, traditions, styles, and they even have defined dishes. Just as you take in the sounds and the sites of these new cultures, you may choose to take in their food as well. Your avoidance of these foods could hamper your experience; limit your world view. So, for example, if you’re in France, a Travel Vegan would enjoy a croissant. If they’re in New Orleans, they’d have a beignet. It’s part of the experiences of those cultures.
A Vegan Lifestyle is About Choices
Another way of looking at it is this: a vegan lifestyle is about choices. At some point in time you’re going to have to make a decision about what percentage of veganism you can afford or be happy with. For me, that 90 – 95% range works just fine. On a day-to-day basis I don’t eat any meat, dairy, or eggs. I even read the labels on my garments and shoes and do my best to avoid the ones made with leather.
But I stop there. I don’t call the manufacturer to find out if the glue that was used in the shoe I want to buy was made from animal products. And I don’t ask the server if the bun that comes with my veggie burger has egg in it.
I also won’t wear white after Labor Day. That’s just disgusting!
Oh wait. That’s not a vegan thing.
There’s also been times when a family or a friend goes out of their way to make me a vegan dish. For example, my sister makes this delicious rice and broccoli casserole for Thanksgiving each year and she makes a special batch for me and my vegan crew. I’m fairly certain the soy cheese she uses is the one that has trace amounts of dairy in it.
Can someone please tell me why a soy-based cheese would have diary in it? I mean, aren’t most people who buy soy cheese wanting to avoid dairy?
Anyway, I refuse to make an issue out of it and eat it with the gusto and love it deserves. In my mind, any other reaction would be rude. If someone goes out of their way to make something special for the vegan in their life, the worst reaction they could receive is a lecture or some kind of patronizing comment about how the cheese they used was only 98% vegan. Really?
Besides, my sister can still beat me up. I don’t want to push her over the edge.
Oh the Guilt!
I know there are lot of well-intentioned people who really want to make a vegan lifestyle work, but also feel a tremendous amount of guilt over not staying strictly vegan 24/7. Here’s what I say — don’t live your life in some box abiding by restrictive, arbitrary rules.
Do the best you can every day. That’ll do.
Some days are not so good, but other days are great and those are the ones to focus on and strive for. If giving up mozzarella feels like pulling out a fingernail then just relax about it.
Everything is about balance. Overall, you know you’re making decisions that are so much better for your body, animals, and the environment. My mom loves it when I say this so here goes: It’s all good.
Either I’m brilliant or my mom is easily amused. Anyway, with time your taste buds will catch up with you and you won’t even crave mozzarella cheese anymore. Or maybe you will and you’ll choose to have some from time-to-time. Again…it’s all good. (I love making my mom smile).
And this leads me to my final point. There are some in the vegan community that are highly critical of anyone that doesn’t follow the exact same form of veganism as they do. They don’t eat white, refine sugar because it was processed using bone chard. So they think you shouldn’t either.
Someone recently has decided Palm Oil is not vegan so now you’re a spoke on a tire of evil if you have any Palm Oil in your diet. Or they think you shouldn’t wear shoes with any amount of leather in them.
[Add-on Note: If you need examples of the kinds of shaming behavior I’m speaking of, feel free to look at the comments below – there are plenty of examples there now. I am following Dr. Brené Brown’s advice (see her quote below), which is why I’m not responding to the negative comments that follow this post.]
“Don’t try to win over the haters; you are not a jackass whisperer.”
— Brené Brown, PhD, author of Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.
In the end, I think we should be embracing an attitude of community. I prefer an inclusive, expanding circle to an exclusive, restrictive one. I respect people who make decisions based on their own thoughtful process…as long as they don’t try to control mine. That’s what we like to refer to as judgmental, shaming behavior. It’s just gross.
Do you get the idea of what I’m saying? If you’re curious about veganism but don’t think you could do a 24/7 thing, you have options.
Veganism should not be an ideologue way of living. It shouldn’t be about arbitrary guidelines created by others. It should be about you finding your authentic swing and chiseling away at the parts that are inauthentic. That’s a quote, by the way, from one of my favorite books, The Authentic Swing, by Steven Pressfield, the author of The Legend of Bagger Vance.
So, here you are. Ten ways to give veganism a try. Is there one of these that sounds best to you?