Friday, November 18, 2011

Veganish: It's Okay to Hurt Animals Once in a While

There’s a new fad strutting its stuff these days. It’s called veganishism. It’s also known as half-assed veganism, lazy veganism or veganism-for-people-who-think-it’s-cool-to-say-they’re-vegan-when-they-really-aren’t. It refers to people who are “mostly” vegan but still eat animal products now and then.

The Urban Dictionary ( defines it as “An eating practice for people who kinda want to be vegan, but sometimes just need to eat some cheese or chicken.” It is also described as “guilt free veganism”.

Surprisingly, a number of vegans are promoting the idea of “veganish” so as to, if I understand correctly, make people who care about animal suffering and exploitation, but can’t quite adhere to a 100% vegan diet* feel less guilty if they “fall off the wagon” from time to time.

Other advocates of occasional veganism are motivated by personal health or a cleaner, more sustainable environment, rather than violence to other animals. As noted above, many, if not most advocates for “veganishism” only focus on food issues and don’t address the other aspects of veganism, such as clothing, animal experimentation, hunting and fishing, and all other areas of animal oppression. explains veganish this way:

“If someone smokes a pack of cigarettes a day, they’re clearly a smoker; but if, once or twice a year, they get drunk at a party and smoke a cigar, then they’re a non-smoker who smokes every once in a while. We propose a similar way of thinking for veganism: if 95%’ish of the time you’re vegan, you’re vegan or veganish.”

Advocates for veganishism argue that as long as people are trying to be vegan, they should be referred to as vegans, or veganishes (?) because in spirit, if not actually in practice, they are vegans. They also contend that more people would be willing to try veganism if they didn’t have to be 100% vegan at the get-go, and if they weren’t attacked for not living up to some vegans’ perfect, yet “impossible” standards.

From an animal rights point of view, promoters of veganishism believe fewer “food” animals would suffer and die because given the choice between vegan and veganish, more people would choose the latter because it’s easier.

Now to me, veganish is no different from occasional vegetarianism or occasional carnism. I have no problem with the word vegan, its definition or adhering to its principles. But the bastardization or watering down of the word to make it more appealing to people troubles me.

To be vegan is to eliminate, as much as possible, ALL forms of cruelty towards other animals. And, I might add, ALL the time. Not whenever you feel like and not whenever it’s convenient. It’s a moral position (and a stand against violence), not one that you can ignore when it suits you and not one that changes day to day.

I have some friends who consider themselves "vegetarians in principle" because they say they love animals and they feel bad for them when they’re killed for food - but they still eat them. I think veganish is the same thing: you don't have to be vegan in practice, just in principle, kinda like Mark Bittman's Vegan Until Six program or the Conscientious Carnivores. If you cause suffering to animals once in a while, that's okay, because you're not really vegan - you're veganish!

Let’s look at it another way. If I reduced the amount of beatings I inflicted on my child by 95% I would still be a child abuser. If I was pulled over for speeding I could argue that since I go the speed limit 95%-ish of the time I really wasn’t speeding at all. The police officer would then tear up the ticket, tell me to have a nice day and let me go own my way - yeah right!

My point is that if you reduce your cruelty to animals, even by 80, 90 or 95%, but intentionally cause their suffering and death once in a while, you’re still causing their suffering and death. This is not something to celebrate.

Would we applaud the person who goes 364 days a year without sexually molesting a child or murdering another human being but “falls off the wagon” and destroys someone else’s life just that one time? How is this any different from “veganishism”? I’ll tell you: it’s no different because it still causes someone else to suffer.

And if you’re saying to yourself, “But he can’t compare the murder of a human being with the use of animals,” then you aren’t really an animal rights activist. That’s because equal consideration is at the heart of the animal rights movement. If you wouldn’t want someone to use, imprison, torture or slaughter you, then you don’t do it to someone else, whether that someone has two legs, four legs, wings or gills.

It’s easy to fall off the wagon if you’re vegetarian or vegan for health reasons or to reduce your carbon footprint. You can always assure yourself that, if you slip up, cheat or cave in one day, you can just make up for it the next day. What’s the harm?

We all consume things that aren’t 100% healthy for us, but we believe that “anything in moderation” is okay, or if we eat something bad “once in a while” it’s not going to kill us. After all, we’re not perfect and we all impact the planet negatively, to some degree, each and every day. In this context, falling off the wagon occasionally is no big deal.

But if you’re vegan for ethical reasons, because you believe that using and slaughtering animals are forms of violence and morally WRONG, then falling off the wagon occasionally becomes a BIG DEAL, because every time you consume animal products, you’re contributing to the suffering, exploitation and killing of other animals.

The whole idea of “veganish” seems to want to pat people on the back who aren’t fully committed to a lifestyle of compassion, and to make people feel good when they do eat animals. I think this is a mistake (and imagine how confusing it is to non-vegans!).

None of us are perfect and there's no such thing as a 100% consciously or unconsciously aware vegan - your car alone most likely contains animal by-products of one kind or another and we all support animal exploitation to a degree, even if it's buying vegan food at a grocery store that sells animal products - but the goal is to eliminate, as much as humanly possible, those products from your life.

If you want to cut down on your animal consumption for health, the environment or the animals, great! But making up a word to make people feel good about the occasional suffering and death they’re causing doesn’t change the fact that unless you’re vegan, you’re still part of the problem, just as you’re part of the problem if you murder, rape and steal (even if it’s only 5, 4, 3, 2 or 1% of the time).

I don't think anyone should be shamed or ridiculed because they're trying to be vegan, but stumble once in a while. If you’re vegan in every other aspect of your life but just can’t give up cheese, then you’re definitely reducing the amount of suffering in the world.

My advice to them is to do your best to be vegan. Don’t beat yourself up if you slip up once in a while, just get back on the wagon and move forward. Seek out vegan organizations to help you find cruelty-free alternatives and to reassure you that you’re doing the right thing when you’re feeling weak. You’ll find that other vegans will be more than happy to share their experiences and expertise with you!

But if you're “okay” with causing the suffering, exploitation and slaughter of other sentient beings, even once in a while, you're NOT vegan, and all the variations in the world (veganish, veganesque, etc.) won’t change the fact that until you DO go vegan, you’re still part of the problem, not the solution.

Does the individual cow, chicken or pig suffer any less if someone is veganish? As long as there is a demand for animal products - any amount of animal products - animals will continue to suffer and die. There’s no such thing as slaughter-lite, death-free death or exploitation-ish. The idea of veganish is just as absurd.

*According to Donald Watson, co-founder of the British Vegan Society and creator of the word, veganism “denotes a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude - as far as is possible and practical - all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment."