Friday, January 22, 2010

vegetarian is a diet; vegan is a way of life

It's been a while since I've gone into a good old fashion vegetarian rant, so it's high time that I get back on my high horse!

I recently came across the quote you see as this post's title and I have to say that I'm more than a little put out by it. As a lacto-ovo vegetarian of 17 years, there is nothing diet related to my vegetarian lifestyle. It's not something that I do to lose weight, nor to reduce calories or fat, nor is it something I cheat at. (I've been asked if I couldn't just cheat and eat a little meat).

Here's the thing: the very thought of chewing on flesh revolts me. If you love you steak, that's fine. I don't care, that's your choice. But for me, I try to eliminate my consumption of animal based products as much as possible. No, I haven't commited to being vegan because I realize how difficult this would be in a world that is meat-centric. From muffins and bread to cheese and chocolate, a vegan lifestyle would mean that my choices in mainstream culture would be more limited. I agree that veganism is a lifestyle choice, a very difficult, yet rewarding choice for those committed to making it.

However, my vegetarian lifestyle is also a choice that requires a certain amount of commitment (which I make very happily) and effort. I eat dairy but work hard to find yoghurt that is gelatin free. I drink milk, but only from organic suppliers (because milk production is a disturbing industry), my eggs, on the rare occasions that I eat them, are organic and free range. I buy organic cosmetics, free of pesticides and hormones. And if I take vitamins, they are vegetarian vitamins (no iron supplements from meat for this vegetarian). I read my product labels and check for meat based goods in everything from soups, juices, and cheeses. I eat rennet free and double check all those "Omega 3 and 6"s for fish based products.

Inasmuch as I can, I buy organic, fair trade, non-GMO produce.

I advocate for vegetarianism daily. I work hard to tow the line between militant activism and compassionate awareness in order not to alienate my non-veg friends, yet make them aware of the choices they are making every day. My motto in terms of vegetarian activism is, and has always been: You catch more flies with honey than vinegar. So I introduce friends to food options that are meat free when they come over [or did prior to moving in with a meat eater who is by the by, far more aware and conscientious in his meat consumption than he was prior to meeting me)].  I accept that they may love their veal, but I let them know about the ethical issues surrounding veal production and leave the choice in their hands.

I work with students and constantly teach them about essay writing by providing them with an essay based on advocating for meat reduced diets, if not vegetarianism, as a way to help reduce our carbon footprint (and they are always surprised by the facts that I present for my argument).

I make my extended family aware of vegetarianism, environment issues, and social justice whenever I can. I've watched the people around me become more and more environmentally aware based on curiousity that was piqued by an issue I discussed and the rise in media attention on the issue. My choice to not eat meat forces the people in my world to rethink where they eat and what they consume when we go out together, which by extension, makes them aware of the challenges of my choice in a meat eating world. No, they may never become vegetarians, but they are far more aware of vegetarian politics because of me. (Some would argue too aware because of some of my rants... but that's another discussion).

The point is, being vegetarian (even if this post makes it sound like it), isn't about a sacrifice on my part, it's about an ethical choice that I made at 16 to live according to principles that mean a great deal to me. And every year I learn more and more about the choices we make and their impact on the world and strive to incorporate them into my life in a meaningful way. Last year I eliminated most of my chemical cosmetics (there are still a few hold-overs, but for the most part my daily make-up/hygiene routines are low impact on the earth and body). The year before that I committed to vegetarian, enviro-friendly products to clean the house. And I continue to educate myself about product labelling and green-washing in order to avoid the traps that often lead consumers into thinking they are making sustainable choices that are far from it.

So yeah, when I read something like vegetarianism is a diet, it gets my back up. Cause I'm sorry but there is nothing diet-like about my commitment to a vegetarian lifestyle and activism. It's insulting to even hear/read that someone claims there is.


  1. I agree that some vegans can be arrogant and condescending towards other vegetarians, and I empathize with your point of view. Vegetarianism (even if you do eat dairy and eggs) is a big step towards freeing animals from suffering.

    On the other hand the defenses you offer (only free range eggs, only organic milk) are identical to the defenses offered by meat eaters who want to pretend they are not supporting cruelty -- and they are just as meaningless. You cannot buy dairy/eggs that are cruelty free. Not even if you go directly to your local organic farm. At several stages in the process, cruelty underlies all animal-foods. Research it!

    Kudos to you for practicing a vegetarian lifestyle, which certainly reduces the amount of suffering you cause. Any reduction in the harm we do is great, and I commend you. But don't give up on the idea of reducing the suffering even more. Maybe eat a few less eggs?
    Have dairy free Mondays? Vegan weekends? Anything helps.

  2. Hmmm... definitely food for thought.

    In regards to the cruelty free issue, you're right, I can't deny that my food actions participate in the cycle of animal cruelty. However, I didn't decide to become vegetarian solely in relation to animal cruelty. So while I know it is the motive behind the choice for many, it isn't the only reason that compels me to live the lifestyle I live. My goal is to minimize my impact, not completely negate it.

    Although I didn't go into it, because it wasn't really my point...(as I was really taking issue more with the idea that my choices are a diet, not a lifestyle) I do try to eat vegan. I rarely eat eggs and do have days with no dairy. However, I've never tried a "vegan" day, just vegan meals... and maybe I should challenge myself to do more in the way that I challenge my meat eating friends.

    Let's face it, most of us could be doing more than we currently do. I'm just trying to live a life that tries to reduce my impact and challenge myself to live a more ethical/sustainable lifestyle. So yes, a vegan day is a challenge that I'm more than willing to take on!

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