Today we embark on a fun vegan journey together. I’ve been teasing this since the beginning of the year and it’s finally time for us to get knee deep in the gray areas. We’re going to explore so many of the misconceptions, questions, nuances and singularities that come up when we go vegan, and for one reason or another, we’re feeling this pressure to be perfect or we’re imposing a standard of perfection on others.
In this series we’re going to be exploring those vegan gray areas, like what to do when a product says it has traces of animal products, what to do if we eat something that isn’t vegan, what to do if the vegan burger you love at your local restaurant is served in a bun that isn’t vegan. We’ll talk about whether beer, wine, sugar and honey are vegan, as well as people who have gone vegan except for one animal product they still eat. We’ll discuss things like eating vegan options at fast food restaurants, having to continue to buy animal products for family members, and much more.
The idea, is that we remove the pressure.
The pressure to be a “perfect” vegan because spoiler alert: there is no such thing.
Keep in mind throughout this entire series of posts and episodes that when I use the word “imperfect” in the title, I mean it as the biggest compliment. Nothing inspires more people to join a movement than seeing the humanity in other members of a group, the triumphs and struggles that people who are vegan face, as well as the feeling that there is no police or president expecting perfect and pure behaviour.
Let’s all remember the origin of the vegan movement. Veganism was originally defined as:
“A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—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 animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals." (The Vegan Society).
Keeping this definition in mind, let’s zoom into the idea behind being vegan which in my eyes is kindness.
Kindness towards the animals, kindness towards the planet we live in, kindness towards the people who work in the food industry, etc. Although definitions and concepts evolve and change as the years pass, nowhere is a description of what a vegan should look like, act like, dress like and be like. There is no figurative uniform. There is no mention of perfection or lack of nuance and gray areas, and trust me, as someone who has been supporting and helping people on their journey for years, there are so many moments in which the kind and helpful towards animals thing to do is, sometimes contradicts the idea of perfection and purity that many have internalized and live by. We’ll get into all of these examples throughout this series of shorter episodes.
In today’s edition, we’ll discuss a particular pet peeve of mine, that has grown exponentially thanks to social media and our current cultural climate. It’s the idea that vegans look a certain way, need to eat a certain way, believe in the same value systems, have the same political inclinations, among others. So many vegans I know fall outside this stereotype of what vegans “should” be, myself included, so I thought I’d get this series started by talking about people who begin to give veganism a try but feel isolated and outside the “club” because of either how they look, what they believe in or what their lifestyle looks like. This often means that for vegans who fall outside what they’ve seen as the vegan stereotype, they feel they’re in a figurative no man’s land, separated from non-vegans and separated from vegans as well. What are we here at Brownble but a bridge for connection? I’m already so excited and filled with anticipation for what this series will bring to the table.
What does a Vegan Look Like?
Very often I hear the pressure and even shame some people in larger bodies face when they go vegan. There is added pressure when making this change, since people will often expect the fringe result of weight loss and feel discouraged if this doesn’t happen for them. People in larger bodies even feel shame in acknowledging that they’re vegan because they fear being judged as not “doing it right” or they feel they won’t be a good example to inspire others to make this change. There’s pressure while going vegan, there’s pressure while they’re vegan and even after being vegan for many years. There is no rule as to how much you should weigh in order to be a “good vegan” or a “good example of veganism” or a sign that you’re “doing it right”.
There is often this stereotype that vegetarians or vegans are these waif-like creatures who are extremely thin and this is simply not the case. Not only do vegans come in all shapes and sizes, not only can they be privileged and less so, not only are they white or people of color, but IT’S IMPORTANT to see how this is a movement followed by many, regardless of appearance, socio economic status, religious or political views.
If you are on the outskirts of the stereotype of what a vegan should look like (often a white, slim person strolling around Whole Foods with a. spirulina smoothie on one hand and a basket full of organic vegetables in the other), let me give you the warmest welcome, this movement needs you just the way you are. It needs you so that other people who also fall outside this very rigid stereotype can feel they are welcome too. Kindness is a value that we all deem important, it’s no mystery that people of all shapes, sizes, genders, sexual orientations, skin colors, abilities or socio economic statuses are inclined to do their bit to help, once they learn what goes on in the meat, diary and egg industries. Because kindness is universal, so are the open doors of being vegan.
Political Views and Value Systems
There’s something very positive to say about the current climate we’re living in, with all the efforts put into inclusivity in language, acceptance of minorities and marginalized groups, and an effort to get equality for all. I love that now the expectation to really be mindful and inclusive with your words is something that many are conscious of. This current climate has countless positive aspects to it, but it has a bit of a downside too. Through the cracks of these wonderful changes, the expectation of “being perfect” seeps in too. There is so much policing, so much public shaming, and although I believe in educating people, I often find that that’s not what people are doing in spaces online, instead turning the focus on how someone isn’t good enough, rising up in an imaginary pedestal for being the ones to call others out.
When a movement like veganism, which is stemmed in animal, environmental and human rights, the topic of other forms of oppression also comes up (also a positive aspect), but again, it can feel like too many layers of identity for someone taking on the new task of leaving animal products behind. What if we took it one step at a time?
Let me ease your mind in telling you that you are a part of this wonderful movement of change that is going more and more mainstream by the second, just by being who your are right now. Being vegan doesn’t come with a checklist in which you have to also tick the boxes of being an intersectionalist, anti-capitalist or socialist, liberal or progressive non-religious, king in the woke department, an animal rights activist who goes to protests once a week, someone who makes all their cleaning products at home and makes their own toothpaste, someone who doesn’t buy a single item wrapped in plastic, EVER, someone who never buys from big retailers, someone who only buys clothes at a thrift shop.
We are normal people living in an imperfect world and one of the ways to live in the gray a bit more is to allow for differences. Asking ourselves:
“How can I be better?” YES!
“What else can I do once I’m comfortable with my initial steps?” YES!
“How can I extend this kindness to animals towards minorities or people in need?” YES!
“How can I be perfect so I can feel like I’m a part of this particular group even though I don’t feel like I am?” This one tends to backfire and not help you, or the animals.
You can be you.
You can make changes in the way you eat and continue learning about other injustices and take these on when you feel you can.
You can be vegan and be you when it comes to the stores you buy in.
You can be vegan and be you and still vote for the political party of your choice.
You can be vegan and be you and still have your own value system.
You can be vegan and be religious.
You can be vegan and keep the values and traditions you were raised with.
You can be vegan and change and evolve over time.
You can be vegan and decide for yourself which identities you want to explore and leave the rest.
You can be vegan and be you.
The Way we Eat
Another whirlwind of vegan expectations is the way we fill our plates as vegans. Depending on who we’ve encountered, who we follow online, which books we’ve read, and more often than not, the motivation behind others going vegan (i.e. animal rights, or health or environmental reasons), there can be layers upon layers of pressure and demands made on someone going vegan. For example, not including oils in our diet, not including sugar, not including gluten, not including processed foods, etc. The reason we at Brownble don’t add any additional restriction other than the inherent restriction present when excluding animal products, is we want this transition to be manageable, delicious and comfortable for you. So often we’ve seen people go back on what is a very kind and also healthful way to eat because they were so rigid on the rules it became either unsustainable, or they weren’t meeting caloric or nutrient needs during an ironic quest for perfection in eating.
When it comes to the way we eat as vegans, the only truly important thing to be aware of is getting our nutrient needs met, for that, our favorite resource can be found in The Plant Plate, after this, creativity and flavor in the kitchen is important. Delight is important. Satisfaction is important. Happiness and joy with the way we eat is also important. All of these are important for positive health.
It’s so funny how going vegan once seemed like the ultimate example of going outside the margins for me, and once I became vegan it seemed that many of the stereotypes associated with this change didn’t apply to me. I found myself outside the margins once again. For many people this is one very short step away from deciding to go back to eating animal products. I’m on a mission to help you come to the table with what makes you YOU.
From one “outlander” to another, if you felt that any of these examples today rang true for you, you are welcome in this way of eating and living that is based on kindness at its core. If you’re experiencing a sense of not belonging or isolation, find community in people who are flexible and love to live in the gray. Brownble is a welcoming space where everyone is accepted and treated with kindness. There are many other spaces like this online and in person, and it’s important that you remember that you can be you. You don’t need to be perfect, you don’t need to pass an entry exam, you don’t need to fit the stereotype, you don’t need to change your political views, and the boundaries of where your activism and efforts lie are always chosen by you and what is within your means. A very helpful mantra to keep in mind as you go on your journey, especially when you follow other vegans in social media is: “Is this true for everyone?” and “this is what’s right for them. What’s right for me?”.
Remember that we help animals the most by encouraging many people to make these changes in a way that is possible for them, what a better way to lead by example and show everyone that they are welcome too, than to show diversity? Diversity in appearance, diversity in educational backgrounds, diversity in socio-economic status, diversity in political views and value systems, diversity in how you live, fill your plate and do your best to help others.
We’ll explore another common theme in what it means to be an “imperfect” vegan in our next episode and post.
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