Dear Author of “You Can’t Be ‘A Little Bit Vegan’,”
Hey, so I know you’re the best and most virtuous vegan in the world and stuff, but I have an itty-bitty confession to make: I am mostly vegan. That’s right: Mostly vegan. Get out your rosary beads and pray to Dr. Esselstyn, Lord and Saviour. Two years ago, I chose the plant-based life, but sometimes—just sometimes—I cook myself an omelette, or I order a proper piece of sushi. Please don’t hyperventilate, or have a panic attack, or knock over over one of your mini succulents. Please just hear me out.
I’m really not trying to cause a scene. I’m just tired. I am tired of culinary puritanism. I am tired of having to give a shit about the food that someone else puts into their mouth. I am tired of pissed-off millennials wagging their fingers at other people for eating a bovine by-product every once in a blue moon. I am tired of my Instagram feed being littered with photos of *easy peasy* chia pudding, followed by a diatribe about the virtues of veganism and 20 fruit emojis. I am tired of cruciferous vegetables being rotated through the limelight like yesterday’s boy bands and fad diets. I am tired of feeling guilty because, apparently, switching to plant-based alternatives 99 percent of the time is just as bad as not making the switch at all.
I’ve done my time as a judgmental, untouchable vegan, and it didn’t make me feel good. Sure, I felt healthy and clean—and, frankly, astonished at my own willpower—but silently critiquing other people for their slip-ups and their “poor choices” was, quite honestly, just a shitty way to be. Not to mention, I was sick to the teeth of going to restaurants and ordering yet another garden salad, when all I really wanted was some ahi tuna and a glass of wine that wasn’t certified vegan.
One day, I broke. It might have been the day I ordered some fish at a restaurant, or the day I decided to eat the Yorkshire pudding I’d made for a family roast dinner. Whenever that first time was, it was sincerely unmemorable; I didn’t sprout horns on either side of my forehead, nor did I head out to the wilderness and kill all the animals I could find. I felt no chasm splitting down my moral compass. In fact, I carried on as normal: Filling my grocery cart with flax milk, Daiya cheese, Boca burgers et al. But I realized that, every so often, the ground wouldn’t give way beneath me if I permitted myself to stray from the vegan path. I realized that the general pattern of my eating habits, my values, and my impact on the environment was not forever reversed; I was simply human, and imperfect, and it was okay.
Can I justify being “a little bit vegan?” No. If you’ll forgive the provocative title of this essay, I’d actually say I’m a lot vegan. I always opt for plant-based alternatives at the grocery store. I always pick the veggie burger, the soy creamer, the Earth Balance butter. I share essays and books about the benefits of veganism with my friends. My tiny consumer footprint is an earth—and animal-friendly one, and I’m proud of it.
I realize that many people reading this essay will ask why I don’t just call myself a vegetarian, or a pescatarian, or a flexitarian, or a “veggan.” The thing is, on paper, I call myself a vegan because, if I’m going to deviate, I’d like to be the one to make the choice for myself. I’d rather my friends and family knew I am a vegan instead of finding myself sitting in front of a lump of steak at a family meal. I’d rather provide an abundance of vegan options at gatherings than eat piles of cheesy delights ripped from Pinterest. If I privately allow myself small exceptions, they are measured and savored on my own terms. It’s a pang of guilt that I still feel, but it’s one that I will live with, and I don’t see that it’s anyone else’s place to comment upon.
Where else in life do we permit people to be so rigorously judgmental of other people’s decisions? Most educated, progressive millennials (read: the face of popular veganism) would, I assume, agree that concepts like religion, sexuality, and gender are kaleidoscopic notions rather than monochromatic identities. I, for example, am at peace with the idea that Christians might have completely different ways of understanding and communicating with God. I accept that two men might fall in love after years of identifying as heterosexual. I wholeheartedly support the transgender community. So why, and how, could I justify shaming someone’s eating habits? How could I justify such dietary prudishness when I’m accepting of so many other facets of human existence?
The answer is, I can’t. And, furthermore, I won’t. I don’t believe in chewing friends’ ears off for deviations from self-proclaimed identities. I don’t believe in canonizing oneself, on being smug and saintly and superior (and *kind of an asshole*). On that vein, I don’t believe in verbally abusing a person who, for example, eats a slice of non-vegan cake at their best friend’s birthday party, or has a slice of turkey at Thanksgiving with their family. I don’t believe that it’s acceptable to tarnish someone’s identity based on a minor blip here and there. I don’t believe that a morsel maketh a monster.
Instead, I believe in educating people about the environmental, ethical, and health benefits of choosing plant-based alternatives to meat, fish, dairy and eggs. I believe in having a discussion with people, in showing them how delicious and abundant these plant-based alternatives are. I believe in abandoning the superiority complexes, doing away with the “holier than thou” attitude, and simply offering advice when people seek it. I believe in expanding menu options for vegans in restaurants, and publishing vegan cookbooks, and almond milk ice-cream. I believe in encouragement and positivity and tolerance.
I know few people that can honestly say they recycle every piece of trash they accumulate, but most people I know say they “recycle.” I know few good Christians who go to church every Sunday without fail, but many people I know call themselves Christians. Does this tarnish their integrity? Of course not. Believe it or not, most people are fallible, they’re imperfect, and they mess up, but that doesn’t mean they’re hypocrites or cheats or liars. They’re still good people with good intentions. I believe in applauding people for making herbivorous food choices, and forgiving them for slipping up now and again.
This is how veganism is going to make a true difference: By encouraging and educating people to make plant-based food choices more often. If a thousand people ate meat once a week, it would have a significantly greater difference on the planet than if one person didn’t eat meat for a year. Building veganism as a preachy, rude, and unforgiving culture isn’t going to help gain favor amongst another two percent of the American population.
The core principle of veganism is kindness: Kindness to animals, and kindness to the environment. I simply hope that my fellow vegans can practice a little kindness towards other humans, too. I hope that we can forgive occasional deviations. I hope that we can applaud our friends for choosing soy products in favor of meat, or brown rice protein powders instead of whey, or nut-based milks instead of dairy. I hope that we see the value in the rapidly rising demand for plant-based foods. Above all, I hope that we learn to be a little kinder to ourselves, and realize that our dietary identities are, ultimately, as fluid as all the other identities we choose to occupy in life.
A “Mostly Vegan” Heathen