Vegan Devolution

Well, it’s happened again, another vegan blogger bites the dust. Carol at Vegan Evolution wrote a “Farewell But Not Really Goodbye!” post a few weeks ago where she said she was going to stop blogging because:

First off I’ve struggled with staying vegan recently. I won’t go into the whys and wherefores (it would sound an awful lot like excuses) but the fact is that while I still eat vegan food quite a lot and I still love to follow all the vegan blogs on my feed, I just can’t seem to commit 100% to veganism. So it seems hypocritical of me to have a blog about vegan food when I’m not eating vegan all the time or even most of the time.

Veganism is a “lifestyle” that eschews animal products and the reasons for doing that are not only subjective but not important as long as you are adhering to the practice. But with the ubiquity of such products in our everyday lives what does that mean? Where is the line that determines what or who is vegan? It’s a question that plagues vegans and causes a clash every now and then between them.
Vegan Bible
With so much focus on the elimination of animal products vegans tend to get obsessive about researching every items in the lives to make sure they are up to vegan code. The group Vegan Outreach tries to stem the effects of this quest for purity in their philosophy of veganism as “merely a tool to reduce suffering” but more on that later.

Veganism has built-in a propensity to strive for purity and if it doesn’t then what is it worth anyways? Vegans practicing near the threshold can get tangled up in the politics of it all and ostracized by other vegans. They may still care for animals, believe in animal rights and all that but if they dare eat a slice of cheese pizza they are no longer deemed worthy of the vegan title. Ideas don’t matter; it’s in the actions. If you transgress the vegan code, you’re out.

Vegans can regale you with stories of “animal rights” activists who tend to care about a specify animal issue while not being vegan themselves. They may advocate for pet animals but drink milk or protest at a fur demonstration but wear leather shoes. They gnash their teeth at such hypocrites but who isn’t a hypocrite in some way? I can probably find a dozen way you are right now just by reading this on a computer screen.

It doesn’t even have to be a direct challenge by another vegan though. A group that depends upon an adherence to praxis as a definition can’t very well be blamed for shunning transgressors. It is inherent to the very definition of veganism. Sure the qualifier of “as far as is possible and practical” was added to the definition by the Vegan Society but that won’t stop people from leaving veganism because they don’t feel worthy. And that is what happened with poor Carol at Vegan Evolution. When I followed up with a comment to clarify why she was vegan in the first place she explained:

… it is purely for animal rights reasons. It sickens me how humans believe that animals are merely ‘things’ to do with as they please.

So her reasons are ethical but because she couldn’t live up to the label she felt like a “fraud” and THAT is a textbook illustration of one of my issues with veganism. It automatically puts people on the defense when they were never really given the choice in the first place. When they do make an attempt they struggle to be worthy of their peers.

It looks like Carol is back though but what if vegans took this and the many other similar stories to heart and changed their approach? Can a person still care about animals and *gasp* eat or use them? Veganism needs to adapt or get selected against. We’re seeing that happen with the health vegans and now even with the ethical vegans. The dusty old dogma has been handed down leaflet by leaflet into a tired old mythology and justified like so many young earth creationists. I’d say the title of Carol’s blog is quite apropos.

8 comments to Vegan Devolution

  • Sorry to comment on a 10 month old post, but damn, you and I are really seeing a lot of the same things.

    We need to evolve veganism in a way that takes these examples seriously. I’m also starting to question the wisdom/utility of using the word “vegan” to describe it.

    Maybe we should call it “The New Way”.

  • Hurray! I’ve been doing all sorts of vegan activism for the last 10 years or so. I worked tirelessly trying to get the word “vegan” in the mainstream consciousness because I truly believed in it. I do think it’s flawed in many ways (obviously). Heck, it could still be the best thing we got still but I agree, we need a New Way.

    Thanks for the comment!

  • More vegan devo. Looks like Carol is still struggling with veganism shaming her from adopting an animal justice cause:

    If I ever manage to become a ‘proper’ vegan I will say to anyone who asks why: watch ‘Earthlings and you’ll understand. If you can get to the end that is. I’m sure that would make my argument far better than my words ever could.

    A textbook example of veganism’s dysfunctional effect.

  • Dave, I have a feeling that I probably agree with what you’re saying (I usually do), but I gotta admit that I’m not really clear on what you’re saying.

    If I had to guess, I think you’re saying that you think she’s reluctant to adopt a pro-animal stance/ethos because of her personal reluctance/inability to adopt a 100% vegan lifestyle, and that she wouldn’t have this feeling if (certain) vegans didn’t demand 100% “veganicity” as proof of “truly caring.” And that you think that’s bad (and I agree).

    Am I close?

  • I guess I tend to write a bit socratically but yeah that’s pretty much what I am saying. Many vegans would define a belief in pro-animal ethos by their vegan actions. If you aren’t vegan enough than you would be a no-good hypocrite. This position was just recently exemplified by one Gary Francione yesterday on his twitter:

    garylfrancione Claiming to endorse animal rights while consuming or using animal products is like claiming to endorse human rights while owning slaves.

    I would say though, that this is not an attitude that can be blamed on fundamentalists but on veganism itself which encourages such thinking.

  • Ahhh, GLF, still coming up with interesting, new ideas. Bleccchhh. It really is people like that who make people who are not 100% vegan (not that anyone really is, but I think you know what I mean) feel bad about themselves and give up because they feel like unworthy hypocrites. Plus, the sanctimony is just unbearable.

    I don’t know that we can blame the problem on “veganism itself” since it’s just an idea made up by and promoted by certain people. But I know what you’re saying. As I mentioned in one of my previous comments here, I sometimes doubt the wisdom of using the word vegan or promoting veganism. It’s so fraught with misunderstanding already and a lot of people are just plain weirded out by the word and concept itself, even more than they’re mystified by the idea of not eating dairy and eggs.

  • So what is the appropriate or more flexible or more relativistic position to be taken regarding eating animals? OR maybe just skip the personal politics and get to a more policy oriented animal rights project? I dunno, I need some clarification here.

    • Skeptical Foodie, thanks for your comment. I think this needs to be figured out for each person. Policy should reflect the ethics of the people so to spread awareness of this social justice issue is no different than the way we do for any other. “Going vegan” isn’t the solution the way it’s often pitched and I think the ideological position is often unclear and misconstrued.

      What’s your current thinking on using animals these days since your post: Seven Fishes and The Ethics of Vegetarianism?

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