Veganism: Authentic and Achievable?

So you’re three-quarters of the way through Veganuary and you think you’re doing great with only minor transgressions (that sneaky packet of mini cheddars!), and all is good. You may even be contemplating carrying on into February and beyond… when someone comes along and says:

“Did you know that phone you are getting is stuck together with glue from animals?”

“Your toilet cleaner is from a brand which tests on animals”

“You buy meat for your dog?”

“You’ve been swimming. Chlorine is tested on animals!”

“YOU HAVE LEATHER SHOES!!”

And all of a sudden you feel like a bit of a fraud.

But if this sounds familiar then don’t despair!

All or nothing?!

Are you an all-or-nothing type of person? If you are then being vegan can seem unattainable. It’s difficult to be 100% vegan because once you open the door to ethical vegan consumerism a grim truth unfolds: there is some kind of animal product in a whole load of stuff that we use on a daily basis. There are animal products in money (banknotes), in printer ink, in the glue that is used in our car interiors, in laptops and phones, the list goes on. Chlorine was tested on animals before its use as a chemical weapon in WW1, and so speaking very strictly our swimming pools are not actually vegan! But is it seriously practical or realistic to never go swimming again?!

Many of the things we use cause harm to animals in their production. Crude oil for instance is often extracted in a way that affects sea life. Crop farming can rely on a lot of pesticides, and clothes production causes environmental damage through water pollution, to name just a few. It quickly becomes apparent that being a vegan is not the same as just being able to say “I’ll never eat meat or chocolate again”. So how can we feel like we are being an authentic vegan when we are simply trying our best?

The answer is in our values
People are vegan for a number of different reasons, and this means they have different priorities. Those who are vegan because of the environmental impact may have different priorities than someone who is vegan for animal welfare reasons, or for personal health. Of course, for many of us, it will be a combination of reasons. The important thing is to be sure of why you want to be vegan and this will give rise to your own personal set of values.

There are many different factors to consider. For example, we have the question of whether to buy non-vegan things second-hand, like leather shoes, belts, coats, sofas, etc. This is a hot topic because some vegans feel it’s simply not right to wear/sit on something that caused suffering because the item itself goes against their values. Others feel that it is fine to buy second-hand leather as it is not creating a market or a demand for new leather. And that in fact the more second-hand leather there is in circulation, and the more available it is for those who want to buy, say, a leather sofa, then the more likely they will be inclined to buy second-hand instead of new.

Personally, I’m split between the two camps. I don’t like the idea of wearing or sitting on the skin of an animal that has been killed, but I also think that it is environmentally sound to keep as much stuff going in circulation for as long as possible, rather than it all ending up in a landfill.

There are also ethical choices to be made within veganism. For example, almond milk uses a huge amount of water in its production process and so oat milk is a much more environmentally sound choice. Some vegan food is highly processed, and some brands use ethical packaging and practice fair trade more than others.

So how do I reassure myself that I am an authentic vegan?
The key is to make every choice with the best intention. It will not always be possible to choose 100% vegan. For instance, we probably need a car, phone, and computer to do our jobs, and we may not have much of a choice about which ones we end up with. Some medicines are not vegan but we may need them to stay healthy. The important thing is to choose vegan when there is a choice to be made, and to make choices that align with our own values, whether that be wearing second-hand leather or no leather at all.

The Vegan Society defines veganism as:

“A way of living that seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to animals”

This statement is really interesting because it shows that veganism isn’t extreme and is actually really attainable and realistic for anyone trying to be vegan in modern society. It’s not about a dogmatic perfectionism, it’s the act of choosing the path of least harm that is practically available to you in every situation.

So there we are. If you, like me, felt like a bit of a fake vegan at times this month, in actual fact, according to the official definition from the people who invented veganism in the first place, there is a good chance that we are a real, genuine vegan after all!

So now that we have more confidence in ourselves, we can look at ways to take vegan idealism forwards into our future, should we want to.

Becoming a conscious consumer
Throwing out all our non-vegan belongings and re-buying vegan just isn’t going to cut it from an environmental, financial, or practical point of view.
Being vegan is an evolution – your veganism is your journey. As long as you know why you are on that journey and that the choices you make are yours, and not choices and expectations that other people have imposed on you, then that’s enough.

“Dynamic Assessment” is a bit of a work term, but it’s one that is really useful here. It means we need to make judgements on the go, all day, every day. Should I choose the second-hand leather shoes or buy a new non-leather pair that has probably been stuck together with non-vegan glue? If someone cooks me a meal with cheese in it should I eat the meal to save waste and not to offend them, or should I refuse it?
We assess things and make choices all day anyway, it is second nature for us, and we simply need to extend this decision-making to include consideration of veganism. After a while, making “vegan” choices will come as second nature too. Perhaps we will even see this happening before the end of January, which is why trying veganism for an entire month is such a good idea.

The choice is yours to make, with the information you have. There is never a perfect answer, just go with what aligns best with your values and belief system, and is practical in that moment.

If the decisions we make align as closely as possible with our values, we will feel more authentic and happier on our vegan journey.


More Blogs in this series…