To be vegan, do you have to be TOTALLY vegan? {{ currentPage ? currentPage.title : "" }}

First of all, nobody can really be 100% vegan, if by “100% vegan” you mean causing zero harm to animals, ever.

Everybody's welcome!

Rather, each vegan makes their own calculation about what veganism means to them. Unfortunately, sometimes vegans can give other vegans a hard time when these formulas don’t match up perfectly. But by-and-large this doesn’t happen, because vegans understand that, sadly, no matter how we live our lives, we will have some negative impact on other beings, and veganism is really a matter of figuring out how to reduce that impact and harm as much as is feasible.

Is somebody vegan if they still wear the leather shoes that they bought before they switched to veganism? That’s up to that vegan. (Many vegans think so, and continue to use their “pre-gan” items until they wear out.) Is somebody vegan if they eat honey or go to the zoo? That’s up to that vegan. (Some vegans do these things, some vegans don’t.)

What’s key here is that it would be terrible if somebody’s worries about what it means to ‘really’ be vegan in any way discouraged that person from making choices that reduced harm. Whether somebody else thinks you’re a ‘real’ vegan or not, if you’re taking proactive steps in your everyday life to reduce harm, you deserve a big high-five. Call yourself whatever the heck you want!

But. In all fairness, labels really can be useful sometimes. I’ve encountered hotdogs labeled ‘vegan’ that contained egg, ‘vegan’ sandwiches with dairy cheese on them, and a ‘veggie burger’ that was wrapped in bacon. This can make it really hard for vegans to select food items that align with their values. So, at least in the realm of food, there is a benefit to establishing a consensus that ‘vegan’ should signify an item that doesn’t contain any animal ingredients or animal by-products.

But look at me, I really am totally vegan. So I’m all set now, right?

Maybe somebody is feeling super gung-ho and manages to painstakingly check off every feasible thing on the vegan checklist. While that degree of thoroughness is pretty impressive, it’s not like somebody can go vegan and then just sit back and rest on their laurels.

Some folks harbor the misconception that vegans only care about animals, and don’t care about helping other people, or advocating for other causes. On the contrary! I’ve personally found, and have seen reflected many times over in my local vegan community, that going vegan has made me more active in helping, not less active. Part of the reason is because veganism is an easy, daily, proof-of-concept victory.

Here’s why: it can seem overwhelming and insurmountable to figure out how I personally can help tackle global suffering. But I’ve proven to myself that I have the power to make a dent in that suffering every single day, and that knowledge is like a booster-pack that gives me the power and confidence to go out and try to help in other ways, too.

Before going vegan, I squashed down my concerns about my relationship to animals because it seemed like a big, scary problem, and I did the same thing with a lot of other big, scary problems facing the world. Now I know that it’s better to stand up to these problems than to hide from them, and now that I’ve gotten the hang of this veganism thing, it’s time to tackle the next thing. Bring it on!

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