Friday, February 22, 2013

Occupying the In-Between

In the veggie world, there are vegetarians and vegans.  Among meat-eaters, there are proud carnists, sympathetic carnists, and ethical omnivores.  Flexitarians occupy the space betwen veggies and meat-eaters.  I started this blog because I feel there's a perspective that's missing from the online discussion of animal rights.

Carnists tend to oppose veg*nism, or at least argue that meat consumption is a personal choice.  Ethical omnivores tend to promote animal welfare, but not animal rights.  While flexitarians and vegetarians outnumber vegans, vegan bloggers are increasingly becoming the main voice of animal rights in the blogosphere.  In the past, vegetarianism was seen as radical, but veganism is quickly becoming the new moral baseline for people who believe in animal rights.  Vegetarians appear to the mainstream to be laid-back as compared to vegans.  Often, vegans take an abolitionist approach to animal rights, and therefore dismiss vegetarianism, flexitarianism, and ethical omnivorism as not going far enough.  Many view the term "ethical omnivore" as an oxymoron.

I represent the middle ground* between vegetarianism and veganism.  There is no word for this space.  Many vegans take an absolutist approach to the term "vegan," insisting that only people who avoid all animal products of any quantity qualify as true vegans.  They believe that watering down the term is detrimental to the movement.  Others believe that some flexibility should be allowed.  They believe that an overly strict definition of the term discourages would-be vegans.

While I tend to adhere to the latter philosophy, I make no claim to the term "vegan."  But neither do I feel that "vegetarian" is an adequate term to describe my lifestyle.  I avoid the majority of animal products, while still eating foods like honey and milk chocolate.  I make an effort to ensure that most of my diet is vegan, but I don't worry (too much) if something I eat contains a small percentage of dairy or eggs.  My general guideline is that if a food contains less than 2% of a non-meat animal-derived ingredient, I'll eat it.

My reasoning is that, if I'm not a purist about it, I'm more likely to stick to it.  I tried going vegan a couple of times in the past, and each time, I gave up and went back to vegetarianism.  The reasons that I slipped were mostly social.  In the Midwest, it's hard to go out with friends and find enough to eat on a vegan diet.  Since I've always tended toward underweight, skimping on food is not a healthy option for me.  Though many vegan advocates insist that going vegan is easy, I have not personally found that to be the case.

Many people adhere to veganism as though it were a fundamentalist religion.  Any miniscule ingestion of an animal product is equivalent to sinning.  From an abolitionist perspective, that makes a certain degree of sense.  If animals have the right to live free from human exploitation, then humans have no right to use them to any degree whatsoever.

In a perfect world, we wouldn't use or abuse animals at all.  We would find vegan alternatives to animal testing and the animal-derived ingredients found in everything from plastic bags to car tires.  But we live in an imperfect world.  We're a long way from full-scale animal liberation.  In an imperfect world, some people have a hard time going vegan.  It's impossible to avoid 100% of animal-derived ingredients.  And ten people going mostly vegan will make way more of a difference than one person who manages to avoid animal products completely.

I think we should encourage people to do what they can -- not as a way to avoid responsibility, but as a way to assume it.  Some people say that anyone can go vegan, and, technically, that's true.  But the reality is that food is a complex, social, and deeply personal issue.  Certain foods are at least psychologically addictive.  There are a lot of people who insist that they could never give up bacon.  While I'd never say "never," I'd much rather see them give up all animal foods except bacon than continue eating the Standard American Diet.  When people see an either-or choice of strict veganism vs. full carnism, they're less likely to attempt to change at all.

So, that is the basic philosophy underlying this blog.  In future posts, I will expand upon and elucidate my views.  I fully expect to receive opposition from strict vegans, should they happen upon my little corner of the blogosphere.  I also expect the usual thoughtful comments from proud carnists, such as, "Meat is tasty murder!"

I will leave you with a quote from Peter Singer and Jim Mason, two of the founders of the animal rights movement:

We are not too concerned about trivial infractions of the ethical guidelines we have suggested. We think intensive dairy production is unethical. Because dairy products are in so many foods, avoiding them entirely can make life difficult. But remember, eating ethically doesn't have to be like keeping kosher. You can take into account how difficult it is to avoid factory-farmed dairy products, and how much support you would be giving to the dairy industry if you were to buy an energy bar that includes a trace of skim milk powder. Personal purity isn't really the issue. Not supporting animal abuse--and persuading others not to support it--is. Giving people the impression that it is virtually impossible to be vegan doesn't help animals at all. - from The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter

* In the sense that the full range of bisexuality is the "middle ground" between homosexuality and heterosexuality.  In reality, I am much closer to the vegan end of the spectrum than the vegetarian end.


  1. I really appreciated where you brought up "personal purity." It's good to have clear goals, but as the saying goes, don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

    1. Thanks, but it was actually Singer and Mason who brought that up. :-)

  2. I think you made some very good points here. I would always encourage people to do what they feel they can at the time, as opposed to not doing anything at all. I look forward to future posts.

  3. I love this. I am in the same category, but for different reasons. Every little bit helps!

  4. Over time, I've come around to the idea that "mostly vegan" is perhaps a more ethical choice than fully vegan. My logic is that you live a happy, healthy life as a mostly vegan person and others see it's not so hard to avoid animal foods when you can and not to worry about it when you can't, you're more likely to inspire others down that path. And if you convince three other people to drop half the animal products from their diet, you've done much more good than a strict vegan who eats no animal products - and turns off others from making a choice towards a plant-based diet by making it seem rigid or difficult.

    1. That makes sense. Thanks for the perspective!


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