is eating non-vegan freegan food compatible with vegan ethics?

Before I get to the specifics, just let me alleviate your curiosity and answer the question: yes, in my opinion, it is. I know it’s pure sacrilege in most vegan circles to assert that one can eat animal products and still be true to vegan ethics. But, trust me, I have my reasons for thinking this way.

But let’s first talk about things that eating non-vegan freegan food (NVFF) is NOT compatible with.

It is NOT compatible with the idea that maintaining a strict avoidance of animal-derived food products in one’s body is the the most important defining characteristic of a vegan. It is NOT compatible with the idea, popular in many vegan circles, that non-vegan food just simply is not food. You all know what I’m talking about. It’s often trotted out as a reason why veganism involves no sense of deprivation because you can still eat any food you want. If a corndog or cheese string is not food, how can you feel deprived by not eating it? If you find any of this to be a problem, you should probably just stop reading now. I might infect you with my moral baseline.

I had read about freegans before (while I was vegan) and I never faulted them for eating non-vegan freegan food (NVFF), but was not able to admit to myself that their approach was actually ethically superior to straight-up consumer veganism. I owe much of my rethinking of this topic to reading Let Them Eat Meat, specifically this article. And this brings up the idea of the moral baseline again. Why do so many vegans insist that veganism is the moral baseline? Why isn’t freeganism (vegan or not) the moral baseline? I think mainly because, well, it can be a lot of work and most people aren’t too keen on the idea of rooting around in dumpsters (or being known as a person that spends a good amount of his free time hanging out in dumpsters). Alternatively, why isn’t, I don’t know – buying only happy meat the moral baseline? Why not?

So many vegans have this smug attitude that veganism is the moral baseline and, goddammit, anyone that falls short of that is just not ethical. You know, because ethical vegans are ethical and everyone else is… well, unethical I guess. I’ve tried to explain to a number of so-called “ethical vegans” how offensive that term is, but to no avail as far as I can tell. Yes, I get that the “ethical” part of it is to distinguish yourself from “environmental vegans” or “health vegans,” but knowing this doesn’t make any of it seem less pompous to me. So imagine how the term “ethical vegan” sounds to people outside the initiated fold. Not good.

But as long as it gives you that warm, smarmy feeling of superiority you crave, I guess that’s what matters.

– – thanks for reading – –


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7 Responses to is eating non-vegan freegan food compatible with vegan ethics?

  1. DaveD says:

    Veganism is the moral baseline because goddamnit, Francione said so! He also said ZERO SUM GAME! What? You’re not sure what that mea-ZERO SUM GAME! If you ever get into an argument and wanna stymie your opponent just scream that like it means something conclusive.

  2. I will try that method next time I’m feeling overwhelmed in an argument. Sounds like a winner.

    I think for too long I was pretty unthinking in my (more or less) acceptance of the “veganism is the moral baseline/least we can do” position. In reality, isn’t veganism the MOST that the majority of vegans do? I think this line of thinking really appeals to a lot of vegans because it justifies and explains (often retroactively) why they felt so compelled to become vegan that they (often) didn’t even feel like they had a choice. It just seemed so clear to them that they had to become vegan that they accept that veganism is the moral baseline even though there are tons of other options that go farther (or not as far). It’s so wonderfully arbitrary (and drawing arbitrary lines doesn’t have to be a bad thing – in fact, people do it all the time for good reasons), but try explaining to an abolitionist vegan that it’s an arbitrary line.

    What makes this arbitrariness even more troubling to people that see it as arbitrary is the fact that the “veganism is the moral baseline” argument is almost always coupled with the idea that veganism is morally obligatory (in fact, the obligation is pretty much embedded into the moral baseline idea).

  3. LiseyDuck says:

    I wouldn’t have a huge moral objection to someone eating dumpstered/skipped non-vegan food, or indeed roadkill, if this was the only non-vegan element of their diet. But a lot of the people I’ve come across who’ve taken that line have let the ‘free’ part slip and become ordinary omnivores pretty sharpish. Then there’s the health angle – doesn’t apply so much to roadkill if you know what you’re doing, but not everyone does, and anyway that’s less of a factor if you live in an urban area unless you want to eat rats. Somehow I think even the most sustainable meat-eater would baulk at that idea. πŸ˜‰ Vegetables out of a skip are likely to need a wash and some manky bits cutting out and may not taste as great as new fresh ones, but whatever, that’s the same as buying veg and keeping it around at home for a few days. Meat out of a skip? Could give you the shits/pukes pretty easily – especially unpleasant if you have this experience in a squat where the plumbing isn’t sorted, and many of the freegans I’ve known have also been squatcracking types of the sort who go in as an advance guard and chip the concrete out of the loos, remove (not by cooking them) dead pigeons and so on – and maybe if you’re lucky kill you. Easier to be vegan I’d say…

    • Hmmm… so these were vegans that started making freegan exceptions for freegan meat and then they just tossed all of it out the window and became regular omnivores? Like, they stopped doing the freegan thing and started buying meat in a grocery? If that’s really what happened, I’d say that these people were pretty much just looking for a reason to become omnivores again.

      One common objection that vegans make to vegans eating NVFF is that they think once someone loses their disgust for meat, they’ll just slip up and fall off the vegan wagon and become omnivore again. I just don’t see how this can happen unless something else is going on, like if the person just wants to be omni again. All I know is that MY decision to stop eating meat preceded me having a negative emotional/gustatory reaction to meat by a number of months. So, if I was able to make a purely ethics-based choice to stop eating meat when I still liked to eat meat, why can’t I make an ethics-based choice to eat only non-vegan food that meets certain criteria?

      Also, the whole argument only applies to people that come into veganism, cultivate a disgust for non-vegan food, and THEN contemplate or try freeganism. I would like to see a vegan movement/community that can get new vegans on board with a pro-NVFF mentality from the get go. We’ll see about that.

      Yeah, in general it is probably easier to be vegan than it is to dumpster dive (although I used to hang with a girl that dumpster dove for food and it actually really helped her make ends meet), but don’t forget that opportunities to eat NVFF abound in our homes, the homes of our friends and family, the office, restaurants we frequent etc. Eating NVFF isn’t all about rooting around in skips (I really love reading your English vocab, btw).

      Thanks for the comment. All of your future comments should appear automatically from now on. I’ll be sure to check out your blog in the coming days.


  4. I have no ethical problem with people that want to eat meat out of the dumpster, eat road kill, eat cows that walk off of cliffs for no apparent reason, or even invitro meat once it can be done without harming an animal. We all know the ethical concern for veganism applies to the harm done at factory farms. This is why they are “ethical vegans”, because they are doing it for a specific ethical reason, rather than what you said (for heath, etc.). I agree that there are some that use it in some “air of superiority” way, but many do not. In fact, I would have no (ethical) problem even killing an animal for food if we knew that no harm was experienced within the animal due to the way it is treated prior or due to the way it is killed in the end. That is easier said than done, even for the more humane non-factory farms. πŸ™‚



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