This post was originally intended to be a simple comment on this post at Let Them Eat Meat, but as it grew and grew, it just made more sense to make a full post out of it. If you don’t want to read the original post and discussion, the summary of it is basically this: Rhys is saying that it makes no sense for vegans to be opposed (generally or personally) to eating non-vegan freegan food (NVFF). And I agree with him.
I think it’s interesting that so many of the vegan commenters there resort to the ad hominem question/statement of “Hey, Rhys, are you freegan? No? Then STFU!” Yes, Rhys sort of has a style that invites that sort of abuse, but seriously, can we stick to the idea at hand? The point is, partial or full freeganism (vegan or not), can definitely be a lower-impact, more animal-friendly lifestyle than what Rhys refers to as “consumer veganism.” I think it makes sense to 1) have a diet that is as low impact as possible if it doesn’t violate your ethics and 2) deal in the world of today, not in this far-off, hypothetical world where veganism is way more common than it is now. Many vegans quoted there are all about setting an example that a vegan world is possible. Okay, fine, but why can’t it be just as good to set an example that veganism that sometimes incorporates NVFF is also possible? Oh, right… because global vegan utopia is right around the corner and tomorrow we’ll all wake up in a land where recovering NVFF isn’t a totally realistic option.
There is so much talk of example-setting. Rob says that veganism “promotes an ideal that is attainable for everyone and possible for the planet.” Even though I have some quibbles with that statement, I’m willing to conditionally accept it as true. What I do not accept is the idea that allowing for freegan exceptions to an otherwise vegan diet/lifestyle ultimately hinders acceptance of veganism. I think one can make the case that the opposite is true. If someone thinks “hey, I see enough wasted NVFF to eat it multiple times per week,” maybe they can start to see veganism as more doable than they previously did. Vegans try to obliterate the idea that veganism can involve a sense of deprivation rather than admitting that it exists and finding ways to avoid it that jibe with vegan ethics. I think eating NVFF jibes with vegan ethics, and I think that it can satisfy some people who would try veganism, but who would still have cravings for non-vegan food.
Honestly, I just don’t buy most of the reasons given by vegans for not wanting to eat NVFF. I think it really does come down to concerns of personal purity and a desire to be seen as a “legit vegan” by one’s peers. Most vegans quoted in the article freely admit that they have no ethical qualms with someone eating NVFF, but they simply refuse to do it. Their reasons for being vegan are ethical, but their reasons for not wanting to eat NVFF are all… tactical. Or personal. Or based on taste. Hmmm…. okay!
And what’s more, most vegan commenters there focus on dumpsters as the source of vegan food as opposed to finishing a non-vegan meal destined for the trash. I’ve never eaten NVFF from a dumpster (but I would, if it seemed safe), but I’ve been eating NVFF for the past few months fairly regularly (just did it last night). Their claims that their aversion to eating NVFF stem from a sense of safety or decorum are really only true if they live such an insular, vegan lifestyle (i.e. in a vegan bubble) that they never encounter non-vegans wasting NVFF. If this is true, it’s no wonder that they worry so much about what kind of example they set for non-vegans: they probably don’t know any well enough to know that most of them would actually respect them MORE if they weren’t so hopelessly strict about everything, if they showed a little humility by displaying, with their actions and not their words, that veganism is NOT about personal purity.
Last year I stopped through a Taco Bell with three friends (two omnivores, one pescetarian). I ordered two cheesy bean and rice burritos with no cheese, no cheese sauce. I have generally had pretty good luck with Taco Bell getting my order right, but this time was a disaster. The first two came out with cheese AND cheese sauce. I sent it back, even though I had eaten messed up, cheesy orders in the relatively recent past (my willingness to eat NVFF pre-dated my ability to be open about it among non-vegans). The second two came out with no cheese, but cheese sauce. Again I sent it back, and I acted like kind of an asshole, raising my voice a bit. Nothing too intense, but I basically just did not try to hide the fact that I was pissed at all. I was extremely hung over and not in the mood to deal with incompetent restaurant employees. I told my friends “I would normally just eat it, but I’m in no mood to deal with this shit right now.” My friends were polite enough about it. They didn’t really say much of anything.
But I really wish that I would have just eaten the first fucking order of two cheesy bean and rice burritos with cheese and cheese sauce. Sending it back to the kitchen (where they probably threw it away) is actually counter-productive to the aims of veganism. What did I accomplish, exactly? I caused six burritos to be made, and it’s possible that as few as two of them were actually eaten. Great.
What’s more, my behavior made my friends think of veganism as this lifestyle that is full of situations where you either have to not get what you want, or get what you want, but possibly have to shout a lot and look like an asshole to make it happen. And that’s just not true on so many levels. But that’s what they saw. I wish I would have played it differently. But my need to be seen as a personally flawless ambassador for “the moral baseline” caused me to make the wrong decision, which was ultimately counter-productive. It was counter-productive in the moment in real, physical terms, and it was counter-productive in the sense that a number of people witnessed a vegan acting like an asshole and wasting food, all so that he wouldn’t get the Devil Cheese in his inner sanctum. I wish I would have given more thought to “destined for the trash” freeganism earlier. The incompetent (but nice) Taco Bell employee probably does, too.
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