wasting cheesy burritos is not vegan

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.

– – thanks for reading – –


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5 Responses to wasting cheesy burritos is not vegan

  1. Nicola says:

    I see what you’re saying. My sister eats this way and I completely understand and respect it. But I don’t like to just dismiss the idea of the ”far-off, hypothetical world where veganism is way more common than it is now”. This type of world is what gives me hope and motivation, and if I thought that the only option to help was to eat left overs I’d feel pretty disheartened and miserable about it all, advancement is important to me.

    Also, I know for certain that people who are aware of how my sister eats, they buy extra when she’s coming for tea because they know what’ll happen. No matter how much we tell people not to do it – they still do. I’ve also heard people say she’s not REALLY bothered about the animals if she can still eat them. While some people will certainly show her more respect, many use it as a weapon against her to prove she doesn’t really care, and make themselves feel better about not helping at all. So I think you have to balance the idea of it doing more good with opinions of people like these.

    And lastly, eating leftover meat is just not an option for me as I can’t unmake the connection that’s been made between animals and meat and I can’t help but thinking about the individual that it once was, how it lived and was slaughtered, and it really would make me too sad to put anything like that in my mouth.

    • You don’t have to give up hope to eat NVFF. I also think it’s important to have hope for the future, to have hope that maybe in the future the world will have more vegans (or veganish people). Part of the reason I started this blog is to try to figure out a type of veganism that more people will be attracted to and that fewer people will be tempted to leave behind. I personally find motivation in that.

      I guess I don’t understand exactly what you’re describing re: your sister and her friends buying extra food. Just to clarify, I’m not advocating for vegans making freegan exceptions when the end of a meal is reached and there is still a piece of cheese left on a plate. Most people I know put leftovers in the fridge and eat them later. Are you saying that these people would just throw a piece of Gruyere or a deviled egg in the bin just because tea time is over and not all of the food was gone? That to me is very strange and I don’t really know what I’d do in that situation. It’s still a choice between going in my stomach or a trash bin, so I think it meets the definition of NVFF, so I would be inclined to eat it. But at the same time, someone who is so wasteful probably does that at every single meal, so maybe it would really be a hollow gesture anyway. If your sister is the blog-commenting type, I’d love to have her explain this in more detail. Plus, I need more people like her to discuss this kind of thing in general 😉

      As far as people using her freegan inclinations to dismiss her or question her commitment – I can see that. But are those people really the type to be convinced to be vegan anyway? Some people will just never be open to the idea and they’ll look for any reason whatsoever to dismiss vegans and veganism. Some people also get turned off by vegans that are religiously, obsessively consistent. Their puritanical approach turns them off in a different way. No one way can please everyone.

      You say that you understand and respect your sister’s choice to eat NVFF, so have you tried to explain the logic behind her choice to these people? They might be capable of understanding the logic, but no one has ever explained it to them in a way that they get. Just a thought.

      Thanks for the comment.

  2. Nicola says:

    My sister does it out of environmental concerns really, rather than for the animals. The animals are what initially led her down that path, but now she’s more focused on how she can help the environment. She eats this way with lots of food, not just meat/dairy.

    I didn’t mean she buys extra food, I mean, my mum for example said to me, I’ll make sure I’ve got a big steak in for her when she’s home, knowing that she will eat it if she tells her it was going to waste. I guess that doesn’t happen to often though and the people she lives and works with do respect how she eats. I’m just pointing out the down sides. Which of course there is with anything.

    What I do like though, is that there are these different approaches, which all cause less harm, and considering that there isn’t one way to please everyone, I’m glad that there are many options and entry routes into a less cruel lifestyle which will appeal to more people.

    • Well, hopefully people don’t do it because they get some sort of perverse joy out of seeing a “vegetarian” eat meat. That’s just kind of weird and wrong. I could see a mother having largely innocent and altruistic reasons for doing so, but if her friends are doing it, that seems kind of mean-spirited to me.

      And being a an enviro-veg*an is fine in my book. It’s how I came into vegetarianism. Most people of that persuasion are pretty receptive to animal-based reasons for being veg*an, in my experience, even if they’re not veg*an primarily for those reasons.

      I agree. I like that there are many paths for people to come to similar conclusions.

    • TaVe says:

      “I mean, my mum for example said to me, I’ll make sure I’ve got a big steak in for her when she’s home, knowing that she will eat it if she tells her it was going to waste. I guess that doesn’t happen to often though and the people she lives and works with do respect how she eats. I’m just pointing out the down sides. Which of course there is with anything. ”
      Thanks for the anecdotal evidence that coincides with my unconscious bias to avoid eating NVFF for purity reasons! Kidding a little, but I’m wouldn’t be surprised if it had that effect.


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