CarpeVegan is a website that, like me, is trying to foster a new idea of what it means to be vegan (or veganish). One of CV’s more controversial ideas is that we, as vegans, should consider that someone being 95% vegan is good enough. I am definitely largely on board with this idea, but I’m still left wondering exactly how we should calculate what 95% means. Now, I’m not trying to say that we should elaborate what 95% means so that we can then “enforce” such a standard. No, that would be antithetical to the overall idea that they’re trying to put forth, as far as I’m concerned. I have just as little interest in policing the idea of who qualifies as “veganish” as I do in policing the idea of who is a “real vegan.” These things are silly.
But I still would like to explore this idea, and what it really means. If we’re going to throw it out there as an idea to be taken seriously, I think we should take some pains to elaborate what it means and give some real world examples of what a “95 percenter” lifestyle would look like.
CV’s reasoning for/vision of the 95% figure seems to be motivated largely by an effort to make veganism easier in a social sense. They say “All Birthday Cake and Alcohol is Vegan.” I think their point is that we, as vegans, shouldn’t have to fret about whether something is vegan before partaking in the food and drink that often accompanies festive social occasions.
They ask “what is the real difference between someone who eats 100% vegan vs someone whose dietary intake is 95% vegan? Does the difference really mean less animal suffering? Depends, but if the difference is just lots of misc ingredients in various meals during a given year, that is probably not the case.” Well, I’m trying to suss out what “the real difference” is so that we can talk about it. Now that I’ve actually looked into this a bit, I think they might be surprised by how much non-vegan food is “allowed” under the 95% rule.
I’m also going to frame the discussion differently from them. I want to explore the idea of what it would mean for a person that isn’t aiming for 95% just because of all the birthday cake, Guinness and “oopsies” in life. I’m interested in seeing what this 95% approach would look like for someone that didn’t even really WANT to be 100% vegan. There are many reasons someone might want to do this, but the scenarios that come to my mind are: health concerns, social/family concerns, unavailability of vegan fats and proteins (for people that try to eat local), or simply people that just enjoy non-vegan food and wouldn’t be willing to give it up entirely.
I’m interested to see what other vegans think of this. It’s one thing to say that 95% vegan is pretty good. At first blush, I think that it’s so close to 100% that it’s basically just as good. But now that I look at the numbers, I’m not quite so sure.
So, without further ado, here is what I came up with. Sorry that the tables are pretty crude, but I didn’t feel like taking the time to download the plugin that would enable me to make pretty tables. To make sense of it, look at the red lines (calories per day, week, month, year). The lines below these red lines are just to give real-world examples of what would be “allowed” with the given number of calories for that length of time.
|1||typical caloric intake per day|
|4||egg, large (46 g)||0.83||1.11||1.39||1.67|
|8||oz. gr. beef (75% lean)||0.91||1.22||1.52||1.83|
|9||oz. chicken breast||1.56||2.08||2.60||3.13|
|11||egg, large (46 g)||5.83||7.78||9.72||11.67|
|15||oz. gr. beef (75% lean)||6.40||8.54||10.67||12.80|
|16||oz. chicken breast||10.94||14.58||18.23||21.88|
|18||egg, large (46 g)||25.28||33.70||42.13||50.56|
|22||oz. gr. beef (75% lean)||27.74||36.99||46.24||55.49|
|23||oz. chicken breast||47.40||63.19||78.99||94.79|
|25||500 kcal meals (100% NV)||54.75||73.00||91.25||109.50|
|26||500 kcal meals (50% NV)||109.50||146.00||182.50||219.00|
|27||500 kcal meals (25% NV)||219.00||292.00||365.00||438.00|
|28||# 100% NV meals/week||1.05||1.40||1.75||2.11|
|29||# 50% NV meals/week||2.11||2.81||3.51||4.21|
|30||# 25% NV meals/week||4.21||5.62||7.02||8.4|
The top part should be pretty self-explanatory. At line 5: a person on a 1,500 calorie-per-day diet could eat .75 tablespoons of butter every day and still be 95% vegan. Rows 25-30 probably need a little bit of explanation. When calculating the number of meals “allowed’ per year and per week, I just assumed that all meals are 500 calories. It’s a fairly average-sized meal for most people. So, row 25 just means a person on a 1,500 calorie-per-day diet could eat 54.75 fully non-vegan (500 calorie) meals per year.
But this math is a little too crude, because it assumes that the person in question is gorging themselves on 100% non-vegan food, like they’re sitting around eating slabs of bacon cooked in butter topped with cheese and sour cream (with a side of deviled eggs). More realistically, the meal would probably be anywhere between 25-50% non-vegan food, so these assumptions are reflected in rows 26 and 27. The same info from rows 25-27 is given in per-week figures in rows 28-30.
Also, one small point: the figures given for yogurt are actually low because I did not subtract out the calories from sugar. In reality, one could actually eat quite a bit more than what is given above.
After compiling this info, I was surprised to see how much non-vegan food would actually be “allowed” for a “95 percenter.” If I were to follow such a diet, I could eat as many as 7 non-vegan meals per week (but probably more like 4 or 5), or 3/4 pound of mozzarella, or 8 or 9 large eggs. I could eat three dozen eggs per month, or three pounds of mozzarella. I could eat somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 large slices of Chicago Style Pizza every year. If I wanted to eat meat, I could eat around a pound of chicken breast every week!
This seems like a lot to me. In fact, if someone made a conscious attempt to eat this way, and they really tried to fit in as much non-vegan food as the “rules” would allow, I really don’t see how this is a meaningful distinction from vegetarianism. But then again, I think we’ve all met some vegetarians that eat dairy or eggs with pretty much every meal, so when you compare it against a diet like that, it actually is a pretty meaningful difference.
But I’m approaching this as someone that hasn’t eaten much in the way of non-vegan food for over four years, when I probably should be at least trying to approach it from the perspective of the hypothetical person that would be considering such a diet. If that person is omnivore or vegetarian, this way of eating would be a huge change, and the amount of non-vegan food “allowed” would probably seem pretty restrictive.
But let’s try to consider this more from how I interpret CarpeVegan’s take on it: as a way to allow people to be “veganish” but still lead a pretty normal social life. I think from that perspective, it actually fares pretty well. After all, one could eat, at a minimum, 54 non-vegan meals per year. Realistically, one could probably eat over 100. I’d say that pretty easily covers every holiday, office potluck, birthday party and barbecue at your boss’s house. And you wouldn’t have to worry if the beer or wine someone offered you was refined with casein, gelatin, albumin, isinglass or blood. If one were to take the “vegan at home” approach, they could probably eat non-vegan the majority of the time they go out and still be above 95% vegan.
One of the big questions that sticks out to me is this: does the 95% rule leave room for the possibility of eating meat? Or does the 5% really just allow for vegetarian exceptions? Could you go home and have some turkey with your family on Thanksgiving? I know Anthony Bourdain would recommend that you do. I’m sure most of us here are aware of the Francione quote that “there is no moral difference between meat and dairy. There is as much suffering in a glass of milk [as] in a pound of steak.” I don’t agree with this entirely, but I see his point. There is certainly less of a difference than the average vegetarian thinks there is. So would a little meat here and there really “break the bank” as far as the 95% thing goes?
Okay, so now that I’ve raised a bunch of provocative issues, I just want to point out that I’m not necessarily advocating an approach like this as “the best way.” I’m still vegan (with freegan exceptions) and I don’t have any plans to change that. I don’t find veganism to be that hard or limiting. But, like I said, I think someone being 95% vegan is a pretty laudable goal. If other people agree with the 95% thing in theory, I think it’s important that they be able to defend what it looks like in practice.
If there are people out there that think they could do something like this, but that they could just never go fully vegan, then maybe an approach like this could work for them. I think the biggest challenge would be getting people to “go veganish” with this understanding from day one.
So, if you think you’re okay with “95% vegan” in theory, this is a glimpse of what that might look like in practice. If you’re vegan, does this change your mind about it? If you’re not vegan, does this kind of approach appeal to you more than veganism does?
I look forward to hearing people’s reactions.
– – thanks for reading – –