This post is necessarily about me, but I want to make it as much NOT about me as possible. I’m not writing this because I assume that people have a genuine interest in what *I* eat. I’m just an anonymous blogger. No, I think some people are curious just because, as far as I can tell, there aren’t a ton of people that are vegan except for freegan exceptions that are out there blogging about it. So please understand that I’m not writing this because I assume people find me fascinating. I’m writing it because I really believe that non-vegan freegan food (NVFF) is compatible with vegan ethics and I want to make it known that this is a perfectly valid “type” of veganism that is viable and workable. I think there is potentially a segment of people (probably fairly small) that might actually give veganism MORE consideration if they knew that becoming vegan doesn’t have to mean that you’ll never eat another piece of cheese as long as you live.
When I say that I make freegan exceptions, my criteria is this: 1) I did not pay for it and 2) the food would otherwise go to waste. And so far my freegan exceptions have all been vegetarian, mostly involving cheese. At first it was a little bit weird, but I’ve come a long way in being okay with it again. I just stopped vilifying the substance itself, because the substance itself is not the problem. The fact that it would otherwise go to waste makes it essentially ethically neutral as far as I’m concerned.
And there really haven’t been a ton of actual occurrences. A girl that I work with was going to throw away the last three pieces of a cheese/veggie pizza that she ordered. So I ate it. My wife kept putting off eating a mozza-covered tostada, and after the second or third time she didn’t eat it after I reminded her it was still in the fridge, I knew it was nearing the point where it would go bad. So I ate it. My friend gave me the last 1/3 of an order of tortilla chips at a baseball game and he didn’t use hardly any of the nacho cheese sauce. So I ate it. I ordered some fries at a bar last weekend and, even though it wasn’t stated on the menu, it came out with a side of chipotle mayonnaise. So I ate it. I attended a bachelor party where no one wanted to take home the cheese slices (and tons of other vegan items) at the end of the weekend, so I took it all home and ate it. That’s about it as far as “interesting” examples go.
The majority of the other examples (maybe 5 or 6 times) involve restaurants putting cheese on my food after I specifically asked them not to. About a year ago I started being more lenient with “mistakes” at restaurants. If something comes out with cheese on it (after I specifically said “no cheese”), I’ll usually offer whatever I can scrape off to any dinner companions. If they don’t want it, or if I’m alone, I just eat it. I used to scrape it off, but I actually find this less ethical than eating it. It’s food. If I don’t eat it, I’m just letting food go to waste, and that’s something that I really hate for reasons that have nothing to do with veganism. Now that I’ve realized this and now that I’ve started to get over my self-imposed dislike for a food that I used to enjoy, it’s really not a problem for me. I know a lot of vegans will dislike that I’m saying this, but I’m actually to a point where I can enjoy it again. Let’s face it: cheese tastes good. There is a reason that so many people say that it was the hardest thing for them to give up (giving up cheese for me was WAY more difficult than giving up meat). I still enjoyed the taste of it the day I gave it up, so why shouldn’t I allow myself to enjoy it again when it’s ethically neutral? And the more I do it, the more I feel okay about it. So I think it’s actually a case of “practice makes perfect.”
Some people, mainly cynical vegans, probably think that I just miss cheese and that I’m just rationalizing ways to get my fix. This is a really cynical view and I won’t take it seriously if that person can’t give me a good argument why eating it is worse than letting it go to the dump. And if you do want to try, let me just say that it’s very unlikely that you can bring up a point that I haven’t already considered. I gave this new approach tons of thought before implementing it. If your point has anything to do with “what kind of message it sends to non-vegans,” you might as well just save your fingers the work of having to type it.
But just to illustrate why these people would be wrong even if they were inclined to think this, let me share an experience I had just a few weeks ago. I was hanging out with two friends at a bar, and these two friends are actually vegan (hanging out with other vegans is fairly rare for me). They ordered some fries and they came out with finely shredded parmesan cheese on them. They immediately balked at the sight of it (which I would have done a few years ago), and I could tell that this was going to be one of those “send it back to the kitchen” situations. I didn’t want that to happen because that often means they just trash it, so I offered to just eat the top layer with all the cheese on it. By this point the waiter had pieced together that my friends were vegan, so he said that we could keep them or that he would just take them back to the kitchen and that he and the other waiters would eat them. At that point it was clear that it wouldn’t be wasted, so my desire to eat them was gone. They got their vegan fries and no food went to waste. No worries. I wasn’t bummed that I didn’t get to eat the cheese. I was really full on a fully vegan burrito already.
I’ve yet to eat meat. Since becoming vegetarian 4.5 years ago, I’ve only had meat in my mouth a handful of times and it’s always been by accident. I just have a mental block on meat. Even though I am totally okay with eating freegan meat in principle, I can’t get myself to do it. I would like to be able to do it, but all of the shit that I put into my head for 3+ years has just made it really hard for me to get to a point where I want to eat it again. I’m okay being around it, smelling it etc. but I just have too much mental/emotional baggage. I think I probably will try it eventually, though. If it’s something that I can actually start to enjoy again, I would probably make it a more regular thing. But only when it’s freegan.
One thing that I do want to get into eventually is dumpstering. I know the idea really skeeves some people out, but it’s not like people eat things indiscriminately. When I used to eat eggs, cheese, milk, etc. I used to mostly ignore “Best By” dates and just trust my nose. It never failed me then and I don’t see why food from a dumpster would be different. Best By dates are a fucking joke, for the most part, and people that throw out food just because it’s past the Best By dates are idiots. Okay, that’s too strong. But they’re making a dumb choice for dumb reasons. Best By dates are a very general guideline and nothing more. But grocery stores have good legal/liability reasons to chuck stuff past its date. The majority of the things I used to chuck when I worked at a grocery were perfectly edible.
So, anyway, I hope my experience can show people that it is possible to keep your vegan values, still eat NVFF, and not “fall off the wagon” just because you lose your disgust for something. Every good vegan claims it’s not about personal purity, but their unwillingness to prove this by eating NVFF makes these claims a lot harder to believe. I really, really, really wish there were more vegans out there doing this. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but we tend to come off as puritanical and finicky.
I share the feeling, expressed by people like Adam and Dave D, that what you eat shouldn’t really be an expression of who you are as a person (sorry if you feel I’m mischaracterizing what you think – feel free to clarify your opinions if you think I am). Diet definitely shouldn’t be on a list of criteria for how one chooses friends. Vegans that don’t like to hang out with non-vegans make me want to barffffffffff.
I don’t like the fact that vegans are perceived as a group of people that take pleasure in being perceived as “more ethical.” I don’t really like it when people try to use their veganism as a badge of how much they care, or their “superior” lifestyle choices. I think I used to like veganism because it is an obviously political expression that challenges the mores of society at large. But I don’t feel that way anymore. Now it’s just what I do, it’s just the way I eat.
As much as I disagree with the “veganism is the moral baseline” idea, I do feel that, on the whole, veganism is the ethically better choice, for the most part. I eat what I eat (and don’t eat what I don’t eat) because I feel that, given my options (and my privileged ability to eat exactly what I want – an option that not everyone has), veganism is just the best way to try to align my behavior with my values. And that’s why, after 3 years of straight-up consumer veganism, I started allowing for freegan exceptions to my veganism. I don’t think I deserve a medal for it. At this point, I would settle for just being able to pursue my path in life and not have my dietary choices be a point of contention. But that’s not realistic. Eating in a way that reflects my values is an inherently political statement, so at this point I’m just trying, as much as possible, to make that statement be one that doesn’t turn people off from the idea that they can make more ethical dietary choices if they want to.
Okay… enough about me.
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