How Disgust Kills the Vegan Martyr

A lot of new vegans tend to think of themselves as a martyr to a cause. They want to eat cheese and eggs and maybe even meat, but they have been convinced by the logic of adopting a “cruelty free” diet. Cheese holds a power over them, but like any good ascetic, they dutifully look away. Their friends tell them “I don’t know how you do it!” and though they feign modesty pretty convincingly, inside they feel a small glow of self-satisfaction. At no time is this glow felt more intensely than when our brave young vegan martyr goes hungry for lack of vegan food.

Flash forward about six months to a year and what do we find? Probably a vegan that no longer believes that veganism is martyrdom. What happened? Who killed the Vegan Martyr?

Well, the longer you’re vegan, the more you find out about all the horrible things that happen for animals to produce and become food. And the more you adapt to a vegan lifestyle, the more you realize that veganism really isn’t that hard for the most part, and no one should be given a medal for it.  This is all very logical.

But where it starts to get illogical, probably the most significant change in our young vegan is self-imposed disgust. The last time our young vegan ate a piece of cheese, he probably liked it. Same with meat. But the longer you stay vegan, and the more you read vegan blogs and listen to vegan podcasts, the more you start to think of non-vegan food as disgusting. Why is that? You used to like it, young vegan!

Once you convince yourself that cheese tastes disgusting, it no longer takes any will power to avoid eating it. You can easily get to a point where eating some cheese becomes way harder than avoiding it. So if it involves no will power, then how can you be a martyr? This is probably right around the time you start to think that “vegan is the moral baseline” totally makes sense. Because if it really takes no will power to be vegan (once you’re properly programmed), then aren’t all these people eating meat and cheese just doing things that they know are wrong and that they could easily stop? If they’re below the moral baseline, doesn’t that make them immoral? Doesn’t that make them sinners?!

Yes! Now you’ve crossed the line! Now you get it! Veganism is not martyrdom. NON-veganism is SIN!!! Now you get it.

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You see, this is why so many vegans will tell you that veganism is not hard at all and that it never involves any sense of deprivation. If you can get to the point where you’re so disgusted by non-vegan food that the thought of eating it makes you want to retch, it really doesn’t take will power to avoid it.

But how real is this disgust if it has to be learned? Is relying on a self-cultivated sense of disgust kind of like “cheating?” If you don’t think that you could avoid eating something if you didn’t teach yourself to find it disgusting, do you really find it ethically unacceptable? If you really, truly find it ethically unacceptable, why do you have to force yourself to find it disgusting? Why do you have to say patently nonsensical things like non-vegan food just ISN’T food (here)?

I think a lot of vegans, especially new vegans that are in the phase of veganism when they’re still trying to cultivate disgust, are really conflicted by certain smells that their animal brain finds enticing but their enlightened “vegan brain” finds repugnant. Which brain wins? Well, the vegan brain, obviously. You MUST subjugate your natural feelings to your new-found ideas of decency. You can’t admit that some broiling meat smells good because then you’d have to admit that veganism requires feelings of deprivation, that you’re denying yourself something that you would find enjoyable. Nope, you have to pretend that 1) what is immoral and 2) what is tasty forms a Venn diagram with no overlap.

Absolutism helps breed disgust and disgust helps breed absolutism. If a thing or act has absolutely no justification and it’s unequivocally wrong, then your disgust for it is warranted. If you see someone eating a cheeseburger, be sure to wrinkle your nose and generally make a face that says “I may have just shat myself.”

You can extend this disgust to non-food items, such as friends. This way, your disgust for certain types of food can start to dictate who you hang around with. You know that friend you’ve had forever who is really fun and hilarious, but who stubbornly refuses to see the light and stop eating hamburgers? Well, you probably shouldn’t hang out with him anymore. You wouldn’t want to have to deal with the cognitive dissonance of watching a great person eat something that you want to convince yourself is disgusting. Imagine if he gave some sort of indication that he was enjoying it! Gasp!

But just remember – all of this disgust enhancement is for a good purpose. You’re doing this so that you can continue to NOT eat something that you already stopped eating because of logical arguments. You’re doing this so that you can get to a point where it interferes with your ability to interact socially with 99% of humanity. You’re doing it so that you can avoid eating non-vegan food that would otherwise go to waste (waste is good as long as it’s wasted on principle, right?).

Martyr? Yeah, right! Everyone else is just sinners!

I don’t know what’s worse, a vegan that thinks his veganism makes him a martyr, or a vegan that forces himself to think of all non-vegans as sinners. For my part, I’m trying to be somewhere in the middle. I’m trying to get over my disgust for non-vegan food because it’s something that I had to learn anyway, and for bad reasons. I’m just trying to focus on the reasons why I initially went vegan and try to forget all the crap that I put in my head after that point. Disgust is a big part of that. I need to unlearn it.

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Arbitrary Does Not Mean Poorly-defined

There seems to be some confusion about what I mean when I say that veganism is an arbitrary line. Some people are understanding “arbitrary” to mean “poorly-defined” and it’s causing them to misunderstand what I’m saying. But it’s not entirely unreasonable why they think this. If we look at the five definitions given here, I think #5 bears this out:

5. undetermined; not assigned a specific value

So let me just clarify what I’m saying. I’m not saying that what vegans propose is random or poorly-defined. Most vegans are pretty clear that what they do and what they support is eliminating animal products from one’s life as much as is practical and reasonable. Even though the last part (practical and reasonable) is a bit fuzzy, I think the overall intent of vegans is pretty clear.

So, the reason I say that veganism is an arbitrary line is not because I think it’s poorly-defined. Veganism, which is just a response to a problem, is arbitrary because it is just one of many choices one could make along a continuum of dietary/lifestyle behaviors.

To illustrate this, let’s remember that veganism is NOT a “cruelty-free” diet as so many uninformed vegans (usually newbies) are wont to claim. There is still animal death and suffering involved with our food choices. Every consumer product you buy (food or not) comes at an environmental price and at a price to animals. Animals are displaced by agriculture. Animals are killed in the planting, harvesting and transportation of vegan goods. The packaging that the food comes in has its environmental and animal costs.

And let’s also not forget that, if we were so inclined, it’s in our power to go further than veganism. We could buy more (or all) of our food locally, thereby decreasing our contribution to environmental degradation. We could take greater pains to make sure that the vegan food we do eat comes from companies that have farming/sourcing methods that take care of the land rather than destroy it. We could take greater pains to make sure that the food we buy comes from companies that do NOT profit from animal exploitation (be honest – do you really KNOW that all of the companies you buy food from do not exploit animals?). We could decide that we’re going to get over ourselves and eat non-vegan freegan food (NVFF) when possible, thereby reducing our need to buy our neatly packaged vegan food (that has a higher animal and environmental cost than most vegans like to admit). We could become as close to fully freegan as possible. These are all options. Veganism, defined simply as “I don’t eat food that comes from animals,” is just one way to address the problems we see. It works well in some ways and falls short in others. It’s not an end in itself. It’s just a lived response to an ethical problem.

In short, there is a lot of gray area between paleo/Standard American Diet and full on freeganism, and veganism is in that gray area. A lot of vegans like to think that since their diet is well-defined (don’t eat food that comes from animals), there is no way someone could accurately call their dietary choice arbitrary. But it is. And as I’ve explained before, there is nothing inherently wrong with this. It’s only a problem when you can’t admit it and you try to tell other people that they have a moral obligation to be vegan.

One other point that I would like to bring up is that the arbitrary nature of veganism applies regardless of one’s motivation to be vegan. Some people say things like “if you take the rights/interests of animals seriously, then you do NOT use them as food or consider them property.” They think that this somehow gets around the fact that production of vegan food causes animal suffering and death. It doesn’t. This applies to all people that practice veganism as a way to eat in this world. Your lofty intentions don’t change this fact.

I’m not trying to make an argument against veganism. I am a vegan. For me, consumer veganism mixed with a little freeganism here and there is the easiest way that I know of to address a lot of the problems I see in modern food production. But I have to stress that, compared to what it would require of someone to really, really take these things seriously and live their lives accordingly, veganism is pretty easy. It’s a well-defined way to make an easily-executed commitment to an arbitrary amount of self-denial, hopefully with the result of decreased animal suffering and death. We’d do well to keep this in mind.

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Get New Words Hot and Fresh!

I just realized that I did not have a “subscribe by email” button on my blog, so I went ahead and fixed that (look to your right). You can now be notified when hot, juicy new posts are hot off my wordpress.

And don’t forget that you can subscribe to new posts or new comments by RSS feed (scroll down on the right a little bit and it’s under “Meta”). If you have a GMail account, you already have a Google Reader account. It’s really easy to start using. I love Reader. I use it to follow tons of blogs and comments on blogs. It helps ensure that everyone can be blessed with my words of wisdom in a timely fashion.

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What I Eat, What I Don’t, and Why

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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The Earth Is Big, and That’s Okay

I know that not everyone on Earth has the option of being vegan, or even vegetarian, which is why one of my maxims (which I’m still working on) is as follows: “veganism is not, and needn’t be, globally applicable to be the right choice for the majority of people. Worldwide abolition of animal use is not realistic and for many people in developing countries, animal use is the difference between subsistence and extreme hunger and poverty, sometimes the difference between life and death.”

One reason that I felt the need to be so explicit about this point is that when veg*ans don’t keep this in mind, it can lead to some weird logic, as displayed in this post, titled “Confessions of a Vegan Meat-Eater.” Not understanding this simple fact can also lead non-vegans to reject veganism for specious reasons.

Now, to be fair, it seems like Knigel (the author of “Confessions of a Vegan Meat-Eater”) learned a lot through his travels and I agree with nearly all of the sentiments he expresses toward the end of the essay (I just don’t agree with his reasons for eating meat again). I just wish that there hadn’t been a need for him to go halfway around the world to come to these conclusions. Much in the same way that, as he points out, not everyone has the opportunity to be veg*an, not everyone has the opportunity to go live in other parts of the world. Which is why I think vegans need to start talking more about the non-global nature of veganism. Most vegans will admit to it if pressed, but they don’t talk about it up front, which is a shame, because they could have saved Knigel from having what sounds like a near-psychotic break while throttling a half-dead chicken in a sink.

So, since Knigel is much more aware of this fact now, I’ll try to limit myself to commenting only on those things where I disagree with his conclusion, the logic that brought him to it, or where I feel the “typical vegan way” of framing issues was at fault for his confusion. I also hope he can take what I’m saying as constructive criticism (and this makes me think that he can).

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Nigel discovered while living in Cuba that, due to the shortage of food there, being vegetarian is really not a possibility for most people. Yet he had been thinking and arguing (arguing a LOT, from the sound of it) that eating meat is immoral. This discrepancy caused him some mental anguish. He says “instead of accepting meat consumption as moral, my discordance between belief and behavior left me in cognitive dissonance.” There would have been no discordance or dissonance if Nigel had not been thinking in such starkly black and white terms where eating animals is either moral or immoral, a way of thinking promoted by so many vegans: eating meat is immoral and veganism is the moral baseline. Learn it. Know it.

This is where the idea of eating (and killing) animals being unequivocally wrong failed him, and no doubt caused him a bunch of unnecessary psychic pain. He even refers to the killing of animals as murder, a word that most non-vegans reserve for the intentional killing of a human. One shouldn’t have to reconcile himself to the idea that he’s a murderer.

In true Bourdainian fashion, Nigel seems to base a lot of his reason for currently eating meat on the fact that, in certain places in the world, some people don’t have the option of being veg*an. And that it’s rude to insist on eating veg*an when you’re among such people. About his time in Korea, he says “I am uncomfortable telling a grandmother that I cannot eat what she has made for me.” If that’s the way you feel, and you feel that not upsetting your host trumps your ethics in that situation, then go ahead and eat the damn meat and then go back to your veg*an ways when you can. No big whoop. I recently wrote about why all of this is not a valid reason to reject veganism, so I’m not going to belabor the point again.

One question that I’d like to ask, though, is whether it’s being a good host to expect one of your house guests to choose between being a “good guest” and sticking to their ethics. Personally, as a host, I would try hard to avoid putting someone in that situation. But maybe that’s just my peculiarly Western way of thinking.

Anyway… I want to touch on a few other ideas he brings up that I feel relate to this way of thinking. Knigel refers to “the… ethnocentric arrogance that [he] felt in Cuba.” There seems to be this idea that ethnocentrism is a phenomenon that only afflicts privileged Westerners, as if it’s not possible that Cubans and Koreans have their own form of ethnocentric arrogance. He sees how his “philosophy would have been much more shallow if [he] had not experimented with different lifestyles,” but apparently he doesn’t make the connection that maybe these people he met abroad might be willing to consider veg*anism if they lived somewhere that would make it easy for them. I think there is a tendency among Western liberals to romanticize people of non-Western or economically depressed countries, as if their outlook on life is so much more “real.” To me, operating on this assumption is almost as bad as being ethnocentric and not realizing it. It’s almost like this weird anti-ethnocentric attitude where you embrace things BECAUSE they’re not what you know. And if they happen to serve as great reasons to do what you want to do anyway, well then that’s just great!

Sometimes people like to trot out this trope along the lines of “that’s such a Western way of understanding things,” with the implication being that it’s wrong simply because it’s uniquely Western. But here’s the thing: if one lives in a Western, modernized country, and their audience mostly lives in Western, modernized countries, there is nothing wrong with framing ethical discussions or arguments to their world as they experience it. In the same way it’s not fair to tell the poor, under-nourished Cuban that he is immoral for eating a chicken, it’s asinine to say that someone in a Western, modernized country can excuse their behavior because of the situation that the Cuban is in. I think as long as we, as vegan advocates (or whatever I am), make an effort to acknowledge that the ethics of eating animals is dependent on our access to vegan food, we can, in good faith, advocate for a vegan (or veganish, or vegetarian etc.) diet for people who we know have the ability to pull it off.

One thing that I have to call Nigel out on is his statement that he has (not had, mind you) “the sickest loathing for the blissfully ignorant meat-eaters who leave the dirty work to others.” It seems he’s still not over the need to feel morally superior to people that eat differently than him, even though he denounces “holier-than-thou attitudes” that “divide potential allied groups.” I think people should be aware of where their food comes from, but goat blood that runs down your hands is not really very different from cow’s blood that drips onto your hands from a cellophane wrapper as far as I’m concerned. It’s still blood. And if you live in a country where you could easily be veg*an, it’s blood needlessly spilled.

So it sounds like he still has some thinking to do about these things. And it sounds like he’s totally open to that. As I’ve stated previously, all I really need to hear from someone to consider someone an ally is that they actually care about issues of animal use, and that they’re open to the possibility of making some sort of change in their behavior. Knigel clearly fits this definition, so I wish him the best of luck in figuring out what he feels he needs to do. He’s correct in that each of us “must responsibly design our own moral compasses.” I just hope he takes his own admonition to heart and starts by giving the most weight to HIS current life situation, not the life situation of someone in a distant, impoverished land.

And I hope that the vegan community can learn something from his story as well. Framing the vegan argument as one of “ethical vegans” vs. the immoral horde is just a bad idea. Since Nigel cut his teeth on the way of thinking where everything either has to be moral or immoral, his life experience meeting good people doing the best they can forced him to conclude that eating meat isn’t immoral. It was just easier than thinking of his new friends as murderers. It shouldn’t have to be this way.

If we, as vegans, continue to argue that one should avoid eating animal products because failure to do so is immoral (and use guilt manipulation to try to achieve this end), we should expect to continue to hear stories about people giving up on veganism when they find a way to understand the issue in a more nuanced way and find a non-vegan way to alleviate guilt. And they will. It’s just a matter of time for most of them.

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A Shameless Attempt at More Traffic

If you landed here, chances are that I do have something to say about what you’re looking for. It’s just not on this page. Try looking for what you want by searching my site with Google.

This is a shameless attempt to get more traffic from search engines. My regular readers can ignore this post.


What follows is a list of words and phrases that some people who come to my site have searched for


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What Does 95% Vegan Mean?

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
2 0.05 1500 2000 2500 3000
3 kcal/day 75 100 125 150
4 egg, large (46 g) 0.83 1.11 1.39 1.67
5 Tbsp butter 0.75 1.00 1.25 1.50
6 oz. mozza 1.06 1.41 1.76 2.11
7 cups yogurt 0.36 0.48 0.60 0.72
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
10 kcal/week 525 700 875 1050
11 egg, large (46 g) 5.83 7.78 9.72 11.67
12 Tbsp butter 5.25 7.00 8.75 10.50
13 oz. mozza 7.39 9.86 12.32 14.79
14 cups yogurt 2.52 3.37 4.21 5.05
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
17 kcal/month 2275 3033 3792 4550
18 egg, large (46 g) 25.28 33.70 42.13 50.56
19 Tbsp butter 22.75 30.33 37.92 45.50
20 oz. mozza 32.04 42.72 53.40 64.08
21 cups yogurt 10.94 14.58 18.23 21.88
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
24 kcal/year 27375 36500 45625 54750
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 – –


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