Vegan diet? Vegan lifestyle? What does it really mean to be vegan?
A vegan by the simplest definition is someone who abstains from eating or using animal products. Many vegans adopt the lifestyle based on their own personal principles of doing no harm to other creatures and this often carries over to abstaining from using products that harm creatures as part of their development and production. For example, many vegans will abstain from using products from companies who test on animals.
What is troubling to some is the inevitable hypocrisies of being vegan. How vegan can one really be? Sometimes these perceived hypocrisies are questioned or even challenged and those who consider themselves to be vegan should be prepared to address these issues whether publicly or simply as affirmation of their own commitment. Effective advocacy involves being real, practical and willing to confront personal conflicts between philosophy and practice.
Transportation: How can you drive when you know that you will be killing insects that collide with the grill of the car? This may sound absurd but it is common for a compassionate vegan to kindly remove an insect or spider from their home, carefully releasing it outside. That same individual might not think twice about driving to the store for a quart of soy milk and possibly striking a dragonfly with the car. Likewise do we consider which modes of transportation are the least harmful in delivering our vegan products to our local market?
Honey Bees: Many vegans abstain from honey because it is a product produced by animals and the bees are, by any reasonable definition, exploited for their honey. I have heard many vegans denounce domestic bee keeping for this reason. It needs to be realized however that vegans eat an entirely plant-based diet and without domestic honey bees there would be no abundance of fruits, vegetables and grains to support such a diet. Simply stated, without domestic honey bees, a vegan diet would be impossible for most people.
Pets: Most vegans I know have pets and many feed their pets with pet food products that violate the very same principles that the pet owner uses as guidance for their own diet and lifestyle. While dogs can live on an entirely plant-based diet, cats on the other hand cannot. Is it okay to criticize our non-vegan neighbors for eating meat when we feed our pets chicken, beef, pork, lamb or fish?
Natural Order: Ethical vegans are the front line of protection for animals when it is a question of harm or exploitation by humans but how far should we go to protect animals from other animals? I have chickens in my back yard who, in order to live a most natural lifestyle, love to forage – forage for bugs and worms. Do I protect the worms from the chickens? We want to protect nature’s natural predators but should we protect the predator’s natural prey?
These are just a few of many examples that can be considered challenging to the ethical vegan but without adopting a lifestyle of complete asceticism can any of us live a purely vegan lifestyle?
In reality the purest vegan is one who most sincerely believes in, and adopts, a lifestyle described by the term “Ahimsa”. The principle of Ahimsa originated in the South Asian religions of Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism and is best defined as “do no harm to any living beings”. To be the best vegan is, for vegans, to be the best person you can be by living your life with as little harm as possible to other animals and humans. In fact the truly ethical and compassionate make sacrifices, volunteer time or donate money to help other beings. It is a matter mindfulness, of doing the best you can under the circumstances of daily life and always being aware of your impact. If you sincerely adopt no harm and non-violence as your life’s guiding principles, there are no other rules. You are ethical, compassionate and vegan.