Why I’m Letting Go of the Vegan Label

As I approach the one-year mark of my switch from omnivore to herbivore, I’ve been thinking about how my attitudes and feelings toward veganism have transformed over this past year. I started as ‘the perfect vegan,’ then went through a ‘skeptic vegan’ phase (I wrote about this in a past blog post), and now I am a ‘no-label-vegan’ vegan (oh, the irony).

The first few months of being vegan were marked by a diligent effort to be the best, most perfect vegan– I was so concerned that if I broke my veganism in any way, I would slip back into my old omnivorous ways, or be labeled a bad or untrue vegan. I felt this strange pressure to do right by the vegan community; to uphold the values and beliefs of this new label that I had suddenly become a part of. I remember the first time I accidentally had something that wasn’t vegan (chips that had dairy) I nearly panicked and felt pretty gross for a while after. In this sense, I wasn’t really looking at the bigger picture– why I was doing what I was doing– I was simply looking at veganism as my own personal project.

I think the shift from a super strict, tense vegan to a more relaxed one occurred in late July when some coworkers bought me ice cream cake for my birthday. Even though the cake had dairy, I ate it anyway because it would have been way too rude to refuse a slice of cake that was bought for me specifically. I felt awful for eating dairy– as silly as it sounds, I felt like I had let down the cows and the vegan community. Then a friend comforted me by telling me that yes, I did eat dairy, but I am still making a positive difference everyday by being vegan. Having one slice of ice cream cake is going to have such a minimal impact on anything that there is no point stressing over it. This made me realize that veganism shouldn’t be personal. It shouldn’t be just about me and my relationship with the plants and animals on this earth. It is more than that– it’s about minimizing harm and making the world a better place for us all. I don’t think me eating the cake, which in the grand scheme of things has little to no impact on the world, is as harmful as me refusing the cake and hurting those who went out of their way to do something nice for me.

Ever since then, I’ve been more at peace with myself, and my approach to veganism has definitely changed. I no longer worry so much about the tiny slip ups I occasionally have; instead of focusing on myself, I am concentrating more on the larger, overarching question of why I am vegan and the implications of being one. If I do not consume animal products 99% of the time, I believe I have essentially the same impact on the environment and on the animals as I would if I were the perfect vegan.

Another struggle I’ve faced as a vegan is my relationship with seafood. It is the one food group that I continue to reconsider. I think it mainly comes from the fact that I am Japanese, and seafood is a huge part of the Japanese culture. I grew up eating fish almost everyday, and obscure things like bonito flakes or tiny dried fish snacks (look it up) were a staple of my childhood. I didn’t even familiarize myself with the English words for most of the fish we ate at home since my mom would always say the names in Japanese. Even now I have trouble remembering the English word for saba (mackerel).

I recently came to the conclusion that if there is a time that I really want seafood, I’m going to let myself eat it. I made this decision a month or so ago, and I’ve only eaten it once since. I realize how bad fishing is for the environment, and I know fish feel pain, etc. However, again, if I am vegan 99% of the time I will forgive myself. I know some may see this as selfish– I am really only allowing myself to eat seafood for personal pleasure– but I think it’s the most sustainable solution for me personally. If I don’t fit into the label of veganism because of this, so be it. I’m at peace with that. My main goal is to make a positive impact on the farming industry and the environment to the best of my ability. And right now, this is my best ability.

I want other vegans who may be having similar struggles with the label to know that it’s ok to define veganism for yourself. Do what pleases you,  what satisfies you. Yes, you are doing this for the greater good of the planet and for the animals, but it’s important to not forget about yourself. If you neglect your own happiness, you’ll come to resent veganism, and that is the most upsetting and heartbreaking consequence of all.

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4 thoughts on “Why I’m Letting Go of the Vegan Label

  1. Your evolution as described in your post is the natural progression of a thoughtful person.

    Clinging to labels such as veganism is difficult because it can lead down a path of antagonism/chastity/dogmatism. I think that true integrity is principle based not decision/rule based. And assuming you are trying to live a contentious and compassionate life (like myself), you have to accept some hypocrisy.

    For example, I do not support corporate imperialism or taking advantage of other economies. However I own an iphone, clothes, etc that were made by some poor worker in south asia for pennies. I decry how a hamburger costs almost 1000 gallons of water. Yet I effing love coffee, which takes like a hundred gallons of water to make one cup. I’m an American, yet my country commits mass murder daily across the ocean. I spend hundreds of extra dollars to buy organic from my local coop while kids are essentially starving down the street. Etc etc.

    This doesn’t mean we should not care at all. Or should be we racked with guilt. Instead I think it should lead us to be continuously thoughtful about our role in this world and motivate us to do better. Our lives are small but with vast potentiality.

    Giving a shit about something at all is a great start!

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    1. You have no idea how nice it is to hear that someone is on the same page as me! I completely agree that sticking to the vegan label can lead to antagonism/negativity…
      You are so right that hypocrisy is inevitable and unavoidable. We cannot all live a 100% ethical life. It is impossible to help everyone and solve every issue in the world– someone/something always lands on the bottom. But like you said, I will continue to live thoughtfully and deliberately and try to make small differences in the world!

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  2. I love this blog post. Very courageous of you to speak up about the subject of “letting down the vegan community.” I too have a similar outlook on labeling the way I eat and I recently came to the same conclusion of dropping the strict label and just doing the best I can to make ethical choices when and where I can. No sense it hurting co-workers feelings when they go out of their way to do something special for you! Best wishes!

    xo, abby

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