Cheagan, flexitarian, freegan, and veggan – aka carnivores
People seem to hate it when I try to define the word vegan. When I post about plant-based diets or Bill Clinton’s choice to eat fish, someone inevitably decides to label me as a perfectionist, purist, or my personal favourite, an asshole. Without being able to take credit for coining the term vegan (that credit belongs to Donald Watson), or the movement at large, I find it particularly hilarious that commenters believe I have any real authority to change what veganism is – the rejection of violence towards all beings. Nevertheless, I’d like to challenge some labels that are skewing the vegan one, once again. Today, my beef is with “cheagan,” “freegan,” “veggan,” “flexitarian,” and any other ridiculous appropriation of vegan you’d heard of.
I can already anticipate all the arguments that people cutting back on meat is better than people doing nothing, so let’s get this out of the way. Yup – less violence is always better than more violence, but we’d never agree that racism could continue if it was just done in small amounts. There’s no label for a person who is a racist sometimes. I will always advocate for veganism. If the person I’m talking to decides to take incremental changes to get to veganism, that is their choice. By most accounts, people don’t eat flexitarian on their way to veganism, and instead use it to excuse the meat they do consume. Again, less suffering is better, but most of these diets don’t actually result in much less suffering from the people taking part. They’re just labels, meant to soothe the consciences of people who don’t want to be lumped in with the criticism that is given for eating meat full-time.
The cheagen label was introduced to me fairly recently. In case you haven’t heard of it before, a cheagan is someone who openly cheats while being a vegan. It’s clear from the get-go that to be able to cheat on something, what that something is has to be clear. It also makes it known that it only focuses on diet. You’d never find an ethical vegan cheating by buying a leather purse. No, instead, this label is for all the people who decide to have a steak, a piece of cheesecake, or their coffee with milk once and awhile, aware that they’re going against the premise of veganism. It’s like a bandaid for their non-vegan errors, so that they don’t have to face owning up to the responsibility of not sticking to it. Vegan.com seems to think that cheagans can have a greater impact on the meat industry, because they’re pragmatists, and not perfectionists (that word again). But of course, I find that insane. If industry believes there’s even a chance they can tempt someone vegan into purchasing meat, they’ll keep producing it in droves. This label was popularized by Venus Williams, who claims it’s how she shares her ability to “try” to be vegan. Again, would we use a label like this to refer to sexism? Can we cheat here and there, and make sexists jokes sometimes?
Freegan is just as absolutely insane. Some argue it started as a way to cut back on waste, but it completely excludes animals from the conversation. The premise is that you remain vegan, unless someone buys you something, or you’re passed down something, that contains animal products. Sure, your own dollar isn’t voting for animal use, but that doesn’t change the fact that someone’s dollar is. Likewise, when it comes to using animals, you’re still promoting the idea that it’s necessary. Jared Leto helped make this one popular, someone we already know sucks at promoting veganism. It’s 2016, and it’s not difficult to avoid meat any more. I have a strong discomfort with waste in our world, but would never abandon my morals for a free meal. I understand that I am incredibly privileged to be in a situation that allows me to pick and choose what I consume, but I think of people who are faced with extreme poverty and situations that require the removal of their morals as it’s own form of veganism. That is, a label-less decision that can exist situation to situation, that shows compassion to beings that are in this case, human. if you’re not in a position where money is tight, say like Jared Leto, taking free animal products takes you far, FAR away from being a vegan.
Veggan is one of the newest terms, finding popularity on Instagram of all places. It’s eating vegan, and eggs. So for this one to make sense, we have to agree that eating eggs isn’t the worst animal offence. Since we already know that’s not the case, we can appreciate that this diet (like the others) is entirely human focused, not animal. With health advocates praising eggs and fearing the predictable protein-less vegan meal propaganda, this diet shows some real selfishness. With tons and tons of plant sources of the good stuff eggs boast, there’s absolutely no reason to cancel out your efforts to avoid some animal suffering by directly contributing to another’s. Especially because we’re talking about an animal product that people aren’t casual about – someone who eats eggs still takes hundreds of chick and chicken lives, and shouldn’t think that saving cows cancels that out. It’s the same speciesism that meat eaters practice when they love a dog or cat, while eating a pig for breakfast. If you choose to consume eggs, you can’t be a vegan.
I saved flexitarian for last because it’s the term that makes the least sense to me. There’s no one eating strictly animal products out there, even if they’re trying to. To be flexible, to eat meat and sometimes not eat meat, is how all humans live. Hiding behind a term that says you’re easy-going, and cut back to help others, is simply smoke and mirrors. Even if someone only eats meat once a week, they’re still a meat-eater. We would never consider someone who only eats vegetables once a week a vegetarian, would we?
This isn’t Eva trying to be the big, bad vegan again. Gary Francione puts it best when he says “you are either vegan or you are participating directly in animal exploitation.” Labelling how we eat is almost always a waste of breath, meant to pigeonhole our food choices for simpler marketing. It’s not any more difficult to choose veganism than it is to declare yourself a cheagan, freegan, veggan, or flexitarian. The only difference is that one removes violence from our lives, and the other four do not.
Let go of the labels, and make the change in your own life, regardless of how others may view you. Here’s how.