WHEN IS A VEGAN NOT A VEGAN?
Guest Post by Alan O’Reilly
Since the use of animal products in all manner of both common and obscure items is endemic, it is impossible to be a “perfect” vegan. In fact, even in a completely vegan world we could not avoid causing some indirect or inadvertent harm, despite our best efforts.
Enter the “nirvana fallacy”, which is the fallacy of comparing actual things with unrealistic, idealized alternatives, and it is a favourite justification for not being vegan; since veganism cannot be perfect, there is no point in being vegan at all, they trumpet. Now we may expect this kind of nonsense from nonvegans, but recently there seems to be an increasing number of people identifying as vegan using this particular fallacy to mitigate their occasional consumption of animal products. This is usually included in a “confession”, presumably made to obtain moral absolution from their peers. These incidents are often referred to as “slip ups” but, regardless of the reason given for such a lapse, deliberate and knowing animal use is not “slipping up” in anything like the same sense as, say, missing the declaration of whey powder in the ingredients list of a packet of biscuits. It is certainly not vindicated by our inability to be “100% vegan”.
In a recent account, a “vegan” told of periodically consuming a couple of poached eggs due to an irresistible urge to satisfy a pleasant childhood memory. The question was asked that if such a person was not vegan at the time the eggs were consumed, when could they subsequently be regarded as vegan once again? This is, of course, a question designed to elicit a reply which implies that veganism is something to be dropped and picked up again according to the whim of personal preference and convenience. Realistically, a rational response could only be attempted if veganism were framed as merely a matter of dietary preference rather than the moral philosophy it is. Consuming the eggs was certainly an “unvegan” act, but we need to look beyond this to the ethics of veganism. In my view, that person was not vegan prior to consuming the eggs; if they had been, would their ethical principles not have prevented them from doing so (let alone for such a trivial reason) in the first place?
Sadly, these incidents are further evidence of the erosion of the definition and meaning of veganism which has occurred over the years, fostered by the mainstream animal movement relentlessly promoting it as just one of a number of measures which can be taken to “reduce suffering”, a growing band of YouTube vegans more interested in self-promotion and an almost universally anti-vegan media. If we take the position that sentient beings have the basic right not to be treated as resources and exploited then veganism is a moral obligation, an obligation fulfilled by not violating that right through eating, wearing or otherwise using them. It is the minimum that the victims of exploitation deserve. Someone identifying as vegan who knowingly commits a rights violation must judge for themselves whether or not that act constitutes an abandonment of their personal commitment to the ethical foundation of veganism.