I received an e-mail from a gal recently about a vegan "slip" that she had. She ate a few bites of pie at a party and felt horrible about her vegan 'failure'. She e-mailed me with her confession of sorts, and explained that what bothered her most was that she knew full well there it was a cream (dairy) pie, rather than unintentionally eating a food item with obscure non-vegan ingredients.
What did I say to her? In short, "cut yourself some slack!" This lady has been vegan for a few years, and is passionate about her choice to eat vegan. Through these years, she has done much to spare animals from her plate, improve her health, and share her vegan beliefs with others. I told her to forgive herself, because it seems that as vegans, we have this need to 'confess our sins'.
Here's what I think about when we 'slip' as vegans. Most vegans (and vegetarians) have slips along the way even ones they are full aware of. Include me on that list, I 'cheated' many times in my early years of eating vegan. But here's what I noticed. With every slip, it reaffirmed my reasons for being vegan. My values were strengthened and reinforced, and I cheated less over time. When your reasons for being vegan are based on important, core values like good health and animal compassion, you realize that you want to continue on this path. It's as if the opportunity to cheat is presented to give us a taste of the other side again, and to ask us "do you want to live that lifestyle again?" For most of us, the answer is and emphatic "no".
Here's the thing. I have always been a perfectionist. From early years as a child, through highschool, university, and into my working career and now as a mom and author. I am my harshest critic, and this is not always a good thing. And, in becoming vegan, perfectionism isn't useful. Sure, in my ideal vegan world folks would eschew all animal products every day, for all meals. But realistically, if people could just choose not to eat meat, and then maybe chicken, and opt for more vegan meals during the week, making gradual but significant vegan choices... that is the kind of large sweeping efforts that can ultimately affect change. And, not to be dismissed, these very changes often lead one to choose vegan more and more over time - the body simply feels better without meat and dairy.
And, veganism is a journey. Most vegans will admit to slips along the way. They will probably also tell you that those slips lessened over time to a point where they really weren't interested in the bite of cake or pizza. And, they will probably also tell you how their overall diet changed from year one to ten as a vegan. Because, like anything in life, we learn as we go, and as vegans that means those decisions help us make changes that are better for us, better for the animals, and better for the welfare of our planet.
There's something to that saying practice makes perfect. We practice our skills in sports, music, hobbies, and more. Everything we want to do well involves practice. Do we ever achieve perfection? No, but we can become damn good at what we do.
The point is in the practice, not the perfection. Keep practicing vegan, I say.