Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Perfect Vegan, or Practicing Vegan?

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.

20 comments:

Natalie Duhamel, HHC said...

Very well said!

Becky said...

Thank you so much for this really great post! I want to mention another kind of "slip-up," one that I am far more likely to succumb to than the bite of pizza or pie. I have a voracious appetite for learning about nutrition, and every now and then I stumble upon something that has me doubting whether a vegan diet is optimal for myself and especially, for my kids. I recently read one such book and it left me with such doubt that I actually went out and bought a carton of eggs and milk (from the local food co-op, most humane farms I could find). I don't even like the taste of cow's milk - none of the family does - so I had to make it into yogurt for it to even be palatable!

I have since read some good information on vegan nutrition that has reassured me and I don't feel the need to buy these animal foods anymore. But I felt like such a hypocrite for having gone through this phase (quite recently, in fact).

Anyway, I agree, it is not about perfection and the years that I have logged as a vegan far outweigh that carton of eggs. It is definitely a process and a journey.

Helen said...

Love it.

Lynn McLellan said...

I've been vegan for 8 months now, and ed&bv was a BIG part of my transition. It all started when I stumbled across your recipe for Super-Charge-Me Cookies!

Luckily I haven't been tempted to eat meat or dairy since I made the switch, but I certainly understand how one could be. In fact, never before have I felt so in touch with what my body needs. I recently discovered that I have a gluten intolerance, and I doubt I would've ever put the pieces together if I hadn't eliminated animal products to begin with.

By the way, I'm a perfectionist too, so let's remember to cut ourselves some slack! :)

Andrea said...

Couldn't agree with you more.

radioactivegan said...

This is so well said. Thanks for reminding us all that the vegan police aren't really out there waiting to pounce on our slip ups.

Lisa is Raw on $10 a Day (or less!) said...

Well said. Everyone has a different path to veganism, and slip ups will happen. I never found nonvegan things appealing once I made the switch several years ago ... but for good while I had a recurring dream where I was eating meat, having forgotten I was vegan!

sewster said...

Exactly right. I had a serious illness 8 years ago, and a friend's mom talked me into eating chicken, because I looked (and felt) so bad, and she thought it would help my health. I agreed to try, and ate some twice in the next few weeks. The third time I was about to eat chicken, I was overcome with the feeling that what I was about to do was against everything I'd believed for the last 10 years, and it was morally wrong. I never did it again, and my health improved with medical treatment and without having to add animal products to my diet. So definitely persevere!

Julia said...

I really agree with most of what's been said here. Moreover, for me veganism is about a) being mindful of where your food comes from and b) the overall impact your actions have on the environment. Holding yourself to rigid standards of purity--for me--seems besides the point.

London Mabel said...

I agree too! There's a funny part in the Scott Pilgrim comics/movie where the Vegan Police show up to arrest someone. I dislike this "vegan police" attitude--we're trying to be compassionate here, not self-righteous.

Stephanie Leah said...

What a thoughtful post-- thanks Dreena! I almost had a vegan slip yesterday in nordstroms after drooling all over the very stylish leather boots. Leaving the store without purchasing felt like breaking up. I actually grieved for an hour, and then later felt very proud of myself for standing strong. Also, I love that you touched on 'perfectionism'. That's a losing battle because it can easily turn into a self-defeating cycle when things aren't perfect. I like to have people in my life that are more balanced. I don't budge on vegan anymore, but with other things like sugar...it's okay to submit to the craving now and then : )

Carrie™ said...

Great post! I too tend to be very harsh on myself and have been described as "anal" and "control freak", but I can't control everything and slip-ups do happen. I just keep practicing....

Monked & Fifed said...

Right ON! I so agree...Often I will say in my blog that I try not to be fanatical and will alow myself "this or that", IF I WANTED.


But the truth is that I rarely WANT to "cheat"! I hate for people {reading my blog} to be tunred off by thinking that being vegan is something impossible. I'd rather they feel like it is something that they CAN DO TO! Even if everyone jsut had a couple of VEGAn days a week, I think they would be healthier and the world would be a better place.

Like you said, the journey along this path really does strengthen your resolve in regards to all fo the reasons we eat + live the way we do.
Right on for being such an awesome and real {vegan} PERSON!
a.

veganscene said...

I have to respectfully disagree. Veganism is only logical and rational if morally consistent. There is no reason to engage in eating animal products whatsoever if you have decided that it is the wrong thing to do. Is it OK for us to "slip" and beat our children once in a blue moon? If not, then why would it be OK to eat products of the slave trade every so often...?

Lindsay said...

I have been thinking about this a lot, and I think you're definitely right. It was my thought as well that the fewer the animal products I consume the better. When I tried to go all-or-nothing, I found that my choice, too often, was nothing.

In any case, my turkey was awful and I found myself wishing I'd just made myself the soy and seitan loaf I wanted or that I still had leftovers of your Lemon Herb Tofu that I made for dinner on Wednesday night. Ha!

Next year, if my omni family wants turkey, they can make it themselves.

Miss Maebe said...

I love this post because it keeps in mind that we're all human, and humanity is practically imperfect by definition. You are never more likely to completely give up an effort than when you engage in "all or nothing" thinking. It's a pitfall that gets in the way of so many people moving forward in life. A mistake, slip-up, one-off...whatever you want to call it, does not undo all the good choices that were made previously, and even offers a new opportunity to learn. To learn about our choices, ourselves, and what we want.

Great post!

bitt said...

There are part of this idea that I agree with, that it's not about being perfect or personal purity. It's about reducing harm. However if someone really feels like they WANT the food with animal products, it's time to question whether their reasons are strong enough to call themselves a vegan. It also tends to confuse other people when the term vegan is used by someone who isn't very consistent. There's become more people who are dabbling in veganism and I think this issue will come up more and more. There are those of us who don't mind being rigid about it, and those who need more leeway.

saniiralo said...

I agree that there is no point in beating yourself up over past mistakes. However, I have to agree with veganscene on this issue in general. There's a huge difference between the "vegan police" (that is, pointing out every little non-vegan detail in someone's life) and deliberately choosing to participate in the exploitation of animals. If someone is vegan for ethical reasons (the only sound basis for veganism, I would argue), then I urge you to consider the consequences of your actions. Whether it's continuing to wear wool or taking a bite out of that dairy cream pie, you are presenting to yourself, as well as others, that animals are property to be used as we wish. Veganism is about avoiding the use of all animal products as far as is practical and possible. Cravings or convenience are not acceptable justifications within these guidelines.

I recently read a good blog post that discusses the drawing of lines and perfection.
http://unpopularveganessays.blogspot.com/search/label/vegan%20hypocrisy

Thanks.

- Niilo

Jeannette said...

Thank you for that post. Very well said. :)

Anonymous said...

Well said thanks for sharing :) I am new on this journey of becoming vegan and that was very well said.