Tuesday, September 16, 2008

September is my Veganniversary, although I’m not sure which date. As it’s past the 15th I’m just gonna say it’s happened. Happy birthday me!

At the London Vegan Festival we (me and the lovely, sane, totally non-fanatical and very cool zuzucooks, Pete F and lemon_spot from the PPK) were chatting about where we choose to draw the line in making our lives vegan. It is oft-repeated that in no way can we refrain absolutely at all times from harming animals – each time I drive my car I might roll over a bug, or have an insect hit my window; I feed meat to my cats and dog; I wear cotton and eat vegetables from fields where mice and insects live and might be killed in harvesting – in this way some harm is unavoidable. But where within the sphere of our own influence do I draw my line, balancing reality and reasonableness with a desire to cause as little harm as possible, comparing compassion with the possible?

I try to draw my line somewhere around the limits of what I know, what I can do, and what in my opinion strays far enough from the principle of ‘do no harm’ that pursuing it is futile and counter-productive. For example, I know that bread often contains dairy products, usually milk solids or whey. I know that it is likely that if I eat bread in a sandwich and I don’t know what brand of bread it is, that it is very possible that it won’t be vegan. I draw my line there.

However, I also know that some mono/diglycerides in bread have an animal origin. I find this stretch too far – I barely know what they are, let alone how to determine their origin from the packet. While I’ll happily assume that glycerin in soap and make-up is animal-derived, in this instance I think it’s beyond impractical and does nothing to help advance veganism. The same goes for whether the sugar in a product was processed with bone-char. Although when I buy sugar for cooking I buy a brand that I know is made without the bone-char, and I avoid beers which have been processed with milk and fish derivatives, questioning the process by which every single ingredient was manufactured is, to me, beyond what constitutes helpful and productive.

When eating in restaurants I conduct what I consider ‘due diligence’. I ask every question I can reasonably think of to determine if my meal is vegan. In Thai or Vietnamese restaurants I ask about fish and oyster sauce. I ask about eggs in pasta, pizza dough and veggie burgers. I never eat Hokkien noodles (again, the dreaded egg) or bread and have learnt to ask specifically about honey. Where’s the line? If I order vegetables and udon noodles in black bean sauce, I won’t insist that the waiter go and read the sauce bottle to find out if it’s got lactic acid in it. In that instance I think that I have done what is fair, reasonable and honest to ensure that I am avoiding cruelty. Sure, I would check the bottle in the supermarket if I were buying it. But in a restaurant, my sphere of influence is different and I don’t consider it bending any rules to try to ensure that I don’t ruin mine and everyone else’s night by being shrewish and hysterical. And with my sphere perhaps contracting in respect of what I can control about my food, it expands with what I can do to exemplify and explain veganism to the others sharing my table, which in my opinion is vitally important.

So am I being a bad vegan and compromising my beliefs for convenience? I don’t think so. My primary reason for being vegan is for the animals, not for my own health. Although I firmly believe that a non-animal diet is healthier and safer for humans and the planet, my prime driver is animal welfare and rights. In that way, if I inadvertently consume some lactic acid that my olives were preserved in, I don’t think I’ll suddenly develop a hideous disease. What I do think is that I don’t ever want to be ‘that’ vegan – the one who helps perpetuate the stereotype of the rabid irrational fanatic, unable to live in the real world or be around others. I would be doing more to turn peoples’ faces away from my real concern that helping demonstrate and facilitate a calm and genuine understanding of the issues. By being clear about what I will and won’t eat and the reasons why, coupled with the understanding that I must be able to work within the world to change it, I think the path I’ve chosen is balanced and productive.

I’d be interested to know where others draw their line – but ultimately we are all doing the best we can in the way we think is best.

1 comment:

Lizzy said...

Happy veganniversary! Fantastic post. Gosh I didn't even know about lactic acid until I read this. Woops!