Wednesday, October 27, 2010

No Such Thing as a Vegan?

A friend of mine who likes to play devil's advocate occasionally sends me articles or other materials he stumbles across online that appear to challenge veganism. Last week he sent me a graphic from the Gizmodo website with the headline "There Is No Escape from Cows" and with the smug sentence "There's no such thing as a vegan" running across its bottom (see below).

The one thing that is certain is that the graphic illustrates quite well how pervasive the use of animal products is in our daily lives. What's not certain, however, is that this is a reflection in any way of whether or not a person can be vegan. The thing is that veganism isn't about maintaining a state of absolute purity. It's about making informed choices to refrain from using animal products so that you remove yourself as much as it is possible from the cycle that perpetuates a demand for the continued exploitation of non-human animals -- and by "possible" I really, really don't mean "convenient".

As most vegans already know, animal-free alternatives to many of the items listed off can be found quite easily (e.g. shampoo, vitamins, cosmetics, deodorant, detergents, candles, candy, fertilizer, pasta, cake mixes, et al.) and many are just altogether easily avoidable (e.g. anti-aging cream, matches, et al.).
It may not always make life convenient to look for alternatives or to refrain from using certain products, but veganism isn't about doing what's convenient for us. Veganism is about not using non-human animals as things that exist for our convenience.

In cases where animal-free versions of certain products cannot be found and where the use of such products is unavoidable and necessary (e.g. certain medicines), then we all do what we need to do to stay healthy and alive. It's important to remember that with certain medications contain animal products used as fillers or inactive ingredients (e.g. gelatin capsules) that it is entirely possible to seek out and find versions that do not contain any by simply sourcing the medication from a compounding pharmacy. This should always be explored and chosen if it's an option. On the other hand, there are cases where a medication's active ingredients are animal-derived and where the use of this medication is required. In those cases, such use may not feel "right", but it can certainly be excusable (and even justifiable). I have as much interest in continuing my life as any other human or non-human animal, no?

That this is so by no means entails that "some use" of non-human animals can always be excused or justified, of course. Context is everything. Is it possible in this overwhelmingly speciesist world to live a life that is 100% free of the use of animal products? Of course not. Does this mean that it's OK to sneak in the occasional chicken wing for kicks and still call yourself a vegan? Again, of course not. But veganism is a lifestyle that's the hands-on application of an ethical framework where every single day you need to inform yourself so that you can assess situations and make the proper choices. Some of those choices we make as vegans when it comes to our own self-preservation end up being very personal ones, but those decisions we take and those choices we make need to be taken and made in good faith.

To learn more about going vegan and about the abolitionist approach to animal rights, check out the Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach website and stop by its brand new discussion forum.

(Note: Edited to clarify a few potentially confusing points.)


Unknown said...

Another thoughtful response makes an incredible post.

Eric said...

Another fundamental point here is that if the property status of nonhuman animals was abolished, none of these items would ever be permitted to come from cows (or other nonhumans) again.

Annabelle said...

Excellent post. Thank you.

One Green Planet said...

Great post. Unfortunately, the misguided conclusion in that illustration seems to originate from the general public's misunderstanding of what veganism is.

We wrote a post about it too

affectioknit said...

Awesome post! I often get things like this from my animal consuming friends...

Unknown said...

You need to show that friend the movie "Earthlings." :)

Adamas said...

I think a) the definition of vegan has yet to be reworked so this objection is no longer an issue, b) that the focus should be on veganism as an anti-oppression praxis rather than vegan as an identity that can be bought into, and c) that veganism not be defined as an abstention.

Also, the Animals Film is (in my opinion) much better than Earthlings despite being almost 25 years older. It views less like a powerpoint and with greater sociopolitical context. In general, though, I'd prefer to show someone the film Man vs Animal: To Love of Kill.

Vanilla Rose said...

I have never heard of a compounding pharmacy before. Certainly, although I knew about most of the stuff in the poster, nobody has suggested I seek out a compounding pharmacy before.

And Wrigley's chewing gum is labelled as having non-animal whatever the ambiguous ingredient is. I don't know about the firm per se or whether chewing gum is a good use of resources.

Nic said...

Great post! And, I agree with Eric, in that if we did not treat animals as property--we would have all animal-free products (as we should!)

I think you also bring up a good point--that there are occasions when using an animal product (medical conditions) will be necessary (for now) even for vegans. It's unfortunate that this exists, but it is a reality if someone in this position wants to maintain his/her health.

I also think that part of the problem, certainly for new vegans is the lack of knowledge about how pervasive the use of animals is. I mean, the picture is true: all of these are products containing animals. However, you are absolutely right (and so are some of the other comments): "it isn't about maintaining a state of absolute purity. It's about making informed choices..." a perfect description of what veganism is (and what it should be)!

Amazing post!

Anonymous said...

what's an example of a condition that must employ an animal derived medication that has absolutely no plant based alternative and that a vegan may be forced to take to preserve ones' life?

M said...

Abby, Annabelle, affectionknit and one, thank you!

Eric and Nic, I agree as well. As long as we are legally able to treat animals as things that belong to humans -- as our property -- their widespread use will continue. We desperately need to change this.

Adam, I've yet to see the Animals film, but hope to do so at some point.

Vanilla Rose, I have a pharmacy in my city that compounds meds. I used to get meds compounded for one of my cats so that they wouldn't have the strawberry flavour that the regular stuff had. I don't think that it's possible to have this done for everything, but I know a few vegans who obtain their medication this way, mostly to avoid gelatin capsules.

veganscene, nearly ALL medications are required by law to be tested on animals (e.g. in the US). Many medications also contain some sort of animal-derived ingredient, particularly (but not limited to) non-active ingredients. A few things that come to mind include glycerine, magnesium stearate, etc.

Anonymous said...

Aye, I should have realized that most conventional drugs will be tested on animals.

I'm aware that the inactive animal derived ingredients are avoidable and do have plant based alternatives, as you've mentioned. I just wasn't sure if you or anyone else knew of a condition that required an active ingredient that was derived from an animal and that has no plant-based alternatives.

Shall have to look into it myself, and I'll be happy to report on my findings.

Best wishes

Anonymous said...

Excellent blog post Mylène! Once again your abolitionist voice has been added to Quotes on Slavery:

Vanilla Rose said...

Happy World Vegan Day! Will look around for compounding pharmacy.

Vanilla Rose said...

Ah. We don't call them compounding pharmacies.