Some people say that I am trying to change the meaning of veganism. That’s not quite accurate. What I am trying to do is reconcile the accepted meaning of veganism with the real world situations that many people are likely to encounter as they try to live up to the vegan ideal.
And it is an ideal.
What I mean is that if one can only be vegan when one never consumes (in any way) any product derived unjustly from any other animal, then no one can ever be vegan. I believe that most vegans acknowledge this reality: No one can be 100% vegan.
Therefore, either it must be the case that people who knowingly consume – at least some time and in some way – some products derived from other animals are still right to call themselves vegan, or it must be the case that no one is ever right to call themselves vegan.
In many online conversations about this I’ve asked whether anyone knows of any way to drive between the two horns of this apparent dilemma, but so far there have been no suggestions forthcoming. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about a dictionary definition of veganism, or the socially constructed meaning of veganism that’s developed over time, or a carefully crafted technical specification about the properties of veganism; I see no way to solve this dilemma.
Either the meaning of veganism will be such that some sorts of consumption of other animals is allowed (for example, the trace amounts of insects and other animals that we knowingly consume along with our commercially grown cereals and grains) or the meaning will demand an absolute prohibition against all use (which no one can live up to).
Since every person who calls themselves vegan knowingly consumes some animal products in some way at least some of the time, then questions about who is or isn’t vegan are questions of degree and not questions of kind. If one vegan can excuse themselves for eating insects in their oatmeal, then to what degree must other vegans go in order to eliminate all products derived from other animals from their lives?
If someone has an answer, I’d love to hear it, because the best one I can come up with is “Do the best you can”. I might not care so much about this, but I am gawd-awful tired of what I perceive as people trying to “out-vegan” each other all the time.