I have a confession to make. I don’t like kombucha. At all. And while I’m sharing secrets, I should probably let you know that I’ve fallen off the green smoothie wagon. I don’t drink very many green juices, and while I do love kale, I probably only eat it once a week or so. And this may shock you, but I ate a bagel for breakfast this morning. It had fried tofu, vegan cheese and a soy sausage on it. I had a cup of caffeinated black tea with it too. Also, last night I drank a glass of wine and ate some chocolate. And since we’re getting personal, I should let you know that sometimes I shop at Old Navy and Target. And even Kmart. (Kmart just happens to be next to Whole Foods less than a mile away from my house.) Oh – and I can’t remember the last time I did yoga.
Okay, now that I have all of that off my chest, it would probably be good to backtrack and tell you a little bit more about me. I’ve been eating meatless for over half my life. I went vegan for ethical reasons, and when I did, a few lifelong health problems cleared up. People began asking me for health advice and others started asking for help going vegan. Since people were coming to me for information, I decided to answer their call and I became a holistic health coach and then later a vegan lifestyle coach. I live a fairly healthy lifestyle, and I help others go vegan and clean up their health too. I exercise every morning, eat huge salads for lunch, and I’m addicted to nutritional yeast. To the mainstream world I probably look like a “health nut”, but I probably look like an imposter to some of those in the health world. Which leaves me wondering, “Am I healthy enough? Am I vegan enough?”
Somehow over the years, people have begun to confuse the words “vegan” and “healthy”. They are not synonyms. Vegans can be healthy, and I do advocate for a healthy vegan diet. I also believe in being practical and living life outside the kitchen. I believe in being healthy so that I can enjoy life, not being healthy for the sake of being healthy. I also believe that not every speck of food that passes through one’s lips needs to be categorized health food in order to maintain health. I eat tons of vegetables every day, so if I feel like having a peanut butter cup after dinner, I’m going to have that peanut butter cup. And it’ll be okay. It is possible to be healthy and eat bagels and chocolate, and it is possible to be healthy and eat soy meats and vegan cheeses. If that’s all a person eats, it is a problem, but that’s a subject for a different post. I’m all for a diet that’s based in whole, plant-based foods, with some indulgences here and there. That’s the way I live and that’s what I help my clients to achieve.
I do enjoy juices and smoothies, but I don’t enjoy cleaning my juicer, and I think that it’s too cold in November to drink smoothies made with frozen fruits that aren’t in season. This may make me very unpopular, but I don’t think that it’s necessary to guzzle down juices and smoothies all day to be healthy. They can help, but they’re not necessary. Was everyone unhealthy before Vitamix came along? How did people survive before Breville started making juicers?
Now that we’ve gotten the health part of the out way, I want address the topic of veganism. Donald Watson coined the term “vegan” in 1944. According to Miriam Webster, the definition of vegan is, “a person who does not eat any food that comes from animals and who often also does not use animal products (such as leather).” Note that it doesn’t say “a person who drinks green smoothies, doesn’t eat gluten and only shops at certified fair trade stores”.
With people becoming more health conscious and veganism moving into the mainstream, factions have started to form. There are soy-hating vegans, anti-gluten vegans, organic vegans, sugar-free vegans, constantly-on-a-juice-cleanse vegans. And the list goes on. And that’s okay – if we were all the same, life would be boring. But if someone doesn’t fall into your category, that doesn’t mean that they’re not vegan, (and it also doesn’t mean that they’re not healthy), it just means that they don’t eat the same way you do. If a person isn’t eating animals and animal products, harming animals or wearing animals that person is considered a vegan, even if he or she eats nothing but seitan on white bread, GMO corn that’s been cooked in canola oil, potato chips, dark chocolate and soy milk ice cream. (Although of course, he or she is probably not very healthy.) The vegan factions are beginning to confuse the omnivore world, and I’ve met people who think that gluten, soy and corn are not vegan foods, even though they clearly don’t contain any animal products.
Someone recently sent me a rather incoherent message on Facebook saying that after she liked my page “hidden advertisements from my page started showing up on her page” and that was “like, non-vegan style.” Let’s just ignore the fact that hidden things can’t be seen unless you’re looking for them and that I don’t actually have any ads on Facebook (nor do I control how Facebook functions), and discuss the last part of the message for a minute. How is advertising non-vegan? Is gelatin somehow involved in advertising? Is a piglet killed every time someone places an ad? Are vegans just on the planet to make the world a better place? Is everything we do supposed to be pro bono? Are we supposed to live in the woods and survive on nuts and berries? (Most omnivores think we do that anyway.) People with vegan businesses rely on those businesses to support themselves and their families, and therefore they need to charge money for their services. And to get the word out, advertising is usually necessary. Unless an animal is harmed or consumed, how is a behavior considered vegan or non-vegan?
Unless animal torture is involved, behavior can’t really be classified as “vegan” or “non-vegan”. A person can be cranky and argumentative and shop solely at Walmart and still be vegan as long as he or she is abstaining from animal products, just as a person can be kind and caring and only buy free-trade products and yet eat meat, making him or her non-vegan. Of course, activities such as betting on dog fighting, working in a slaughter house and testing cosmetics on animals are non-vegan, even if the person doing them abstains from eating meat. An argument could probably be made that trolling the Internet to tell people what they’re doing is wrong isn’t vegan, because it’s not compassionate behavior.
Here’s a short list of things that aren’t vegan:
- Flesh that comes from an animal, including chicken, beef, turkey, fish and pork
- Milk that comes from an animal, such as cows’ milk or goat milk
- Cheese made from milk of an animal
- Yogurt made from milk of an animal
- Bone-char sugar
- Butcher shops
- Health, beauty and home care products that contain animal products and are tested on animals
Here’s a short list of things that are vegan:
- Meat made from soy and gluten
- Milk made from almonds, soy, rice, coconut, etc.
- Cheese made from soy, tapioca, cashews, etc.
- Yogurt made from soy, almonds, coconut, etc.
- Olive oil, canola oil, coconut oil, etc.
- Agave nectar
- Non-bone char sugar
- Organic produce
- Conventionally grown produce
- GMOs (sorry, but they are)
- Satin and polyester
- Stores that aren’t butcher shops
- Health, beauty and home care products that don’t contain animal ingredients and aren’t tested on animals
- Everything else that doesn’t contain animal ingredients and wasn’t tested on animals
Things are usually vegan, but aren’t necessary to be a vegan:
- Green smoothies
- Green juice
- Juice cleanses
- Detox programs
- Fair trade products
So am I vegan enough? Yes, of course I am. I don’t eat meat, dairy products, eggs, honey or anything that contains animal by-products. I don’t wear leather, wool, feathers, silk or anything made with bones or shells. I don’t buy products that have been tested on animals, and I check my health and beauty products to make sure they don’t contain ingredients that came from animals. I also practice compassion for other living beings, and I hold my tongue if someone’s behavior doesn’t align with my own beliefs. Practicing yoga, shopping at fair trade stores, drinking green smoothies, avoiding GMOs, buying organic and cooking without oil are all great and I applaud people who do all of them, but they have nothing to do with veganism.
In order for the vegan movement to survive, we need to remember what being vegan means. Making up arbitrary rules for what is and isn’t vegan just confuses mainstream society and makes a vegan lifestyle look impossible to achieve and unpleasant to live. In the words of Donald Watson, veganism is “the doctrine that man should live without exploiting animals.”