On near-veganism (and other problems)

Prior to making the not-so-big leap to a dairy and meat free diet last Christmas, I had been a vegetarian for roughly three years. That leap I had found to be a much bigger adjustment than the logical step from vegetarianism to veganism. It felt, for me, the correct thing to do from a health, ethical and fiscal standpoint.  It is a viewpoint that I will continue to hold, hopefully, for a very long time.

One thing that does trouble me, however, about veganism or the vegan subculture, is its worrying tendency to drift into a zealous, incredibly strict dogma that one has to obey or be kicked out of the clubhouse. From my own personal experience in the UK DIY punk scene, that often centres around vegan/veg friendly spaces such as the Pogo Cafe in Hackney (http://www.pogocafe.co.uk/) or the Cowley Club in Brighton (http://cowleyclub.org.uk/), this is a mentality that far too often rears its ugly head.

One example sticks vividly in my mind. Roughly a year ago I was helping to run the benefit launch party of the office for activist campaign group No Sweat (http://www.nosweat.org.uk/), in the fantastic venue of Housmans Bookstore (http://www.housmans.com/), Kings Cross. It was a wonderful night, a gathering of like-minded individuals and featuring the talents of Babar Luck, Majah Tunder, Johnny One Lung and Captain of the Rant.  Although the event was bring your own booze, we had made sure that we had a few crates of beer to sell on to people should they want it. Unfortunately one of the crates of beer was of a brand that was not, we discovered, vegan which led to an absurd conversation between a young tattooed woman and my good friend Andrea about the disgrace that we were selling non-vegan beer. To prove her righteousness, the woman (now quite angry) lifted her top, displaying the word 'VEGAN' tattooed in large letters across her midriff. As if this proved something. We pointed out that the event was bring your own, and there was an off licence across the road, but she was less than impressed. There have been other incidents since this time, but this is the one that sticks in my head due to it's sheer absurdity; the event was a DIY run fundraiser for an activist campaign group. Was that not enough?

The obvious irony is that many people (and these are people I often count as close friends) who are vegan are often closely allied with the punk and anarchist subcultures in Britain, which themselves are by-and large-atheistic, suspicious of rules, religion or any sort of strict dogma. There is an inherent contradiction in an anarchist/atheist lambasting a peer who has made the effort to move toward a more ethical diet for 'not doing it properly' or saying that they are not a 'proper' vegan for the fact that they occasionally sup the odd pint of Guinness. The level of self-righteousness I have encountered on occasion has been shocking, and though it is a trap I have fallen into myself on occasion, I think it really is necessary for me, as a man who has made the conscious effort to give up meat and dairy (context permitting) to make this point clear:

Veganism is a personal choice. To all those self-righteous vegans who approach the issue with religious zeal and are quick to criticise anyone who steps outside of their narrow boundaries, ridicules vegetarians or tediously informs me that the pint i'm drinking at a show was purified using isinglass - step outside yourself for a second and get some perspective All these people - contemporaries and peers - who you waste time on debating the minutiae of their ethical decisions, well, they are on your side. Vegetarians? Good, I'm glad they don't eat meat. The anti-war activist who does eat meat? Good, that person is on my side. A person who eschews meat, dairy, eggs, honey, checks the back of their crisp packets for lactose, but who drinks Guinness? Brilliant they've made a good decision and I refuse to criticise them for not being as strict with their dietary choice as some others. If that person does not qualify as a vegan, then who really cares? In fact, who exactly came up with these rules anyway?

I don't wish to sound too harsh or critical here; I merely wish that people who have made an admirable and sometimes difficult lifestyle choice maintain their sense of perspective. The choices we make are all context based; adopting a holier-than-thou attitude about an ethical choice makes a person no better than someone sticking to a set of rules laid down by a holy book or a political doctrine. People who I consider 'on-side' are few and far between and we need to stick together, rather than adopting divisive ways of thinking that merely fracture people into yet another subculture of a subculture.

Which is why from this moment I'm not referring to myself as a vegan unless pressed on the matter. But I'll continue to eat in what I consider to be an ethical manner, whatever anyone wants to call it. If Im a fake, then so be it.