My partner, Marla Rose, and I have been working together to try and expand the vegan community for more than a quarter-century, and a few people have referred to us as OG (original gangster) vegans, which is a term I accept with pride and humility because there were obviously so many who came before us. During all this time, we have spent a great deal of time pondering the meaning of the word that drives our philosophy and our life’s work.
Pretty much since the beginning, we have been taunted by people questioning our commitment and understanding with non-questions such as, “Aren’t those shoes leather?” or “What about all the mice who die in a wheat harvest?” These barbs were almost universally tossed at us from carnophilic trolls who then quickly disappeared into the crowd or the ether.
Lately, though, these trolls have largely been replaced by “Veganer Than Thou” trolls, most of whom loudly claim that we should stop calling ourselves vegan, because we support the covid vaccines. Their claim is that since these vaccines have been tested on animals, that anyone who takes them, or, worse yet, actually supports them (egads!) is not only not vegan, but is the sworn enemy of the animals we purport to save. Our comment threads have contained many missives such as these, including some who have demanded that we change our name from Vegan Street to something like Veganish Street.
So did we betray the vegan movement by getting our covid shots? Let’s think about that.
The reason the covid vaccine was tested on animals is that the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) requires that all medicines, medical procedures and anything of medical significance must be tested on animals. Indeed, this is true not just in the U.S. but of the medical organizations that regulate and oversee every country. This applies not only to life-saving medicines like penicillin or insulin, but also such common products as aspirin and antacids. Yes, all of these products must, by law, be tested on animals.
And it’s not only medicines. If you eat any food that contains any ingredient developed in the last 60 years, that ingredient has been tested on animals. That pea protein found in so many great vegan products? Some laboratory animals somewhere once suffered in its development and release.
Is all this animal testing absolutely necessary for human health? This is arguable, and we would certainly argue that it is not. There are far more modern and accurate methods to determine safety. However, we can make a far greater difference by publicly challenging the vivisection and seeking and promoting alternatives than we can by not eating veggie burgers or taking a vaccine.
And what about all the many other ways that animal exploitation has invaded our lives? If you drive a car or ride in a bus or on a bicycle, the tires beneath you may well have been made using animal-derived stearic acid. Or that label on your jar of olives or peanut butter is likely held in place using a glue that contains whey. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of products we use regularly that contain ingredients or processes of animal origin.
Even if you are eating a full-on whole-foods-plant-based diet, the commercially grown fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes you eat were almost certainly grown using animal manure, and very likely were at some point treated with pesticides. You could perhaps provide all of your food from your own veganic garden, but even then, it’s pretty difficult to till the soil without occasionally slicing into an earthworm.
So is it possible to live a 100% purely vegan life? It doesn’t appear so.
. . .
How can we make peace with that? Do we just throw up our arms, give up on our values and start eating animals again?
It turns out that the answer to that question is as old as the word “vegan” itself. In 1944, when the absolute OG vegans, Donald Watson and his colleagues at the newly formed Vegan Society were asking the same questions I’m asking here, they came up with what is probably the best definition of veganism ever, one that both the UK and US Vegan Society still use today, and that is embraced by many other groups, including us at Vegan Street. Here it is in its entirety:
"Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude – as far as is possible and practicable – all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals."
The key words for our purposes here are “as far as possible and practicable.” They realized that they lived in a world where eating and exploiting animals was the accepted norm and that it simply wasn’t possible to avoid this exploitation altogether .
For us, those words mean that it is not responsible to practice a kind of purity of veganism that promotes harmful, dangerous behaviors during a global health crisis of the magnitude we have been experiencing for the past two-plus years.
The OG vegans believed that if ending animal exploitation that were even possible, it would take many decades at the least before veganism would dictate policy. It will likely take many decades yet, even though there are a great many of us working to bring this change about.
Until that day comes, let’s all just be as vegan as possible and practicable. That much is a lot.
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