Can You Really Call Yourself A Vegan?

Unknown-2While recently enjoying my pasta marinara in an upscale Italian restaurant with friends, I heard the following words come my way…”you know, Debby, that pasta you’re eating is made with egg whites.”

images-2Was a friend really trying to bust me during a social Saturday evening dinner? Or was the friend trying to help me stay vegan? I prefer to think it was the latter of the two. This was not the first time I’ve encountered such comments…

“Are you aware that those sweet potato fries on your plate were probably cooked in lard?”

“I’m pretty sure there is beeswax in that ‘all-natural’ lip product you are using.”

“You shouldn’t be eating that Kind Bar because it contains honey.”

“Those all-cloth shoes are not vegan, Debby! They are made with glue containing animal proteins!”

“You are aware that the white wine you are drinking was probably filtered with fish bladders, aren’t you Deb?”

“I heard the waiter say that the Gang Puck is vegetarian and made without fish stock, but all Thai restaurants make Gang Puck with fish stock. I’m sure your Gang Puck contains fish stock.”

Busted, busted and more busted! Or is it “helped, helped, and more helped?”

Did I know that there may have been egg whites in that spaghetti at the fancy Italian restaurant? Absolutely not! Did it occur to me that my sweet potato fries may have been cooked in lard? No, it did not occur to me. Did it ever cross my mind that the glue in my cloth shoes contained animal products? No, it never crossed my mind.

Were my friends generously trying to help me remain vegan, or were they trying to send a message to me that “you may think you’re vegan, Debby, but you’re not!” Who knows? What do you think?

Other questions remain to be answered. If you unknowingly eat or use animal products, can you still call yourself a vegan? And even if you did, in fact, know that your spaghetti was made with egg whites or that your occasional glass of wine was filtered with fish bladders, could you still call yourself a vegan?

In my opinion, the answer is an emphatic YES! Veganism has often been described as “the practice of not consuming or using any animal products.” The key word here is practice. Practice is a way of doing things in attempt to strive for an ultimate goal. Practice is not about perfection. Veganism is not about perfection.

If this guy ate vegan 98.9% of the time, would you say he’s not vegan because he drank a glass of beer filtered with animal products?

4c4b8df9ae0d1.preview-300 copyOf course not! He clearly deserved that glass of beer for his dedication. Don’t you think so?

And if you are vegan 98.9% of the time, and choose to eat something at a non-vegan restaurant which may have trace amounts of animal products in it, then I think you should feel proud enough to call yourself a vegan too. And who is anyone else to criticize you anyway? It’s usually the ones who give the least amount of thought to their lifestyle choices who have the biggest criticisms of (or desire to “help” you with) yours.

And “vegan” is just a word, isn’t it? Does it really matter how you label yourself? You don’t have to call yourself “vegan” or anything else if you don’t want to. If you choose to live your life in a healthy way and by a strong set of moral standards and beliefs, that is commendable enough. If you adhere to Meatless Mondays, Mark Bittman’s Vegan Before 6, or even dabble in veganism, you should feel proud for being a thinking and caring individual.

In my opinion, it’s how you live your life that matters, not what you label yourself. I believe that it will be much richer, deeper, and more meaningful if you choose to care about the world you live in. You can wear the “vegan” label proudly like the guy in the photo above (although I would go for a vegan t-shirt), or say nothing at all. You don’t have to be perfect. Nobody is perfect. Nothing is perfect. Then again, if you choose to care, I think you’re perfect.

Veganism is a practice. Veganism is not about perfection. Drink that glass of wine! Enjoy those sweet potato fries! Have fun twirling that spaghetti with a fork and spoon! Ignore the vegan police! You’re doing great! And you’re vegan!

Love & Peace,








  1. Debby–you have captured my sentiments exactly! I’ll bet other people feel the same way too. Well-meaning or not so well-meaning friends and family always seem to want to “out” you when they think you’ve done a non-vegan deed, as if they were the judge and jury of you! It’s really incredible how much attention people pay to you when they find out that you’ve made this choice to be vegan. When I was non-vegan no one cared what I ate! I also tell them I don’t believe in labels and I do the best I can.

  2. Matt Ruderman says:

    Well said, Debby. We do the best we can, with the best intentions.

  3. This is so true. It extends to other issues related to animals as well. As an animal rights activist, I often encounter people who feel the need to inform me of other injustices to animals or people that they feel are more worthy of my attention. These are people who take no stand in life, yet they are directing ME to get involved elsewhere merely as a way of discounting whatever current cause I am working on. An example is when I spoke out about geese being killed, people would say “billions of chickens are killed, don’t you care about them, forget about these 100 geese and work on the chickens?” My answer is always that every sentient being deserves our compassion.

    I think it has to do with being uncomfortable about their own ethics and lack of action regarding animals. They see you making changes, motivated by compassion, and it makes them uncomfortable. So they seek to show you how impossible it is to be truly vegan, or to truly care about animals. In doing that, they can feel less conflicted about their own ethical choices and inaction. I feel fairly confident that they are not trying to help, but rather work out their own issues.

    • I agree with you, Beth. I was trying to be non-judgmental when I presented the option of maybe people are trying to help me stay on my vegan diet, but you are correct. I guess being committed to something and motivated by compassion does make some people uncomfortable. I admire you for your activism on behalf of the animals and your intuitive insight! Thanks for reading!

  4. There is no one on the entire planet who is completely vegan, if we use the standards that many all-or-nothings require. Many if not most vehicle tires contain stearic acid, derived from slaughterhouse by-products. Michelin does not use stearic acid, according to a brief Google search, however virtually all products we buy were impacted AT SOME POINT in the supply chain by other products and/or services that use animal products. A vegan lifestyle (or any other, for that matter) is a journey, not an endpoint, and I am getting really tired of the gotcha arguments used to tear down others in the mistaken attempt to prove some fatal flaw. This is common in our current political discourse, as well.

    • So true! I am so grateful for your comment. It’s so good to know that there are others who are like-minded. We can only strive to do our best and to live in alignment with our core values and beliefs. Thank you for your comment.

  5. I agree, Debby! My sentiments exactly. Although I’m mostly, MOSTLY vegan myself, usually I refer to myself as a “veg-head.” I do strive to do my best and to live in alignment with my core values and beliefs, as well! Nicely acknowledged! <3

    • Thanks for the supportive comment, Debra! All anyone can do is their best, right? Keep on doing what you’re doing. I like “veg-head.” Very cute!

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