Saturday, April 10, 2010

How "pure" do you have to be?

One thing that I wonder about as a vegan and a vegan mom is how pure of a vegan do I have to be? I think there is a continuum of veganism. We can choose to be vegan to varying degrees, but does that mean that some of us are more vegan than others, and does the point of being vegan really have that much to do with our vegan purity?

Here is what I mean: A few years ago, I went to a self-serve, all-you-can-eat salad and soup restaurant with one of my vegan friends and her daughter, and we came to the pasta bar. She wouldn't take the marinara sauce and I thought it was because she feared there would be some dairy in it. In truth she objected to it because she was afraid there could be bone-char processed sugar in it. Because of this, she also will not buy products with nonorganic sugar in them. She has some other strict rules about what she will and won't eat. I remember thinking that maybe I should be that careful about what I ate and didn't know if I was "as vegan" as she was.

Over the years I've probably become "more vegan" in some ways, but somewhat relaxed in others. For example, it took me a while to swicth over all of our household and bathing products, cosmetics, etc to vegan ones. I remember using products, like dish soap, and thinking, "Oh, I should see if a vegan version of this exists..." and then slowly moving over to vegan counterparts of most everything in our home. At first I had no idea that veganism would extend so far into other non-food related areas of my life. I had always searched for nonanimal-tested products as a vegetarian, but that was relatively easy compared to finding vegan products! I think it was a bit overwhelming at first to veganize my life, especially with a child and all the things she needed.

Now, mostly everything in my house is vegan, with the exception of one area of products: medicine. This is one area where I have let my strict veganism slide. As you may already know, becoming vegan opens up a bunch of other paths leading to, well, shall I say, enlightenment? I'm talking about environmental consciousness, health, and social justice issues to name a few. Household cleaning products, for exapmle, tend to be better for the earth. Most articles or books on plant-based diets are going to talk the great benefits such a diet has on our Earth. When you learn about factory farming, you learn about how farm workers and the community in which the farms are located are harmed by working in or having the farm in their community. If you start researching vegan chocolate, you are bound to be educated on how fair-trade, shade-grown chocolate benefits farmers and the environment. And as you read cookbooks and other plant-based diet books, you are going to learn more about your own health and nutrition than you may have ever wanted to!

This health eductaion via veganism is what has led me to think more critically about the Western health care system. I started to think more about antibiotics, vaccinations, and all the over-the-counter and prescribed medications that are commonly used in our country, and I began to question the unquestionnable deference we have to medical practicioners and the whole medical community when it comes to such things. When my daughter was an infant, I was totally uneducated about vaccinations and thought I had to have her vaccinated. Our former pediatrician didn't tell me that vaccines were optional, or that, at the very least, that I could space out the time between my daughter's vaccinations. Like most Americans, I would just do what my doctor told me to do.

Having several bad experiences with this first pediatrician with regards to vaccinations and vegetariansim, I began a journey to see what other medical options were out there. It led me to our current pediatrician who is both an MD and a homeopathic practicioner. I love our doctor, who is totally cool with veganism, relaxed about vaccinations, and uses antibiotics as a last result and only when absolutely necessary. What she prescribes instead are homeopathic remedies, and there in lies my vegan dilemma! While I would rather give my kids homeopathic remedies over antibiotics and other nasty prescribed medications, much of the homeopathic stuff is not vegan. Some has honey, and some of the other products have lactose in them (derived from dairy). My two boys both tend to have more chronic breathing issues. Braeden--the four year old--had sleep apnea and severe snoring/difficulty breathing at night time. We tried a gluten-free diet for six months or so and it seemed to help for a while, but then came back. Whenever he would get a cold it would turn into a cough and cause him to have a hard time breathing, both at day and at night. Luckily, he has outgrown this for the most part. Now my little guy has similar problems (in fact he's wheezing right now)!

The reason I'm mentioning my children's health problems is because the main line of homeopathic remedies that help with their breathing issues contains the lactose I mentioned earlier. They're small little pellets that mix the herb, etc with a little bit of lactose (which I was told was added to sweeten the pellets). Though I give them to the kids when they need them, I still feel a bit guilty about it. Am I putting the health of my kids ahead of the well being of the cows? I guess in a way I am, but I justify my use of the remedies in several ways. First, the alternative non-alternative Western medicines probably have animal products in them, besides the God-knows-what-else is in there. Secondly, I am doing the best I can as a vegan and as a mother, and until an alternative exists to help my kids that is totally vegan, I'll compromise and use these products. Thirdly, I really don't know what else I could do in place of these remedies. I feed my kids very well the majority of the time, I don't use harsh chemicals in our home, and my kids get plenty of rest and exercise. I can't say what causes their tendency to have breathing problems for sure, but I wonder if it has to do with the lack of prenatal care and their in utero exposure to certain toxins as they grew in their birthmoms' tummies. Who knows? Plenty of kids have similar problems and had better prenatal experiences...

Anyways, for now, I'll give my kids the lactose-laden remedies and feel a little grossed out and sad about doing it. I recently told my kids that there is lactose in the pellets because I didn't want to keep it a secret any longer, and they were surprisingly fine with it, especially when I explained why we take them. I don't know if I'm more vegan or less vegan than the average plant-based person, but I do know that I am doing the best I can--or know how to do--at the moment, and for now, that's the best that I can do.

Maybe most vegans have areas in their lives where they are not as strict as they could be. My husband drinks beer even if he's not sure if it's vegan. I know friends who buy shampoo or bathroom cleaner that isn't vegan. I've eaten questionnable foods from time to time when a family member of friend has gone through the trouble to prepare something for me to the best of her ability. And I'm sure I'll slip up or make small concessions again in the future. We all have our own comfort level and some would not consider buying and consuming something with lactose in it, as I do.

I have always believed in PETA's philosophy of veganism that I heard several years ago at one of their activist conferences. I'm paraphrasing here, but the gist of their belief is that being vegan is not about being pure, it's about making compassionate choices AND showing others that it's not too difficult to be vegan. If we quibble about what may be in the bun of the veggie dog that we buy at our local ball park, we show those around us, including those making the decisions of what to sell at the park, that being vegan is just too hard and is more about perfectionism and less about doing the most for the animals that we can. I would rather show those around me that it's pretty easy to be vegan once you get the hang of it, and that you can get by just about anywhere and be happy in the process. I am not a perfect vegan, mother, or human, but on a journey to do the best I can, for the Earth, my children, myself, and the animals. =)


  1. Great post. I agree that if we as vegans become so "holier than thou" and obsessively pure, it can put others off. As a result, this makes veganism seem like nothing short of burdensome and impossible, instead of the joyful, compassionate lifestyle choice it's meant to be.

  2. I've had the same dilemma since I've been vegan. Should I eat honey since I swat flies and trample on ants? What makes honey bees more superior than other insects? I've come to terms with my degree of veganism and just do the best you can. There is no right or wrong way of being vegan. Just know whatever you are doing is fine, that you have the intention to decrease the suffering of animals. There is no perfect vegan.

  3. Tami, great post! And so true. We do what we can, until there is a better, viable alternative. You are an amazing, inspirational vegan!


  4. What a great post! I feel exactly the same way, and used to be really paranoid about the "vegan police." After much thought and reflection, I came to the same conclusion you did. We do the best we can for our families, the animals, and earth. Instead of beating ourselves up over doing what we need for our families, we should celebrate the positive impacts of our vegan lifestyle.