I’m no longer vegan?!? Dealing with mistakes

October 18, 2010

Yes, I really did break my vegan streak a little while ago.  No, I’m not taking it too seriously, and you’ll see why in the latest video (though it’s a bit gross):

The interview I mentioned with Jonathan Safran Foer is here, and like I said, I don’t know if I agree with the theory or not, but JSF is one of the leading speakers on vegetarianism if not veganism within the non-vegan community right now, so it’s worth paying a little attention to what he has to say on the matter (oh, and you can read what we thought of his book here.)

What do you think? Can I be “forgiven”? What’s the difference, in your mind, between mistakes and outright cheating? Do you agree with JSF’s theory? Let us know in the comments!

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Erin October 18, 2010 at 11:32 pm

I had a friend explain why she wasn’t vegan anymore this way! I didn’t understand, but didn’t want to make her uncomfortable by pressing the issue. Her reasoning went something like this: “I used to be vegan, but I was eating a lot of Kimchee and I found out that there is fish sauce in it, and I had been eating it all the time for like a year.” I waited for her to finish the story and explain why she now eats cheese, but she never did. That was the whole story of why she’s not vegan anymore. It was so strange to me.
I recently read Alicia Silverstone’s (haha, like she wrote it) The Kind Diet. She says that she still wants fish with sushi, so on rare occasions she will eat one bite off a friend’s plate. It was explained to me that reasoning for including this in the book was not to tell people they should just have a bite of animal product here and there, but to admit that sometimes people with the best of intentions slip up. I felt like it diminished the message that a complete and varied vegan diet leaves you satisfied and not feeling like you need that fish. I can understand the alternative point though.

Jason October 19, 2010 at 12:04 am

Sometimes I make video where I feel almost like I’m making up an absurd reason people don’t stay vegan for the sake of an argument (at least this one was based on a JSF quote,) and those are invariable the videos where I hear from someone who knows someone who did exactly that. Thanks! Oh crap, new video ideas popping in my head no must stop need sleep!

I know there’s at least one reader here who learned about kimchee the hard way but somehow managed to avoid the black hole, so at least it’s not the kimchee that’s at fault… Which reminds me, I need to pick up some vegan kimchee…

Oh, and bummer about Silverstone’s confession; like you, I think I get it but I don’t get it.

Barbi October 19, 2010 at 9:00 am

I am a very firm believer that yes, the mistakes can be forgiven and I strongly agree that veganism is about making a decision to stop eating animal products and reduce suffering. I do agree that more people would go vegan if they saw it that way and didn’t think that in order to call themselves a vegan they had to worry about making a lifelong commitment to never let another animal product slip past their lips.

I’ve considered myself a vegan for 12 years but I’m not extremely strict about it. I don’t ask about ingredients every time I eat out. Yes, I’ve learned to reiterate even when ordering off a “vegetarian” section of a thai restaurant that I don’t want fish sauce but I don’t hold it against myself if I forget, and I do eat out at Indian restaurants knowing full well that there’s a chance that even if I order a seemingly vegan dish, the veggies within it have been fried in ghee.

This might make me a poser vegan to some, but I’m not ashamed to use the vegan label to describe myself when I know I’m still from time to time probably ingesting some dairy and eggs. To me, by labelling myself a vegan and wearing that label with pride, it sends a message to all of those around me that I’ve made the commitment to do what I can to reduce suffering, and that they too can take that step and it’s a lifestyle option that’s there.

When I was calling myself a vegetarian and not a vegan, relatives would continue to serve me dishes full of cheese or butter. I wanted to be vegan but wasn’t entirely there yet, so didn’t use the label, and this wound up leading me to eat more cheese and eggs than I really wanted to. I wasn’t using the label so from time to time, I could have some fried eggs. By going vegan, I was making the commitment to myself, and making it known to others in my life, to stop eating all animal products, more or less. My relatives will no longer serve me anything with dairy or eggs, they get it now.

I really do think the most important thing about veganism is the intention, is acknowledging that eating animal products is wrong and that whether or not your diet is perfect, you can make the choice to improve it.

Colleen October 19, 2010 at 10:33 am

Ange and I discovered just this weekend that those Green & Black chocolate bars all now have milk powder in them, even the 85% dark ones! Boo, I say.

I remember a few years ago hearing Sarah Kramer complaining that Yves had quietly un-veganized something that had formerly been vegan and she’d been eating it for awhile unaware…since then, I’ve become maybe a little paranoid and now I try to read every label like I’m a newbie. That said, I know why people don’t – it’s tiring and many people just don’t have the time to do that. We do the best we can, and I agree with Barbi that intentionality is key.

And that Alicia Silverstone thing – one more in a bevy of reasons why I hate, hate, hate having flaky celebrities represent us in people’s minds.

Colleen October 19, 2010 at 10:37 am

I forgot to address your question about JSF’s theory about why college students give up on veganism…

I think he’s probably partly right but I also think that people end up viewing college/uni as that time when they were rebellious and out there and exempt in some ways from “normal” behaviours and expectations…and now they’re done it’s time to “grow up” and get down to the business of the kind of society-building their parents do and they’re familiar with. And/or being vegan is trendy for the youngin’s but becomes tiresome to others later and dealing with the social fallout becomes unacceptable. I’m sure there are lots of other reasons too, but this is what I’ve observed with many of the former vegans I’ve known over the years…

Jason October 19, 2010 at 12:44 pm

[FYI for those of you who don’t have this product line, Yves is a mock meat company, hot dogs, burgers, deli slices etc, founded in Canada but now owned by Hain Celestial]

I think Yves has re-veganized a lot of their stuff now, but I haven’t checked in a long long time – they did a lot of damage to their standing in the vegan community when they decided to egg it up, and it seems weird, but from my purchasing behaviours it looks like I’d rather support companies who sell dead animals but also have vegan options than a vegan company that shifts to mostly vegetarian products. I guess it’s more about how they did it than anything else. Or I’m just really good at holding grudges… Still, I know I’m not the only one who dropped Yves after that mess.

For mainstream consumers, I guess the analogy would be if Coke said “hey, in order to maximize our market share in this new area we discovered, 1 in 7 cans of Coke are going to taste like absolute crap, and we’re not sure if we’ll put really small labels on those cans or not, but thanks for helping us make money in this new market!” and everyone says hey, you know what, I’m done with Coke, there’s Pepsi over there.

Joshua Matthews October 20, 2010 at 1:19 am

Okay. Confession time:

I used to be vegetarian and so bought dairy products. When I went vegan, out of habit, I bought a dairy chocolate bar and dairy yoghurt. I’d was hald way through them before I realised and finished them off. No-one would want a half-eaten yoghurt or chocolate bar anyway so why waste it. It was a week or two in to my veganism and I’ve not done it since.

I used to buy Walker’s Salt & Vinegar crisps (potato chips) which were vegan. One time I bought a packet and, as I normally do before opening them, I checked the ingredients and they’d added milk powder to replace MSG. I tried to take them back to the store but they wouldn’t accept them so I gave them to a friend who I knew ate them and wasn’t vegan. My thought was: “By giving them these, they won’t need to buy a packet next time they go to the store. So all is not lost.”

One last mistake: I bought a tin of what I thought was baked beans in tomato sauce but when I opened the tin, there were sausages. (They’re similarly packaged and right next to each other on the shelf). As I couldn’t give an open tin to anyone, I threw them down the toilet.

Here’s a question for vegans:

Do you buy nonvegan products as gifts for your nonvegan friends? I don’t, but I know some of them are ‘phobic’ of vegan food – They think it will taste odd – so I try to make sure any ‘Suitable for vegans’ logo is discreet. Is that deceitful?

Joshua Matthews October 20, 2010 at 1:26 am

I agree with Colleen. A lot of students see being a student as a time for ‘being your own person’ but when they leave, they ‘become like their parents’.

As far as eating out is concerned, I don’t 100% trust what the waiter(ess) lists as ingredients. I knew someone (nonvegan) who ate a meal after having been told it contained no nuts. He had a nut allergy.

Also, I know someone in the catering trade who said sometimes waiters would lie to customers about ingredients just so they didn’t have to fuss making a special meal. The only restaurants I feel 99% comfortable are, therefore, vegetarian/vegan ones. This can make it awkward when dining with nonvegans so I compromise between being a pain in the butt and getting accurate information on ingredients.

Haley October 20, 2010 at 10:40 am


Sorry….but the dive bombing bug suicide made me laugh. Poor bug, poor you.

Just ew and *giggle*.

Quorn nuggets got me as my hubby picked them out of the Wholefoods freezer where the “vegan alternatives” were. I took his word on it and didn’t second guess him and read the ingredients until he wanted a different flavor. Also picked up faux cheese that had casein in it. I got bummed after realizing it and made a note not to buy either in the future. I consider it a learning experience.

Meredith October 25, 2010 at 2:36 pm

I’ve been meatless for more than half of my life & vegan for almost 8 years. I can freely admit to having made mistakes now and then but I do usually catch the mistake before consuming the products (like the time I bought teff tortillas only to discover honey in the ingredients when I re-read them so I had to give them away). Sometimes I don’t catch it in time (like when I had eaten half a box of formerly vegan cereal before realizing the manufacturer had started adding D3 or eating Indian food which was supposed to be veg but made my stomach hurt an awful lot leading me to suspect there was dairy or something in it). My immediate reaction to a mistake is feeling a little bit violated (“I ate a bite of something with dairy in it? EWWWW!”) and either deceived or stupid, but I try to just let it go and move on. You can’t change what happen but you can avoid it happening again and there is no sense dwelling on it!

Alex October 25, 2010 at 7:01 pm

Recently, a student lounge at my school had some boxes of cereal out for snacking. I read all the ingredients and figured out I could eat a few of them, and was happily munching on one for a few days and then glanced at the ingredients again and realized that I’d accidentally mixed up two of the cereals in my mind (both from the same company) and I’d been eating the one with honey in it. Sigh.

Honey is a funny one – some omni’s or vegetarians bring it up as a reason for how elite/unreasonable veganism is. Also, for example, I had some friends who were vegetarian and argued that the honey they bought (from a local beekeeper) was so much more sustainable and local than any other sweetener they could get. But since then, they (as well as some other friends in the same circle) have gone almost entirely vegan, but I know at least one of them eats honey. So, sigh, but at least their perspective has shifted from “I don’t want to give up X, so I can eat everything else (excluding flesh), too” to “I am still on the fence about X, but everything else is clearly harmful, so X is not a valid excuse.” These same friends made “vegan” granola bars, and then emailed me super-apologetic a few days after because they’d put honey in without thinking, and had just realized – I was a bit disgusted that I’d eaten honey, and annoyed that they hadn’t thought about it, but also touched that they felt the need to let me know and apologize rather than letting it go.

So, ditto to thoughtful comments already – slip-ups and accidents do not grant carte blanche for subsequent bad behaviour.

Jason October 25, 2010 at 10:17 pm

Alex, I’ve got a video going up on this week about this, but I’m stoked to know that there are people out there who can actually differentiate between what they can or will do and what they can or won’t, as opposed to the all or nothing reaction that’s more likely (and, uh, spoiler alert, pointing this out a bit more might yield terrific progress!)

Amanda January 4, 2011 at 3:19 pm

For the longest time I thought Bruschetta was cheese….it sounds like cheese after all. Several months back, I went to The Rock and ordered a bruschetta veggie pizza without cheese. After taking a bite or two, I finally actually started paying attention to what I was eating, (I usually just zone out while shoving edibles in my big mouth hole) and noticed bacon bits in my pizza. I was like, WTF? BACON BITS! The waitress explained that that’s what bruschetta is, and I obviously felt a little stupid.
Since bacon is also on the list of stuff that makes my intestines go into a rage, I paid for the mistake ten fold by being doubled over in the bathroom for the remainder of the evening. good times.

Jason January 4, 2011 at 3:44 pm

I wouldn’t feel stupid at all, Amanda! Forget about the vegan police, we needs us some bruschetta police. In my book, bruschetta topping it tomato, olive oil, garlic and spices, but I’ve seen it with cheese and other monstrosities (no bacon yet, but thanks for the new thing to fear.) It really varies by restaurant.

I’ve also been served falafel with mayonnaise, and frankly I’m surprised nobody’s ever handed me a fruit plate covered in cheese. I find it’s always best to mention veganism, or at least meat, eggs, and dairy when ordering anything, but sometimes I forget or think I don’t need to, and that’s almost always a mess… I get really confused when I see tofu dishes served with meat in Asian restaurants – it’s “legal” but somehow it seems like tofu is “ours”!

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: