OPINION: Vegans, We Gotta Break Through This 100% Perfect Sh*t

Is it really possible to be a perfect vegan? And can perfection be the enemy of good?
YouTuber Kalel started a conversation with her videos (Photo: YouTube)

Youtube star Kalel (1.8 million followers!) created a bit of a storm in veganland recently, when she declared* that, while she has been calling herself a vegan, she's not perfect.

Kalel admits to eating non-vegan candybars and movie theatre popcorn once in a while. And she uses one perfume, one item of make-up, and a razor that are not vegan (she's looking for alternatives for all of these).

Other (more vegan) vegans didn't mince their words: Kalel doesn't know what veganism is. She can't call herself a vegan, and she never was one. She has lied to us saying that she was vegan. She doesn't care about animals but only about carrying the label. She's all about herself and wants attention. She's spoiled. And so on.

Me, I hadn't heard of Kalel before all this, and I've only seen two of her videos. But from what I've seen, I'm impressed.

Fighting the stereotype of the perfect vegan

By admitting she's not a 100 percent vegan, Kalel wanted to start a conversation about the expectation of being the perfect vegan (the title of this article is a quote taken from one of her videos).

She says: "I want to fight the stereotype that you have to follow all these rules in order to call yourself a vegan. People don't need to feel guilty because there's five things they're still holding on to."

Kalel believes there are many people who call themselves vegan, but who aren't 100 vegan-perfect like her. But, she says, few are daring to speak about it.

Problem?

I know what she's talking about. I've publicly stated that out of home, I give wine and bread the benefit of the doubt (i.e. I consume them even if I don't know and can't figure out if they're vegan or not. (And yes, I know about the Barnivore app). 

Obviously some people have told me I'm not a vegan because of that (even after 20 years of avoiding animal products). Many others have told me they do the same as me, and that I'm brave (yes, brave), to admit to this publicly.

But if admitting - like Kalel did - that we're not 100 percent perfect needs to be called 'brave', we have a problem in our vegan movement.

A conversation

I share Kalel's concern. I think we need to have a conversation about perfectionism in veganism. And no, it's not because I 'struggle', as a vegan. 

It's for two reasons. One is so that we stop infighting and judging other vegans on whether they're not vegan, or not vegan enough - because this will mostly only discourage them. The second is still more important: we want to present veganism as something doable, and not as something very very difficult.

I hear you, you find it easy (as do I), but make no mistake: for most people, going vegan is still quite difficult - otherwise there would be many more vegans than there are right now. More than this: even staying vegan is difficult for many. We know from research that many vegetarians and vegans - including those doing it for ethical reasons - fall off the wagon after a while.

 

Kalel spoke about being scared of revealing her non-vegan habits

The world's smallest club?

Sometimes I get the impression that veganism is about being the world's smallest club. Some of us want to put the price of membership so high that hardly anyone can join. We play vegan police and take away the vegan card of anyone who admits to eating a piece of pie with egg in it once in a year, while all the rest of their consumption is vegan. 

These people - even though they are much closer to being vegan than anything else - should call themselves vegetarian! God forbid that they use our vegan label!

I get it, folks. Not only does that one exception, in itself, entail animal suffering, we're also afraid of the effect not being clear and consistent will have on non-vegans. We're afraid they'll accuse us of being hypocrites. And we fear that they will be confused.

What if consistency is overrated?

As to non-vegans trying to find loopholes in our behavior, and using those as an excuse to do nothing themselves: certainly, some people will play these gotcha-games. 

I have a feeling, however, that the concern for consistency is more in the vegans' mind than in the meat-eaters'. It would be great to do some research on this, but what if non-vegans would be more appreciative of a little bit of flexibility and a tiny portion of self-indulgence, than of uber-consistency? 

The suggestion that there's at least a bit of leeway, that it's not about some quasi-religious form of purity, might be helpful in reducing animal suffering. And we might be less scrutinized and attacked by non-vegans if we gave up the pretence of perfection.

Confusion shouldn't be our worry

And about that confusion. What if Kalel spreads - as she does - her 'confused' concept of veganism to the masses. What if everyone adopted her version of veganism and was... only 98 percent vegan?! 

Would that be a bad thing? Of course not. If the whole world could be even 80 percent vegan, attitudes would shift massively, animal products would become much more expensive, and the world would be as vegan as you want it in no time.

Would accepting '98% vegans' as vegan make the movement more appealing for the masses?

98% vegan

I think we should accept 98 percent vegans - people like Kalel - as vegans. 

If you disagree, fair enough. 

But then at least allow them to call themselves 98 percent vegan (or 90 percent or whatever). That's a useful concept, yet even that is met with resistance. 'You can't be 95 percent vegan, just like you can't be 95 percent pregnant', I often hear. But this is unfortunate black and white thinking that does not help animals.

The vegan identity seems to me to be one of the most binary identities you can find. We accept variety within religious and political identities, and fortunately even within genders now. You can be less or more Catholic, less or more of a liberal or an environmentalist, less or more male or female. But you can only be vegan or non-vegan?

If someone's consumption is 98 or 99 percent vegan, and they care enough to identify as a vegan, isn't it completely silly and unproductive to tell them they are not? Think also, of the many people who would talk about veganism and get it out in the mainstream (like Kalel), but who other (more vegan) vegans would like to prevent them from doing that. 

Where is the win in that? Where is the win in policing everyone and letting fewer people talk about veganism? 

Veganism for the masses

I'd urge Kalel not to drop the vegan label for herself. Or we'd end up with one less person who spreads the concept. And besides, if sensible people like her give up on it, the question is whether only hardline, black-and-white advocates will do a better job advocating veganism to the masses… And it is with our advocacy towards others, rather than with our own consumption, that we potentially have the biggest impact for animals.

Some vegans will be quick to object: but if we allow a 98 percent vegan to call themselves vegan, we might as well say anyone is vegan. 

That's obviously not at all what I'm suggesting. There is a line somewhere - and the fact we can't pinpoint that line exactly doesn't make my argument any less valid. 

It's not because you can't tell exactly when a hill becomes a mountain that there is no difference between the two.

Is it possible to be 100% vegan?

100% vegan?

Finally, it is true that no one is 100 percent vegan. The people who say they never intentionally consume anything derived from an animal may still be choosing not to know certain things. 

What if I tell you that companies use bees for the fertilization of many of your fruits and vegetables. Will you start checking for that, or only use veggies from your own garden? It is technically 'practicable and possible', and some people, who are doing exactly that, could tell you - dear very vegan - that you are… not vegan. 

Yes, for every vegan you can find a vegan who's more vegan.

One more thing. It's a lot easier to apply the term vegan to meals and products, than to people. A meal or a product is vegan if it doesn't contain products derived from animals. When exactly is a person vegan? It's a lot harder to say. I'm in favor of applying strict criteria to meals and products, but support a more fuzzy concept when we talk about people.

The big picture

Dear vegans, the details are for later. There will be a day when you can look at the details all you want. For now, let's mainly look at the big picture. And that big picture, as Kalel so eloquently says, is one of supply and demand. 

This is, I think, how it works: apart from raising awareness, we have to make being vegan a lot easier still. What'’s the way to do that? Expand and improve alternatives for animal products. Make them cheaper, better, more convenient, available everywhere. 

How does that happen? By increased demand. Where does that demand come from? From one percent of vegans, five percent vegetarians, and especially from (in many countries) over 25 percent reducers. All these people with their different degrees of reduction (or elimination) together, are creating a society in which it becomes easier and easier to shift towards full time veganism. 

Let's appreciate every step people take. Let's see everyone who makes a serious effort as part of the solution rather than the problem. Let's unite in what we share, rather than create division over the details that we don't. Let's accept that people fill in veganism a little bit differently, that your definition is not my definition and that your practice is not my practice.

And above all, let's be charitable and believe in each other's good intentions. We'’re all in this to create a better world.

To read an alternative opinion, please click here.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are prepared in the author's capacity and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Plant Based News itself. 

Reuse this content
PBN Contributor:

Tobias Leenaert is the author of 'How to Create a Vegan World: a Pragmatic Approach' and blogs at www.veganstrategist.org. He is a longtime speaker and strategist, and together with Melanie Joy, gives vegan advocacy trainings all over the world for the Center for Effective Vegan Advocacy (CEVA). He is also co-founder of ProVeg, an international pro-vegan organization with the mission to reduce the global consumption of animals by 50 percent by the year 2040. A vegan for over 20 years, Tobias lives in Ghent, Belgium, with his partner, two dogs, and at least six cats.

(c)2018 Plant Based News LTD. All Rights Reserved.

Join the conversation

Since you're here...
Plant Based News is a FREE service that receives millions of views each week on YoutubeFacebookInstagramTwitterour weekly newsletter and this website. This takes a lot of our personal time, money and hard work. But we do it because we KNOW it makes a difference. If those following our reporting helped by contributing, we could do even more. Please consider supporting us so we can create further awareness about animal rights, environmentalism, ethical consumerism and the plant-based lifestyle. Not a false narrative - but information that empowers people to make better choices.

Support Plant Based News

It's World Vegan Day