I’m kind of obsessed with learning. Whenever I discover something that’s of interest to me, I try to become really informed on the topic. The same went for going vegan. And even though I thought there wouldn’t be much to it (and even though I still have a lot to learn), I soon discovered just how many layers there are to being a vegan– layers that go far beyond simply the foods we eat.
The “three pillars” (as I like to refer to them as) of veganism are:
Health. Animals. Planet.
If you’re a vegan, you’re probably a vegan for one, two or all three of these reasons.
Two of those pillars carry over into many other areas of life: animals and the planet.
Vegans love animals. That’s kinda why we don’t eat ’em. We believe they are sentient creatures who don’t deserve to be killed for someone’s dinner (or breakfast, or lunch, or snack– you get where I’m going with this). We also believe that not only is it wrong to eat them, but that the treatment and handling that they endure prior to and leading up to becoming “food” is cruel and unusual, inhumane, and just plain mean and sad.
Vegans (usually) also love the planet. This goes hand-in-hand with the whole loving animals thing. We understand that all creatures share this planet together, and that we should take care of the Earth the same way it takes care of and provides for us. We are aware that tons of emissions are unnecessarily produced due to the transportation methods, and large amounts of land and water use that come from farming animals that will be killed for meat or treated horrifically (and possibly harmed) for dairy, and that is one reason that we try to focus on living a more sustainable life– as a sort of compensation to Mother Earth to show we are doing our part to reverse the effects of everything that contributes to polluting the planet.
So you see, being vegan isn’t just about the food we eat (or choose not to eat) .
Then how do these philosophies spill over into the rest of our lives as vegans? How do the products we use, the clothes we wear, and the ways we choose to interact with all living creatures define us, if at all?
Just how vegan are you?
How vegan am I?
This is the question I asked myself a few weeks into becoming a vegan. It was extreme sensory overload as I wrecked my brain trying to figure out how many things I owned that contained animal products, and attempted to decipher what things like dimethylamine was– an ingredient I kept seeing pop up in shampoo and conditioner ingredient lists. Was it an animal derivative??
Then the paranoia set in. I began to obsessively think: what if most things are animal derivatives with codes names like dimethy– the stuff I just mentioned. What if absolutely everything people consume or use has some sort of animal product in it unless It’s marked “certified vegan”??
After my mini meltdown, I realized it’s 2018 and I can just Google this stuff.
As I mentioned, if something is marked with the “certified vegan” logo then you can be sure that it is definitely vegan. No need to read the label or try to search what a specific ingredient is when it’s not hiding behind its fancy code name. Per the vegan.org website, this certification serves the following purpose:
“The Certified Vegan Logo is a registered trademark, similar in nature to the kosher mark, for products that do not contain animal products or byproducts and that have not been tested on animals. The certified logo is easily visible to consumers interested in vegan products and helps vegans to shop without constantly consulting ingredient lists. It also helps companies recognize a growing vegan market, as well as bringing the word Vegan—and the lifestyle it represents—into the mainstream.”
But there are also a ton of products that most vegans on social media have loving deemed “accidentally vegan”. This term applies to products that don’t have the certified vegan trademark, but are indeed vegan based on the ingredients the product contains. The company or brand either didn’t bother having the product certified or just didn’t care. That’s why it’s so important to look at the labels on everything! Even items that we think are or should be vegan sometimes aren’t, so reading the label works both ways– you’ll find accidentally vegan items but you’ll also discover that items you thought would be vegan actually aren’t!
Getting used to reading labels took a little time for me. Okay, a lot of time. Okay, I still get annoyed with reading labels! Not to mention I don’t always remember to do it. I’m going on 6 months vegan and still forget to read labels all. the. time. It was a little frustrating because I would toss something in the cart while grocery shopping (with the awareness that it should or might likely be vegan) but then a few minutes later, and sometimes right away, I would have a nagging feeling saying either “you forgot to read the label to double-check if it’s vegan”, or “are you sure that’s vegan because you never even used it before”, and I would just stop everything and read the label. Although it sounds like it shouldn’t be a big deal, it can sometimes feel like a hassle simply because It’s time consuming and I have always been impatient — that’s just one of my human traits, even aside from being vegan! Then there’s the “dimethylamine dilemma” again– that is to say I would sometimes come across hard-to-pronounce ingredients, and have no idea if they were animal derivatives. So then I felt defeated. And then I’d spend more time trying to figure it all out by searching for it on my phone, but there was either no wi-fi or my phone would claim it wasn’t connected to the internet or blah, blah, blah– this literally happened on multiple occasions. Recently, I spent almost 10 minutes in the hair care aisle to find a suitable conditioner that I felt was animal and eco-friendly enough for me to purchase. I won’t divulge the brand but here’s a snapshot of the label and everything it had on it that convinced me to try it…plus it was on sale, plus it was like a 32 oz. bottle!
Woohoo! High-five for doing your part to save the plant shampoo company! But, to my disappointment, once I got home and looked up some of the other stuff on the ingredients list, I was not too happy to discover that some of the things in there could have have very well been derived from animals. For example, the conditioner also contains a product called stearyl alcohol– this product comes from stearic acid, which is a naturally occurring fatty acid that may be derived from sperm whale oil. It has many functions in beauty products, some of which may be: an emulsion stabilizer and a fragrance ingredient*. I totally took my high-five back.
But did I throw the conditioner out? No, I didn’t. I didn’t because this is a trial and error journey for me. Some things I can look up right away, but some things I will have to inevitably learn about along the way. And I definitely can’t afford to learn all of these lessons through my wallet! Sale or no sale, I still had to pay for that conditioner! I could make my own homemade conditioner, but a lot of the recipes I’ve seen still contain products such as eggs or mayonnaise or yogurt. Maybe I’ll make an avocado conditioner or just start investing in vegan shampoo and conditioner brands, but for now, I’m not gonna beat myself up over the conditioner hysteria.
And this brings me back to the questions:
Just how vegan are you?
How vegan am I?
Are you certain that every single product you consume and use is 100% vegan?
Do you have to live off the grid to be a legit 100% vegan? Maybe not.
Is it difficult to be 100% vegan in a world that is already accustomed to using animal products and by-products in practically everything? A little bit.
You could create a checklist of everything you use, and everything you do in life, and it would still be difficult to be completely certain. (1) Foods. check. (2) Clothing. check. (3) Hair products. check. (4) Body products. check. (5) Anything else. check??
I’m trying to be as diligent as possible when it comes to surveying what’s in my food. Luckily, I already didn’t wear real leather or any sort of animal-containing clothing– but I currently own 1 thing in my entire wardrobe that is real leather– a pair of boots I brought almost 2 months before I went vegan, in preparation for winter. The boots cost a pretty penny, so there was no way I was gonna throw them out in the dead of winter even after I decided to take the vegan plunge. I’m currently trying to inform myself of vegan hair and body products I can purchase. The good news there is that vegan brands are becoming more mainstream and soon, the price points and availability will be accessible to everyone!
But what about “anything else”?
Do you consider yourself vegan if you interact with creatures that most people tend to look down on in a negative way? By that I mean, would you harshly swat a fly? Kill a mosquito? What about step on ants? Roaches? Spiders? Centipedes?
When I first went vegan, I decided I would have to stop harming absolutely every creature in existence, and I didn’t think it was impossible to do. But I started my journey in the winter when there weren’t too many insects and bugs around anyway. As it got warmer, the real test began.
And I was completely good at first. I saw a few critters in my place, and didn’t try to savagely jump on them. This was a change for me, because in the past, I’d kill bugs immediately. But a couple of months ago, my place (of course!) became infested with ants. I was actually surprised at the help people offered– I put my infestation debacle on my Instagram story, as a slight plea for help, and I got a decent amount of messages telling me how to get rid of them naturally. So I tried several things. Some things didn’t work at all. Some things worked for a little while, but then I would wake up or come home and see more ants. This went on for a few weeks until finally I couldn’t take it anymore. I bought ant-bait. And within a couple of days most of the ants were gone.
Now the moral of this story may be different for me than for you. Some of you may no longer want anything to do with me and may now view me as a cold-hearted murderer. But for me, I always repeat the phrase this is a journey for me. And honestly, I was really happy with myself (someone who used to hate bugs and insects!) for taking the time to be patient and try to make the ants leave in a peaceful and humane way. The use of an exterminator never crossed my mind even once, and only when I felt like I was becoming outnumbered and couldn’t handle it anymore did I decide to take more severe action.
My point is, I don’t consider myself less vegan because of how I handled the ant situation. I also know that I will absolutely be more aware of how I interact with creatures that a lot of people don’t automatically associate with being sentient, such as bugs and insects. In fact, this past weekend I saw a spider and my first thought was not to kill it but instead it was: “where were you weeks ago when I was dealing with all those ants! You could have taken care it for me!” So think about these sorts of things in your vegan journey too– how have you handled these types of situations? How would you handle them?
But back to product usage for a moment– I found this awesome and extremely informative post on another vegan site/blog, which knocked my freakin’ socks off– I couldn’t believe that some of these products were not vegan. One of my friends had already warned me that a popular red food dye was made from crushed animal shells–but I had no idea they were using that dye in products like cranberry juice! Bug shells in cranberry juice? Seriously?? But it just reiterated to me that this is a long fight. People have evolved to become dependent on animals as a major economic source in all areas of life, not to mention the most obvious, as a food source (which also links back to the economy). Changing that dependence isn’t going to happen overnight. But what gives me hope is the knowledge that the option to not use animals is there! It’s possible to make almost anything that currently exists on the market today, food or otherwise, vegan. With plant-based ingredients.
Similar to what the author says in that article I linked above, I mention all of these struggles not to make anyone feel defeated but to be real and honest about some of the trials I’m going through. Things that you will likely go through also. But knowing this will help you to become more aware and be able to make more informed purchases and choices. Maybe you have the most patience in the world, and don’t mind spending the extra time in the supermarket going through a list of 30+ ingredients with a fine-toothed comb. Maybe you’re fully okay with getting rid of anything you own, clothing or otherwise if it has anything that is derived from animals (or is an animal) in it. And maybe you already love insects and have always wished you could live in a rain forest, or feel completely at ease in the presence of these creatures so, not harming them offers no challenge to you at all.
But sometimes, these choices aren’t so easy. And sometimes, you’ve been vegan for several months, only to discover that half the things you’ve been using on your body and hair still have animal derivatives or by-products in them. And sometimes, ( like this girl right here!) you’ve been enjoying bagels thinking they’re vegan, only to discover that some of them still aren’t vegan! The point is: don’t go crazy over it! Even with the three pillars of veganism screaming inside your head, sometimes it can still be hard making sure something is 100% vegan.
It doesn’t mean that you care any less or that you aren’t trying. Your efforts are still appreciated– but the reality is that as a vegan, you are part of a minority that lives in a world where the majority of products have been created using animals. So to live in that world, sometimes you have to adjust. It doesn’t mean you should give up! Don’t stop reading labels, switching over to vegan brands, or making your own products. And be aware that even when it feels like you’re on the losing end of the battle, you aren’t! Progress is being made everyday. Every minute. Every second. Change is happening! That means don’t ever question how vegan you are, and don’t ever let anyone else question it either!
So how vegan are you? Do you judge others for the choices they make in their vegan lifestyles, consciously or subconsciously? Do you feel It’s okay to abide by some “vegan rules” but not by others? Let me know in the comments!
and P.S – for the record, dimethylamine is an organic compound that is flammable and has an ammonia-like odor**– probably not the best stuff to wash your hair with.