In college, after I stopped eating meat but still ate dairy, I met a young woman who was vegan. I think I knew then that I intended to become vegan at some indefinite future time, but didn’t see a path to it. I’d lived in Paris a year and learned to love cheese too much. She was allergic to dairy, so ate none.
Since then, I’ve often commented that nearly every person I met who described themselves as vegan ate more animal products than I did, even when I was vegetarian. When they got comfortable talking about their details, they always made exceptions, like when their mom cooked for them or whatever. Somehow they always found ways to eat animal products and still call themselves vegan. I joked that they had different definitions of zero. While vegetarian, I ate animal products, but I didn’t say I didn’t.
To clarify, I’m not criticizing, judging, or suggesting I considered what they did easy or hard. But everyone has the choice to call themselves vegan or not. I don’t meet an overwhelming number of people who describe themselves as vegan, just that outside that one college friend, I’ve never met someone who described themselves as vegan who ate no animal products. That is, I’ve never met a vegan “vegan” except that college friend. Whenever I talked about not meeting vegan “vegan”s, I always qualified how I put it to account for her.
Well, over the weekend, at my thirty-year college reunion, I ran into her. It turns out she started eating meat. Now I can drop those qualifications and simply say “I’ve never met a vegan ‘vegan.'” I’m not saying anyone should or wants to, only that those who want to go can. Nobody has to describe themselves as vegan. Maybe it says more about me than vegans that all the ones I meet mean they reduce animal products, not stop.
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