I've been thinking a lot about labels lately.
See, I'm in this group on Facebook for Vegans. It's a good place for me to ask questions as I'm learning, share sometimes geeky-esque vegan humor, and connect with people who share my love of cashew "cheese." It's a nice little group, and I'm enjoying getting to know the people in it.
But yesterday one of the people in the group linked to a blog post by the Happy Herbivore called "I'm not vegan anymore." And, really, that's what got me thinking about labels.
I like the Happy Herbivore's take on why the label "vegan" doesn't always fit. When it comes to labels, there will always be people who have rules in their heads about how others can fit into that label, whether it be vegan or something else, like Christian (or atheist, for that matter). And when someone sidesteps those requirements, it gives people the chance to pounce on them, attack them, and kick them out of the cool kids' club.
Here's the thing--when one person (or a few people) make the rules, it's impossible for others to live up to them, really. Everyone's different and everyone is on their* own path. No one can live up to anyone's standards except their own.
Let's look at the label "vegan" by way of an example.
My understanding of vegan has always been someone who does not consume or use animal products or byproducts. No meat, dairy, eggs, fish in the diet, and no leather, wool, etc. in the home. There are people who take that a step further (as I do) and don't use products that cause animals to suffer. For example, I avoid household cleaners and body care products from companies that test on animals. I don't use white sugar because much of it is processed through animal bone char.**
But there are also vegans who say that in order to claim the label vegan for yourself, you can't use honey. Because while bees are insects, the honey is their product and it's like taking milk from cows, etc. There are others who say that if the bees are allowed to live freely without interference (don't make the bees eat stuff they wouldn't normally eat and don't kill them after you collect the honey), it's okay to eat honey, and it has beneficial and healing properties that make it good for us. And you can still be vegan.
For those not in vegan circles, this may sound like a silly argument, but it's a very hot-button issue among those who would (or would not) call themselves vegan. Like, seriously heated. Over honey.
And there are those that some call "vegan extremists" that go nuts over people with pets and say you can't be vegan if you don't adhere to their specific standards for animals as part of your family. (PETA calls them "animal companions.")
I'm just not into all that. To me, veganism is about advocating for animal equality. It's about minimizing your negative impact on the animal world by what you eat, what products you use, and how you live. To my knowledge it's virtually impossible to live 100% vegan. Unless you, like, live in a cave and eat moss and go naked. Or something.
So to me, it's not so much about being vegan as it is living more compassionately in my life, even if it's just a little at a time. Last year I quit eating meat. This year, I've cut all animal products and by-products from my diet. (But I still consume honey.) The next step is to be more aware of what products I use in my home so that I don't support companies that test on animals. I am what is referred to colloquially as "vegan." But if being vegan means people think of me as an angry, hungry person who is more concerned with what so-called vegans are doing than helping the animals, I prefer to be someone who tries to live compassionately, thanks.
*I would just like to state, for the record, that I am advocating for the singular "they" in this post. I'm a rebel that way.