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Vegetarian to Vegan
I have been vegetarian for over four
years and would really love to go vegan. Apart from
dairy products and other obviously animal-derived foods,
what can't I eat and use?
For most people, becoming vegan is a
process -- a series of steps and stages that continually
bring the compassionate perspective into sharper focus.
Longtime vegans rarely view their practice as a final
destination. Rather, it is seen as an endless path --
a stream of consciousness leading to deeper awareness.
Nevertheless, there are tangible lifestyle changes that
people must undertake before they can legitimately call
themselves "vegan" in terms of the definitions set forth
by The Vegan Society
(in England) and the American Vegan Society (in the
In general, vegans refrain from using
animal-based foods, apparel, and any commodities that
contain animal products or by-products and those that
have been tested on animals. Vegans withhold economic
and moral support from any enterprise that involves
the abuse or exploitation of animals (such as zoos or
circuses) or humans (such as sweatshops). Vegans also
reject the use of living creatures as instruments or
materials for teaching, scientific inquiry, entertainment,
or other utilitarian purposes.
The diet of vegans is exclusively plant-based.
Therefore, vegans do not consume meat, fish, and fowl,
as well as any foods derived from animals, including
eggs, dairy products (whether from cows, goats, sheep,
or other animals), and honey. Although at first glance
this may seem restrictive, the world of plant-based
foods offers endless variety and excitement, and most
new vegans find that their diet is more interesting
than ever before.
If you eat processed and packaged foods,
you will need to get into the habit of reading labels.
Often there are animal-based elements in foods we might
never suspect would contain them. These "hidden ingredients"
include dairy derivatives such as whey, lactose (milk
sugar), and casein (milk protein); gelatin; natural
flavorings and flavor enhancers that may be animal based;
and animal fats, among others. The same is true of restaurant
food. Items that are typically vegan, such as rice,
may be cooked with chicken boullion, salad dressings
may contain cheese or other dairy products or be thickened
with gelatin, pasta and rolls may contain eggs, sauces
may contain beef broth, and so on. It's important to
ask detailed questions and explain your needs precisely
because veganism is foreign to many people in food service.
Depending on the establishment, the chef may rise to
the occasion and be willing to prepare a special vegan
dish, so be sure to inquire about this if there is nothing
suitable on the standard menu.
Vegan clothing, shoes, outerwear, and
accessories are either plant-based or synthetic. Vegans
do not wear or use leather or the skins, fur, feathers,
shells, or secretions of any creatures. Therefore, vegans
eschew wool, shearling, down, mohair, cashmere, silk,
pearls, and other products of pain, suffering, or death.
Fortunately, there are readily available
compassionate alternatives for virtually any food, wearing
apparel, cosmetics, or personal care and household products,
so vegans need not feel deprived of familiar comforts
and conveniences. Nonetheless, the commercial and industrial
use of animal derived commodities is incredibly pervasive,
so much so that it is impossible to live a perfectly
vegan life if one desires to remain part of our larger,
albeit imperfect, culture. There are animal products
in tires, making cars, buses, and even bicycles nonvegan.
Animal products are used in plastics, making computers,
telephones, and other communication tools unvegan as
well. Home insulation and building materials, glue used
to bind books and nonleather shoes, medicinal tablets,
photographic film, many musical instruments, and more,
frequently contain by-products from the animal slaughter
industries. Thus, trying to avoid all items that contain
even minuscule amounts of animal-derived constituents
could drive a person berserk.
This doesn't mean that vegans should
see the situation as hopeless and hence give up. If
vegans accept that the current state of our culture
is far from its humane potential, their awareness can
be used to establish sensible and achievable goals.
Ultimately, we cannot change anyone but ourselves. Broadly
speaking, people have control over what they eat, what
they buy, how they vote, what they wear, what they invest
in and support, what they do for a living, what they
say, and how they treat others. By making the most sensitive
and aware choices, vegans can set a positive example
of the benevolent way of life. In time, with sufficient
numbers, vegans could ultimately influence a dramatic
shift in our customs and attitudes merely by being models
of compassion in action.
Do the best you can, knowing that you
will undoubtedly fall short at times simply because
you are human and our world is flawed. Being vegan should
not be something that is so complex or difficult that
it is off-limits to the majority of people. In order
for the vegan movement to truly effect change, our numbers
must grow with our wisdom. Veganism is not about becoming
"perfect." It is a means to create a more loving and
just society for all life. Therefore, we must recognize
that the widespread availability of animal commodities
and by-products is due to the use of animals for food.
If we can eliminate the root cause -- meat, dairy, and
egg consumption -- the by-product industries will cease
It is understandable and commendable
that you want to avoid anything that contains an animal
derived ingredient. But when you start out on the vegan
path, it is best not to fret over the minutia. Start
with the "big" changes -- food, clothing, and obvious
other commodities that are clearly animal derived. As
you proceed, you will learn and discover new ways to
be more compassionate. Begin where you are with love
and patience. But do begin. You don't have to be the
"ideal vegan" now or ever. Just strive to do your best
and you will succeed.
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