No One Is a Perfect Vegan

I have two trains of thought on this topic. One is about perfectionism in the vegan community and the other is my personal experience. Perfectionism is extremely visible in the vegan community and maybe it’s more intensified because of the internet. I am not discussing this to minimize veganism, because I consider myself a part of the vegan community. However, criticism can sometimes open the discussion and we should continue to question and challenge our beliefs.

The definition of veganism I follow is “veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose”. This definition is widely accepted as it describes veganism as more than a diet, but also recognizes that what is possible and practicable might differ from person to person. Did you know that even on organic or ethical farms, mice and rabbits might accidentally be killed when harvesting grains and vegetables? Is it feasible to avoid almost all produce because of the possibility that an animal might have been harmed? Some people might be in a place where they can have a vegetable garden. However, a majority of people and a majority of vegans cannot practically do this. This idea can be extended to nearly any product.

In my position, it is possible to avoid all animal products and to buy about 90% cruelty-free skin and hair care. I don’t own leather, fur, or wool. I feel like I do a lot, but some people do even more. They live in eco-friendly houses and buy 100% vegan furniture. They only buy clothing from vegan brands. Some of these things are impossible in my current situation. But I am only in control of my life and I don’t know what other people do or what struggles they may have. I can share what I do and I can encourage people. But, I have no interest in competing with people. A big theme I see among social media vegans is this idea that there is a right and wrong way of doing veganism. If you are not living on an island eating strictly whole foods and never using plastic or never eating mock meats, then you are apparently doing it wrong. This is the impression some might get when they come to the vegan movement. Even with the purest vegans, there is still harm to animals. All humans cause harm to ecosystems just by simply existing. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to be better. We should do our part. I’m just exhausted by social media vegans (I’m one of them and I need to consistently check myself).

I don’t like how veganism has turned into a competition between who is the best vegan. This has taken the focus away from animal welfare and has made the focus on individual perfection. It’s now about “I” and “me”. When it actually should be about the abuse and suffering of farm animals and about the environmental impacts of animal agriculture. If we want more people to become vegan, then the policing and extreme judgment needs to stop. I’m not going to tear someone apart because they accidentally ate something with palm oil or did not use raw cane sugar in a recipe. I’m not going to tear apart anyone because I’m over here trying to be a positive example. If blame is going to be handed down, it should be directed at companies and systems that abuse power.

I have personally struggled with perfection. About a year ago, I persistently tried to be the purest vegan possible. I thought I was eating the cleanest plant-based diet and I shrank the number of products I used to nearly zero. I was trying to be the healthiest and the most ethical (to an extreme). Living like this was stressful. I was putting so much pressure on myself and I completely freaked out. I reached a point where I got so upset at the thought of doing something wrong. When I was like this, being vegan was miserable. I was concerned about me and not concerned about the message behind veganism. When I decided to stop crying over everything, I enjoyed being vegan again and was able to be inspired by food and ethical lifestyle. I can’t stress this enough, stop getting upset because you messed up. Apologize, give yourself grace, and continue to move forward. I constantly see people give up because they think they have failed. You don’t have to live one way just because you are vegan. You can be the vegan that is a hippie living in a van. But you can also work a 9-5 and be vegan and still be ethical. There isn’t a right or wrong way as long as you are avoiding animal products as far as practicable for your lifestyle.

Discouraged vegans, this article is dedicated to you! The perfectionism needs to end. Stop comparing and stop idolizing others. If you are thinking, “I don’t think I’m doing this right”. I am telling you-you are doing it right.

This post is not intended to offend anyone. I am simply opening the discussion. There is the definition for a reason, but I wanted to point out the gray areas. Thanks for reading! Leave your thoughts in the comment section if you want. I am currently in the process of updating some older posts, keep that in mind if you are reading previous content. I want to do another post about perfection, but this one would be about health. If that is something you are interested in let me know!

Camera | Vegan Sugar Cookies

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37 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Absolutely love this. Needed to read this today. Thank you, I often beat myself up meanwhile this isn’t about me, it’s about the animals, the planet.

  2. Yes. Yes and Yes. When the ego is in charge…being a “perfect vegan” seems reasonable and desirable. When the motivation is loving all of creation (well, huh, that includes myself and the critters and the plants) and the choices are more complex and nuanced. Let us remember that we are beings of love, furthering a creation of love, and rules sometimes don’t apply.

  3. Oh Kaley, how I love this post! There may not be a perfect vegan, but your message is perfection. Sometimes I wonder why veganism is often met with disdain and maybe part of it is because of the “I” and “me” you point out. I think to people who don’t hear our message about the sanctity of life and the value of compassion, we can come across as elitist, holier-than-thou, self-centered weirdos. And I totally related to your thoughts on the self-imposed stress of being the perfect vegan. It’s nice to relax into the thought that we come to this lifestyle with kindness in our hearts, so it’s probably important to remember that doing the best we can is something to be commended. So thank you! I think your message is super important and should be shouted from the rooftops!

  4. I agree with you. I now consider myself veganish. To make it easier during social gatherings or in the workplace I just say I am vegetarian because I’ve noticed that I go hungry or people watch me with a close eye if I say I am vegan. In my home, I stick to a vegan diet, with the groceries I buy and the food I make. I don’t feel the pressure from social media as much as you described, although I remember these themes… I deleted instagram and facebook, but I was a part of a vegan group where this banter went on for sure.

    Where I do feel the pressure to be a perfect vegan is when I am with friends and family who are NOT vegan. Any moment I had to compromise my diet and eat cheese or dairy because there was literally nothing for me to eat, I would get the question – So you’re not vegan anymore? And that would just drive me crazy. My fiance put it this way once — It’s like being a Christian, just because you sin one time doesn’t mean you stop being a Christian, it’s a lifestyle you consistently strive for. In that way, I approach veganism – I do my best, I don’t want to push it on anyone, and I want to enjoy life. One rule to enjoying life is — if I am traveling, I break veganism because I am a foodie and I love trying food from different cultures. So there you have it, a non-perfect Vegan at her best.

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting! I agree, making mistakes doesn’t mean you can’t continue with the lifestyle. You can enjoy life while avoiding cruelty. It’s not an either/or situation, thanks again!

    2. Oh, my gosh…yes. I do the veganish thing too and I try my best. Living in California, it’s no big deal – there are vegans everywhere. However, when traveling to or living in smaller communities where vegans and vegetarians are atypical of the culture, there’s some backlash, but it’s usually not harsh. I am moving to a small town in Colorado in the very hear future and I plan to keep to my veganish lifestyle because I will keep trying, but not at the cost of relationships with friends and family.

  5. Hi Kaley… great blog article! And I loved your photos of Sedona, my favorite place on earth…

    I can totally relate to this article as I’m guilty myself of trying to be a perfect vegan… I’ll share a little story of an instance in which I had to forgive myself and move on… I had a dental ordeal, which ended in a tooth extraction, but before that happened, a dentist put me on antibiotics. I went to the pharmacy to get the pills, and I was totally dismayed to see that they were capsules. The dentist had already prescribed them and it was too late to ask for tablets. Actually I asked the pharmacist but she said they didn’t come in tablets. So I took them home and felt so bad about it, but I needed the medicine, so I blessed the pills and prayed about the suffering of the animals, and then I set an intention that if I ever need medication again I will remember to ask for tablets. And then I just had to forgive myself for not being a perfect being. I care deeply about the animals and I am doing the best I can, given this complicated world we are living in!

    Thanks so much for this article, Kaley… btw, I didn’t see anywhere to “like” your articles. Did you remove that feature? If so, why?

    1. Thank you so much! That has happened to me before too. Most medicine is tested on animals or has animal products, but it is sometimes necessary to use especially when fighting an infection. Our world isn’t always suitable for vegans unfortunately. I removed the like button on my website, but you can still like my posts via wordpress. I disabled it because it was slowing down my website, that’s really the only reason. Thanks again for reading!

  6. What a great great great post. I really liked what you wrote and I could not agree more. Veganism is indeed not about perfection. It is about doing the best with our ethics and values about the environment, animals and our health. It is about kindness towards living things.

  7. Great post, totally agreed! I think that as long as people are aware, care and do their best that is good enough! And sometimes along the way it gets easier to do more. But sometimes going to extremes just makes it a lifestyle too hard to maintain, and like you said, makes you either miserable, or you just quit when you can’t take it anymore.

    1. Thank you! With all of the negativity surrounding vegans vs. non vegans right now, I thought I would try to be positive.

  8. I couldn’t agree more: it is almost impossible to be a perfect vegan (or a perfect ‘anything’) but what matters is that we make an effort and try our best. Loved your article, really important message!

  9. I really like how you said things are turning into a “competition between who is the best vegan. This has taken the focus away from animal welfare,” you’re exactly right. I never understood Vegans who attack other peoples lifestyle in hopes to make them change, kindness and authenticity will always win. I believe the term vegan should be viewed as an absolute, meaning if you are consciously reducing animal use and suffering as much as practically possible, you are a vegan. As long as you are honest with yourself about what is actually practical!

    Great post!

    1. Thank you for commenting! I agree that the term is an absolute. The definition is easy to understand and I don’t think it should be an umbrella term. Eggs and fish are never vegan. However, “as far as practical and possible” could mean something different for someone living in poverty or a food desert. Most vegans will make an unintentional mistake at some point too, so others should not judge harshly because chances are they will also make a mistake. I’m glad you read this post!

  10. Such a welcome post. My 11-year-old son and I are ‘mostly vegan’. I have seen the struggles sometimes take out the joy of eating (and living) and I really want to encourage a life without hang-ups! I do find it difficult and I think that taking the pressure of a bit will ultimately lead us towards a more fully vegan lifestyle faster. I try to tell the kids they don’t have to ‘label themselves’ (unless they really want to!) and to encourage them to make their own choices and be happy with the choices they make and absolutely not beat themselves up…
    Thanks for the encouragement!

    1. Thank you for reading! I’m glad this post was helpful. Being content with what you are doing is a good way to avoid feeling pressured. I think that’s great that you and your child are plant-based!

  11. I SO agree with you. I’m a vegetarian and I think this is hard too, so I can only imagine how hard it is to be a vegan. You are definitely right, I think that kindness is the first thing always. If we can’t love ourselves how can we love animals??? Xx

  12. This is a well thought out, well written piece and makes a valuable contribution to the debate. I’m not vegan (or even vegetarian) but I’m trying to incorporate more vegan/vegetarian meals in to my diet and think about animal welfare and environmental sustainability issues more. By not plugging the purist/extreme vegan approach it means more people will give vegan food (and other aspects) a try, even if on an occasional basis – which is all good for the planet. I love the fact that more people talk about ‘plant based’ diets – bit of rebranding perhaps, but gives more people the sense of permission to try things out. It’s about being mindful and doing what we can.

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