Jason and the Veganauts

and the Quest for the Vegan Golden Fleece

Day 223: Plato’s Vegan

I have been grappling with the concept of veganism for 223 days while trying to find a place for myself in the herbivore community.  Generally, vegans and plant-based dieters are very helpful and supportive of new vegonauts.  I’d say 99% of the herbivores that I interacted with were quick to help by answering questions or sharing resources and the other 1% were jerks no matter what they ate.

On the herbivore spectrum there is a lot of grey area between the black and white extremes that people tend to focus on.  However, when looking at the definition of vegan, I’ve found two diametrically opposed groups of people that seem to agree: meat-eating haters and sanctimonious vegans.

There is a special kind of omnivore that not only enjoys steak and bacon, but also enjoys rubbing it in the face of people that choose not to.  Vegetarians and vegans alike suffer real insults from a small group of meat-eating haters that are furious with us for not eating meat.  I don’t mean the joker at work that tells us broccoli has feelings, or the uncle that asks us about our protein intake.  I’m talking about actual insults from other human beings, filled with hate and looking for a fight.

It makes sense that if there is a small group of extreme jerks in the omnivore world that there would be one in the herbivore world as well.  Sanctimonious vegans are not common, but they are out there.  They are the vegans who supposedly live perfect, animal-free lives and are therefore the only people who can publicly use the label vegan.  This small group of extreme vegans go out of their way to locate herbivores, people on their same team, and angrily chastise them for their lack of vegan perfection.

Both groups of people describe the vegan lifestyle as an existence completely devoid of animal products.  Both groups use extreme examples to define the vegan  lifestyle.  Both groups revel in pointing out how you are not a vegan if you cross out of the black and white area and into the grey.

Both groups are correct and incorrect which is the beauty of not living in a black and white world.  The term vegan came about in 1944 to mean a non-dairy eating vegetarian.  Over the following 16 years, the word was refined and even redefined by multiple groups, eventually evolving into the generally accepted, loose definition we have today.

During this morning’s drive to work I was mulling all of this over and had an epiphany.  Luckily I was at a red light.  After noodling over my place in the vegan community for seven months I finally feel like I have a firm grip on it- all thanks to our favorite philosopher, Plato.

Plato spent a lot of his time and intellect with formThings have a form here on Earth.  These are the actual objects, systems and ideas that we humans interact with in the real world.  Plato also philosophized that there is a perfect blue-print or ethereal version of these things somewhere else in the universe. The idea of the thing is a perfect, unattainable form.  The actual thing on Earth is our attempt to reach perfection with this ideal form.

An example my Dad taught me when I was young and playing the part of Plato to his Socrates, was the perfect chair.  Engineers, architects, and furniture artisans can spend lifetimes creating better and more perfect chairs.  Future generation can continue in their footsteps and continue improving the chair, making it closer and closer to perfect.  However, no matter how much effort is invested into the form of the actual chair, the perfect ideal will always remain elusively unattainable.  We can strive for perfection, but as humans we are only capable of getting as close to perfection as humanly possible.

This is my veganism.  I know there is an ideal form, but as a mere human I can only get close to perfection before falling short.  I pride myself in not eating meat, dairy, eggs, or honey.  I pat myself on the back for not buying leather.  I give myself a one person high five because I avoid products made by companies that test on animals.  However, I am also a flawed human being who may one day be in an awkward situation needing to ignore a rule for a moment.  I’m not Plato’s vegan, but I will continue to strive for the idea of perfection.

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29 thoughts on “Day 223: Plato’s Vegan

  1. Excellent post! Thanks for the reminder that there ARE grey areas of veganism. I’ve been bullied by “perfect” vegans, and I’ve stopped aiming for perfection. There are areas in my life in which I’m definately not a perfect vegan, but I try.

  2. You’r right about the different kinds of people. I am using the term “plant-based diet” now because I can’t stand the looks I get when that “v” word comes out of my mouth. (no…the other “v” word)
    Speaking of Dad’s, I had a pretty great one too, and when I compared myself to others he would say “you can’t be THEIR best…but you can be YOUR best, so do it.”

    • You did have a wise father. Great advice to keep handy at all times. I would like to steal the word vegan back from extremists so that we can all use it and be proud of ourselves as we strive to live animal free lives. BTW- you crack me up! : )

  3. Well said, my friend! I cover this is my latest elephant journal piece. I hope you & your readers will read & comment. We vegans need to stick together! http://www.elephantjournal.com/2012/05/free-yourself-from-cognitive-dissonance-shielagh-shusta-hochberg-ph-d/

  4. Annmarie Brennan on said:

    Hear, hear! Nicely put.

  5. Beautifully articulated, Jason. Perhaps even the fear of failing to be a “perfect” vegan has kept some people from making the move to a plant-based diet.

    • Exactly! I am ready to take the word vegan back for the people who are trying. Just because an aluminum can escapes the bin doesn’t mean you AREN’T a recycler. Right? Jeesh!! Virtual Vegan Potluck to the rescue!

  6. Totally agree – the idea of being a perfect vegan is completely unattainable for me, so so I’ve remained on the omnivore side for a long time and avoided using the term to describe how I eat for fear I will be called out for not being perfect. I too have started using the term plant-based diet. I feel it gives me some wiggle room and also doesn’t freak everyone out who wants to share food with me. Still — we are all on the same path. And need to support each other no matter where we are on that road.

    • I feel there is a spectrum of people that should receive praise and encouragement. From the Meatless Monday crew all the way to the Level 6 Vegans~ we are all striving to make a change. Working together will make us more powerful. You ROCK!

  7. Sheree on said:

    I think I have more understanding of the meat-eaters who hate on vegans than I do the vegans who hate on vegans, lol. I will never be perfect enough for some of those folks (I made the mistake of getting into a discussion about my horses and the fact that I *do* ride them) and that taught me to just stay away from those conversations. It’s those people who make “regular folks” scared of veganism (they’ll take all our pets away if we let them!!) and give it the “extreme” label. I do my absolute best and that’s all I can do.

    • I know, right? It is a little sick to behave that way unless you are playing king of the mountain. It is funny how we have to censor ourselves when it comes to some areas of our lives. We have cats and dogs in our family. I know this is considered bad form by some. I’m not there yet, they are still my friends. I grew up in horse country too- I know the bonds that horses and people form. It is the same as dolphins, dogs, and gorillas. Sentient beings should love one another. Ride away, I’ve got your back if you need anyone.

  8. Somer on said:

    Well said my friend. I have a long way to become a perfect vegan. If behaving like that makes you “the best vegan ever” than I don’t want to be part of that club. My friend Carolyn raises goats for milk and chickens for eggs but considers herself vegan because she treats her animals humanely and because she doesn’t eat any other animal products period. She won’t eat processed sugar because it’s processed with bone char, or marshmallows because they contain gelatin. She doesn’t wear leather either. While I think the term ‘vegetarian’ suits her better, I think she is more than a vegetarian and who am I to judge her?

    • Exactly! You are so right! If someone wants to call themselves vegetarian because they don’t eat beef or pork, I wont stop them. The point is, they are making a huge impact by giving up that and they should be commended rather than chastised. We need to form a Vegan Super Hero group that goes out and defends people trying to live compassionate lives. I know you’re suit is ready. I will be The Incredible Vegan Hulk! All green of course : )

      • Somer on said:

        True Dat! I nearly took the Nacho mask to Ragnar…. but decided one race was enough for wearing something scratchy on your head while running.

        My 3 year old son is obsessed with the incredible Hulk. He recently stopped wanting to drink the green smoothies I force or em, give him to drink every day. I used to call them Shrek drink. Now they shall be Hulk potion. He is gonna be in love with them again!

  9. Been there, done that – have the scars from both the meat eating haters and the self-righteous vegans. Each step we take in the right direction should be celebrated. Perfection is an illusion. Well said, my vegan homey.

  10. Jenn on said:

    Great post! I am glad you are happy with plant-based. If anything ever happens to me I hope you know you are my chickens Godfather. They are the best little veggie scrap composters and I know they will love you as much as they love me.

    • I don’t plan on it ever coming to that. I’ve been considering getting a guinea pig though because they eat every damn veggie scrap there is. I’m glad you are producing happy hen eggs for your friends and neighbors. Every dozen you hand out prevents a dozed of the bad/sad chicken eggs from being bought. You ROCK!

  11. Jennifer on said:

    Amen. My first attempt at being vegan years ago was foiled in part by… other vegans. They not only nitpicked and criticized everyone who didn’t live up to their standards, they made the vegan lifestyle — specifically vegan eating — seem arduous and joyless save for the smug satisfaction of being “right” when they could have been an awesome support system for new vegans! I’m happy to report I’m 6 months plant-based now, and it is much, much better, in part because of bloggers like you. Keep it up!

    • 6 months is EXCELLENT! It is time for us to listen to ourselves and block out the haters. There is no need to waste good energy on bad people. So glad you at it again : ) Keep it up and thank so much for sharing!

  12. Kelly P. on said:

    I guess I would classify myself as a RELAXED vegan. LOL. I eat ALMOST no animal products, but have decided not to drive myself nuts over it. For example, I have tried several times to get my husband and son to eat whole-grain pasta. Both absolutely hate it. (My husband is Italian and can’t live without pasta. No meat is not a problem, but he has to have his pasta.) However, I CAN get them both to eat Barilla Plus, which has all kinds of good stuff like whole grain and legume flours in it, but ALSO has a little bit of egg white. So I buy the Barilla plus, even though I do not (intentionally) eat eggs, and usually avoid them in every way reasonably possible.

    Also, when I am away from home, I do my very best to remain strictly fat-free vegan (a la the Engine 2 Diet), but I am not such a purist that I am going to starve or eat plain lettuce, if all that is offered somewhere is some sort of vegan dish that has a little bit of oil in it. I figure I am still doing about 98% better than I was before adopting this eating style, and that is good enough for me.

    I suffer terribly from “If-I-can’t-do-something-perfectly-then-I’m-going-to-give-up-or-not-even-try” syndrome. I am trying to let this kind of perfectionism go, as it has done me no good at all in my life up ’til now.

    So I am not a perfect vegan. But I have decieded I’m vegan enough.

    • AMEN! I was down on myself a few nights ago because I had white rice and tofu- 2 things I am trying to avoid right now. When I realized what I was feeling regret over, I laughed. I refuse to beat myself up and you are 1000% right! Great comment!

  13. Kelly P. on said:

    See…it dies hard…”I will not correct that typo….I will not correct that typo…” LOL!

  14. You might not be be Plato’s vegan, but this is Plato’s vegan post. Just perfect.

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