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 form. Things 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.