To be a 'pure vegan'

Wednesday, October 14, 2020 Stef dela Cruz, MD 0 Comments

One vegan bought a leather jacket before he went vegan, and he doesn't know what to do with it. Another vegan likes to buy vegan pizza from a place that also sells non-vegan pizzas, and he feels guilty about it. One other vegan has non-vegan friends and wonders if she should stop being friends with them.

You might think these three vegans have different problems, but they don't. All three are dealing with purity as an issue, something you might encounter often in both online groups and your own personal life.

So, what should these three vegans do? Should they look at purity in veganism as a worthy goal?

Ideal versus real

Many people think that cooking a vegan burger in a pan previously used to cook a non-vegan burger automatically makes it non-vegan. While I don't blame any vegan who finds it disgusting to consume a vegan burger swimming in small amounts of non-vegan contaminants that came from formerly living animals, I don't believe that contamination converts vegan food into something non-vegan.

A vegan product processed in a non-vegan factory may be inadvertently exposed to non-vegan contaminants, but that does not make the product non-vegan.

A vegan item cooked in a pan previously used by a non-vegan can be described as many things: unpalatable, disgusting, unhealthy, impure, contaminated. But it is still vegan.

Take note, however, that vegan ingredients cooked with animal flesh is a different issue. It is unfair to ask a vegan to “just remove the meat” after cooking vegetables and animals in one dish. This is no longer just mere contamination; this is asking a vegan to actually consume a non-vegan dish.

Sana maging vegan si Kuya Wil
This image is all thanks to Sana Maging Vegan si Kuya Wil, a vegan meme page for Pinoys. Follow them, they're hilarious!

I've always dreamed of a vegan world. I can't wait to see it, and I hope I'm still alive to witness it. It's something I and many other vegans work toward – as you can see, I've been blogging regularly to complete this 30-day online veganism guide for Filipinos – because living in a world that doesn't see animals as objects is the one I want to live in.


But the reality is, I don't live in a vegan world. At least, not yet. This means I have little choice but to use roads constructed by non-vegan companies. This means I have relatives, friends, and colleagues who still contribute to animal suffering. This means that even if I choose restaurants with completely vegan menus – and a completely vegan workforce – their employees probably have non-vegan families, too, so the money I pay these restaurants eventually make it to non-vegan hands.

This means that even a completely vegan cake made by a vegan baker might have sourced their ingredients from vendors who also sell eggs and dairy.

This means that even if I try to only eat at purely vegan restaurants, support purely vegan vendors, and buy purely vegan products, my money eventually contributes to the lives of non-vegans.

Even the air I breathe has been exhaled by non-vegans.

In other words, it is simply impossible to be a purist as a non-vegan.

organic produce
Food can't get any more vegan than fruits and vegetables, but how can you tell that the farmer who sells these doesn't also breed chickens for eggs?

However, acknowledging that purity is impossible is not the same as making decisions that continue to increase the demand for dead animals.

Best effort

Some will see this as some loophole to excuse their behavior whenever they directly contribute to animal suffering. For instance, a speciesist might claim to still be vegan despite buying animal flesh or bread with dairy ingredients, because, “It is impossible to be purely vegan in a non-vegan world.”

But that would be taking things out of context, because while it is impossible to be a purist, it would have been more than possible for that person to buy vegetables instead of animal flesh, or purchase bread without cheese or casein.

We cannot strive for purity because it is impossible. However, whenever it is possible and practicable, we have to do our best to do no harm. (This, by the way, is part of the definition of veganism; it seeks to end animal use, as far as is possible and practicable. In other words, if you can't find a cellphone that is vegan and you need one to do your work, then no sane person is going to call you out as a hypocrite vegan. You can't be expected to live like an electronic hermit; it's just not practicable in this day and age. Having said that, of course, if there was a vegan cellphone, that would be a game changer!)

You don't get a (vegan) jacket for purity

None of us get a pat on the back for completely avoiding non-vegan restaurants or even non-vegan people. If anything, even if it's tempting to just live in some island with other vegans, that wouldn't make the world go vegan faster.

If we truly want this non-vegan society to change, we have to be willing to spend time in it instead of avoid it. We have to talk to non-vegans and consider how they've been conditioned to think it's normal for animals to die for us, the same way other vegans have been before they made the shift. We have to use our money to vote for animals whenever we buy something, because in this world that is far from being either vegan or ideal the way it is today, money does talk.

It would be a disservice to animals – and rather selfish, I might add – to strive for such a level of purity even if it means never contributing to the abolition of animal use.

So, what do you do with a leather jacket that you purchased before you decided to go vegan? It's your choice. Many vegans would rather give it away because they can't bear to wear an innocent animal's skin; other vegans might still wear it because the damage has already been done and, unlike new purchases, an old one doesn't increase the demand for animal enslavement.

Whatever your choice, remember that purity as a goal is problematic because it is impossible to be a pure vegan when you live in a non-vegan world – but this doesn't mean you won't always go for the most vegan option when it's actually available.

A question for you

Now, I want you to give this some thought.

Is it okay to buy vegan items from non-vegan businesses?

If your answer isn't black and white, feel free to explain, perhaps in a virtual notebook or, better yet, a social media post with the hashtag #GustoKoMagingVegan.

If you're not vegan yet and you're having a hard time, you can read about why others find going vegan difficult and what you can do about it. Don't be scared about feeling deprived – ask any vegan you know and they'll tell you that they're eating to their heart's delight – and check out this vegan pantry and food checklist for Filipinos.

I always post about the food I eat as a vegan on Instagram (find me: @stefdelacruzmd), especially when the food is prepared lazily and on a budget. I'm also on Facebook, in case you need more information.

This, by the way, is Day 7 of a 30-day veganism guide for people living in the Philippines. Have you read the first post yet? In the next one, let's talk about living with peer pressure, either from friends or family who aren't vegan. So many vegans tell heartbreaking stories about being made to feel bad as the only vegans in their family or circle of friends, and it's time we talked about this problem in a safe space. Until then!

Stef dela CruzAbout the blogger
Stef dela Cruz is a vegan doctor and writer. She received the 2013 Award for Health Media from the Department of Health. She is the editor of The Manila Bulletin's Animal Scene Magazine. Get in touch if you want to invite her as a speaker!