The Vegan Lifestyle

Most of what comes up when you announce that you’re vegan is food-related choices. What has kind of been lost in translation, is that vegan really is a lifestyle, not just a dietary choice.

Technically speaking, vegetarianism is eating a plant-based diet. So, what is commonly considered vegetarian these days is actually an “ovo-lacto-vegetarian”, meaning a vegetarian who also consumes eggs (ovo) and dairy (lacto). Then, there are the people who are ovo-lacto-vegetarians plus fish, called pescetarians. What strikes me as funny is that there’s such a wealth of terms out there, but they’re falling into disuse–just when they’re needed most.

I try to be a strict vegan. Everyone makes mistakes, and sometimes I get home, read the ingredients and find I missed that ever-popular “milk ingredients”. It happens infrequently, but it still happens.

As a strict vegan, I avoid all products made from animals, not just those I eat, but also those I wear, craft with and use in my home. What I want to do here is talk about a few common products that I avoid, and why, because a lot of questions come up about them.

1. Bee products – including honey, beeswax and pollen

A lot of people think that bees aren’t harmed in the harvesting of these products, but it’s just not true. With commercialization comes corner cutting. So while I cannot speak for the smaller, more considerate operations, the larger ones use smoke that hurts the bees, have pollen collectors that can take off wings or legs, and the replacement for the consumed honey is a cheap sugar syrup that isn’t enough to sustain them through the winter months. I don’t think that’s okay, so I don’t consume the bee related products.

2. Silk

Some silk is harvested quite nicely, without injuring the silkworms. But, the majority is harvested by boiling the worms alive in their silk cacoons. Since I really don’t like the idea of being boiled alive, I try to avoid these products too.

3. Wool

I was actually a couple of months into being a vegan before I realized what the commercial industry has done to enhance wool production. In order to produce more wool, the sheep, especially merino, have been bred to have extra folds in their skin. More surface area means more wool. But the folds come with their own problems, including having flies nest in them. The solution that farmers have come up with, which is more than a little disturbing to me, is known as mulesing.

As a knitter, not being able to use silk or wool is frustrating, although the vegan varieties of yarn are still impressing me. What I find even more frustrating is when the woman at my local yarn store questions my beliefs and reminds me that the sheep are not killed to produce the wool. It is not the first time I’ve hard that argument, and it probably won’t be the last. But! it is my choice and definitely not her problem, it only makes it more difficult for me.

What I really, really want to emphasize here is that if done carefully, those three types of products are totally achievable in a humane and wonderful way. But because there is just SO MUCH demand, corner cutting has led to some (what I consider) nasty practices, even in what are considered innocuous products in large scale operations.

And that is why I don’t consume those products.

Are there any other ingredients you’ve been wondering about where they fall on vegan/non-vegan and why?

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4 thoughts on “The Vegan Lifestyle

  1. Thanks for the explanation. The different levels are quite frankly confusing.

  2. This list is so interesting to me! I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 12 but have never been strict enough to try veganism and have always wondered about products that don’t technically kill the animals that produce them. Thanks so much for sharing this information and for for really sticking to your beliefs! In my hometown, we have a bee and honey store that’s all about producing small, sustainable batches of local honey and I love it!

    • That sounds lovely! If only more stores focussed on things like that!

      I think I would hunt more avidly for local honey if maple syrup wasn’t so easily accessible up here. I love me some maple syrup 🙂

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