Thursday 2 August 2018

The Invisible Rule Book For Vegans

When I first went vegan back in 2015 it all felt quite simple and straightforward. I knew that the choice I was making in changing my lifestyle so dramatically was first and foremost for the animals. My compassion for animals was the driving force for me originally going vegetarian and then later making the decision to go vegan.  I wasn't getting into it in a bid to become healthier, or as an attempt to help the environment, or any other reason. It was purely for the animals. 

The Vegan Society defines veganism as:

"A philosophy and 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; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals."

Over the past three years I have definitely noticed an underlying pressure to be achieving the most ethical lifestyle in other areas of my life too and I have, on more than one occasion, been shamed or criticised for some of my personal choices which may not fit into others ideals of a vegan role model. And I guess as a blogger and YouTuber I have opened up my life up to the outside world and myself to criticism. 

I've been thinking over the past few weeks that there seems to now be a developing 'invisible rule book' on how to lead a vegan lifestyle which has definitely started to blur some lines and even confuse people. I say it's invisible because it doesn't actually exist of course! I can only define it as an underlying pressure you can feel from within the vegan community, and also from those looking in from the outside world who aren't vegan. It can often feel like there's judgements coming in from all angles, which can of course become quite tiring. 

I wondered if I was alone in my thinking so I put out a little question out on my social media channels last weekend to see if anyone else has come up against any 'invisible rules' on their own vegan journeys and the response was quite a unanimous yes. I felt relieved that I wasn't the only one who has faced this and I thought it was worthwhile that I share what some of these rules or expectations are, and which ultimately have nothing to do with being vegan.

You Should Be Zero Waste

In an ideal world we should all be doing whatever we can to reduce the amount of plastic we are using and disposing of. There's no denying it's a hot environmental topic of the moment and it's something I too am trying to get better at all the time. But lets be clear, you don't have to be zero waste to be  a vegan. The two are not linked. Also, as a vegan, I know that my choices are already having a positive impact on the environment for which I am very happy about. Many people are more concerned about the plastics in our oceans killing the sea life than the actual human beings in the world killing the sea life to eat. Oh the irony....

You Should Only Buy Ethical or Second Hand Clothes

The issue of fast and disposable fashion is not only an environmental issue, but also a humanitarian one with the workers behind the scenes representing a modern day slavery. It's not ok, and I'm not saying that it is, but if you're a vegan who likes shopping at the likes of H&M and TopShop then that doesn't make you any less vegan, or any less of a human for that matter. Not everyone can afford to buy from purely ethical brands, and not everyone wants to shop second hand.   

You Should Be Healthy

Just because you're vegan it doesn't automatically mean that you're healthy or that you are overly concerned about being super healthy. To be honest we're just like normal people in that you will get your extra health obsessed vegans, or people who lead a plant based diet for health reasons, and then you'll get the vegans who just eat normally and enjoy a bit of junk food every now and then, and you'll also get the vegans who eat junk food all the time. There is no prerequisite that if you're vegan then you're healthy. Yes there are some health benefits to leading a vegan lifestyle but the original and foundation reasons for being vegan are not about health. They're about saving animals lives.  

You Should Be Thin

As with above, just because you're vegan does not automatically mean that you're thin. I think there is a notion or stereotype that all vegans look like skinny hippies and that just isn't always the case. Again, just like normal people, you will get different sized vegans. I know that I personally gained weight when I gave up eating meat and that hasn't changed since going vegan. Everyone's different but lets just say going vegan doesn't make you thin!

You Should Hate McDonalds

As with everything, if there's a vegan option then I'm ok with it. I don't think ordering the vegan option at McDonalds is any worse than ordering from the vegan menu at Wagamamas for instance. It's certainly not my favourite place to eat vegan, and I think they really need to step up with their vegan options, but yes if I'm stuck or have been sat on the motorway in traffic for hours then it's nice to know that you can just pull into a McDonalds and get some fries or a veggie burger (no mayo). 

You Should Only Eat Out 
At Vegan Only Restaurants 

I think for most people this would mean just never eating out. Unless you happen to live in an amazingly vegan friendly city then this just wouldn't be an option. I also personally think it's important to show support to all the amazing new vegan options available in chain restaurants like Wagamamas, Nandos, Yo Sushi, Pizza Express, Zizzi's etc. The list is almost endless now! At the end of the day if we don't show those options support then they will be taken away and everyone will go back to moaning that there are no vegan options anywhere. I totally get it if you don't want to eat inside a Nando's being surrounded by people tucking into chicken wings and it has at times even turned my stomach. But eating at any of these restaurants certainly doesn't make you any less vegan!

You Should Know What Every
 Ingredient Is And Where It Comes From

Ok this is one I really struggle with and I honestly don't know how many years of being vegan it will take for me to fully know every ingredient and where it comes from, particularly in relation to cosmetics. It's a real challenge! And to be honest it's ok if you don't know. This is why we need better labelling on cosmetics and is probably why I shop at Superdrug so much because they make it so easy. It's a total minefield at times and you shouldn't beat yourself up if you don't always get it right. 

You Shouldn't Wear Faux 

I've had this one come up a few times and I think we just need to keep things simple... 

If it comes from an animal its not ok! 
If it hasn't come from an animal then it's ok! 

If I'm being honest I tend to avoid anything which looks too much like the real thing because I'd hate to be scowled at by anyone who thought it was real. Over the years I've really learnt how to spot the real thing which also helps because some items may be labelled faux but could actually be the real thing which is worrying. But wearing faux leather or fur doesn't make you any less vegan. When you can see how great faux products can look it just adds more emphasis to the argument that animals shouldn't lose their lives to create such products as synthetic materials can look exactly the same. 

You Should Support Other Meaningful Causes

Everyone has the issues that they're passionate about and sometimes it can feel overwhelming when you're trying to save the planet, the animals and the humans all at the same time. Of course you can support as many meaningful causes as you like, and the more the better! But if you're vegan and that's the only cause you want to be invested in then that doesn't make you a bad person. Naturally vegans generally are compassionate human beings who do care about more than one thing. But equally if you only care about animals thats ok too! 

You Should Be Out Protesting On The Streets 

Again, this is something I've had presented to me on more than one occasion and it still is today something I've never partaken in. I wholly support the vegans who protest and attend save vigils etc. But lets be clear that it's certainly not an activity that is for everyone, and it doesn't make you any less vegan because you're not taking part. There are a whole number of different factors that may prevent someone from wanting to protest and it could be anything from social anxiety, wanting to protect their own mental health, or simply just not wanting to throw the cause down peoples throats all the time. By leading a vegan lifestyle and diet you are already doing more than enough to help animals so if you don't feel comfortable in those situations then it's completely fine to take a back seat and just do you. 

Your Pets Shouldn't Eat Meat

This one is quite close to home because yes I do feed my pets meat and I don't think I'll ever stop doing that. At the end of the day my choice to be vegan is for me and I don't think I need to bring my pets into that. It's not a route every vegan wants to go down and thats ok! That's not to say that I don't find their food gross and disgusting because I do. But at the end of the day it's what they want and I want them to be happy and healthy. The fact that I have to buy their food and it is meat has at times made me feel less of a vegan than I could be. But you know what, I'm ok with that. I know that I'm doing the best that I can in all over areas and that is certainly better than doing nothing at all. 

You Should Be Perfect 

I don't think I've ever felt like the perfect vegan. It doesn't really sit well with me projecting an idea that I'm perfect because I'm vegan either. I know many people view it as very black and white in that you're either vegan or you're not, and I'm not sure I totally agree with that. I think it's actually impossible to be the perfect vegan because no one can ever be 100% sure of what they're consuming and I don't know one vegan who has never slipped up from time to time. For me being vegan is doing your best and any steps taken to reduce harm to animals is worth celebrating. If you want to call yourself 'mostly vegan' then go for it! If you can only manage a couple of vegan or meat free meals a week then good for you. At least you're trying. 

I have to say that after sitting here and writing this post I do feel like a weight has been lifted and some pressure has been relieved. I really don't think its very fair the amount of pressure and expectations which are put on people because they're vegan and if anything I think a lot of these things are reasons why people perhaps don't make the jump into going vegan. It can be very off-putting, even for us old rookies! It's also not great to feel like people are always trying to catch you out with things, like 'how can you be vegan if you're doing X, Y and Z'. I don't really have the energy to argue anymore and I think I cope better by just keeping my head down and avoiding confrontations. As always though it's nice to know I'm not alone in this and thank you to everyone who contributed with some 'invisible rules'. 

People need to stop making veganism into anything other than what it is - a movement, a lifestyle and a diet which is there to help save animals lives and reduce their suffering. Being vegan is, and always will be, about the animals. So let's stop making it about anything else! 



  1. I love this post. I'm not a fan of the "all or nothing" approach taken by some vegans and think veganism should be more about doing what you can within your means.

    People have different reasons for going vegan, they have different budgets, different lifestyles, different support levels, different living situations... I'm not going to judge someone for not being "vegan enough" and I try not to give myself a hard time for minor slip-ups (like realising a product I bought has beeswax in it - I just won't buy it again!).

    I dislike people aggressively pushing their personal agenda on others and I've unfollowed many-a Twitter account for this reason!

    Anyway, love the non-judgemental tone of this piece and agree with the sentiments wholeheartedly! :)

  2. Well said Sarah. The Vegan Police drive me mad too. Another one is people who frown on non organic food or chemicals. I had someone have a go at me on a Facebook group for suggesting a product from Lush. I am an older vegan though and would not eat at MacDonalds given their history. If you've never seen it check out the film McLibel. It's on You Tube I think. Their PR image is so different these days. Think you might find it interesting. I think it might give insight into why people see them in a different light to the other chains.

  3. Great blog post Sarah! I'm not a vegan but eat mostly veggie and I prefer approachable outlooks like yours and I think it helps more people either reduce consumption of animal products or go vegan than pushing the aim of perfection on everyone. I think modern life means it is hard to be 100% ethical anyway x

  4. I'm a vegan and I hate vegans haha. Re the plastic in the oceans, the biggest difference people can make is to stop eating fish. Fishing nets make up approx. 50-60% of the plastics in the ocean. Plastic straws make up 0.3%.

    Thank you for pointing out that not everyone can afford to shop ethically.

    I've totally distanced myself from like vegan hashtags and communities. There's a ton of racism in veganism which needs to be addressed.

  5. Just, as always in life, do the best you can with the time given to you. I am the best vegan I can be today and tomorrow I will be the best vegan I can be too.
    I will irritate my non vegan husband with my label checking but I will continue to do it anyway. The minutiae of veganism is the hardest part but life is a lot harder for the animals we are trying to save. We can all agree they are all worth the effort.


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