“What if I ‘Mess Up’?” Why Going Vegan is Not a Pledge of Perfection

In my many conversations about veganism, I often hear something along the following lines: “I don’t really eat/crave/need animal products, but I’m not sure I could ever be a ‘perfect vegan.’ What if I mess up, or crave a non-vegan food”?

If this statement—or something akin to it—resonates with you, then let me tell you something that perhaps nobody else has: Of course you might mess up. In fact, you probably will. And that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go vegan.

I mean it. Pledging to be vegan doesn’t mean that you’re pledging to be a perfect; it means you’re pledging to try. Intentions matter. Whenever I write about the choice to be vegan, I return to the Vegan Society’s definition of veganism, which has always rung true to me. Veganism is:

A way of living which excludes all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, the animal kingdom, and includes a reverence for life. It applies to the practice of living on the products of the plant kingdom to the exclusion of flesh, fish, fowl, eggs, honey, animal milk and its derivatives, and encourages the use of alternatives for all commodities derived wholly or in part from animals.

Another iteration of this pledge is this:

[Vegan lifestyles are] ways of living that seek to exclude, as far as is possible and practical, all forms of exploitation of animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.

What I like about these definitions are  their inherent gentleness. The language used here—“encourages,” “possible and practical”—indicates something important, which is that even the most passionate proponents of veganism are merely asking people to do their very best. Effort and intention is the point. Of course intention needs to be translated into action, but in my mind, it is the heart and soul of a vegan lifestyle.

Sooner or later, most vegans accidentally consume non-vegan food, or they encounter some sort of temptation, whether food or commodity. Whether or not these temptations get the better of us is less important than how we react to the experience: does one non-vegan choice feel so catastrophic to us that we give up, or or do we simply recognize that we struggled, forgive ourselves, and remain committed to making vegan choices as we go forward?

Suppose a person who is committed to veganism gives into the temptation to eat a non-vegan food (or use a non-vegan commodity). This person wakes up the next morning totally recommitted to veganism again, and continues striving to make compassionate choices. Another person is eating an entirely vegan diet, but doesn’t do so out of a sense of passion or conviction; is the first person any less of a vegan than the second one? I don’t think so.

Again, intentions matter. The spirit of veganism doesn’t only reside in how precisely you follow the diet. It resides in how deeply you care about what the lifestyle signifies–and this encompasses both food and other lifestyle choices, including personal care and attire.

What you may not realize if you’re only just learning about veganism is that all vegans—or at least, every vegan I know—has had some kind of “imperfect” moment. Unless you have superhuman diligence when it comes to examining ingredients and asking questions in restaurants, accidental slip ups are almost inevitable. I’ve specified in restaurants that I don’t consume any animal products explicitly, only to find out halfway through a meal that I’m eating something with butter on it.

Case in point: I spent an entire summer eating the bread at sweetgreen D.C. before I realized that it’s not vegan. This was certainly a teachable moment as far as restaurant dining goes—I often forget to ask about bread and pasta—but it didn’t feel like a big deal to me. As soon as I realized, I stopped ordering the bread. End of story. I was committed to making vegan choices beforehand, and I’m committed still. I’ve written more about the issue of accidental consumption of non-vegan foods in a post entitled “When Non-Vegan Foods Attack.”

What about the non-accidental moments? What if you’re at a party one night, and after a few glasses of champagne you find yourself eyeing the finger food and, before you know it, munching on a cheese cube? What then?

Same idea. Acknowledge that this was a moment of struggle, grant yourself some compassion, and move on. Wake up the next day and reaffirm the reasons why veganism matters to you; if it helps to read one of your favorite vegan websites or books, or to prepare a vegan meal, then do it. Remember that compassion, including self-compassion, is the essence of what it means to be vegan. Assure yourself that the longer you make vegan choices, the easier it becomes to make them consistently. It’s a process, but keeping your intentions and motivations alive will carry you through it, until the whole thing feels like second nature.

I’m not trying to suggest that vegans should grant themselves leeway to “cheat,” which is a word I don’t like when it comes to food, anyway. I’m just trying to give you the tools you need to deal with moments of temptation, and remain committed to veganism in spite of them. So many people who are right on the cusp of becoming vegan don’t do so because the concept of “perfection” scares them; I’m saying that “perfect” vegans are very few and far between. But the thing that unites all longtime vegans is that their commitment to the lifestyle has remained constant, even when they’ve come up against the reality of being human and living in a real, messy, non-vegan world.

If you’ve preemptively decided that there are certain non-vegan foods you intend to eat no matter what, then veganism clearly may not be appropriate for you at this moment. But if it’s your sincere desire to adopt a vegan lifestyle, and you fear that you may at some point hit a snag, then I’d gently encourage you to try. Can you imagine if we never took an exciting new job, just because we suspected that we might one day make a mistake? Or if we avoided relationships, simply because we knew that we might one day be tempted toward an infidelity? Or if we didn’t go to school, because we knew that certain subjects would prove difficult? If our desire to do these things is sincere, it’s not worth preemptively stopping ourselves because we know that the path won’t always be easy. And the longer we do things, the easier it becomes.

I’ll end by sharing a little story. This happened when I’d been eating vegan for about six months but hadn’t started calling myself vegan, because it all still felt a little bit like an experiment. One day, in spite of the fact that I hadn’t been missing dairy at all, I had a random craving for Greek yogurt. Not a particularly intense craving, but a craving nonetheless. And for whatever reason—perhaps because it was the first time in a while that I’d wanted a non-vegan food, perhaps because I wanted to see how I’d respond to it—I went out and bought a container of Fage.

I ate about three bites at the office before realizing two things: first, that yogurt was less appealing than I remembered, and that my memory of it had been embellished by the fact that I no longer ate it; and second, that animal foods no longer felt spiritually “right” to me. That was the last time I ever consciously purchased or consumed an animal food.

Looking back on this moment, I don’t remember it as a “lapse” in my veganism. I suppose that, technically speaking, my evolution as a vegan began after the yogurt incident—I wouldn’t mind defining it as such—but I actually see what happened as a defining moment for me as a vegan: it was the moment in which my commitment to the lifestyle was solidified. It was the moment in which I realized that certain things I used to eat all the time were no longer a fit for my life and didn’t feed my spirit in the way they once had. That day, I realized that ethical veganism was not a passing fancy or an experiment; it had become a part of my identity.

This moment of temptation “messing up” was actually crucial in helping me to clarify my motivations and intentions. People often respond to  vegan “slip ups” with either guilt or defensiveness and rejection of veganism (I felt tempted, therefore veganism can’t be right for me). Instead, you can use these as teachable moments, in which you learn to refine and think consciously about your lifestyle choices. Going vegan doesn’t mean you’re pledging not to have these moments; you’re simply pledging to keep your heart open to veganism in spite of them.

So, if you’re curious about veganism, but have shied away because you fear “messing up,” don’t. Remember that most vegans experience temptation or miss things they used to eat; this doesn’t make you a “bad” vegan. It can be an opportunity to check in with foods you need to spend more time creatively replacing in your diet; for me, cravings for dairy or egg usually become an excuse to try cool new vegan products.

Long-term intentions matter most. Don’t count on making exceptions to your veganism, but don’t avoid the lifestyle all together because you have a little self-doubt. You’ll never know until you try. And, to bring it back to the Vegan Society’s definition, trying—or “seeking,” to use their more poetic word—is what it’s all about.

I’d love to hear from vegans about the moments in which they’ve felt challenged, and how they moved on. And I’d love for those who are considering dietary changes to tell us whether this gives you any peace of mind! Your words are always welcome.

Have a great night, friends.


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Categories: Food and Healing

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  1. Thank you so much for sharing this post. Recently, I accidentally ordered a salad with a non-vegan dressing at a restaurant, which I did not realize until after I finished it. I felt so guilty about how I had completely forgotten to ask about the dressing. Then I stumbled upon this article and now, I realize that although there was nothing that I could do about the salad, a small mistake shouldn’t affect my passion for veganism. Your perspective has really helped me move forward from a small accidental slip-up and forgive myself for it.

  2. Thank you so much for this! I accidentally ate the teeniest bit of egg yesterday (I was under the impression that coleslaw was vegan; after I ate it I realized that it tasted a lot like mayo, so just to be safe I gave it to someone else). Even though it was an accident, I felt really guilty. I even though “Why should I even try if I’m going to mess up?” Luckily, I didn’t give up. And now that I’ve read this article, I know that I’m never going to give up, even if I mess up just a little.

  3. Hey, do you think it’s ok to stop being vegan just while on holiday? I’m going to Japan soon and there’s so much food that I’m looking forward to that isn’t vegan. The idea of veganism is still foreign in Japan so you’ll be hard-pressed to find any vegan food. So do you think it’s ok to just enjoy the food while on my trip but go back to being vegan when I’m back?

    • Of course it’s your choice, but personally I wouldn’t. It depends on your reasons for being vegan. If it’s against your morals to eat animal products, I don’t see why you would eat animal products on purpose. If it’s for health reasons, I wouldn’t risk it. I don’t know what you should do. It depends on your intentions.

  4. I came looking for posts like this after a semi-awkward dinner last night with my partner and his family. I’m a brand new vegan for the second time in my life, and I’ve been struggling with feelings of not doing a ‘good enough job’ or feeling guilty that I’m somehow not being vigilant enough, even though I try my best to read ingredients and research.

    Going out to eat, especially with people I don’t see everyday, has been the hardest for me. The restaurant I went to had very few vegan options, so I thought I was doing enough by ordering simple pasta with marinara which I am now certain had cheese in it even though I asked for none. I already felt a little…not rude but something like it when offered a bite of other people’s dishes, and then having a plate of plain pasta like something a child would order. I really wanted to eat the butter bread and cheese appetizers which made me feel more guilty. I eventually just had to shake myself out of it because I’m doing the best I can within my power and this article made me feel much better. Thank you. So many other’s who eat vegan diets are condescending and don’t address real struggles.

  5. I know this is an old post but it has helped me so much! I was so upset with myself the other day for accidentally eating something non-vegan while travelling and I had to remind myself that veganism is not about being perfect but about the dedication to the cause. I am still learning from that moment and trying not to be so hard on myself, and I am grateful to have come across your post. Thank you <3

  6. Hi Gena. Your post its really helpful especially for somone like me,i try to go vegan but find it difficult not be able to eat mainly all the sweats and choclate i like. Dont know if i will ever be able to give up on eating nutella ice cream chocolate. I tried so many times and i flip up more then i succeed. I only been vegeterian for 1 year so its still new for me. I still have flip ups with meat to but not so often. Maybe once in 3 months if i have a drink and i cravr the food i used to like before. I really want to be vegan for my own self and for the world around me. I just dont know how,the more i think about not eating a certain food the more i want it and think about it. Feel like its a war inside me.

  7. Sort of reading your blog, I was able to forgive myself. It was a moment without a thought I caught myself eating a cookie after a conversation with a friend. I rushed to the web and found you with this blog I am responding to. I guess the only challenge I have, is being new to the challenge of being vegan.

    What crossed your mind when you began your journey? I’d like to hear from you sometime! Till next time or in a different life-time…

  8. Thanks so much for this very helpful post. I am in my 5th month of this vegan journey. The last few weeks have been extremely stressful and I’ve battled some mild depression. Consequently, I have had some slips-minor, but slips nonetheless. I remain committed to this journey, but the meat cravings have become overwhelming this week. I have craved cheese the last four months, but never meat. This week I have been intensely craving meat (and pork at that!). Your blog has helped me to stop condemning myself. I am shopping today for some new vegan meals and will resume intake of vegan podcasts and blogs. Perhaps this will get me back on course. Sigh… Thanks again for your transparent post.

  9. I’m transitioning to a whole food plant based diet, but in my heart I’m already vegan, because when I see animal food/items anywhere (everywhere is more like it) I get unconfortable, sad. But I see what nobody else sees, I feel very alone. Yesterday was my first party after a week of only 4 animal products (when eating out at other people’s houses) and it was awfull. I even took a whole bread sandwich with vegetable paste and ate it in the bathroom, because I can’t be hungry and there was nothing to eat at all without animal food. Things that never bothered me eating now feel wrong and seeing everybody eating it felt awfull too. At dinner still at the party I was hungry, I ate beans, but they were mixed with tuna and egg, the cold salad was full of oil, I ate some cheese. I could have avoided a small piece of cake and half a spoon of icecream, but I craved it, because when you start… My point is i’m a happy vegan when I’m in my house, although no one else is vegan, but when I’m out it’s literally impossible to go vegan. If I eat the old foods I get unballanced, my mood is affected, but what choice do I have? Today we went out for breakfast but what could I eat? Plain bread? I had to make a soy smoothie at home and only had tea at the bakery. I’m angry that there are no options, I’m very sad. This afternoon I had an ice cream, then white bread and butter and I know I wouldn’t have had these if it wasn’t for that damn party that led to this inbalance. Whole tables full of animal food, I never realized how unhealthy we’ve become. I was even stationed to make cheese and ham plates and all sorts of other animal foods. I felt overwhelmed. At dinner I’ll go plant based again and I don’t see myself going back to what I used to eat but I know I won’t be able to always eat what I want (vegan), because there are times when you have to starve to avoid eating unhealthy uncompassionate food. Right now I feel alone, frustrated, sad, depressed and angry at this society. I don’t feel I can’t fit in.

  10. Thank you for this article it helped me. I was feeling horrible guilty and awful that I feel into temptation for a treat and ate a kind breakfast bar this evening which I knew had honey in it. I’ve been vegan over 5 years, and always avoided anything with honey. You mentioned intention for being Vegan and mine is still as strong as ever for the animals, for health for the environment. I’m grateful you said it’s our intention. I’ll try thanks to your perspective not view myself as a hypocrite but as someone who can learn I’m not perfect and move forward.

  11. I think your article was very well written because i don’t think it will have offended anyone, and you dealt with the topic in a very sensitive and mature way. I have been calling myself a vegan for nearly two months now, but i still eat some non-vegan foods incredibly rarely though. After reading your article, i have been motivated to go completely 100% vegan because i have just realised that eating non-vegan foods actually doesn’t feel right to me ethically, and why should i do something if i completely oppose it? So from now on i will eat no milk chocolate or butter or processed foods with milk or eggs in. Thankyou for that article because it helped me to acknowledge that the few times i slipped up when i was vegetarian and vegan do not ultimately matter that much, because most of them were accidental and i felt terrible afterwards, and that i shouldn’t beat myself up about it. Everyone makes mistakes.

  12. I’m transitioning to veganism and I have to say I feel really REALLY guilty when I eat anything that isn’t vegan.
    Sometimes the guilt tells me that I consider myself “transitionig” just to have an excuse to eat those things… This all sounds mean and horrible and isn’t positive – I decided to go vegan exactly because of positive thinking & compassionate thinking…
    My husband (non-vegan/non-vegetarian) tells me the anything that brings guilt and/or negative feelings to my life shouldn’t have any space in it; someone also said something like: “you already have enough problems to start caring what you eat, reading contents of food, and feeling bad for eating an specific thing – don’t buy an extra problem”. I’m in a very confusing moment, I would say.
    Also, the questions:
    – After how long without animal products can I consider myself vegan
    – How long without meat can someone consider him/herself a vegetarian?
    Tricky-weird questions but no one ever talks about that…
    Something else: if I have leather shoes/purses, wool sweaters, honey shower-gel, and make up that has been tested in animals and become a vegan, what should I do with all those items? Throw all out seems a huge waste of money that I already spent, those animals were already harmed, I already contributed for that when I didn’t knew the implications of it…

    So confusing!
    Nowadays we have so much information – it’s hard to keep up and to filter what’s good or not, what’s relevant or not, what’s TRUE or not! So many vegan bloggers, so many vegan youtubers, and there’s raw, there’s HCLF (that btw I have NO IDEA what it means), there’s fruitarianism, there’s even people claiming that they don’t eat anything at all and that they feed on light (a whole other subject, but just to give an example of how things are going completely overboard)…

    I have to confess I feel lost. But your words did bring some calm to my heart & mind. Thanks…

  13. Oh my god, I almost had tears in my eyes reading this post. I can’t express how thankful I am for this piece of wisdom tha you have shared here. I have been vegan for only six months in a row after beeing vegetarian, and yesterday I ate (drunk) a piece of 40g chocolate, willingly. Fist time. No idea why I crave it so badly to the point of actaully eating the bastard. I woke up with this sensation that I might have done something awful and shameful, told my husband about it (he eats mostly vegetarian/vegan) and he laughed and said that this happens, that he could not see a reason I was troubling so much about it. Then I found your amazing post, after seeking for counseling (I am shameful to tell my vegan friends about it) and I feel so good again. Maybe my chocolate is your greek yogurt. Maybe not, but I am willing more then ever to stand up for what I believe. It is not very easy, even thou I live in a very vegan friendly city (Berlin). I am thankful not to live in Rio anymore (my hometown), my vegan friends from Brazil struggle a lot with lack of options and ignorance. So thank you, THANK YOU for the kindness of these words and thank you for giving me a green day. For attitute like yours and for people that also wrote here that this is all about. Now i am gonna get myself a wonderful vegan lunch and leave the best wishes for you. Danke schön!

  14. Thank you so much for this post! I have gone vegan once before for a six week challenge, but never fully made the connection you mentioned here. However, two weeks ago I watched “Vegucated” and it suddenly clicked. I have made the fully intentional decision to go vegan. However, after two weeks of being solidly vegan, I gave in to hunger and temptation and ate a grilled cheese sandwich. I felt awful and like a failure. This post has really given me the encouragement I needed to realize that anything new takes time to stick. And I am committed to stay on track and make humane choices from now on.

  15. thanks so much for this post! its exsactly what i needed to get me passed these cravinging, and to rember no one is perfect and that vegans except this. we keep fighting the good fight because we know our truth and potential for a better furture for animals, humans and the enviroment.

  16. I needed this,
    More then you will ever know. when I feel weak I will re-read this and continue to be strong. Thank you for helping me understand that this is way more about the mistakes. Its about how we go from there and grow from each situation we encounter. I am committed to this life style. Theres no going back for me. I can’t. Sometimes I feel weak but I know it will hurt me more to stop (spiritually and emotionally) I know this was written years ago but I just wanted you to know how greatly you’ve touched my life. Your words were the voice of reason during one of my most defining moments. And one day, years later, when I share my story ill speak of this moment

  17. Very inspirational. I’ve been learning about the vegan lifestyle only a short time and practicing it even shorter, only a couple of months. I came across this article because I consciously slipped and intentionally ordered a dish with egg noodles the other day. I attempted to rationalize it for days but something doesn’t feel right. It is also something I used to eat as an omnivore and just as you describe with the yogurt, something tasted different (less pleasant than before). Although I ordered the egg noodles, I had them omit the meat from the dish and thought at first that maybe it tasted different than I had remembered because the meat wasn’t in it. Maybe it is in fact as you suggest; that my palate has simply changed. Anyways thanks for the great article. I went shopping today for all the stuff I need for a great vegan quinoa casserole. I definitely want to reassert myself.

  18. Hi Gena,

    I came across your article after this Christmas brunch today. I have been vegetarian for almost 4 years and 2 months ago I took the decision of going on a vegan diet for the love of animals. At the moment as many other comments I see above, I am struggling with a eating disorder and trying to fix it. Today, after 2 months I just ate pastries, cake and some other food from my companies brunch without thinking if it was vegan or not. I even put a slice of cheese on my plate, but I could not eat that, I felt guility. Therefore I ate butter/eggs and milk added in the food and I was trying to find some explanation why I did that. Why I gave in today. I am planning to start all over again tomorrow, but I feel terrible with myself. It was nice to read your article. A confort.


  19. Hi Gena, Thank you so much for this article. After being a pescatarian for the better part of 28 years, I decided to go vegan a few months ago. It was an easy transition for the most part. However, the hardest thing to deal with has been accidental ingestion of animal products when dining out in non-vegetarian/vegan restaurants. This past weekend it happened twice. I specifically explained to the waitstaff what I can and cannot eat, and yet I was served chicken stock-laden vegetables. I felt so awful! (I try to avoid eating in such places, but my husband and most of our friends are omnivores.) Thank you for easing my pain and reminding me that this is my process. In the future I’ll be more diligent and gentle with myself! Namaste, Dawn

  20. i lovvveeeee thisss, it made me feel so much better about eating this piece of bread. I am 21 and a raw vegan most the time, before i became raw vegan i never thought i would enjoy food so much more without the cooking part. I never crave animals or milk, cheese, etc ya know, the way i begame vegetarian about 7 years ago was because i hated the fast of chicken on day so i just left it i tried beef hated it even more just could not do it. So i just left it without i second thought never wanted it since then, i would still eat eggs milk and fish. 1 year ago i left fish, this time just the thought of an animal in my body bothered me and creeped me out so i left that, then i became vegan loved it, so i tried raw vegan and i fell in love with it so delicious so fresh always feels amazing. But i do love bread and corn tortillas every 2 months il have a period of eating bread or corn tortillas then i get sick of it (literally) then back completely raw. Oh and tea i love tea to much so that is the only thing hot really that i drink. I really do wish though, that i dident like bread or corn tortillas i always feel it sets me back those are my only weakness when it comes to food, trying to overcome it.

  21. Hi, I’m 22, I’ve been vegan for the most part, almost a month now, I just had a couple burgers, tonight. And you know what? I just learned to stop beating myself up about “slip ups”, and forget this restriction BS. People make mistakes and why should we care? Not like we should be perfect or something. And I guess you could say I’m not really vegan, But rather vegetarian, until the slip ups no longer occur, naturally, and with time. But as long as I keep moving forward, I’ll be fine. At least my health and my appearance is getting a lot better. . I just wanna thank everyone for making me feel even better about myself, and I appreciate the fact there are people like me who have the very same attitude concerning our occasional mishaps.

  22. I’ve been trying very hard to be vegan and stay vegan for about six months now and i have had many unintentional and intentional slips. perhaps desserts are number one in the list. I am writing because i just had one of these slips, with some cookies that were left over from a small party yesterday at work. Originally my reasoning was to eat them so that they would not go to waste but deep down i know that my craving for them was the main cause. So with this i leave saying that yes i did “mess up” but this will not stop my journey to become vegan.

  23. Well I had an upsetting time tonight. I have been away for 5 months and when I returned my good friend made me a welcome home dinner, even though she knows (but she pretended she didn’t) she made a non-vegan meal, she had invited a couple of other friends and I didn’t want to embarrass her or hurt her feelings so I ate the meal and regret it so bad. What could I have said to get out of eating that meal?

  24. I’ve only been vegan for 2 months, and I had my third slip up tonight. I was being really hard on myself until I read this. Though I don’t want this to happen again, I need to learn that I am NOT a hypocrite and I’m STILL vegan. I’ll just try harder 🙂

  25. Hi! I am 17 years old and just started being a vegan (my one week is tomorrow!) my dad doesn’t agree with it, and he convinced me to eat a chicken strip. I ate about half of it, it tasted so plain and it wasn’t as good as I remember it. So far i’m not craving anything, and I really do regret that chicken! I just wish I had more fruits, veggies and nuts in my house! I always find myself checking ingrediants, like, all the time! Lol, This article was a pleasure to read, so thank you! And God bless! xx

  26. Thankyou – I’ve been vegan for one year and I ate lasagne just then, the first beef I’ve had all this time.

    For me veganism has also been linked to loving myself, therefore allowing myself to love others (humans and/or animals), I’ve been upset by hostile zealot vegans that act superior, judgmental and cultist so I appreciate your words. Where you wrote:

    “It was the moment in which I realized that the things I craved from my old life no longer felt right; they didn’t taste the way I remembered them tasting, and more importantly, they didn’t feed my spirit in the way that I’d learned the food on my plate could.”

    I could apply that taste to attitudes, beliefs, relationships and my diet has been a direct manifestation of that change of mindset. Thankyou.

    I needed to read this as I felt bad for eating it might lesson learned, moving on again.

  27. What a nice article! I’ve been vegan for a few month now, it is very important to me and I feel so good being vegan that I couldn’t imagine my life differently now. Actually, I never crave for non-vegan food at all.

    But there is one situation that is still a problem to me: When I’m invited by people who don’t know I’m vegan and offer me food they have made.

    Example this morning: My boyfriend’s cousin came to our place with a huge carrot cake full of dairy-cream and eggs. I hardly know this girl and I was not prepared to this. And what did I? I ate a piece of it. I REALLY forced me to. And I didn’t enjoy it AT ALL. I didn’t like the taste. And… oh, man! When I eat vegan (even a can of cream or of fat cookies) I just feel fit and happy after eating. But this… Erk. So fat, so unhealthy… and so full of animal suffering… I ate it 8 hours ago and I still feel sick. But what did I say? “It’s delicious, thank you very much!”.

    I know this is really stupid because it really makes me feel bad, and because now I’m angry with myself, with the person who offered me the cake, and with my boyfriend for not having “saved” me and explained I’m vegan.
    It is also stupid because I know I can’t be credible then explaining that “normally, I’m vegan”…

    But on the moment, It’s just that I can’t say no. I’ve learned to force me to eat things in order to be polite and to please people.

    Well, I am still a new vegan and I am sure I will learn to react better with time. I know it will be better for everyone. I just wanted to share this with you.

    Anyway, excepted that, being vegan is really EASY to me in any other situation. I have no problem ordering vegan food in a non-vegetarian restaurant for instance. And this “accident” makes me even more determined. I AM vegan.

  28. I started out vegetarianism, and then veganism, to improve my health and lose weight. I read a lot of books about veganism and watched a lot of online lectures and videos. At first it wasn’t so much about protecting the animals (even though I love animals, I’ve just been brainwashed by society for 23 years that eating animal products is just a fact of life). After eating an exclusively vegan diet for a couple weeks straight (before that I’d been eating vegan as much as possible with the occasional slice of cheese pizza or a piece of fish) I started to think differently. I became proud of the fact that I wasn’t contributing to animal torture/death. Last night my friends ordered cheese pizza. I told them I didn’t want any. But my friend started going on and on about why veganism is unhealthy and that I don’t need to lose weight. I didn’t fall for it. This is my best friend who still called me thin when I was 230 pounds. He’d never say anything less-than-nice about me even if it was the truth. I ended up having a slice of pizza not because I believed it was okay, but just because I didn’t want to be picked at anymore.

    I felt horrible about it in the morning. You can’t just ask the pizza place “I want a pizza with cheese from an ethical farm that doesn’t torture the cows or kill the babies for veal”- and on second thought, cheese isn’t ethical no matter how you slice it. (Pardon the pun.)

    Before when I would cheat on my diet I’d say “screw it, this is impossible”. But even though I’ve only been vegan a couple of weeks, I know it’s possible. I felt really bad this morning for eating cheese. But I’m forgiving myself for it and just picking up where I left off. Every day counts.

  29. This article is exactly what I needed to read this morning. I have been vegan for about 2 months and last night I was out with friends and after a few drinks I ate seafood. It was something I loved before going vegan. I felt terrible about it when I was finished. I was very upset with myself. I woke up this morning with renewed commitment (along with some not so swell stomach issues due my body rejecting the animal products). I really like your approach to this. I live in an area where I am possibly 1 of maybe 5-10 vegans (literally). I have to remember my intentions are good and I am doing my best. Thank you.

  30. Gena – such a beautifully written post, and so encouraging! I feel this is a topic that needs more attention as it can be overwhelming to people who are just starting to try and live a vegan lifestyle. I do feel there is a lot of judgement in the vegan community – and as a newbie it can be very intimidating. I have been vegan for a year now although I still ponder about what to call myself. I “cheat” every now and then (I know you don’t like this word). One reason due to my schedule. I travel every week for work and am often finding myself in a situation where there is no vegan option. Two, sometimes my desire gets the better of me. I do have to say, every time without fail, I wish I would have eaten vegan. I’ve come to realize this is part of my journey and it is ok – maybe in a year I’ll have enough time under my belt that this will be different. At the end of the day, as you say, it is the intention that matters (of course coupled with action). My intention every day that I wake up is to lead a vegan life. Some days don’t go that way – but I don’t think drowning myself in guilt is healthy either. If I slip, I get back up and start over again. That’s what matters. I think its extremely important that the vegan community be supporting of those that want to explore a vegan lifestyle and are transitioning.

  31. Similar to Carol’s comment above, I find that I am not really tempted to eat non-vegan foods, but will occasionally practice ignorant ordering/eating of foods like noodles, bread and pasta at restaurants with omni friends. However, I find every year that I am vegan, I get more comfortable with asking questions and making special requests, so this occurs less and less nowadays.

    I view veganism as a journey. When I started, I thought I had to be a perfect but in living life realized that mistakes are inevitable. I use mistakes as learning opportunities instead of as a way to judge myself harshly. I’ve been vegan for three years and have learned so much in that time. Similar to being gluten-free, you just have to be in it and make the mistakes to know what to look for, the right questions to ask, etc. Unless you have an experienced mentor sitting right next to you for every meal, you’ll never catch it all from the first day.

    Perfect example – I regularly ordered a tofu and veggie yakisoba dish at my favorite sushi place for years, until I recently discovered that the noodles are cooked in fish stock. It wasn’t my fault, they aren’t labeled that way on the menu (the other noodles were – very misleading), but once I found out I learned from it and moved on. Now I know to ask about fish stock and fish sauce before ordering any Asian noodle dishes that aren’t labeled vegan. A happy discovery that I have made is that oftentimes when you inquire if a dish has a non-vegan ingredient in it, the server will offer to have the kitchen make it without that ingredient without you even having to ask.

    These things will happen. Not for one second do they undermine the good you are doing for yourself and the world around you. Never forget, veganism is a lifestyle, not a label.

  32. Great article! Someday I hope we don’t have the mindset that plant options are the “alternative”, rather the animal versions are alternatives to our natural plant based foods 🙂

  33. Hmmm really interesting thoughts. I think going vegan was cold turkey is definitely possible if you have the right mindset. As a flexitarian turned vegetarian though, I can see both sides of the story. Regardless of what you identify as though, I think any effort is better than none 🙂

  34. Thank you for this post!
    I do not call myself a vegan because I do not live up to all aspects of the definition (some of my clothing and lifestyle choices are not vegan). I do realize, however, that I have embarked on a journey towards a more vegan lifestyle. My dietary evolution began with overcoming an ED and managing acne through food. The diet that has healed me both physically and spiritually has been a plant based diet with an emphasis on raw food (thanks for making it a website!). Because my initial motivation was completely self oriented, I didn’t really consider anything beyond what I was putting in my body. Fast forward to now, and I am noticing that I am starting to pay more attention to what my clothes are made of and what is in my cosmetics etc. This was not an intentional evolution, but I am grateful for it none the less. It really came to light for me when I realized that I could no longer wear my leather jacket. From a fashion perspective it was beautiful and basically new. However whenever I would put it on I felt wrong about it. I would do the little mirror dance that we all do before leaving the house and I would always end up changing and putting it back in the closet. After 6 months of this, I have finally given the jacket away and the relief I feel is so amazing. Every time I open the closet and see the space where that jacket used to hang I feel gratitude for the place that I have reached in my life and excited to see what further changes my next moral evolution will bring. Thank you for continuing to inspire me.


    • Like many others, I’m truly grateful to have come across this site.

      My wife and I have been “mostly vegetarian” for 3 years, but about a month ago ditched all dairy, too. I am feeling more committed than ever to animals and not being part of the problem.

      However, tonight I have a big fancy work dinner to attend, and there WILL be meat there – individual tasting plates of it for me. I’m feeling terribly guilty about this and I had already signed up for this before I made the full commitment.

      This is helping me make peace with that. I will try not to be too hard on myself, and appreciate the fact that it actually really bothers me now. That’s the important piece – and that the morning after I know I’ll have a moment just like you, where it’s all solidified. Thanks. 🙂

  35. As ever, beautifully written, Gena. And I love how one of my favourite themes in your blog is again highlighted here: compassion. Compassion for all livings creations, including our fellow people and ourselves.

  36. Ohhh my journey with food!! 🙂

    My veganism started at the end of an eating disorder, at the doorway of some self-discovery, and as a compromise to heal while still maintaining both some of that sought after, “self-control,” as well as the newfound values I’d developed over that year long period of self-destruction/soul-searching (right after a breakup, which I think fueled a lot of it, as well as some other events. A lot of guilt and sadness). I actually was extremely extremely dedicated and driven, even though I was eating more and in recovery mode, and a big part of it was I really felt that my moral compass was pushing me that way and I would have felt terribly if I’d consumed any animal product. That was August 2010.

    Now it’s 2012 and honestly, I’ve become a lot more lax. I feel happier and I don’t feel like a criminal or like I’m breaking some law when I accidentally take a bite of non-vegan food, or, lo-and-behold, on purpose. In fact I feel more in control because of the fact that I’m not guilty afterward, and I’m making a balanced and well-thought out decision not to react a certain way for my own mental health, and because most of the time I’ve weighed the pros and cons and I know which choice is going to leave me feeling the best. That said, I and everyone around me (of course, they’re non-vegan, and I’m sure other vegans would have their opinions) definitely consider myself to be a vegan. I probably have one small bite of non-vegan food once every two months maximum on average. It’s never a full on snack, usually one or two bites, and this is honestly only of recent, and I simply don’t feel compelled to have more–in fact time and again I’ve been disappointed with how lame the non-vegan options taste in comparison to the vegan ones, but that’s just me!! It just helps further my decision. And, newly, I have decided that I really don’t care about gelatin, honey, or non-plant based vitamin d. I just don’t feel that those options are major enough for me to care about, and I don’t buy them very much anyway. I might want a strawberry poptart one day that has a microscopic amount of gelatin in it, sue me, but I never am compelled to eat yogurt, milk, cheese…disgusting. I’m still dedicated and believe veganism is the right thing morally to do, and I think that’s what life should be about, always trying to better ourselves and be as moral as possible, yet I’m not so extreme anymore that I feel I can’t be good unless it’s perfect, and it’s just better for me this way. We need to do what we can to be our best and that includes allowing exceptions if necessary in order to have less stress in life, and not doing things that your heart isn’t in just because someone else thinks it’s best.

    I also have to say that I do feel a lot of alliance in this blog 🙂 I can tell you hang out with other vegans a lot (although we all know that by now) from what you are saying. I went to a dinner once with a vegan meetup group, and honestly it really helped me feel great about my choices, more empowered and less run-of-the-mill and routine like any lifestyle can become if you do it long enough. It must be wonderful to surround yourself with such like minds! 🙂 I’m simply not social enough and don’t care enough to make an effort in doing the same, but maybe one day I will and I’ll grow a deeper passion for veganism as you have. Maybe one day eliminating gelatin, animal vitamin d, and honey will give me a deep satisfaction like eliminating meat and dairy has, unlike the tedious annoyance it seems to be now.

    Take care, really enjoyed the entry 🙂 Made me think, as usual 🙂 Love that about this place!

  37. Gena thank you so much for this article. My dear friend sent it to me and I am so glad that she did. I have been a vegetarian for two years and for those entire two years I have been trying very hard to be vegan. One of my biggest problems is that when I mess up, I have so much guilt and shame that I beat myself up about it and find myself having to start again on a new day or month, etc. Tearing myself up about it actually makes it harder to not consume dairy again- I know this but somehow I cannot change this mindset. When I became a vegetarian it was very easy for me- it was even easy for me to get rid of any animal products. I can honestly say that I from the date that I became a vegetarian I have never intentionally consumed any type of meat, fish, fowl, seafood or purchased any leather or other animal product. Transitioning to veganism has not been as easy, it has been a struggle and the only thing I can cling to is the knowledge that I will not be satisfied with only being a vegetarian. That may work for some people but I know too much that I cannot unlearn and for that reason I keep trying even though it is challenging. Thank you so much for this article.

  38. Thanks Gena for your sensitive, yet non-judgmental approach to veganism. I just love your approach, as well as the comments of your followers. I’ll admit that the label of “vegan” or “vegetarian” is something that I am hesitant to ever use to explain my eating habits. Over a year ago, I chose to stick to a more “plant-based diet” [which is my preferred description of my habits] because I found I just felt better in general and especially because it enhanced my performance as an athlete and a runner [after much intriguing reading by Rich Roll and Brendan B]. There have been two things I’ve struggled with since heading down this path;

    1) People thinking there needs to be a proper “label” to describe my eating habits (besides “rabbit-like”); and

    2) the [perhaps not intentional] criticism that seems to come with my healthy choice and being one of those “crazy runners”.

    So, first the label – I was in Whole Foods the other day unloading my cart at the register. An older gentleman behind me was watching everything I took out of my cart and said “So, you’re a vegan, huh?” I immediately felt uncomfortable and responded with a smile, “No, not really. I just try to focus more on a “plant-based” diet.” He responds, “Well, doesn’t that mean you’re a vegetarian?” I just said, “no, not really”.

    Our conversation ended up being a great one, as he just asked about some of the products I was buying (Vega powder, hemp seeds, chlorella, etc.) – but good heavens, what’s the proper answer?

    I will never feel comfortable labeling myself as a “vegetarian” or “vegan”, out of respect for the true vegans out there and it’s not fair to label myself such when I don’t put as much effort into it 24/7 like you do. I love sushi (I’m Japanese), and if I want some ice cream, I’ll treat myself (though I really do love the vegan choices and I’m trying to focus on them more!) and if I want a sprinkle of parmesan cheese on my quinoa pasta and otherwise vegan tomato sauce/pesto, I will. I feel “plant-based diet” is much more true to me and I feel more comfortable trying to explain that to people who are willing to learn more.

    Second, the compliments I receive can be a bit unnerving at times. I’ve been fit and an athlete my whole life and one of those people that must eat every two hours. I’ve gone done this plant based path because it makes me feel good on an everyday basis for work, grad school, as well as my performance as an athlete. These are the most common comments I get and I’m curious as to how any of you deal with these or similar tidbits:

    — “How do you eat so much and stay so skinny?”
    — “Well look at Sarah, she’s small, she can AFFORD to eat like that” (if I’m drinking a beer, eating a cookie, etc.)
    — “You brought an APPLE and CARROTS to a tailgate party?!? (as I’m never without snacks 🙂

    These comments freaking enrage me, as if all I do is drink beer and eat cookies all day and magically stay fit. No, WHY do you think I’m able to be a marathoner and have a fit lifestyle? Because I don’t eat crap 24/7. Some probably mean them as compliments, but they don’t come across that way. I eat lunches in a business setting quite a bit, oftentimes it’s a catered lunch while we still work. There’s always some comment about “Miss Rice and Vegetables over here” or “you know honey, you can afford to eat a burger” as if my decision as to how to fill my plate is an unhealthy one. I don’t make comments back to these people about how they could afford to not eat that third donut or chicken wing. I don’t offer a response when these people say out load to a group at a party four or five times, “Get these chips and dip away from me” , as they continue to munch down.

    I’m very sensitive and aware to not preach to anyone or make any comments about my lifestyle and I often don’t talk about it unless it’s brought up or people ask me pointed questions. I don’t know why people who don’t share the same lifestyle feel the need to comment/criticize/joke, etc. With some of my closer friends who I know I can give some crap to, I’ll tell them that I’m more than willing to tutor them on plant-based basics 🙂 Maybe after some time I’ll be a little more immune to such comments.

    Do any of you guys have the same experiences with what I described above? Again – I don’t say much on here at all, though I check the website every day. I would like to say thanks to all of you and to Gena who have a non-judgmental and common sense approach to a healthy lifestyle! I enjoy being a part of it!

  39. I like this post a lot. I consider myself to be a pseudo vegan. I don’t eat meat for more than a few reasons…I don’t trust industry and government standards, and I also believe that slaughter is, more often than not, pretty horrific, and even Kosher standards are unreliable (in my opinion). I do eat Greek yogurt pretty regularly. I rarely (but sometimes) eat cheese. If I eat either of those, I choose certified organic brands that openly share their processes and procedures. I have to trust their claims. But no one should feel like a failure if they happen to eat something or buy a product that contains animal products. I like to think of it this way: if it’s an accident, enjoy it. If you have a positive experience with your accidental meal, attribute that to said animal, and know you appreciated the cost more than the average consumer. Same goes with a clothing product. Use it, enjoy it, cherish it, appreciate its worth. Don’t beat yourself up, it’s not worth it. We are human. I mean, we’ve been given the brains and therefore the tools to use animals as fuel. Choosing a vegan lifestyle is still widely considered taboo, and it’s hard to stick to your guns. It requires a lot of work. Special requests when you eat out, a detailed over-analysis of every nutrition label, etc. Slip-ups happen. In the end, a little bit of guilt should be all you feel. Move on, and get back on track. No one is perfect, but striving for perfection is a great personal challenge, just remember that slip-ups don’t mean it’s over! Great post Gina. You’re truly inspirational. =)

  40. I’m a bit late commenting as yesterday my computer was being unhelpful (the comment wouldn’t send!) but just wanted to say how much I enjoyed this post. As someone who chooses to eat vegan 70 – 80% of the time, the notion of not being ‘all or nothing’ about dietary choices really rings true for me. Thanks for allowing for the possibility of flexibility, and that being ok!

  41. I’ve been vegetarian since November 1990. Like you, I do the best I canwith ingredients in restaurant food. I don’t get too upset if I discover that there were meat products in my food even after my inquiring. Chicken stock is common. I can’t usually eat rice at a restaurant because it’s usually cooked in chicken stock. Or food cook on a grill where meat products were cooked.

    After becoming vegetarian, I soon became vegan. However, in 1994 my father had a massive stroke and needed 24/7 care. I was 36 and lived at home. I worked full time butmom and I cared for him at home. He died in 2007. Since then, I’ve cared for mom. I say these things because as caregiver I’ve been responsible for getting my parents out to eat. And their choice of restaurants? Bob Evans and IHOP. After eating there for years, omelets are what I eat. (I detest all other egg dishes). Additionally, no one else in my family is vegetarian.I no longer cook. Mom eats TV dinners. I won’t cook for her if I don’t even cook for myself. I am too tired to cook – it is not something I enjoy doing. I’d love to be vegan again, but don’t see that happening soon. I do eat prepared foods from Earthfare. But veganism is tough in a life such as mine.

  42. I’ve been vegetarian since November 1990. Like you, I do the best I canwith ingredients in restaurant food. I don’t get too upset if I discover that there were meat products in my food even after my inquiring. Chicken stock is common. I can’t usually eat rice at a restaurant because it’s usually cooked in chicken stock. Or food cook on a grill where meat products were cooked.

    After becoming vegetarian, I soon became vegan. However, in 1994 my father had a massive stroke and needed 24/7 care. I was 36 and lived at home. I worked full time but mom and I cared for him at home. He died in 2007. Since then, ive cared

  43. Gena, this post could not be better timed for me. I have fallen off the vegan wagon as of late and have been struggling to hope back on. My problem is that once I let myself slip a little, I figure the day is shot and I use it as an excuse to start shoveling milk chocolate and string cheese into my mouth.

    After another string cheese mini-binge last night, I woke up this morning more determined than ever to pay more attention to my eating habits – but without beating myself up about my past indiscretions. Thanks for the words of encouragement!

  44. Thank you so much for posting this, it was exactly what I needed to hear. So many times I slip up (especially recently), both on accident or knowingly, and think: “Maybe I should start saying I’m vegetarian rather than vegan – that way when I mess up, I won’t be failure.” But in my heart, I don’t want to give up on being vegan, and the thought of abandoning it makes me just as depressed. I can admit now that it is still a learning process, even years later, and I see that it’s very hard to be “perfect”. I don’t have to live up to others’ standards, all I have to do is worry about being the best me possible. I know I need to be compassionate to myself just as I am to animals by choosing to eat vegan, and not give up entirely just because I occasionally fall off the horse.

  45. Gena,

    I love getting your emails complete with recipes. I am someone who has occasionally fallen off the wagon and it may happen again who knows. I have recently re-committed myself to veganism for health reasons and am trying to follow a healthy low fat vegan lifestyle. I appreciate your gentle approach as sometimes I feel there is a very judgemental element out there (in the form of my husband who sees food as fuel and doesn’t have an emotional attachment to it – a good reminder to be kind to yourself as well as animals and the planet….that being said I am trying extra hard to follow the vegan path…

  46. First off, yay! After several years being vegan, I was going through a stressful time in life and started, very surprisingly to me, wanting to eat cheese. One time I purposefully “forgot” to ask for no cheese on a veggie burger when I was eating out. No one at the table noticed or called me out on it, so I ate that whole thing and then realized cheese wasn’t really so great. Who knows how long I would have gone on fighting with myself otherwise, thinking cheese was going to taste sooooo great and make me feel sooooo much better.

    Also, although it’s tough, it can be really helpful to non-vegans to mess up publicly. I literally don’t have another friend or family member or know anyone else who is vegan (I’m from Louisiana where it’s not quite clear to everyone what vegan even means yet. My aunt asks me if I can have olive oil). A lot of people get this conception of what a vegan person is like, and it’s often negative, and it can be refreshing and inspiring to them to see that you’re a real person too, and that you’re just trying to live out your values. Too many people don’t enact their values.

  47. Wonderful post, Gena. A simple way of putting what I think you said (and the way I like to think about this issue): “being vegan” is not a description, but an identity. That is, veganism is not about what you do but who you are. It is because being vegan is an identity that accidental slip-ups or moments of weakness can be viewed with regret or occasion shame: they make us feel like we were not being ourselves, or what we strive to be. In this way, experiences of “imperfection” can be quite educational, even rewarding, as they teach us what’s really important to us and who we really are. So yes, you can still be a vegan even if you’re not 100% perfect—but not, I think, if you respond to those moments of imperfection with indifference.

    • I love that article, and it’s indeed in keeping with my meaning. Getting obsessed with personal perfection can actually detract from one’s focus on the spirit of a vegan life and what it means. Thanks for sharing.

  48. Terrific post, Gena, though I am not sure I entirely w/the inference that everyone who eats a plant-based diet, or mostly so, is also striving to live a vegan lifestyle as dictated in the broad definitions of the term “vegan.”

    As you know, I’ve been a vegetarian for over 30 years, abstaining entirely from consuming animal products during the vast majority of that period, but STILL am reluctant to identify myself as a vegan, simply because my true motivations are primarily health based; it feels disingenuous to claim that my diet choices derive from a fundamental concern for animal welfare and the environment. Of course, I do care for both tremendously and am thrilled that my diet choices reverberate to other living creatures, but at a soul level, my consumption decisions – which are 100% “vegan” – are actually selfish in nature and for that reason, I and likely others, are not actually intending to subscribe to the entire vegan lifestyle, despite the positive impact our dietary choices make on the world around us.

    • You just said what I rambled on about and failed to say. Great points, and from where I’m coming from, I couldn’t agree more.

    • Oops! I think I made that inference without meaning to: this was a hard post to write because these terms and what they signify are very precise 🙂 I definitely include commodities (all animal products, leather and cosmetics and silk, for instance) in my definition of vegan striving: striving for the diet alone is not veganism. So in the category of “imperfection” would be accidentally buying a pair of Tom’s canvas shoes without realizing they had a leather insole: I know so many who have made that error by accident!

      Anyway, that’s actually what I meant by “but my point is simply that the spirit of veganism doesn’t only reside in how precisely you follow the diet. It resides in how deeply you care about what the lifestyle signifies” — but I’m going to modify that statement to include a word about commodities, vitamins, apparel, cosmetics, etc. I agree with your feelings about why veganism doesn’t reverberate with you as a description of your lifestyle; indeed, looking back, I don’t think that I myself wielded the word entirely accurately for my first few years as a vegan, although I too was making vegan consumer choices.

      • Well, I guess I am just balking at the premise of this post that I (and others who eat an animal free diet) are somehow “imperfect” vegans b/c we are not intending to adhere to the entire package of lifestyle values that term implies. I do entirely admire your goal here Gena, I just wanted to offer a perspective from a subset within the “vegan” community. (I suppose technically, I might be closer to a nutritarian, though that cumbersome/obscure category doesn’t entirely fit my more moderate dietary choices either.)

        • Ohhh, now I see!

          But in my mind, this post doesn’t apply to the nutritarian camp, or to people who eat an entirely animal-free diet, but who–for the very conscious and fair and well thought out reasons you state–don’t employ the word vegan. I meant it more for people who *do* wish to explore veganism as an expansion of feelings about animal wellfare, but fear what would happen if they somehow deviated, or encountered a challenge. I have tons of friends and colleagues who feel, as you do, that because their motives are primarily personal, the word “vegan” doesn’t fit them quite right; this post isn’t meant to suggest that they’re imperfect at all. You’ve clearly thought hard about what language fits your lifestyle best, and your reasoning makes total sense to me.

          I think you have a much more nuanced approach to the terminology, actually, than I did at first. I freely used the word “vegan” when it was primarily a health choice for me, too; on the one hand, the word felt right to me, so it’s hard to say I was being insincere, but on the other, when I look back, your approach and reasoning makes more sense to me as a way of describing that phase of my vegan journey. Of course, those same motivations are still a huge, huge part of my vegan journey–animals have expanded my outlook on the lifestyle, but they haven’t undermined or erased my original interest in the health component, either.

          I often wonder what’s best–calling all approaches to veganism (health-oriented and animal-oriented) “vegan,” which helps to unite the community and acknowledge that plant-based eaters are helping animals, whether or not it is their primary motive, or whether the approach you describe, where language is used a little more carefully, is better. I suppose much of this comes down to a person’s own sense of what fits their choices, too.

          Thanks for your thoughts!

          • Precisely! You articulate every point I was getting at here, and I especially had in mind the last point re. the non-inclusiveness of the definition. Clearly, all persons who subscribe to plant based diets, those leaners, flexitarians, nutritarians, and those whose choices defy labels, contribute to and support (a significant component of) the core values espoused by the vegan community, though perhaps in an accidental way or more accurately in my case, a secondary way.

            But, yes, one’s intention is the key and I think for many of us (more than who might admit in this forum) our drive to eat a vegan diet is borne of selfish reasons.

            In commenting I just wanted give voice to those of us who, as you described your earlier vegan self, were health-motivated dietary vegans and in following those practices also significantly strengthen the vegan community.

  49. I respect your compassion towards not only the animals and the environment with your choices, but also with those who are trying to take steps in the same direction.

    My hang-up is that I eat vegan 90 percent of the time, with the exception of organic Greek yogurt or eggs 3-4 times a week. Because of that, I refuse to call myself a vegan (I say vegetarian with high vegan inklings, at times.) There have been many vigilant vegans that have expressed their opinion that if you make a choice to include animal products into your diet at any point for any reason, then you’re really not a true vegan–you’re a vegetarian or some other “tarian” label. I tend to agree with that statement. It’s not someone “slipping up” or “cheating” once or twice every couple of months, but rather a conscious choice.

    So while I love that so many people are choosing their foods so mindfully, I do get a big annoyed when people call themselves “vegan” because two meals a day are technically labeled as such. There’s nothing wrong with whatever someone chooses, but the flippancy of attaching that label irks me. Perhaps I need to work on my compassion myself 😉

    • I don’t think there’s anything inherently lacking in compassion about saying that you like language to be used precisely! You’re an editor after all 🙂 The point of this post was not to say we should let ourselves be sloppy with language (indeed, I also don’t like it when people who routinely and intentionally make exceptions to their veganism use the word “vegan”), but rather to say that it’s possible to be vegan and make a mistake; fear of mistakes keeps a lot of folks from exploring the lifestyle, when in fact I think they could happily and sustainably live as vegans. But being committed to veganism before and after–wholesale, without exceptions–is important.

  50. Hello,
    What a great post! Thank you for this!
    I feel chalenged whem I am with friends, and they offer me a cookie, a chocolate or something like that…and I wanto to read the laber first! I feel unconfortable…and I feel like I am spoiling the moment!
    But they are getting used to it 🙂

  51. For ages I called myself vegetarian even though I was pretty much vegan, if you can say that. By that I mean, I never prepared any foods with animal products in them or bought them for my home. But, I had an easy going approach to accepting foods when I was out that may have animal products in them, such as a cake baked with eggs, or a dish that contained some cheese. For ages this sat ok with me but then I started to realise to only reason I accepted it was because I didn’t want to be annoying to other people when I ate out. You know, the person at the table who can’t eat this or can’t eat that or asks the waiter about everything in a dish. I decided that actually I didnt want to accept eating the odd cheese laden dish or piece of cake with egg in it because deep down I didn’t feel comfortable with that and it didn’t sit right with the rest of my reasons for being vegetarian. So I started to say “I’m vegan” instead of “I’m vegetarian” and then it became easy for me to say no to food that had egg or cheese in it because I had outwardly told people I was vegan and expected them to accept this and be ok with my decision not to eat that food. Changing how I described myself in this simple act of changing the word made such a difference to my confidence in eating out and not feeling like I was trivializing my own values in favour of making things “easier” for other people, and to be honest, easier for myself, in having the confidence to say this is who I am and this is what I believe in. Gena, your blog had a lot to do with me making this step from seeing myself as a vegetarian who occasionally ate cake baked with egg, to a vegan who was comfortable with expressing her own beliefs. And just like when I first became vegetraian, I have never looked back on my decision to become “vegan” it just felt right. On reading this post I think perhaps I continued to say I was vegetarian because I knew that I wasn’t being a “perfect vegan” and I didn’t want to be imperfect, but maybe I was being way more harsh on myself then I had led myself to believe! Again, your comments really resonate, so thank you 🙂

  52. I’ve been working on veganism/struggling with vegan “slip ups” for almost 10 years. In my rational every day frame of mind, I am very committed to veganism. However, I grew up with cheese as my ultimate comfort food, and there are still (rarer and rarer) times when I find myself in the wrong place on the wrong very bad day, and am somehow convinced that only cheese will make my life better. I am mortified to even type that! The trick for me, and why I really appreciate this post, is to realize its just a stupid moment of weakness and doesn’t mean that I have “failed” and should just give up and go back to old habits. I am happy to say that I succeeded with this the last time I “slipped up”.

    I do think the transition to veganism is easier for some people than others, and that its important that we all remain compassionate to each other.

  53. I love your post! My opinion only differs in that I believe (from personal experience) that it can actually be helpful to plan to be vegan except for a certain non-vegan food (or foods) you are not ready to give up. (Although I don’t call myself vegan, I say I am “mostly vegan”, which is a perfect description.) When I stopped approaching veganism as all-or-nothing and just decided to do my best and have non-vegan items when I wanted them, I (ironically) started eating less of them. When I kept trying to do veganism all the way I kept slipping up and then having binges on dairy foods for weeks until I would try again in an all-or-nothing fashion. So I have much more success and eat far less animal products now that I have allowed myself to have them when I want them. I also differ in that I don’t care about 2% or less of a non-vegan ingredient in food, such as in bread. It makes it more liveable for me. But I totally respect and admire people who are 100% vegan and maybe one day I’ll be one of them!

  54. Great post Gena. I wish I’d read it two years ago on a day I accidentally pulled a cow’s milk yogurt from the fridge instead of a soy (my DH consumes cow’s milk). I finished the yogurt and was thinking how delicious it was when I looked at the container. I remember (and not with pride) forcing myself to throw up because I had consumed a non-vegan item (and enjoyed it). As a former bulimic, the act of throwing up was probably less extreme to me than it might sound to others, but it was still a crazy reaction to the accidental consumption of dairy…

    Realising we are human and make mistakes is an important part of any vegan’s journey.

  55. Excellent post Gena. I love the comments, especially the honesty. Militant in any belief is a bad idea. I am a vegetarian but am moving toward veganism (especially high raw). It is a daily recommittment and daily transition.

    THANK you for a community whom understands and is vocal about their successes and challenges!

  56. Thanks so much for this post – it really expresses a sentiment I’ve felt for a while. I consider myself to be vegan, but I have stopped telling people because I got tired of family and friends pointing out my shortcomings – if I had a bite of cake, someone would inevitably point out my “hypocrisy.” What a lot of people don’t realize is that veganism isn’t always all or nothing, and what really counts is the dedicated effort to maintain a mostly animal-, environment-, self-friendly lifestyle.

  57. It took me several attempts, over several years, to truly embrace a plant-based diet. I had tried before but I think the sense of “restrictiveness” made it feel like a burden rather than a choice. I wanted to be vegan, as a kind of moral stand, but I couldn’t fully accept that I’d have to learn a very different way of eating.

    Some times it is a matter of timing, and greater understanding of the issues, to flip the switch in one’s thinking. For me now, my food choices are truly intentional, and enjoyable, and so much easier to make. I don’t feel deprived; rather, I play with recipes and “exotic” ingredients and keep my meals as fresh, seasonal, and unprocessed as possible. I feel so vibrant and energetic, which only reinforces my decision.

    If I had judged myself a “failure” for all the times I tried, and abandoned, adopting a vegan diet then I’d never be able to try again, for risk of failing one more time. But certainly something compelled me to keep trying until all the pieces fell into place. For me it took three tries; others may be able to do it in one. But as Gena said, if you are at all curious about this way of living, there’s no risk, it trying it on.

    Thanks for this post, Gena!

    • Ruth,

      As someone who has watched, at times close and at times far away, your journey, I can say that I am so happy that the lifestyle now feels organic and sustainable to you. Kudos!


  58. It is really, really reassuring and supportive to read this, Gena. I feel like this attitude will encourage more people to try veganism rather than the militant attitude you can find on other blogs.

    I love this, too – “And the longer we do things, the easier it becomes.”

    A good message for all things in life!

  59. whoa. I was JUST thinking similar thoughts. I even wrote a blog post about it too. Weird, no?

    Anyway, I agree with you 100%. I slip up sometimes, and I still call myself vegan. I’m human, and old cravings for favorite foods of a past life die hard, ya know?

  60. What a wonderful, wonderful post. such a beautiful perspective. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Slip ups happen, and it’s important to accept that we’re not perfect, and love ourselves anyways. Thank for sharing!

  61. I really like the idea of people eating as few animal products as possible but for those who eat animal products on purpose, even every now and then, that’s not vegan. I assume many people might be tempted to eat non-vegan food when they first decide to go vegan and maybe have non-vegan food occasionally but I think those people are in transition and trying to go vegan. They then either become one or don’t. Some people might need time to transition and that’s ok. Not everyone can do it overnight. I think it’s important to support those who are trying but they won’t be judged about it if they aren’t calling themself a vegan until they truly are vegan.

    Someone who eats a “vegan diet” but doesn’t reject leather, etc. is someone who eats a plant based diet and is not a vegan.

    I think veganism is becoming kind of trendy and cool and I’m happy about that as hopefully more people will become vegan or at least reduce the amount of animals they eat. Each meal makes a difference. Along with that, are people who say they are vegan but eat dairy or animals only ____% of the time. That’s not vegan, at all! Usually when I ask people why they call themselves vegan when they aren’t, they reply that they don’t like labels. I then ask why they label themselves as vegan and they don’t have an answer. I still don’t understand the need for people to call themselves vegan when they purposely aren’t. Why can’t they say they are vegetarian if they eat dairy/eggs? Or say they are mostly plant based but eat meat occasionally, etc? But they stick to the “vegan” label and try to defend their use of the word.

    This is important to me because I am vegan. When a non-vegan makes me food, I go over the ingredients and countless times it’s contained something non-vegan. They ALWAYS say that someone they know is vegan but eats _____. When my mom was vegetarian, her office would order her chicken so she could eat with the rest of the “vegetarians.” She learned to bring her own food on those days.

    I hope someday people will be honest about what they call themselves. If you eat dairy, eggs or animals occasionally, that’s totally fine, as that’s who you are and where you’re at. But please be honest with yourself, others and the animals and don’t call yourself a vegan.

    • I totally agree. As someone who was eating a plant-based diet and calling herself vegan for a long time before I actually ceased supporting all animal-derived commodities, I learned this lesson the hard way, and have regret in hindsight about the language that I was using (publicly and privately). I also agree that, if you intend to make exceptions to your veganism, it’s not veganism, per se, and that you can find other ways to describe your lifestyle. I do, however, think that a lot of people resist using the language (and going all the way with the lifestyle) for fear of making a mistake, so my point was simply to say that it’s possible to make a mistake, learn from it, and remain a totally committed vegan who does not intend to make further exceptions!

      Good comment.

  62. Amber, I love your perspective! And, Gena, this post is perfect timing and beautifully written. I was just discussing this very topic last night with a friend of mine.

    In my early vegan days, I certainly had my moments of being that militant vegan brat. As I matured in my thinking, I became a better listener and a cheerleader for those who were sincerely making an effort, no matter how small. I’ve often found that those who are super harsh on others are people who are particularly unforgiving of themselves.

    Recently, while fighting a debilitating illness, I struggled with my morals including my decade-strong veganism. The illness shattered my world, and I completely lost any sense of who I was. At first, my diet was dangerously limited due to unfit medical/nutritional guidance. My body was crying out for proper nourishment, but I was too off-kilter to know how to satisfy this request. I was uncomfortable (more like horrified) with my lack of connection to my passions. While I still have many of these health issues, I’ve made optimal nutrition my top priority, and my passion for veganism is stronger than ever. Raw vegan food has balanced me emotionally, spiritually, and physically. This experience has allowed me to grow and mature even more and led me to understand that we don’t know what others lives entail and cannot judge them so blindly. This is especially important when they are trying to make a positive change in their lives, but are worried or embarrassed by any slip-ups they may have along the way.

    Recently, at a vegan meetup, a woman who was a newly dedicated vegan reached out for advice. She was experiencing resistance from her husband and kids and asked us if we found the transition easy. Immediately, one woman proclaimed, somewhat defensively, that she went vegan overnight and it was the easiest thing she ever did. Furthermore, she implied that you were flawed if you couldn’t make such a seamless switch. This brash response rattled the new vegan. Seeing a flash of my abrasive past self, I stepped in and applauded the woman for her efforts and reminded her that we all come to things in our own time. As I am someone who is in a long term relationship with an omnivore, I felt I had some helpful tips to offer her as well.

    I’m going to finish this long stream of thoughts by echoing something I’ve seen on this and many other blogs. You are not going to get someone to change for the better by shaming them and their choices. We should encourage and support others, forgive ourselves, and remember that we are all in this together.

    • Shaming others is never a good path. Thank you for a practical, gentle post.

  63. I love this type of thinking because it is so inviting and caring which is really the basis of veganism anyway. I think there are a lot of us who are perfectionists and it only ends up making us feel bad about ourselves or judging others and alienating them. “Trying” is such a better goal than not trying at all, so I fully support this pledge to try and be vegan to the fullest extent possible, whatever that means to each individual. I also believe that knowledge is power and the more people know, the more they will try.

  64. Great post Gena!
    The general thought ” one person cant make a difference” is very untrue!
    I encourage anyone to try to remove as many animal products as possible.
    I think a great way to start is Meatless Monday and then work your way up until you feel comfortable removing other animal food products.
    Cutting down on a few liters of milk a week even makes a difference so no matter what, anyone who has the intention to remove animal products from their lives should be proud of the fact they are helping fight against so many great causes.

  65. Like you mentioned in a recent post, the food choices come fairly easily to me. Much harder was giving up a few beloved pairs of boots and snuggly wool and cashmere jumpers. For about six months I had a “no new” rule for leather and wool, continuing to wear my pregan favourites and buying one or two vintage wool jumpers. Then for about a year I continued to wear the stuff I owned but not buy any animal fabrics not even vintage. These past six months however I have worn my boots once and spent the whole day feeling so uncomfortable that I finally feel ready to clear out my wardrobe of my non vegan items and really commit to dressing compassionately. If I won’t put it in my body then I won’t wear it on my body! That’s been my journey and it’s been quite tough especially as fashion has always been a big part of my life bit I am realising more and more what an uncompassionate industry it is.
    Just as a last word though, I don’t think this journey invalidated my veganism for those 18 months, I was eating vegan and spreading the message and learning a lot about veganism and about myself and my views and beliefs and priorities.

    • Thank you so much for saying this. I’ve been vegetarian for several years and recently vegan. I still own one or two leather shoes I bought pre vegan, which I still wear most of the time because one, they’re still in great shape, and second, generally limited funds for vegan wardrobe overhaul. Anyway I committed myself to not buying any non-vegan clothing/ shoes in the future and to rid non-vegan items from my closet once they give out. I try to be as practical about it but sometimes I do have the tendency to criticize myself (despite reason) and feel unnecessarily guilty because I’m not being a poster child vegan. I tend to look at myself from a critical non-vegan outsider’s POV and conclude that I must be perfect in all areas of veganism to be credible. It is encouraging to read how other people also go through the same journey, transitioning and adjusting, all with the same aim of living compassionately, in spite of not being perfect. I think we always need to remind ourselves of our core motivation of compassion, and not to pick on ourselves for every little nitty gritty of whether we are being perfect or not.

  66. I hardly even need to express to you how wholeheartedly I agree, Gena. Anytime I’m criticized for my flexible dietary slant, I respond by saying “I’d rather 99% (or 75%, or 50%, even just 10%) of the world be 99% vegan than 1% of the world be 100% vegan.” Big picture, folks.

    • I really appreciated this article and I’m constantly striving to find my place as being an “almost” all there vegan and I love that people are sharing about being flexible and being a “flexitarian”. 🙂

      • Hey Jessica!

        I thought it was just important to weigh in as a means of clarifying my meaning:

        While there are plenty of arguments for flexitarianism out there, that wasn’t exactly my intention with this piece! I do endorse wholesale veganism; my point was that people shouldn’t decide from the get-go to be flexitarians, rather than vegans, because the concept of messing up one day freaks them out. Why not simply pledge to do your utmost, and realize that a small margin of error is included in the math? In other words, sometimes I think people decide to be flexitarian, rather than to try to be vegan, and I’m hoping to show them that a) the possibility of a moment of temptation is not a good reason not to try, and b) it may be easier than you think to move past those moments permanently.

        Hope this makes sense. Thanks for reading!


  67. Bravo, Gena!

    Many people have asked me questions and made statements regarding the “restrictive” nature of veganism, such as, “You must have so much willpower!” or “Do you ever crave a non-vegan food?” I respond to both of these examples and many other inquiries with words that emphasize the fact that I made a conscious decision to stop eating animal products because it felt utterly wrong to partake in the exploitation of animals, in a corrupt industry, and in food that would intensely hinder my health. It’s not restriction–it’s liberation. And it takes no willpower whatsoever to say no to a piece of salmon, a non-vegan baked good, etc. having realized the extreme benefits, in virtually all realms, of doing so.

    In the words of Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, “Don’t do nothing because you can’t do something. Do something. Anything.”

    -Much love and support always,

    • “It’s not restriction–it’s liberation” – I love this! So true 🙂

      Great article, as always, lovely Miss G 🙂 I think it’s important to remember that living a compassionate lifestyle is not just about making compassionate and humane choices for *other* creatures – we can practice compassion towards our own little self-creature in our thought processes and mental dialogues! 🙂

    • Thank you, dear Ali! I agree that it’s liberation, and I’m glad that you’ve seen the motivation I’m offering up in the post firsthand.


  68. Thank you for this well-reasoned post. Since becoming vegan last year, I’ve also realized that it’s not about perfection; it’s about intention and compassion.

    Like you, I’m sure there have been times I’ve had bread at a restaurant not knowing it contained eggs or milk. Sometimes I’ll ask beforehand, but if I’m with non-vegans, I oftentimes won’t ask because I don’t want my friends or co-workers to feel like being a vegan is a chore/holier than thou/pain in the a** lifestyle. I’m trying to expose them to how wonderful it is to be vegan and if I have to interrogate the waiter on every questionable item, then that defeats the purpose, IMHO. Once I can get them to become vegan, then I can show them what to ask for. 🙂

  69. Hi Gena, thank you for this post. I have been a “lurker” for months now checking out your recipes and what you blog, etc.

    I ‘became’ vegan on October 3, 2011, but here’s where I may differ from most. I am the vegan that is about 90-05% vegan and I have times where I let my vegan choices go aside. Of those times I do, about 70% involve eating vegetarian (when I’m out to eat or at friend’s house) and maybe 30% involving some kind of animal flesh – likely chicken or seafood. I don’t WANT those moments, but have granted myself the abolishment from any “legalism” I may stick around my neck. I have accepted that as the way I live and reserve those times for when I really don’t have a choice – or better yet, just let it go. Like today, my boss had his birthday and we all went to a German restaurant… So, rather than not partaking, I decided to do my “vegetarian” moment and ate cucumber salad, some kind of cheese ravioli dish I only ate half off, German bread with butter and some dessert to share with everybody.

    While this isn’t perfect, it’s the life I have chosen to live – along with recently being remarried to a non-vegan and a son who I share 50% of custody with his dad who is FULL carnivore. I do the best and if my choice, I avoid ALL animal based products…

    • Hi Debbie,
      I liked your post. I identify with your approach and refer to myself as veganish and vegeterianish since I also occasionally (and rarely) consume animal byproducts (hopefully organic) and seadfood when there are limited options at a restaurant or community setting. The changes I have made towards a plant based diet at home are huge and I choose to excited and positive about those changes rather than focusing on my non-vegan food choices.

    • I also follow the same lifestyle. I do not purchase meat or animal products for home consumption. But if I’m eating out, which I do about once a week, I will not freak out if there is a bit of dairy or egg in something I am eating. I still avoid actual meat and eggs (like a fried egg, not an egg in a baked good). It’s whats working for me now and I’m ok with it.

  70. Gosh, I’m always so grateful for your gentle approach to veganism and the slip-ups that can sometimes occur therein. I lived in Guatemala for three months last year, as I was recovering from an eating disorder, and though I ate vegan 98 percent of the time, I sometimes ate pastries knowing they were made with milk and eggs. I see these deviations from my diet as a sort of rebellion–a symbolic abandonment of my disorder and its attendant restrictions. These days, of course I recognize that veganism is not at all restrictive and one can foster a positive relationship with food as another form of rebellion from an ED.

    On a somewhat unrelated note, I have been recently pondering the distinctions between animal welfare and animal activism. I recently moved to DC to intern with the Humane Society of the United States on L Street, only to discover that a small fraction of the employees are vegan. My friend smartly reminded me that HSUS is an animal welfare organization, not an animal activist organization. Still, it seems hypocritical to me to fight for legislation that protects animals while simultaneously consuming and/or wearing them. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue.

    Thanks for all you do, Gena!

      • I’d love to! I’m here until the end of July, so if you’re doing any future meet-ups, please email me! 🙂

    • This is such a good point, Molly! I have a friend who is a staunch animal welfare advocate, she sits on the board of an animal shelter, fosters animals, and can’t stand to see animals harmed in any way (to the point that she can’t watch Napoleon Dynamite because of the scene where he throws meat at the llama, Tina – “Tina, eat your food!”) but she also is a proud and adamant omnivore.

      When I went vegan, I thought she would be proud of me but she was fairly defensive and said the usual stuff we’ve all heard a million times (I couldn’t live without cheese, etc.). I find it so strange. I want to ask her, without being antagonistic, how do you reconcile what they do in slaughterhouses and dairy farms with your aversion to animal violence?

      I am genuinely curious how a separation of the two is possible when the person is so deeply, emotionally rooted in a commitment to animal welfare.

    • I totally resonate with you on being a fellow recovering anorexic, and bulimic. Veganism helped me look at food in a new light, and helps keep my eating disorder away.
      I guess it is because I still have some control over what I eat, what I cannot eat, which is an ED mind set (at least I am eating). I also found that I used to not eat to punish myself, and knowing now that I am not making any animals suffer through what I eat, it makes the eating easier.

      Of course I slip up too, not intentionally, and I feel bad when I do. After reading your article though, I can see now that my slip ups may be benefitting me by breaking my routines, and changing my eating patterns. i.e a coffee shop put sugar in my latte, or almond flavoring instead of almond milk. Realizing that I am trying my best to eat healthier, makes me want to try harder tomorrow. Accept it, and move forward.

      Veganism should not be your life, but a part of it.