The Bad Vegan

*The Dutch translation for this story in Vegan Magazine can be found here

The other day something weird happened. Well it wasn’t that weird, but what transpired made me feel like I wasn’t as good of a vegan as I thought I was.     

My friend Adam was visiting from the States and I took him to Amsterdam’s north side. It was one his last days here and we walked all over the city. The roti restaurant in the east where we wanted to eat was closed, so we went to the Albert Heijn and bought vegetables for a Thai curry dish that I liked to make. The last time Adam was here, I was a vegetarian and introduced him to Tony’s sea salt and caramel chocolate. While I was getting food for our dinner, he bought two bars.   

We were both really hungry, having trekked across Amsterdam. It was also one of those days where the sun seemed to hang searingly above us the entire day, leaving us even more drained. And the trains weren’t running, so we had to wait at a bus stop for the bus that we would take to the train we would then take back home.

At the bus stop, he broke out the chocolate, offering me some. I hesitated but then took a piece, savoring it. I remember him lightly questioning my decision; I was a little perturbed with myself for this lapse, but my discomfort was ephemeral. I was still a vegan. I hadn’t crossed the limits I hadn’t defined but would know— would feel— when I had crossed them.

We arrived back at my place, and I had a friend coming over soon. After dinner, Adam offered the milk chocolate again. I had a few more pieces, again savoring them all. But this time I couldn’t shake my unease. My other friend, who was a vegetarian and thinking about going vegan, took issue with my choice. His words weren’t pointed, but they cut as if they were. My memory fails at recalling what he said, but I felt I had to give a more thorough explanation: I didn’t do this often, so it was okay; at the fries place in town I asked for ketchup and they gave my mayo, and I ate it anyway so as not to be wasteful; I’m usually pretty strict.

But there was a lingering uncomfortableness about boundaries and what actions allowed me to be able to apply the vegan label to myself. I was committed to not consuming animal products, but there were obviously exceptions; the issue was how many exceptions would it take to break the rule, and which exceptions in themselves would render the rule meaningless.

Was I still a vegan, or was I like those friends I loathe who say they care about animal welfare and the environment, know the costs of animal agriculture, and still eat and wear animal products? I was dismayed because I thought I had conquered this hypocrisy: No, I didn’t consistently consume animal products, but did that make it okay to do it now? Did veganism have a currency, of which I had saved enough to be able to purchase these exceptions? If I viewed veganism as such, being able to earn exceptions, was my motivation for veganism not  strong enough in the first place? 

Or was I just being too hard on myself, and it was okay to indulge in a bit of milk chocolate every now and then? An endless loop of questions was materializing, and maybe the source of my discomfort was in my viewing veganism as a solution to my hypocrisy where I forgot that such things are, to a certain extent, inescapable. In seeking a solution in veganism, maybe I was avoiding looking at something else? Maybe I should be less critical of my friends?

In the end, though, after all these rounds of questions, I became more comfortable asking these questions of my choices, I think, than with the decision to call myself a vegan in the first place –because the questions were what led me to veganism. And I don’t think I could ever be or become a good vegan without them.