Cheating on Veganism

Real Talk: Cheating on Veganism

GUEST POST: Written by Sara

On September 1 of this year, I set out to try to change my diet to one that is plant-based, avoids animal products, and is generally conscious of how my choices are affecting not only my body and health, but also the environment. By definition, this would be called a vegan diet. But how can someone who spent her entire life gleefully consuming meat, eggs, milk and cheese flip a switch and all of a sudden become vegan?

The answer: She can’t. Some of you out there may be thinking, “but I did!” And good for you. Really! But when discussing diet, we often forget one important thing: one solution does not fit all. When we try to adhere to strict rules that we’ve seen work for others, even though they may not be the best fit for us, we fail, and we fail miserably.

I knew that cutting these things out of my diet cold turkey (pun intended) would not only cause me to run screaming to Five Guys, but would probably make me sick. I’d read about Mark Bittman’s Vegan Before 6 diet before, and I decided it might be fun to give it a go. The rules are pretty simple: every meal and snack before 6 p.m. should be vegan. After that, eat whatever you like, but in moderation. Reviews of the plan explained that you’d find yourself eating less and less meat and dairy products after 6 p.m., because you were used to living without them. Eventually, you’d be using meat or dairy as just a tiny part of your dinners, rather than the main focus.

Mark Bittman also warns against not beating yourself up when you mess up. If you have cheese with your lunch, try to have a vegan dinner. If you don’t, try again tomorrow. He says:

You can be VB6 for a month, two months or three months and then you can have a week where all hell breaks loose and things fall apart. Why would you say, I’m done? I failed? You haven’t failed — you took a week off, big deal! It’s just not that big a deal.

I love this. Because when it all comes down to it, treating yourself badly because you slipped up isn’t doing anyone (yourself, mostly) any favors. It’s so so important to be kind to other people, animals, the earth… but it’s equally important to be kind to yourself.

So I went on with my life, eating mostly vegan meals. I didn’t even buy any non-vegan groceries, so on days when I didn’t eat out, I was eating 100% vegan. If I went to dinner or on a trip, I tried to order a vegan dish but sometimes I didn’t. I felt great, I felt good about how I was treating my body and the environment. I splurged on a Bucco Burger (a burger with bacon, cheddar, and barbecue sauce) at a Pirates game last week. And it was fine, because the next day for breakfast I was right back at it with a pumpkin smoothie. I was cheating, but I wasn’t cheating every day. And for me – at this point in my life – that was enough. This felt sustainable; something I could continue forever, and hopefully one day I’d be able to switch to complete and total veganism.

And then I read this article: “Why I Cheat on Veganism.” “Oh, cool,” I thought. “Someone who eats like me.” The article made a lot of sense – the author didn’t worry too much when her roommate wanted her to try a bite of cake she’d just made, or with worrying if there was butter on the veggies she ordered out at dinner with friends. But other than that, she was eating all vegan meals.

Then I scrolled down to the comments (which is a poor life choice 99% of the time). And I found mean, mean, MEAN people writing things like, “This is so annoying. YOU’RE NOT VEGAN.” “Stuff like this makes me irate.”

I thought, “Is this how all vegans are? So rude to people who are trying to improve their lives and share their story?” One comment confirmed:

All these arguments you have here are exactly why I quit being on the board of the Vegetarian Club at Penn State. One word: *elitism*

I felt terrible. What was I? Part-time vegan? Sort of vegetarian? Still an omnivore? Did it even matter?

I decided that it doesn’t matter. Why do I have to label the way I eat? Why do I have to adhere to a set of rules in order to be taken seriously? If some strangers on the internet are going to have a heart attack because some other stranger on the internet added a little bit of local, grass-fed, raw milk to her tea, so be it. They obviously have pretty great lives if this is their biggest concern.

(Internet strangers, here are some better ways to use your energy to save the world than by shaming someone who is obviously making pretty good choices already: volunteer at an animal shelter, help fight factory farms, go through your makeup bag and get rid of all products that are tested on animals and vow to never buy them again, research ways to make your commute more environmentally friendly.)

One of Bianca’s favorite quotes is, “It is not about being perfect. It is about doing the least damage and most good.” Let’s all take more time to lift up those around us who aren’t perfect, but are still doing good.

So where to from here? I’m going to continue making similar choices I’ve been throughout September in an effort to improve my life. A gradual change is what I need. If it’s what you need, too, then you have a support network here. Promise.

xo Sara


31 thoughts on “Real Talk: Cheating on Veganism

  1. Most of the vegans think the entire idea of being vegan is being kind and not hurt animals. But they forget the fact that they need to consider feelings of other people. I read the article too. People are so judgmental. Can there be a 100% vegan on this planet? No. You will be affected by something directly/indirectly-somewhere :| Good on you for trying your best and that’s all it matters :)
    p.s: I have not cheated in over 2.5 years. But I turned vegan very very gradual-took me an year to get to the ‘temptation immune’ point.
    Good luck :) <3

    • Good for you! Hopefully one day I can get there, but it definitely won’t happen if the community is filled with people dragging me down. Thanks for your support! xo Sara

    • This is so interesting, as I have often questioned (often when hungover and craving cheese on toast or cold pizza) if you really have to be 100% vegan to be…well, vegan! I think it really depends on why started out on that journey in the first place. For me, it was a primarily ethical decision and every time I even look at an animal products i feel sick. In this way I can emphasize with the passionate vegans who cant understand how you can simply pick and choose between your ethics. But I also truly believe every small step makes a difference. And if being non vegan 25% of the time means you can be 75% vegan the rest of the time, then thats a positive way that to get more people on board :) x

    • I began this vegan journey about a year ago when I flew across the United States to a week long workshop. The couple hosting the workshop would not allow meat to enter their home. I thought to myself how am I going to go a week without eating meat.

      I did and felt fantastic. When I returned home in the mail was a DVD of Forks Over Knives. After watching that video and having a week long experience of forced veganism I was convinced I needed to be vegan. Unfortunately have been inconsistent based on holidays and eating at restaurants which makes it impossible to be completely vegan. Every once inawhile I’m on binge of meat and sugar. So I’m looking for support. There should be something like AA out there called vegan annonomous. VA

      • Joseph – thank you for sharing your story. I think that is fantastic (and amazing) that a week long trip had such an impact on your life. That is awesome! I always say – don’t dwell on any mishaps. We are just trying to do the least harm and most good. If that means eating vegan 95% of the time… well, I say that is still a major win. A VA support group would be cool – you should try kicking that idea off! Good luck on your journey. xx

  2. Good for you. Especially in expressing the comments on the ‘haters’ out there. I’m a political vegan – which means I won’t shop in any store controlled or owned by the 1% of this nation. I buy in local grocery stores and shops only. All local indie shops even for my coffee (and its not a Starbucks). So let the haters rant and live your life the way you want. It isn’t one size fits all. I don’t tell others how to live their life, I know I’m happy with my choices.

    Go forth and be vegan…in any way you want.

  3. Hey listen – it’s your life and your body and diet and you don’t have to label yourself or answer to anyone about who you are and what you do. I’m plant based 90% of the time myself, but you better believe I’m not passing up on wedding cake or birthday cake for big celebrations or not eating things my brother in law’s parents have made especially for me that my meat-free diet that may include some diary because they don’t really understand veganism. You don’t have to be vegan 100% of the time to do better for yourself and the planet. I know some people disagree with this but as it stands in the current world, while it is not difficult to be a vegan, it’s not easy 100% of the time. Reducing or minimizing animal products is still doing a huge thing. Don’t feel like you’re cheating or anything if you have them occasionally. Seriously, even if you have them occasionally, you’re consuming so much less than a “typical” standard American diet. Never worry about answering to anyone though – you are you! Do what works for you, always.

    • Thanks for your support, Katherine! It is really difficult to be a vegan 100% of the time, and I applaud those who can do it. It takes a lot of hard work, and if I want to get there, it’s going to need to be gradual. But until then, give me that birthday cake ;)

  4. I have been doing a sort of “vegan before 6”, not knowing it! I go for most, or some meals a day vegan, but my favorite protein comes from dairy and meat! Being an athlete, with my own food preferences, I’m not committed to being completely vegan. Gradual change is always best for any diet, and “quitting cold turkey” has also proven to have set backs or even mental break downs. So I don’t feel the need to label how I eat, but I enjoy the meals and the way I feel!

  5. I love, love this post! Thank you for sharing your story and experiences! I’d been vegetarian/pescatarian for about 17 years, then last year I started to (very sparingly) eat some locally-raised meat–I’m trying to concentrate more on what’s local and sustainable to me rather than being strictly vegan/vegetarian (I’d rather buy and eat meat from a small farm that was raised 20 miles from me, than buy and consume processed “veggie-meat”). But I still eat a mostly vegan/vegetarian diet, which I suppose is why I call myself a “veg head” :)

    • Thanks for sharing YOUR story! I totally agree – I think if you are going to eat meat, try to support local and sustainable farms where you know the animals are leading happy lives. It makes such a difference. The way we eat is forever evolving!

  6. I agree completely with your post. I hate labels! By definition, I’m a pescatarian, although I only consume sushi MAYBE once per month. I eat mostly vegan, but every once in a while, I eat cheese on a pizza or eggs at brunch. I just want to say, I eat a plant-BASED diet, with a sprinkling of other things in between. Great Post!

    • Thanks, Aileen! That’s about how I am, too, with a burger thrown in here and there. Why bother labeling it? Eat well and do good in the world and that’s all that matters.

  7. Great article!! I love it! This is how I feel too, I consider myself a “flexitarian” which basically means I eat what I want but mostly non meat and poultry. I do however love cheese and soy or cashew “cheese” does not cut it for me!! Thanks for this article and I love your blog!

  8. If you want to make a lasting change in your life, only you know the right way of doing it for you. I went back and forth in the beginning of being vegetarian, but as I learned more I reached a point of no return for me that led me to be vegan. It can be confusing sometimes if you call yourself a vegan and eat cheeseburgers. I have encountered people trying to feed me non-vegan food because other people who said they were vegan or vegetarian ate it (fish, chicken, etc.) Only to avoid confusion all around (not just in the example I gave), it’s probably better if you call yourself mostly vegan, part-time vegan, or something along those lines. You can call yourself anything you like. That is simply my friendly input. Seriously – friendly! I applaud you for every step you take to do something good for the world, environment, animals, your health, etc. Every time you are choosing something which is kinder on the world than something you would’ve done before is awesome! No one is perfect so we are all just striving to be a better version of ourselves. Well, maybe only some of us are. It seems like you are and that’s something that should be recognized – even if it’s only by you.

    • Thanks for your kind comment! I think I’ve decided not to label it, but just try to eat vegan meals most of the time. When you label something and then slip up, it makes you feel like you broke the rules, which isn’t good for anyone!

  9. Anybody doing their part to help reduce the impact on animals is doing a great thing. I think the negative backlash would just come from labelling yourself as a vegan. you’ve seen yourself that’s it a hard thing to do so vegans are likely to take it seriously. I’m vegan 3+ years and never cheated, but I was a vegetarian for 5 years before. Watching Gary Yourofsky’s lecture on YouTube 3 weeks in, solved any difficulties pining for cake etc. keep up the good work, every little helps and you’re doing a lot!

  10. Love this! So true!! So many people get hung up on “being” a vegan, as if making a non-vegan choice will make them, or someone else, less of a good person. What you call your diet is irrelevant. We should celebrate the times we chose to eat a vegan diet, instead of fixating on the times we didn’t! :)

  11. What a great reminder. I don’t know why other people are so only concerned, not to mention critical, of what other people are eating. Particularly if they’re making an effort to do something responsible for the environment, their health, and/or animal welfare. People are always defensive when I mention I’m vegan and for good reason – because other people can’t seem to help making them feel inferior about their choices. I’m happy you’re comfortable eating the way you do and thank you again for writing about this issue.

    • Thank you for this blog…. I have been vegan just from last 15 days…. I am vegetarian in India and dairy is one of the major part of our lifestyles. Giving up dairy is tough but I managed but sometimes I think if I do make non vegan choice will I be labeled as “non vegan” ? Will I be considered as a cheater? Trust me this article has cleared lot of my doubts I m going to continue the journey of choosing my diet but also remember not to be so harsh and enjoy the process.

      • Don’t you get it? I don’t get any of these comments. They’re trying so hard to make themselves feel better. It’s like calling myself a non-smoker, yet still giving in to that cigarette twice a week. If people are vegan for health reasons, okay. But if you’re doing it for the animals then how could you even in your right mind BARE to eat anything that includes that kind of suffering? I don’t want to sound rude or harsh but you cannot use the vegan label then, as that’s just not respectful for actual vegans. Honestly, any of you that still ”give in” haven’t done enough research because trust me; you’d be too disgusted to even think about it by now.

      • Hi Melisa,

        Thank you for your thoughts. I will be honest and say that I couldn’t bring myself to cheat because of what I’ve researched and seen. I had a guest blogger write this post because I think it is a topic of concern and a lot of people who first start out (and may not have done all the research yet) are concerned about what is perfect and what isn’t and some may even throw in the towel pre-maturely if they believe it isn’t possible or if they fail. That is why I call this a plant-based blog, because everyone here may not be quite there yet. I do hope that those who do gradually get there (cheating and all) will ultimately turn over – I have had a few family members do this, and that makes me very happy.

        I know how tough it is to wonder, “how could you after seeing THAT?” because I have had people in my own life make me question it. It’s very frustrating. But at the end of the day, I think any step in the right direction is still a step. Life-changing (and world-changing!) things don’t always happen overnight.

        I appreciate your comment, and I hear you.


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