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Little Essays on Being Vegan: Do You Cheat?

Tucking into my three tacos from Veggie Grill (my favorite vegan chain restaurant), a family friend asks me, “Do you cheat?” The rest of my meat, dairy, and egg-eating in-laws fell silent as they strained to hear my answer. This was our annual family barbecue, and never one to burden others with my different eating habits, I always bring my own meal. Veggie Grill allows me to order and pay online, so it’s easy for me to pick up my order on my way to my husband’s brother’s house.

The question, innocent enough I suppose, pulled me up short. I hardly know the person asking, so I had to think about what she meant. Is she asking if I eat animals and animal products occasionally? I had lost over 30 pounds after going vegan, so did she think I’m vegan merely for weight-loss, and therefore asking if I eat sugary desserts? Or if I would be returning to omnivorous eating habits once reaching a goal weight?

I decided that she was asking if I ate animals or animal products and replied, “No, I never cheat.” Which is the Gods’ honest truth; I don’t cheat.

After reading several articles, Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and accounts from former vegans, I have since learned that there are those who eat oysters and mussels for instance, and still call themselves vegan. They justify eating bivalves because they are not sentient nor do they feel pain the way other traditional food animals feel a whole range of emotions including fear and pain.

I’ve always told myself that if for some reason, my health and well-being is compromised by eating a vegan diet, I would (albeit, disappointedly) go back to an omnivorous diet. However, I’ve had nothing but positive outcomes as a result of becoming a vegan and I’ve never knowingly eaten anything that has animals or animal products in it. Though, sometimes, animal products are sneaky, and labels cannot always be trusted. I once used a “non-dairy creamer” in a pinch and wondered why I felt so ill. After reading the ingredients, I realized that there are milk by-products in non-dairy creamer. No wonder I had stomach cramps!

In short, even if clams and oysters are not sentient and don’t feel pain, I haven’t eaten them. I only eat plants: nuts, seeds, beans, vegetables, and fruits. That’s it. No cheating here.

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