The ethics of a cheating vegan

by Matthew Kirschenbaum

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This past weekend, I took an outing from Berkeley and wound up in Pleasanton, California. I ate at Nonni’s Bistro with my grandparents, who, based on their track record, rarely take me out to vegetarian- or vegan-friendly eateries. So I was expecting to have to cheat this weekend on my diet by having to eat some sort of butter or egg. But I was pleasantly surprised when the chef made me a veganized sandwich with coconut milk aioli and using oil instead of butter for frying. Although I was delighted to have been so pampered, is it acceptable to have a mentality of being open to cheating?

Whether it be cheating on your partner, sneaking an oreo when nobody is around, or taking a peek at your fellow students’ test, life gives humanity options to wander off the directed route (whether you buy that BS or not). When I went into that restaurant expecting to cheat and eat some form of nonhuman-animal product, was my body telling me something? Should I restrict my body’s intake to what my mind is thinking? I think that the answer shouldn’t matter on what I am craving or not, but going back to the reasons for engaging in an alternative diet: the ethics behind human/nonhuman relationships.

I am vegan because I do not find it morally justifiable to exploit nonhuman-animals for my culinary enjoyment (among many other reasons). When I go out to eat at a restaurant, more times than not I must explain my vegan diet and reduce it to saying something like “I don’t eat eggs. I don’t drink milk” and the like. But I am learning that it is not to my ethics to expect to cheat on my diet, because dietary cheating promotes a capitalist culture that is against the reasons why I choose to eat the way I do. Restaurants, chefs, servers, and fellow diners should know that I willingly choose not to eat animal products, for maybe that short discussion with the server could make an impact on the way food industry is being shaped. The server could talk to the chef, the chef could talk to the vendor, the vendor could talk to the farmer.

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Every conversation counts. I have come to realize that every time I tell someone about my dietary options (after the initial shock) they seem to ask questions and appear intrigued. Although sometimes hesitant, I find it important to share my feelings on food and consumerism with the people I interact with daily, as maybe my words could cause them to think about their actions when they choose to order that hamburger, use beef broth in that soup, or purchase that new leather bag. Change happens slowly, so introducing animal rights and nonhuman theory into public discourse could eventually cause change to occur bit by bit.

When I make an effort to maintain a vegan diet at unaccommodating places, I think find it morally acceptable to cheat. If I make an effort to stir up conversation and cause my colleagues to think about their actions, I feel successful. Any non-normative identity, in my opinion, is worth being brought into the public eye, as discourses surrounding topics of oppression and non-normativity invoke thought and have the potential to create change. When slip-ups happen, I might initially freak out, but at least I may have caused someone to think. Change is gradual, and so is discourse.

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*Don’t feel limited to any food. You have the ability to choose for yourself.

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