My brother told me about a conversation he was having with his coworkers at Starbucks this morning, but the part that stuck out to me the most was when I was referred to as 'very vegan'. One of his coworkers (let's call him John because I have no idea what his name actually is) mentioned people that are 'very vegan' don't eat honey, don't wear wool, and are emotional around non-vegan food items. I almost laughed at first, until I got a little worried.
Wool and honey are simply not vegan, but does that mean someone who isn't 'very vegan' would use these items? Does John not actually know what a vegan is because he isn't one? Has John met a few 'bad vegan' who calls themselves just vegan? Or am I just a special elite class of vegan that tries to pretend that people who aren't like me aren't vegan?
To get a little background I'll explain why I never eat honey, never use wool (or lanolin) and get emotional around non-vegan products. I presume it would help if we're all on the same page. It's true bees naturally produce honey and sheep naturally produce wool - but the honey and wool we're dealing with is very far from its 'natural roots'. Today most bees are bred to produce more honey than wild bees, which is why wild bees are dying out. We've introduced competition natural bees can't compete with. The bees we've made are sprayed with toxins, accidentally crushed collecting honey, or killed at the end of the season. Sheep are bred differently as well - they're bred to produce more wool. Yes they need to be sheared, because we made them that way. Sheep got along for thousands of years without us shearing them just fine - until we tampered with how they look and grow. Being sheared often scares, upsets and traumatizes many sheep. When sheep no longer produce optimum wool they are killed for their meat. If we didn't buy the wool - the meat wouldn't be so cheap. If the meat wasn't so cheap no one would buy that, and then no one would farm sheep. At the end of the day though the answer is really as simple as this one sentence: If I don't need it and someone may have been bothered if I took it, I won't.
From the way other vegans are sometimes I wonder if I am an elite class of vegan snob - until I write down the above and know that I'm not. Veganism is about not using animals. Wool and honey use animals - ergo not vegan. So how did I suddenly become the 'very vegan?'
One of the scariest things is that I use the phrase myself. When telling people I'm vegan I want them to understand that means I have very different boundaries. If you eat non-vegan food in front of me I'm either going to tell you how disgusting it is, tell you where it came from, cry, or just walk away. I usually prepare you for that by telling you "I'm very vegan". People typically find out I'm vegan the day they meet me. If you're not vegan you might think I'm crazy, if you are vegan you might just think I need to grow out of it. Gary Francione responded to the idea of extremism best. Is it more extreme for me to cry, or is it more extreme for someone to eat the flesh of a creature who never saw the sun, was anemic, was taken from his mother twelve hours after birth, never developed real muscles, lived in a stall that was only large enough to turn around in, and then suffered while he died? The second we forget all of that we allow ourselves to eat meat, because we're eating meat and not another animal. Not a subject or a living being, a dead thing with no face. I will always think about what someone is eating because I am proud to know the truth and will not let them suffer in silence. Someone died, it is a very big deal.
I don't think being emotional is a requirement for veganism, but I do think not eating honey or using wool is. I have a problem though - if I pretend that 'very vegan' doesn't exist and describe myself as vegan people will have no idea when they cross boundaries. People might stick honey in food they offer me and not tell me. People will be shocked, defensive and angry with me when I tell them where their food came from. So should I explain the whole story about how I'm a real vegan and other people aren't? What if I don't have time and all I can do is say I'm either vegan or I'm not?
I don't have an answer to that one, but until I do I'll just try my very best to lead by example and provide as much context as possible.