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I think the most important thing to say, before I offer my sure-to-be-controversial commentary on social-media star Kalel’s recent dairy debacle is that I do not endorse personal attacks on this woman – or anyone else – as an impactful method of animal advocacy.
Don’t get me wrong. I fundamentally disagree with what she’s done and the perspective she’s offered – but I’m able to do so respectfully, and so are you.
In case you’d missed it, Kalel is a YouTube superstar and long time animal advocate who recently released a highly controversial video in which she confessed to eating dairy multiple times a year.
Opinions on her confession have been mixed. Mine follows.
The ‘perfect vegan’
One of the main topics brought to the table when Kalel admitted to eating dairy despite identifying as a vegan was the idea of perfectionism within the vegan movement.
Kalel argued that those who label themselves as vegans are expected to be ‘perfect’ and that said expectations are impossible to meet.
On some level, I agree with this and think it needed to be said – because I don’t believe a perfect vegan exists.
To demonstrate this, I’ll draw from a few personal examples.
Firstly, I watch people in my personal life be ‘imperfect’ vegans all the time.
Some use conventional tooth floss, or sweeteners tested on animals.
Others don’t always ensure the vegan status of alcohol before drinking it.
I myself have purchased a conventional razor while waiting for my vegan one I carefully researched to arrive in the mail.
Once, when I was living in Korea, I even bought regular laundry detergent because I didn’t know where, or how, I would find an option I could ensure was (relatively) animal-friendly.
However, there is a big difference between one off situations, unavoidable circumstances, misinformed choices, regretful snap decisions – and willful, semi-regular consumption of non-vegan products when there are plenty of vegan options on hand.
Nobody is individually policing vegans on a daily basis, so each of us has to hold ourselves to a reasonable standard and for people like Kalel and myself – who work in the field of animal advocacy and make it part of our public image – I would argue that that standard should be pretty damn high.
However, given that Kalel regularly consumes dairy – perhaps the product most harmful to animals – it seems that the bar isn’t set particularly high here. And I believe the basic guidelines of veganism have been blurred.
In my mind, the minimum requirement, and a reasonable expectation of all vegans, is that we don’t willfully eat meat, dairy, or eggs.
These industries, unlike those which make household cleaners or tooth floss for example, cannot exist without pointed animal exploitation.
Meat, dairy, and eggs are by their very nature exploitive – and as such should become obsolete.
In order for this to happen, vegans need to not spend money on them.
However, Kalel maintains that purchasing animal products is not something consumers should feel bad about.
She said: “I want to fight the stereotype that you have to follow all these rules in order to call yourself a vegan. People don’t need to feel guilty because there’s five things they’re still holding on to.”
While I don’t think that attacking others for their purchases is effective, I would argue that Kalel, myself, and every average Jane or Joe striving to be be an ethical consumer should feel some level of guilt about less-than-perfect choices.
I know I do. That’s what drives me to do better.
After I bought the aforementioned standard-brand razor I asked myself an important question that I wish I’d thought more carefully about sooner.
Did I really need this? The short answer is no – and I did feel badly about it.
However, because of my guilt, I’ve learned something from the situation, and won’t make the same mistake again.
This is where I grow.
As is evidenced by my story, people will generally cut themselves enough breaks without someone else doing it for them. By saying consumers should not feel guilty for buying dairy, Kalel has effectively given her 1.9 million YouTube subscribers permission to do so.
Doesn’t this go against everything that the vegan movement aims to accomplish?
I have seen an onslaught of commenters saying that they’re going to adopt a more relaxed attitude toward the consumption of animal products since Kalel’s video debuted.
To me, this seems like a clear regression, and I’m not okay with that.
The fact of the matter is, through the video she released, Kalel has effectively started two conversations that I am now seeing treated as one and the same.
Do I believe that yelling at, insulting or personally attacking ‘chegans’ is okay? No.
But do I believe that eating animal products intentionally as a vegan is acceptable? A thousand nos.
We can advocate for, and strive toward complete abstinence without attacking each other – but we have to ask ourselves what veganism even is if it isn’t the refusal to consume meat, dairy and eggs?
Clarity and perception
Language and the nuances of expression are important. I believe that if a person is striving to be vegan and can’t achieve at least the minimum expectations of veganism, they should say so – and that there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, and they should be positively reinforced.
‘I’m trying to be vegan,’ ‘I’m mostly vegan,’ or ‘I’m striving toward veganism’ will do. This kind of language tells the listener that veganism, and animal suffering, is something to be taken seriously.
However, if you aren’t vegan and you tell people you are, it tells them that it’s not something you take seriously, so why should they?
Last year, I had a young man tell me he was vegan while eating a slice of cheese pizza.
His friends, sitting and eating with him, laughed.
It was clear to me that because he was failing to take his convictions seriously, no one who heard him talk about them did either.
How will Kalel’s choice to eat dairy and assertion that it’s not something to feel bad about impact the perspective of the 1.9 million people who look up to her?
To read an alternative opinion, please click here.