A Different Approach..

Hey folks!

Happy Monday!

You know one of my favorite things to do is feature people talking about their journeys in veganism. I want to introduce you to Sarah, who has a very interesting and somewhat complicated and controversial approach to veg living. She refers to herself as a "closet vegan" and discusses her reasons for doing so. While I do not personally agree with all of her statements, I thought her story was important to share to hopefully spark some thoughtful and respectful commentary either here, on her blog or in your own conversations. Check it out!

Sarah's story:

I became a vegetarian as a social experiment. I was living in Saskatchewan, the land of meat and potatoes, and made the sudden decision to become a vegetarian for one year. The sole motivation of which was to witness the reaction of people around me. As I learnt about the horrors of the meat industry, the social and environmental problems that result from centralized food distribution, and information about food waste my vegetarianism began to take on an environmental motivation. I became an environmental vegetarian. Seven years later, as a result of further education and some wonderful cookbook authors, I have morphed into a 'closet vegan'. Closet vegan is a term I have devised in order to describe the odd mix of vegan and vegetarian food I consume. My house and cooking practices are vegan but when visiting friends I will revert to vegetarianism. Vegetarianism remains easier for a meat eater to contend with in the kitchen. This is important as I do not want my dietary choices to negatively affect my friends (or our relationships). If, through my social interactions, more people see how easy, tasty and healthy the vegetarian diet is they are more likely to reduce the amount of meat they consume. This has the net result of introducing more individuals to diets that are closer to the ideal diet and further away from the industrial food system.

It is my opinion that the ideal diet is a vegetarian one.

In Simon Fairlie's book Meat a Benign Extravagance (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2010) the concept of default meat is key. Animals within a default meat economy are not raised as the single product towards which everything else is subjugated. The animal's role, within a default system, is to consume wastes, residues, surpluses and marginal biomass as well as providing services such as traction. (Fairlie, 37) The dominance of animals within the current agricultural system is the cause of most of the environmental, and social consequences of industrial agriculture. Default meat has important implications for landless individuals. Landless individuals have, by definition, no land on which to grow vegetables but they have the ability to store, transport, and transform vegetation into animal milk and meat through the possession of, for example, a cow. (Fairlie, 120)

The vegetarian-type utopia I envision that emerges as a consequence of replacing industrial agriculture with default meat is complicated. In areas of the world where land is plentiful and the soil is rich animals may be almost non-existent for they will not be required to retrieve otherwise inaccessible nutrients. In areas of the world where arable land for farming is lacking it makes sense to use sheep, goats, cows, pigs, and poultry to retrieve otherwise inaccessible nutrients. Harvesting the by-products of animals, such as milk and eggs would be done more frequently than killing the animal for meat as this makes the most sense economically.

Regardless of the merits of default meat, I believe that veganism is the appropriate response to the current food climate. Furthermore, I believe that veganism can be an effective boycott of the current food supply system. This boycott, like any extreme political action, has to be taken freely. My desire to allow freedom of choice is another reason that I am a closet vegan. An imperfect analogy (due to inclusion and specific nature of harm within dietary choices) of my motivations in this area is the notion that if I believed that nudity was the ideal way to live, I would still have to wear clothes to live a social life. While I believe that veganism is an effective and efficient version of dietary boycott against the food supply system, I remain unwilling to subject such a restriction on others and therefore occasionally revert to vegetarianism in public.

The question may be raised as to why I will revert to social vegetarianism but not to being a social omnivore (meaning, of course, why won't I eat meat)? Harm is the relevant component here. I believe that milk can be produced with no lasting ill effects on the animal that produces it. Additionally, I believe that eggs can be produced in a way that respects the animal's innate being. (Milk and eggs can be produced this way but are not within industrial agriculture.) The majority of the milk and eggs I consume socially are produced in socially, environmentally, and ethically responsible ways as many individuals have switched to responsibly produced versions of these products. I do consume, on occasion, the products of factory farming. This is because in certain social situations the educational aspects of occasionally including milk and eggs has the potential to convince individuals to reduce the frequency of meat in their diet. This has the net effect, I believe, of moving society towards the ideal diet. I'm not a social carnivore because the harm perpetrated against meat animals is too egregious to allow me to consume under the pretext that I am helping society move towards the ideal.

I am motivated almost solely by environmental concerns. I have never felt a strong, passionate connection to animal rights vegans. This is not to claim that I agree with industrial farming practices for I do not. I live in an area of the world that has vast arable land with the infrastructure to farm it so I would never revert to eating meat, even in a default meat economy. However, if I were landless or lived in an economically underdeveloped area with an inhospitable climate I would certainty revert to vegetarianism and consider eating meat again.

In conclusion, I am a closet vegan because even though I believe that veganism is the most effective boycott of industrial farming the ideal agricultural system includes the use of animals to access otherwise inaccessible nutrients.

As this topic is controversial within the vegan community I urge you to read Simon Farilie's book and to ask me articulate questions that challenge my viewpoint. I will not respond to rude or hateful remarks.

Thank you for sharing Sarah!

Sarah E. Hoffman is a pamphleteer, blogger, academic and gastronomist. She enjoys picnics, the smell of freshly baked bread and bobo tea. When stressed she bakes until the flour runs out. Sarah is married to a very understanding non-foodie whom she is in the process of converting.Find her @Sarah999 or www.wingedsnail99.blogspot.com


  1. i can definitely respect sarah's point of view. i used to consider myself a "closet vegan" - mostly because i was afraid of burdening others with my beliefs (which also began with environmental vegetarianism). i would only eat vegan at home. but meeting my boyfriend who had already lived (in public!) as a vegan for 16 years, i realized i could confidently eat publicly how i wanted and had developed a complete distaste for eating anything animal-based, regardless how fussy it made me feel, at first. it didn't make sense to me anymore to eat anything from an animal. now, i can't imagine ever going back. and all my friends are super supportive and even make sure to have vegan snacks or entrees when i go to their places!

    1. Hi Cibo! Thank you so much for reading and sharing. I can see where some might struggle with being a burden to others and respect that everybody's path is different. I am so happy that you have arrived at a place of comfort in your food choices. Having a group of supportive friends is very helpful! Like you, I could never imagine going back to eating meat. I have been able to navigate being a vegan in such a way that I just live by example and educate others on its benefits without being overbearing or pushy.


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