A Rose By Any Other Name

Sure, a rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but let’s face it, there are certain things in life that simply don’t sound as sweet if they’re called by any other name. Names and labels make a big impact, as far as I’m concerned, and I’m sure you’ll also agree that y’all prefer me to be a Dana rather than a Mittelschmerz.

My latest beef, so to speak: the word ‘vegan’.

Since my first appointment with Dr. Wonderful a few months ago, I have essentially been following a vegan diet. Before this fateful day, I had already cut out milk, cheese, and yogurt on the (painful but wise) advice of my acupuncturist, so all that was left to try eliminating by the time Dr. W. came into my life was eggs and butter. (And as an aside, I used to think that the biggest thing holding me back from veganism was cheese, because dear god, do I love cheese. Surprisingly, though, it has been the butter and the eggs. But mostly the butter. I am besotted with butter. Cheese was out with no big hassle, probably because eliminating the cheese also eliminated the painful nights spent doubled over and bloated out like a whale. But I digress…)

So it’s been a few months of experimenting with no dairy or eggs. But back to my thing about names: let’s not call this veganism, let’s instead call this a ‘plant based diet‘.

Why my discomfort with the vegan label? And what the eff is the point in wordsmithing when it comes to what I’m eating? Allow me to explain.

It seems to me, in my admittedly small world and even smaller circle of friends, that veganism has the potential to become a new sort of fundamentalism. You know, you’re all minding your business at home, and then you get a knock on the door and some vegan is standing there, wanting to talk to you about how cheese is made and convert you to veganism, too… This statement would, of course, shock and horrify everyone who identifies as a vegan, and I’m making it in jest, not to offend any vegan– just to explain why I personally prefer the more doctored and glossy term ‘plant based diet’. Veganism just seems so competitive and based on your ability to recruit other vegans these days. (There are even Facebook applications that give you a higher score if you have more vegan attributes and recruit more vegan friends!) Ahem.

Some (not all) of my vegan friends have a complex system of rank and merit, and those who are Level 17 vegans (i.e. those who have followed a vegan diet for 17 years) are clearly superior to those at Level 5, let alone to the peons at Level 0.166667 (like me), or those at Level -27 (like most of my friends who are the same age as me). And even though I can roll my eyes at the idea of it, these vegan friends of mine won’t hesitate to pull rank if necessary. Hence, in an argument about animal rights between two vegans (because seriously, nobody squabbles more together than a group of vegans, perhaps because the friendships are based on only the one shared value of not eating animal products rather than on a myriad of other qualities), the Level 17 vegan can pull rank and thus defeat the Level 5 vegan simply by virtue of having been vegan for longer. And in the same way that you can never catch up in age to somebody who is older than you, there is no way of catching up in rank to a vegan who has been vegan for longer than you have, unless said Level 17 vegan takes the requisite years off of veganism to eat meat, dairy, and eggs, and then goes back to a vegan lifestyle. But by then, you’d think the previous Level 17 status would be wiped out. Who knows, though? I don’t understand the system very well.


I prefer saying ‘plant based diet’, because even some people I know who are not at all vegans suddenly become the vegan police if you tell them you are not eating animal products. Like the other day, when I mentioned to somebody that I wasn’t interested in putting goat cheese on my salad, she paused and asked if I ate butter or eggs, either.

Me: Um, not right now, no…

Other Person: (bellowing viciously, and with a sweeping vengeance normally reserved for pastors who are banishing the unholy presence of Satan) WELL, WHAT ARE YOUR SHOES MADE OUT OF??

Me: (guilty as charged, in my cute but suede-trimmed Keen shoes) Um, er…

Other Person: (with renewed zest and a thirst for vegan vigilante vindication)  AND DON’T YOU KNIT WITH WOOL??!

Me: (flustered, still guilty as charged) Ah, um, eh… (floundering)

[Then in my mind, a few seconds later, thinking ‘wait a minute, Other Person! Didn’t you just have a meat sandwich for lunch?! When did you become the vegan police? What the hell is happening here?’]

By following a ‘plant based diet’ (rather than a vegan one), I can continue to knit and wear my Keen shoes. I can also have bread that maybe was baked with butter or eggs or honey, because basing your diet on plants doesn’t automatically indicate that you are exclusive to plants or that you have a strict monogamous relationship with plants. Because eating butter is akin to having an affair with your beloved salad, you know. OUT SATAN, OUT!!

It just sounds more inclusive, more flexible, and more forgiving to say ‘plant based diet’. And besides, if the ultimate goal is to have people depend less on animals for food, isn’t any move toward plants a good one? (And not just the full-on vegan moves?) Maybe it’s just me, the Communication Studies major, talking. And maybe I’m just jealous because I don’t deserve to be a Level 17 vegan- ever! Maybe I just say ‘plant based diet’ because I forged an unholy alliance with butter and wool too long ago to turn back now. And maybe I have a bone to pick with the Vegan Police for listing off all of my Anti-Vegan Violations.

Get it, bone?!

5 responses

  1. Good point – I’d be more enticed to incorporate a plant-based diet into my life than “become” vegan. Although, that ain’t happening any time soon for me. By the way, would you like lamb or chicken for dinner tomorrow? Kidding! You get a head of lettuce. Plain. 😉

  2. Call me vegan, call me a plant eater, I don’t care, but I love it!
    SO, about butter… have you tried Earth Balance? It’s vegan, uh, I mean plant based, and delicious. Even my 15 year old son *world’s pickiest eater* has started requesting it. Believe me, that’s the ultimate recommendation. Almost every grocery store carries it.

  3. Hey Gigi– yes, I have tried Earth Balance and admit that it’s really tasty. My unholy obsession with butter is primarily psychological now, although it can easily be blamed on the most fantastic farm fresh organic butter from a farmer’s market in Calgary. So delicious…

    No butter on my menu lately– only Earth Balance and it’s working OK! Thanks for the suggestion!

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