We all have those moments, whether because of allergy or philosophy, when we ingest something we didn’t intend to ingest. My sister is sensitive to gluten and gets incredible stomach pain when even a dash of wheat is in a food. But, it happens. Even the strictest raw, straight-edge, ethical vegan occasionally has a slip-up (or an hors d’oeuvre with red wine reduction). So what occurs when this faux pas happens? Nothing, actually.
It’s not like “Scott Pilgrim vs. the Vegan,” and he loses all his powers via vegan police. You move on, and you don’t get upset. I’ve met people who will disregard their dietary restrictions in order to not waste food, which is respectable in its own right. However, I’ve also heard horror stories of the vegan police types who yell at the server or threaten to call the manager. Although our ideas might be ethically bound, there is no excuse for reacting irrationally. I’ve had my haphazard share of cheddar chips, veggie burgers that had egg, and tacos that had a drop of sour cream. Yet, we all move on, because we’re not perfect, and if we were, we’d be super bored and/or boring.
The difference between eating what you preach and saying you’re eating one way based on a shaky grasp of what the reason might be is unfortunately a large gray area. There’s the accidental dairy intake, and then there’s the “accidental” dairy intake. In a related fact, a fair amount of people that call themselves vegetarian still eat fish or even chicken, hence the real description “semivegetarian.” “Veganomics,” a book based on statistical data showing who and what vegetarians are and how they describe themselves, displays in a few chapters the incongruity of self-described vegetarians and what they eat.
Ultimately, there seems to be a level of hypocrisy that people set for themselves when labeling their personalities or eating habits. One might be “gluten-free” but still use soy sauce, and others might call themselves “vegans” but still eat eggs. The accident thus is a little more than a blunder of the consciousness. It’s a worthy conversation to have with yourself once in a while to make sure your philosophy is in check. It’s similar to the “Why do we love dogs, but eat pigs?” dilemma, but as we progress further and further in pursuit of ideologies, we should take a minute to essentially have a philosophical mind-game with ourselves.
The vegan version of this mind game is: If you can save 100 pigs from imminent slaughter by eating a pork sandwich, would you eat it? The overwhelming answer is of course “yes,” because the number of pigs you could potentially save outweighs the fraction of a pig it took to make the pork sandwich. Even though this makes our ethics look a little hypocritical, it’s important to reflect on what does the most good while reducing the most amount of cruelty (which in itself is another mode of thought). And sometimes, doing the most good involves morally tricky choices.