1 Nov 2014

What to Do If You Accidentally "Break Vegan"

For those who aren't aware, 'breaking vegan' involves a vegan eating non-vegan food on an isolated occasion (i.e. not regularly, doing so would obviously renounce their 'vegan' title). I've known non-vegans who think this is something vegans do regularly. They think vegan food is so terribly boring that we absolutely must sneak in a piece of meat every once in a while. We know, of course, this is not true. However, every once in a while, a vegan may accidentally eat something that's not vegan. And that's okay.

I've had this issue before - several times, actually. When I was first transitioning into veganism, I wasn't fully aware of some of the more 'obscure' non-vegan ingredients (i.e. carmine). Because of this, some of the foods I ate that I thought were vegan turned out not to be. Sometimes, pure ignorance caused me to accidentally eat non-vegan food. For example, I used to order 'Italian Herbs & Cheese' bread from Subway when I was vegetarian. Once I became vegan, I obviously needed to switch to something different. Honey Oat bread was my first choice - it sounded interesting and more flavoursome than the other breads. It wasn't until months later that I realised 'Honey Oat' meant that the bread actually contained honey. For some reason, I hadn't made the connection at all. How silly of me, right?

"Every once in a while, a vegan may accidentally eat something that's not vegan. And that's okay."

That was the first occasion, but it certainly wasn't the last. I once ate a bowl of spicy noodles after skimming over the ingredients thinking they were fine - but after checking for a second time (after eating the noodles) I realised they contained a very small amount of shrimp. An unnecessary amount... I have no idea why it was even in there. I doubt it would have made a difference to the taste. Anyway, I felt very guilty again for the entire night and had trouble sleeping.

There have been several other instances. I've eaten cookies containing whey powder before learning that whey is a milk derivative. I've consumed drinks containing carmine, not knowing about the source of this ugly ingredient. All of these incidences resulted in guilt - but the guilt was unfounded. I understand why I was upset, but I shouldn't have worried so much. I know better now. Eventually, after some deliberation, I was able to come to terms with my mistakes. I didn't worry about my Honey Oat, spicy noodle, carmine and cookie mishaps any longer.

I'm sure many others have made similar mistakes. This is totally understandable - at first, it can be daunting to prowl through food labels searching for non-vegan ingredients, only to be bombarded with numbers, codes and unusual names. A good solution to this is to cook from scratch more often (then you know exactly what you're eating) but this isn't always possible. A quick Google search should help you find all the information you need, however, so you can easily brush up on all of the non-vegan ingredients to watch out for.

"When we accidentally consume an ingredient that isn't vegan, and later find out the truth, we learn never to consume that ingredient again. We shouldn't feel guilty - we should learn from the experience and move on."

How did I finally manage to accept my errors? I simply acknowledged that veganism isn't about being perfect. We're human, and we all make mistakes sometimes. Some non-vegans follow the ideology that if you can't do something perfectly, don't do it at all (i.e. "the whole world won't go vegan so don't bother with it at all"). This, of course, isn't a useful sentiment. Humans can never be perfect - but this is a positive trait. It allows us to constantly strive to be better and stronger. So, if you're vegan and you accidentally consume meat, dairy or egg, please try not to feel guilty.

When we make mistakes, we learn from them. This allows us to grow into better, more educated people. The more we fail, the more we will learn, and the more we learn, the greater impact we will have. When we accidentally consume an ingredient that isn't vegan, and later find out the truth, we learn never to consume that ingredient again. We shouldn't feel guilty - we should learn from the experience and move on.

Do the best you can - if you make a few mistakes, that doesn't mean you have to renounce your veganism! We've all made mistakes before. Every single one of us. We simply have to try our very best - that's what really matters in the end.