Veganism is steadily growing in popularity due to the possible benefits a plant-based diet provides to individual health as well as to the planet as a whole. By definition, veganism refers to a lifestyle that abstains from consumption of all animal-derived products. That means all meat, dairy products, and honey (which comes from bees) and usually includes non-food items like leather, fur, and wool.
While there are definitely debates over some products and whether using them gets your "vegan" card revoked, pretty much 10 out of 10 vegans would agree that lobster is definitely not vegan. But tell that to this guy's coworker.
A reddit user by the name of Soulbirdrise33 found himself in an argument with a coworker who seems confused about the definition of "vegan." The poster shared his situation on the "Am I the A-hole?" subreddit for arbitration, after calling out a so-called vegan coworker who he observed on several occasions consuming animal products.
"Last night this kid at my work offered me half his lobster," the tale begins. Right off the bat I have so many questions. Is this a corporate dinner out or are people just bringing whole lobsters to work for lunch? Regardless of the circumstances that brought the crustacean in question into the workplace, right away this is someone I would think was definitely an omnivore who at the very least consumes seafood. OP also says they've seen this guy put dairy cream in his coffee.
So OP was surprised when, upon following the coworker on Instagram, they learned that he identifies himself as vegan. "I chuckled because, obviously, he isn’t," writes Soulbirdrise33. "So I messaged him jokingly 'fyi lobster’s not vegan lol."
This seems like a light-hearted ribbing to me, as well as stating a fact, but it seems the coworker took offense.
The lobster-eating vegan replied, "Well what would you tell the millions of vegans who have eggs in their diet? Or drink dairy milk?" OP responded exactly how I did in my brain when I read that sentence: "I would tell them that they're not vegans."
Were I in the poster's shoes, I would conclude that this coworker is confusing the word "vegan" with "vegetarian" — although that still wouldn't explain the lobster. However, based on the continued debate the two had, the issue here isn't confusion over a definition. It's that the coworker seems to think vegan is an identity that isn't defined by what he eats.
[He] says he knows vegans don’t eat animal products but also said 'that doesn’t change what I am,'” the post concludes. It kind of does though? Veganism isn't like a religion — though many treat it as such —wherein there is a spectrum of orthodoxy. It's not like someone who identifies as Jewish but eats non-kosher food. You're either vegan — meaning you don't consume animal products — or you're not.
I'll use myself as an example here. Currently, for environmental reasons, I keep vegan for breakfast and lunch and then eat mostly vegan or vegetarian at night. My friends will often see me sharing on social media about vegan dishes I've prepared. However, I would never say I am vegan or even vegetarian. That's because on occasion — mainly when I eat out — I order meat or seafood as well as dairy. My goal is to maintain a predominantly plant-based diet, so I often go several days without consuming animal products. But because I've not eliminated them entirely, I definitely cannot honestly call myself vegan.
Most of the reddit community agrees the issue of whether this coworker is vegan or not isn't even up for debate, with many concluding he was really embarrassed for being called out on being a poser. However, a few readers had a slightly more charitable outlook on the situation.
One recalled when he called out a classmate who had called herself vegetarian and then ordered a tuna sandwich. When they called her out, "she got so mad at me and didn't speak to me for the rest of lunch," C_Miller_2012 writes. As was the case with this college acquaintance, the commenter suggests, "For a lot of people their diet is tied to their identity, so you were really shaking [you coworker's] worldview."
OP agreed that might be the issue, replying, "I see what you mean. I was a vegetarian for many years, vegan for a few, then started eat meat again I was so ashamed and didn’t eat meat in front of people for a while." However, here's where they differ from their fair-weather vegan coworker "But I also stopped calling myself a vegetarian because I knew it wasn’t true."
As one user points out, there is a word other than vegan to refer to this confused coworker's diet. If somebody generally avoids animal products but occasionally deviates, they could label themselves "flexitarian." The term comes from dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner, who published The Flexitarian Diet in 2008.
Basically, the philosophy behind flexitarianism is aspiring to get most of your calories from fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, while occasionally treating oneself to animal products when the craving arises.
In addition to being generally accepted as a very healthy approach to diet, it's good for the planet to consume as little animal-derived food as you can. That's because it requires less energy to produce plant protein than animal protein, so a plant-based diet has a much smaller carbon footprint.
If you want to learn more about adopting a plant-based diet —whether that means becoming vegan or just eating less meat — check out our sister site, Green Matters!