We all know, as much as we resent it, that it is impossible to live in a 100% vegan world, and that there are some things that do not yet have a vegan alternative. The specific instance that led me to begin contemplating this is when I started decorating my home. Of course, I haven’t used any down, leather, wool, silk, or similar products obviously derived from animals, but when I take into account the other furnishings, it makes me wonder whether I've done all I can.
For example, when I purchase art, is it necessary to determine there are no animal derivatives in the paints or canvasses? Should I make sure there are no animal derivatives in the adhesives I use to attach items to my walls? Do I need to find out whether the inks in various prints are vegan? How would I obtain this information? How do I know I've done enough to be vegan or what goes beyond being reasonable?
Many vegans get caught up in an endless and frustrating search for “hidden” animal ingredients in food, clothing, housewares, and all the other essentials of life. In fact, some vegans become consumed to the brink of obsession with trying to unearth the tiniest trace of animal derivatives. Sadly, this misses the point of being vegan, which is to reduce suffering. Instead, these vegans end up chasing rainbows and ultimately heap anguish upon themselves and those around them, spreading misery rather than compassion. A classic scenario that illustrates this absurdity is the vegan who idly walks past a homeless person while pondering whether or not the diglycerides in her bread are animal derived. Wouldn't it be more in the spirit of veganism to forget about the diglycerides and share some bread and conversation with the person in need?
What complicates matters is that many ingredients that appear to be animal-derived could also have been made from plant sources or produced synthetically. Often manufacturers don't know if their ingredients are from animal or nonanimal sources because buyers frequently alternate among suppliers depending on who has the lowest market price. In other words, there may be no definitive way for you to determine the origin of certain ingredients or know the source of every component of every item you purchase.
There are specks of animal products in virtually every commercially produced commodity from glues to plastics, from sugars to wines, and from medicinal tablets to paints. There is little that we encounter throughout our day that is not the product or by-product of the slaughter industry. Even books about veganism or animal rights may be bound with animal-based glue, printed on equipment lubricated with animal fats, and packaged by workers who eat meat and wear leather shoes. So where do vegans draw the line?
Sense and sensibility must be our guiding factors. Otherwise, we are doomed to insanity, because persisting in trying to achieve the (as yet) impossible is a surefire path to madness or, at the minimum, obsessive-compulsive disorder. Yes, it is infuriating that animal derivatives are used so pervasively. But is it realistic or prudent to rebel against the minutia while draining energies that could be better spent in eradicating the source of these components?
Focus on the “bigger picture” and abstain from buying, using, or supporting any commodities, ingredients, or enterprises that are obviously and incontrovertibly nonvegan. However, avoid getting caught up in the "I'm more vegan than thou" syndrome that emphasizes personal perfection at the cost of realistic and achievable goals. By accentuating the attainable, you will release yourself from needless anxiety and can help make compassionate living more appealing and practical to nonvegans, which will do far more to advance the vegan cause and end suffering for both animals and our fellow humans than all other actions combined.