Vegan is an ambiguous title, simultaneously self-proclaimed and/or socially inscribed. Jonathan Safran Foer has actually commented that the word does a disservice.
At its base, like vegetarian, it means refraining from the consumption of animals (yes, including fish and insects). However, consumption goes beyond to include the eating and use of animal products. Its step beyond can leave a sour taste in some mouths, thanks to two parts our culture’s general bias/misconceptions/ignorance and correlation to militancy and/or activism. I’m guilty; I never wanted to be thought of as vegan…”They crazy.”
An organizer of a growing veg fest once told me they chose ‘Vegetarian’ because ‘Vegan’ was “too scary.”
This concept was echoed in a recent Whole Foods encounter. Standing at the salad bar, I was confused why the tofu was labeled “Vegan” but the seitan was not. I’d noticed this before. Reading the ingredients, this item, as others had, looked suitable for vegans.
I only wanted to know what made the one vegan and the other not. So I asked a young woman behind the counter. She came over with me but her initial response was ‘read the ingredients.’ (Thanks Sherlock.)
I read labels; having something labeled takes out the guess work for me, though, as I presume for others it might as well. However, having two things with very similar and seemingly innocuous ingredients, one labeled vegan and one not, begs the question, Why?
After I corrected myself, using ‘suitable for vegans’, she continued. I’ll cut to the chase: the word vegan is scary to some people and they might be dissuaded from trying foods labeled vegan. Ok, well I eat vegan food and I was deterred from trying it because it wasn’t labeled…and that each time I asked if I could be assured the seitan was suitable for vegan consumption, I just got told to read the ingredients. Fail.