Real Life

Flexible Vegan

Whenever someone catches me eating cheese, I call myself a “flexible vegan.”

Let’s pretend I chose this faction on purpose.

Let’s pretend the label fits and never chafes against purists’ expectations.

Let’s pretend I am immune to guilt.

Giving up meat was easy. The rest has been harder.


Friday night dinners with my partner look like bubbling brown cheese, fried egg noodles, cupcakes made with real butter.

On Fridays, I add a No-Name Cake to my dairy-free Mod Pizza order.

I suggest limoncello cake from the Italian place for dessert.

I enjoy coffee ice cream for the first time in months.

All of this is decidedly not vegan behavior.


I committed to veganism while I was single.

As a new convert, I told myself I’d only date faithful animal advocates.

What kind of person would I be if I compromised my lifestyle for a partner?

I think of this whenever I submit baked tortellini with rosé sauce as a dinner option.



Knowing what I know about factory farming, can I justify this moral flexibility?

Will eating a cheese-based meal or an occasional piece of cake trigger the end of the vegan movement as we know it?

I remind myself that I settled on the label “Mostly Vegan, Always Vegetarian” early in my conversion.

When I shared this with others, my voice shook. It sounded like a cop-out.


I’m convinced the Vegan Police, as portrayed in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, will come for me.

I’ll try to claim ignorance: “Gelato isn’t vegan?”

Vegan police

I think of the flexible vegans I judged in college. I called them “hypocrites,” “liars,” “inconsistent.”

Yes, I know WELL Jesus’ statement, “Judge not lest you be judged.”

I appreciate your opinion, JESUS, but you’ll notice I didn’t ask for it.

Like I’d take advice from a guy wearing LEATHER SANDALS.


If I sound like a jerk with impossible performance metrics, you better believe I hold myself to the same standard.

In fact, veganism stirs up a perfectionism I thought I’d abandoned.

Turns out I traded religious anxiety for plant-eater guilt.

It feels about the same.


I bought an enamel pin that reads “Accio Pizza!”

I love pizza. I consider it the holiest of foods.

The phrase “break bread together” surely refers to pizza.

How else does one convince others to eat vegetables? Surely with pizza, the perfect vehicle.

I ate probiotic agave-fiber pizza with fresh mushrooms every weekend during a summer in D.C.

I hoarded the leftovers, enjoying the cold slices almost as much as the fresh ones.

That pizza cleansed my whole system. I felt alive.

I do dairy-free pizza occasionally.

I’d much rather, though, take advantage of a 2-for-1 Domino’s deal than bang out a homemade cauliflower-crust vegan option.

So of course buying a pro-pizza pin prompted a moral debate.


Below is a picture of my pin collection:


My pins represent a good chunk of my moral platform: Smash the patriarchy! Inclusive pride! Acknowledge the ace spectrum!

Don’t know how pizza got in there. As a vegan, I OPPOSE pizza.

No further questions.


I walk into social situations afraid others will think me a fraud.

They’ll find out all the books I’ve never read.

They’ll find out how little I know (or care) about theology.

They’ll find out about the amazing birthday cookie I ate on the way over, all buttercream filling and sprinkles.

People will recognize that I, like Joe Biden in the Democratic party, don’t belong among them.


The die-hard vegans get snippy with the unfaithful on reddit.

“I ate cheese pasta at my friend’s house,” a user admits.


“What should I do next time?”

“SIMPLE,” the vegans intone. “If the dish they offer contains dairy, DON’T EAT IT.”

Okay, die-hards. YOU pass up mac and cheese at a family party.

I bypassed the chicken and meatballs.

Isn’t that enough?


I finally watched the ’90s classic “But I’m a Cheerleader!”

Main character Megan insists she CAN’T be gay. EVERYONE fantasizes about girls sometimes! EVERYONE stares up their teammates’ skirts!

“You’re a homosexual,” the camp insists.

“But I’m a cheerleader!” Megan whines.

I use a slightly different argument when people get on me about cheese.

But I’m mostly vegan! That gives me the moral superiority to partake in garlic butter sauce now and again!

No, it doesn’t sound any more convincing said out loud.


My coworker slipped me a recipe for cacio e pepe.

The recipe has four ingredients: pasta, pecorino romano cheese, pepper, and olive oil.

I project my desire to eat this cheesy deliciousness onto my partner.

I pretend the comfort I derive from a bowl of cheesy pasta is something I learned from her.

I’m the vegan, after all.

Surely, by now, I consider vegetables comfort food.


I keep guilt around like an old sweatshirt that I can slip on when anxiety kicks in.

The voices in my head ramp up. Entire passages from Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals float into my field of vision.

The habit of obsessively reviewing my past actions returns, my brain spinning in a way it hasn’t since I started medication.

I sit back.

Aaah, that’s more like it.


I chose veganism to rid myself of cognitive dissonance.

I now support animals by not consuming them.

Do I nullify that with one sherbet cupcake? One slice of pizza? A serving of cheesy pasta?

I believe our habits form us.

I also believe in grace.

If freedom exists, why torture myself?

But if moral consistency is possible, why NOT?


In my defense, Molly Moon’s rarely stocks more than one vegan flavor per month.

I KNOW I can just got to Frankie and Jo’s.

That’s not the point.


I developed commitment anxiety in the church.

Say it with me now: commitment is a daily choice.

That includes commitment to marriage.

To religion.

To friendship.

To leadership.

Wavering – even once – demeans the entire enterprise.

Whenever someone wavers, the question becomes, “Are you committed enough to see this through?”

It’s a yes-or-no proposition.

Yes, you are committed. No, you aren’t committed.

I said “yes” a lot in college and in my early Seattle days.

I redoubled my efforts, determined not to falter again.

(Sam Dylan Finch calls this behavior “fawning.”)

If I based my value on my commitment, “no” was never an option.


I’ve decided on a more honest answer.

Yes, I am committed…but today I waver.

Today I buy vegetarian pizza from next door after a stressful workday.

Today I settle for dairy ice cream because the vegan flavors are matcha- or jam-based.

I have not determined the precise amount of guilt I should feel for this.


I find a vegan chocolate chip cookie recipe that looks straightforward – no banana, no vinegar concoctions.

(I love when I can bake without fruit substitutions.)

I follow slightly different steps – stir instead of mix, add soy milk in place of butter, chill the dough before baking – to make the familiar favorite.

(I even use OAT FLOUR. That’s new.)

The pizza place downstairs bakes giant chocolate chip cookies. Butter makes them spread out, caramelizing a crust on the bottom.

I run down for a comparative sample.

If I have time, I’ll grab a slice of pizza.

I’ll let the cheese slide across my tongue as I crunch through the crispiness of the slightly-burned crust.

My mouth waters, anticipating satisfaction.

If I’m lucky, I won’t feel the need to make excuses.

3 thoughts on “Flexible Vegan”

  1. There is no such thing as partial veganism, you either are vegan or you aren’t. It is not about diet. You either think it is wrong to exploit animals unnecessarily or you don’t.


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