During my years as a vegetarian, I often thought about going vegan. However, like many people, I had this vision of vegans being perfect, über strict police-types who would hurl abuse at you if you accidentally put a foot wrong. When I finally decided to go for it, I joined a few vegan Facebook groups and online forums, and I have to say I was really surprised. Vegans are actually a pretty friendly bunch!
Now, going back to the title of this post. You might think I'm trying to say that you can still be vegan and eat 'free-range eggs from your auntie's organic farm' or 'the occasional bowl of dairy ice cream when you need cheering up'. That is not what I'm saying at all. By all means, if you want to abstain from eating most animal products but still eat one or two things then that is entirely up to you, just maybe don't call yourself a vegan (or you will only add to the confusion of what vegans actually eat!).
What I am saying is, being vegan doesn't mean you are only allowed to shop from vegan supermarkets, buy clothes from super-ethical businesses, grow your own vegetables, buy cosmetics from independent vegan companies, or only eat at vegan restaurants. As ideal as that would be, it is just not currently possible in a non-vegan world (hopefully this will change in the future as veganism becomes more mainstream).
Of course, there is often much debate in these vegan groups, which does bring up some good points. For example, people regularly show off their 'vegan finds' (such as accidentally vegan biscuits or cakes etc.) that they found in the supermarket. Some vegans will say that they don't shop in supermarkets as they sell meat and dairy products, and therefore by buying other products from them, you are funding the very thing that vegans are against. This is a very good point. Which brings us onto the other debatable topic of buying cosmetics from cruelty-free brands whose parent companies test on animals (such as The Body Shop being owned by L'Oreal). Some of the vegans who say they avoid supermarkets may buy from the likes of the Body Shop, and vice-versa. But is there really any difference between the two?
One interesting argument for not boycotting supermarkets or cosmetics companies is that if the demand for vegan products dies down, these products may stop being produced or become difficult to get hold of, which would be a great shame after having so little choice for vegans for many years. One prime example is vegan alternatives to dairy products, such as Alpro and Vitalite, both of which are ironically owned by dairy companies. Buying these products may mean some of your money inevitably goes into the dairy industry, but on the other hand boycotting them may mean no more vegan margarine, yogurt or milk.
If you are thinking of becoming vegan but are worried that it will be difficult, my advice would be to just give it a try - it really is easy. As long as you do not eat any animal products, do not wear leather, suede, fur or silk, and only purchase products that you believe to be cruelty-free, then you can call yourself a vegan. Anything else you do, be it continuing to feed your pets meat, visiting zoos, or going horse-riding (all of which some vegans avoid), is your personal decision. As long as you are happy that you do as much as you possibly can to avoid supporting animal cruelty (which is, after all, what being vegan is all about), then don't let others judge you, when they are probably not 'perfect' themselves.