Everyone has a different path to veganism. It’s because there are so many collections of experiences that can lead someone to the decision to become vegan that there are so many questions once we get there. The most common question I’ve had and that I hear from others has to be “is ____ vegan?”
People also have varying understandings or interpretations of what vegan means. And that’s why the answer to the question “is ____ vegan?” can also vary. For example, one person may not ever think twice about using Dove deodorant but another person might consider the act of purchasing and using that product as going against the ethics of a vegan lifestyle since the company who makes it tests on animals.
I was talking to an acquaintance the other day who happens to be vegetarian and describes herself as “mostly vegan.” I mentioned how I’m so happy that my baby is vegan and I will be raising her without ever feeding her animals or their excretions.
Even though I know that everyone’s understanding of veganism can fluctuate as I mentioned above, I was still taken aback when she said, “well she eats milk so…she’s actually not vegan.”
I have to admit it made me take pause. I honestly wasn’t able to wrap my thoughts around her statement fast enough to be able to respond to her directly and the moment quickly passed by.
But I kept pondering what she said and the conclusion I’ve come to is that breast milk is necessarily 100% vegan.
What’s the difference between a plant-based diet and veganism?
I think the obvious reason she came to her conclusion was that many people confuse a “plant-based diet” with “veganism.” I’ve received the question many times and this is what I think about it.
A plant-based diet is when someone abstains from eating meat, eggs, dairy and other animal products. It is completely focused on the nutrition portion of a lifestyle, the foods that a person consumes.
Veganism as coined by Donald Watson in 1944, is “a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude — as far as is possible and practical — all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”
This is the definition of veganism that I have embraced in my lifestyle. In many ways, “being vegan” also means following a plant-based diet.
Sure, I can fully get behind the research I’ve read which prove that consuming products made from cow’s milk is bad for our health. Did you know…that consuming cow’s milk actually leads our bodies to leech calcium from our bones which is the opposite of what we’re told in the “got milk” campaigns. This same research has led many people to cut dairy from their diet and to become more interested in eating plant-based foods.
However, in my opinion, breast milk does not get lumped up under the “dairy” label. Breast milk is magic! It is one of the most amazing liquids to exists and what makes it even more incredible is that the bodies of mammals can create this perfect food for our offspring.
Did you know that a woman’s breast can actually pick up cues from her baby’s saliva and immediately start producing the antibodies her baby needs to fight off any pathogens that may be present?
Like I said, breast milk is INCREDIBLE.
Breast milk is THE perfect food for exactly one being on the planet. The baby who’s mother created it.
The reason dairy gets a bad rap in the plant-based diet community is that consuming it past the normal age of weaning is unnatural. The same liquid that was perfect for growing babies becomes harmful for older children and adults. Another reason is that taking milk from another species is also unnatural. The nutrients that a baby cow needs to grow into a strong adult cow will be WAY different than the nutrients a human child needs.
But health considerations are not the main reason I choose to avoid dairy. Nor am I vegan for the sake of being able to call myself “vegan.” I live this lifestyle so that I may limit my contribution to cruelty against animals. And I think many of my ethical vegan friends would agree.
I stopped consuming dairy products the day I learned about how the dairy industry exploits the reproduction system of female cows, which contradicts my feminist views, and how we’re literally stealing the milk that is meant for baby cows, which goes against every fiber of my being as a woman – and now as mother.
If you think about it outside the box, or what I consider to be logically, isn’t it strange that we would wean our babies from our own milk just to give them the breast milk of a different species? Nevertheless, that’s what we’ve been taught our whole lives is normal.
So…I guess it’s not so strange that my friend thought that me feeding my own baby my breast milk was not vegan. She was under the impression that consuming any milk did not fit into the world of a vegan lifestyle. She was confusing being vegan with eating plant-based. (Though for the record, I think that even people who eat a plant-based diet would not be opposed to feeding their child breast milk.)
I’m not saying my friend is wrong. She’s free to think about it that way. However, according to my principles as an ethical vegan – who 100% is against consuming animal products or the exploitation of animals – breast milk is 100% vegan because it is not contributing to the exploitation of or cruelty to any other being.
In fact, there are very few things in this world that bring me more gratification, joy and comfort than breastfeeding my baby.
As I’ve said before, being vegan is not a sacrifice. Being vegan is a joy.