VEGAN INTEGRITY: Image or Integrity
by 12 Year Old Vegan Journalist and Activist: Marc Bernstein
(Marc can be followed on Facebook at www.TheKidSays.com
While being vegan is healthier for us, that's not what I think being vegan is really about. Being vegan is about doing what's right. A part of doing what's right is having integrity. But some people who say they're vegan may not really be vegan and might be lacking integrity. Maybe they're doing it just for an image and not integrity? It's upsetting but I suppose in a way it's also kind of cool that some people want the image of being vegan even when they're not.
It’s amazing that some celebrities want the image of being vegan. There are some stars who really are vegan, but some of them just seem to want the image. There have been different celebrities who say they’re vegan, and then later the truth comes out that they are not what they said they were. I don’t think we should be focusing on celebrities. Even if they’re good in one way, they can be bad role models in other ways. We should not look outside ourselves to them but look inside ourselves at who we can be and then actually just become those role models. I think we should all do what we know is right. Still, people do look at celebrities. But, people shouldn’t lie. Maybe some of them said they were vegan but didn’t even know what it really meant. How can someone know what vegan really means and go against it? I don’t understand that.
What I really don’t understand is when a restaurant says it is vegan but it's not. Recently here in Los Angeles there's been a scandal about some vegan restaurants owned by a certain family. This family doesn’t serve meat at their restaurants, but it was just found out that they have a farm where they are raising animals for slaughter! That is so wrong. Now, I should tell you that their restaurants were never on the listing of totally vegan restaurants in L.A. (www.VeganDay.info/Restaurants.html) because they did use some honey there. Many people ignored that and still called their restaurants vegan, but finding out about the actual animals being raised for slaughter has now sent vegans raging. There have been protests at these restaurants and boycotts online. But, these restaurants were never vegan. One of them just held a massive vegan grilled cheese party to try and win back the support of vegans. But the people who run them were never really vegan and are not vegan now. When the Vegan Society contacted them about their use of dairy and honey, the restaurant owners claimed that their honey was vegan because they raised their own bees and treated them nicely and their dairy was vegan because they raised their cows and treated them nicely. Now they’re saying they treat the animals nicely that they are going to slaughter too.
There was another restaurant in L.A. that had a big sign in the window that just said “Vegan” and their menu said “Vegan” and so did their website. They sure tried to make it seem that they were vegan. One of my vegan friends and his parents were driving down the main street when he saw the big sign saying vegan and was excited. Like mine, his parents aren’t vegan, but they were willing to stop for him to get something he wanted to eat. He thought the menu looked great. He ordered a sandwich and a smoothie. Later that day, he started getting sick. He knew that he was allergic to honey and bee pollen, and those were the symptoms he was getting. His dad contacted the restaurant and found out that they did actually use those bee products in their bread, in their sauce, and in their smoothies. His dad, who’s not even vegan, was furious with this restaurant for not being honest. His dad told them that he didn’t want to sue them, but he would if they did not either change their signs to “Vegan Friendly” or “Vegan Options” or something like that or even better to just change their ingredients and really go vegan. Really sad, this restaurant got rid of the signs that said “Vegan” and even moved more away from being vegan. They added organic eggs and chicken to their menu too. But, that’s what we keep getting from places that aren’t going to be truly vegan in the first place. They’re not vegan in their hearts, they don’t really get it, and they’re not going to really commit to it.
I’m not saying I don’t eat at places sometimes that aren’t vegan. I’ll support a place for having vegan options, and I’ll try to get them to go more and more vegan. I’ve been glad to help some places with that. With Veg Kids I’ve helped restaurants add vegan options. We’ve even helped some of the big amusement parks add vegan food stands! I’m glad to help people move in the right direction, but I sure don’t want to support places that move in the wrong direction or even worse; lie! I won’t support places that lie and say they’re vegan when they’re not. I think we should have higher standards for places that say they’re vegan.
I’m too young and only got to hear about the Quarry expose years after it happened, but that’s another good example. As I understand it, a blogger took food samples from a bunch of different vegan restaurants. They had them sent to a science lab to test the food for traces of non-vegan ingredients. They found that some of the supposedly vegan meats at some of the restaurants had animal products in them. Some restaurants reacted by getting rid of those products and ordering instead from more reliable suppliers. At least one of those restaurants didn’t care and didn’t change, but they still claim to be vegan. This is the same place whose supposedly vegan cheese tested to have some casein (a dairy product) still in it. So some restaurants were lied to, but they fixed it right away because they were really vegan. Others never really were vegan and just wanted the image. That’s not integrity.
Restaurants you expect to be out to make money, but some can do it with integrity and that’s so much better. Celebrities you expect to be out for image, but some can do it with integrity and that’s so much better. But what about vegan celebrities? I don’t mean people who are famous who maybe choose to be vegan, but I mean people who are leaders in the vegan world and that makes them kind of famous in our world. Some of them bother me more than any of the above. If someone is going to be a true leader in the vegan world, then they should really be vegan. But there are some who aren’t. And then some of them might really be vegan, but they’re not truthful about other things. Why can’t people just be honest, and vegans I think should be more ethical and therefore more honest!
There’s someone who claims to be a vegan expert and says she’s been vegan for so many years. She even wrote a book, and in it she claims to be vegan for longer than she really has! I’ve met a couple of people separately who’ve known her for a lot of years, and they both have stories about how she wasn’t vegan back when she said she first was. She may really be vegan now, but she’s still lacking integrity because she wants the image of being vegan ahead of others who were really ahead of her. But, they’re not trying to be the vegan celebrities that she is. Still, it’s wrong to pretend to be what you’re not. Then, there’s the vegan leader who is trying to tell everyone how to not compromise and how important it is to just be vegan. That could be a good message, but she doesn’t follow it herself. She has her own kids who aren’t even vegan. If she can’t raise her own kids vegan, then how can she be taken seriously when she tells other people what to do? It’s just not right to not do what you know is right. If she really believes in how important it is to be vegan, then she should be raising her own kids vegan. She puts out a vegan image she wants everyone to believe and gets loads of vegan celebrity attention for it, but she doesn’t have the integrity to really live like she says!
Then there’s the Hollywood celebrity-run school that has been claiming it’s vegan. It’s even claimed to be the first ever vegan school. This school is not the first; there have been others way before it, and it’s not even a vegan school at all. They are plant-based with their foods, but they still serve honey which isn’t vegan. One of the celebrities that runs the school still wears her fur coats which aren’t vegan. They still do things like dissection, which surely isn’t vegan. They keep a pet hawk that they claim is the school’s mascot and bind it up in little leather straps and blindfold the bird, and that’s far from vegan. So they’re lying and aren’t vegan. But, they’re glad to get the attention for it. They like the image but lack integrity. All the posting about this school being the first vegan school is being done by loads of bloggers, but if the celebrities running this school had integrity then they’d correct what people are saying that’s incorrect. And even if they do go vegan, which I hope they really do, they can never say they’re the first when there are others ahead of them. Loads of vegans believe it because they read it. We need to stop looking at image and look at integrity.
The one that bothers me the most is a kid who says she’s vegan but really isn’t. So many people think she is because she and her mom are trying to create that image. She’s trying to be a celebrity. At vegan events, she tells people she’s vegan. But, my friend heard her mom once say that she wants her daughter to be a star and this is just a way to get her attention. She sees that being vegan is the future, and she’s trying to make it seem that she’s ahead and leading the way. But at a major vegan event I saw her in the parking lot and she was, get this, eating McDonald’s! I couldn’t believe it, but I know what I saw. It was the McDonald’s paper on the outside with a bun and a brown patty on the inside. I checked after that to see if McDonald’s started selling vegan burgers, but that wasn’t it. That is so wrong. It’s another case of someone wanting an image but not having integrity. When I was talking about this to someone, they said that maybe she got a bun with just lettuce and tomato in it, but I know the difference between a tomato and a burger. Even if it was something vegan from McDonald’s, why eat that when you’re about to go into a vegan event that was going to have some great vegan food? I wrote another essay recently on being prepared. That’s a really valuable lesson I’ve learned. Always be prepared! There are plenty of times when I’m in places where I’m not going to have a bunch of good vegan options. That wasn’t the case in this girl’s situation, but if it was then she could have been prepared. That’s why I always have plenty of vegan snacks in my backpack.
Some people say that being vegan is hard. I really don’t think it’s hard if you have vegan integrity. Being vegan is only hard if you let it be hard, but it can be easy if you let it be easy. It's about integrity. It also helps to have confidence and be secure with what you know is right. The vegan celebrities and the celebrity vegans and the restaurant owners that are more concerned with image than integrity - do more harm than good. When they’re not being consistent, they set bad examples for us. I’m 12 years old. I went vegan when I was 8. While I try to get my parents to go vegan, I’m sorry that hasn’t happened yet. I can help other kids more than I can help my parents. I depend on my parents, and if I pushed it too hard on them then it could backfire and they could stop supporting what I’m doing. So I’ve learned to not push too much on them but to stand strong and do what I know is right. From 8 to 12 years old, that’s a third of my life so far that I’ve been able to have my own integrity and be vegan. If I can do it then others can too. The most important thing I hope people get from this article is that we’re better when we focus on integrity and not image. Let’s have integrity, and let’s live by it. Thank-you to all of you vegans who are really trying with integrity and not just trying to put out some fake image.
This is edited down from Marc's full article which can be read fully here