A true vegan shuns any product that’s been made with any part of an animal. That could be food – meat, eggs, cheese, milk, etc. – or materials – wool, fur, leather, etc. – and even includes insect by-products such as honey.
But while veganism is, in theory, incredibly strict about the products you should be coming into contact with on a daily basis, there may be some wiggle room in the different “levels of veganism” to enable you to still commit to a plant-based diet, without having to worry about whether the airline seats are made from leather or not.
Where did “vegan levels” come from?
The idea of a “level 5 vegan: I don’t eat anything that casts a shadow” was coined in a Simpsons episode, Lisa The Tree Hugger. Although it was meant as a humorous quip, it does raise an interesting question about whether veganism can be broken down into different levels.
In theory, a more accessible approach to a vegan lifestyle may make it easier and more tempting for people to get on board. If you can embrace the culture without losing your vegan status for accidentally picking up a bar of milk chocolate from time to time… Would more people be interested?
Levels of vegan
In reality, there are no “vegan levels” that you can qualify for. You either don’t consume animal products, or you do. It’s a very black and white situation. That said, the idea of more accessible “levels” of veganism has merit. Even if you only commit to #MeatFreeMondays, surely that’s better than nothing?
Level One Vegans probably participate in a vegan diet and lifestyle for mostly health reasons more than the ethical concerns of “proper” vegans. They avoid food that comes from animals but may slip up occasionally. We would expect a Level One Vegan to consume at least 95% plant-based and vegan products. A Level One Vegan is probably characterized by boba tea smoothies, kale salads, and Buddha bowls. Honey may be up for debate.
A Level Two Vegan is likely committed to a vegan lifestyle and cares deeply about the ethical, environmental, and health benefits of avoiding animal products. That said, they may find sticking to a 100% plant-based diet tricky, whether it’s a lack of inspiration when it comes to tasty vegan dishes or a lack of knowledge on where to shop or what’s allowed. A Level Two vegan would probably benefit from some vegan-friendly cookware (like this tofu press) and cookbooks to stay on the right path.
Level Three Vegans have probably been practicing veganism for a substantial amount of time. They are very knowledgeable about animal cruelty and the ethical and environmental concerns that drive many vegans to a plant-based lifestyle… And, as such, they care deeply about it.
Level Three Vegans are really conscious when picking plant-based foods and environmentally friendly practices and products. They probably share their vegan tips and tricks on social media, hoping others will be influenced by their lifestyle choices. Although Level Three Vegans are firmly committed to the lifestyle, they may still come into contact with products derived from animals in their daily life, whether they mean to or not.
Level Four Vegans are about as close to perfection as you can get. These “vegan warriors” are well aware of all the ethical, environmental, and health benefits of the lifestyle and are likely to be active in animal welfare rights. While a Level Four Vegan will follow a healthy vegan diet packed full of fruits, veggies, and nuts, while avoiding pre-packaged food, they may still go out to eat at vegan restaurants or non-vegan restaurants that offer vegan-friendly meals.
Level Five Vegans take veganism to the extreme. While a Level Four Vegan might accidentally step on a bug while walking on the grass, a Level Five would avoid the grass entirely for this very reason! A Level Five Vegan would only eat at restaurants committed to the vegan lifestyle and wouldn’t touch products that have been derived from animals (vulcanized rubber tires? Not a chance!)
Which Level Vegan Are You?
While everyone should aim for the maximum level of veganism possible, in practice, it’s virtually impossible to be a proper Level Five Vegan due to the amount of non-vegan products in circulation, many of which you would never know about!
For example, the sugar in your morning coffee could be made from bone char, the bus you take to work might use leather in the seats, your afternoon soda might use dyes derived from insects, some apple juices are clarified through fish bladders…
There are so many practicalities that make being 100% vegan while maintaining a normal life almost impossible. Therefore, I think anyone subscribing to a 99% vegan lifestyle deserves full credit!
But while aiming for a 100% vegan lifestyle is great, does that mean that Level One and Two vegans, like Beyonce, should be ridiculed?
Anyone who’s aiming to follow a more sustainable and plant-based lifestyle should be applauded. Whether you sneak in a slice of Thanksgiving turkey or accidentally buy a soda with the wrong dyes, the important thing is that you’re trying to attain a better lifestyle. And isn’t that what it’s all about?