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For the New York Times, No Friggin’ Clue What it Means to “Go Vegan”

Filed under: Media Stupid

Dear readers, please don’t put this kind of coconut milk in your cereal.

So the New York Times’s “Well” blogger Tara Parker-Pope and her daughter were inspired by Bill Clinton’s “vegan diet” to “go vegan”, and she wrote an article about it called “How to Go Vegan”. She doesn’t say why they are “going vegan”, which is more than a little strange. Based on the post, my best guess is they did it because they think Bill Clinton is cool and they want to be just like him.

Of course, Bill Clinton doesn’t actually follow a vegan diet (he admits as much), and I don’t think anyone’s ever claimed he avoids animal exploitation in non-dietary contexts.

To state that “going vegan” means simply following a vegan diet is to pretty much miss the point of veganism. Is Parker-Pope checking all her personal-care products to make sure they don’t contain animal ingredients? Is she getting bent out of shape by how hard it is to find lip balm without beeswax or lanolin? Is she agonizing over the flu vaccine being incubated in fertilized battery chicken eggs? Is she newly concerned with how to keep dry and warm all winter without leather, wool, or down? Doesn’t sound like it. But that’s what vegans do. And we do it for reasons other than celebrity worship, and for reasons beyond our own personal physical health. We do it for the sake of the animals we’re not exploiting.

So, OK, with all that out of the way, is this post a decent primer on switching to a vegan diet? Sort of.

On the positive side, there are some solid quotes from Susan Voisin of FatFree Vegan Kitchen and Chloe Coscarelli. Good for them. Parker-Pope should have just interviewed them and stopped at that. Cause the rest is often misleading, and at best just crappy journalism.

Her major sources include “numerous vegan chefs and diners” and “many vegans”. She rolls out head-scratchers like “vegan pancakes are made with a tablespoon of baking powder instead of eggs” (pretty much all plain pancakes have baking powder; you’re still gonna need an egg substitute). She seems to think canned coconut milk is another wacko vegans-only dairy-milk substitute along the lines of soy, nut, hemp, rice, or rice milk. Anyone who confuses canned coconut milk with a dairy-milk substitute shouldn’t be allowed to grocery shop for themselves, let alone breezily mention it in the New York Times.

There’s a defeatist sense throughout that vegan eating is somehow weird and special, requiring special substitutes and weird foods no non-vegan would eat. God forbid you eat nutritional yeast or soy milk if you’re not vegan! And god forbid you try to eat vegan without buying dairy substitutes! Most of what vegans eat is the same food everybody else eats, but Parker-Pope can’t see that forest for the specialty-shopping trees.

She also doesn’t mention any of the social aspects of switching to a vegan diet. If you shop and cook every meal for yourself, great. Most of us don’t. We share meals with friends and family; or even worse, coworkers, fellow churchgoers, PTA members, etc. She doesn’t talk about how to eat at highway reststops. She doesn’t talk about how to order at restaurants. She essentially limits “going vegan” to shopping at Whole Foods.

It’s a shame, all this. I love that the New York Times wants to publish a short friendly guide on “How to Go Vegan”. But I’m pretty disappointed that this is the best they could come up with.



  1. Comment by

    michele truty

    on #

    The comments on the article are especially frustrating. The even tone and decent grammar limit the asshattiness of them, almost making them sound like reasonable arguments against veganism (which they, of course, are not).

  2. Comment by

    Jason Das

    on #

    Oh, wow, I didn’t even peek at the comments on this one …

  3. Comment by


    on #

    Small nitpick: pancakes don’t need any egg replacer! I swear!

  4. Comment by

    Jason Das

    on #

    Ooh, what’s your recipe, BZ?

  5. Comment by


    on #

    I kind of improvise at this point, but I find as long as pancakes have baking powder and soda, and a sour ingredient (vinegar, yogurt, etc) you don’t need anything else. Here’s an old recipe I’d posted, just as an example:

    Sorry for taking your comments off on a tangent-thanks for your review of the nytimes article!

  6. Comment by

    Jason Das

    on #

    Thanks for sharing BZ! Your “sour” is acting as an egg substitute, in this case!

  7. Comment by


    on #

    Here’s a recipe for blueberry-cornmeal pancakes I make all the time, with no egg replacer or “sour” – couldn’t be simpler! I agree the comments were infuriating (and rife with misinformation, not to mention missing the animal aspect), but the article itself had some good points and at least is getting the “vegan” word out there, however imperfectly.

  8. Comment by


    on #

    Hehe. I like your post, quite clear and to the point. Thank you for speaking up!

  9. Comment by

    Michael Harren

    on #

    Colleen Patrick Goudreau has my favorite pancake recipe ever and it requires no egg replacer of any kind. OMG I am making some now!

  10. Comment by

    Brittany Cramer

    on #

    I understand that you are upset that this new found vegan is misrepresenting all vegans in the NYT, but I believe the more vegans the better, despite their original reasons for becoming vegan. And FYI, you are also misrepresenting vegans and possibly scaring away future vegans by being a pretentious ass.

  11. Comment by

    Brittany Cramer

    on #

    Omg! Those comments on the NYT article. Wtf? I had to stop reading, “veganism causes health problems”. Yeah, if you’re only eating junk food. Aye aye aye. People will defend, to the death, their “right” to eat a Big Mac.

  12. Comment by


    on #

    We must resign ourselves to the understanding that we are surrounded by lazy, selfish, ignorant and arrogant meat eaters. My doctor….DOCTOR, yesterday asked me if an onion was vegan and then proceeded to ask me how I got my calcium every day. I replied I eat it and she smirked. She then said she could never go vegan because she just loved this or that. I said…picture the dead animal you are consuming as you enjoy this or that and it loses its appeal very quickly. That wiped the smug look off her face!

  13. Comment by

    Rachel Z

    on #

    Nice post, Jason, and I agree she oversimplifies it. But so you do. People go vegan for a variety of reasons, not just for animal welfare–health and the environment, for example. Is someone a less important ally if they make different choices than you on exactly where they draw their vegan-lifestyle boundaries? Is their choice not to participate in the industrial-farming complex less valuable because they choose to use lip balm with beeswax in it sometimes? Your rigid definition is kicking up a “vegan police” aroma. Let’s welcome and appreciate everyone who’s trying to move away from eating animal products, whatever their reason and wherever they are on their journey.

  14. Comment by

    Jason Das

    on #

    @Rachel Z

    “Is their choice not to participate in the industrial-farming complex less valuable because they choose to use lip balm with beeswax in it sometimes?”

    In short, yes. It’s less valuable by exactly how much exploitation is being commissioned. Maybe that’s “not much” to you, but it’s certainly not non-existant. And while industrial-farming has some upsetting aspects that non-industrial farming lacks, I hope you’re not suggesting we limit veganism to avoidance of industrially farmed products.

    I very appreciate everyone who’s trying to move away from eating animal products, but the words we use to describe it matter. And mentioning our motivations is a hugely important part of the discussion. Most people eating less animal products are not going vegan, and that’s just fine. But calling it “going vegan” is a problem.

    Bill Clinton is actually an excellent model for this (see link in my post), and if Parker-Pope had simply emulated him more, there’d have been no need for me to write this.

  15. Comment by

    Rachel Z

    on #

    Thanks for your reply, Jason, and for sparking what I think is a really valuable conversation.

    Here’s what I’m hearing: To you, “vegan” is a way of life, deeply entwined with activism for animals, and a full rejection and avoidance of everything that contributes to their suffering or exploitation. It bothers you when people use the term without discussing or acknowledging the full weight of that commitment.

    I respect that meaning of the word. But I don’t agree with it.

    If we lived in a world where words were less fluid, where we could impose the level of rigidity and precision on language that I get to exercise daily in my job as a magazine editor, then I could be on board with us all agreeing that “vegan” means “activist” and that someone who follows a plant-based diet but doesn’t get on board with a lifestyle-wide suffering-reduction agenda should be called something else.

    In the real world, that doesn’t make sense to me. In the real world, even an activist-vegan faces obstacles, slip-ups, and places of compromise. You know what would be best for animals? If none of us burned fossil fuels, if we stopped mining the rare earth minerals that power our cell phones and computers, if we stopped urban sprawl and pollution, if we made countless societal and lifestyle changes that don’t traditionally fall under the purview of any definition of “veganism.”

    Here’s what I think. I think–as you hint in your reply–that it’s a spectrum. I think the first place along that spectrum where the word “vegan” should get to apply is when a person succeeds at a concerted effort, motivated by whatever reason, to eliminate animal products from his or her diet. I think if that person slips up a few times, or decides that her one exception will be Great-Grandma Sylvie’s homemade schnitzel, or decides after careful analysis that he still will eat honey because doing so doesn’t conflict with his reasons for giving up other animal products, they can still call themselves a vegan (if they so choose).

    You could say I’m a big-tent vegan.

    Why does this matter? Because I think most of us who consider ourselves vegan would agree that the more people we can inspire and influence to follow our path, the better off the world will be. I believe best is the enemy of good, and that prescriptivism, perfectionism, and a vegan-police attitude do more to harm than help our cause.

    I love and admire animal-rights activist vegans, and respect their choices. But I don’t think they own the word.