They are so very right. I am a terrible vegan. Once I bought fortified juice that contained vitamin D3. I eat in restaurants that serve meat, and I don't harangue the staff about whether my food is cooked on the same grill as animal products. I have accidentally purchased cereal that contained honey--and then ate it anyway. I don't own a copy of Animal Ingredients A to Z.
Actually, I did own a copy once, shortly after becoming vegan. I remember flipping through the pages and feeling overwhelmed that I would have to memorize this long list of often obscure ingredients and contact each company from whom I purchased food or other products to ask if they used, at any point, any one of thousands of animal-derived ingredients. Part of me thought that this would make me way hard core, the baddest-ass vegan on the block. The rest of me thought that maybe this vegan thing was, like all my friends kept telling me, way too extreme and difficult and not at all practical.
Since then, I've come to realize that obsessing over minute traces of hidden ingredients (or accidental "contamination" in restaurants) makes veganism look like it's not very much fun and takes way too much work. I'd much rather people spend time with me and come away with the impression that veganism isn't a militant all-or-nothing battle to prove my street cred, but rather a way to reduce the suffering of animals. I personally agree with Matt Ball, co-founder of Vegan Outreach and generally supernice guy,
Conversely, for every person we convince that veganism is overly-demanding by obsessing with an ever-increasing list of ingredients, we do worse than nothing: we turn someone away who could have made a real difference for animals if they hadn't met us! Currently the vast majority of people in our society have no problem eating the actual leg of a chicken. It is not surprising that many people dismiss vegans as unreasonable and irrational when our example includes interrogating waiters, not eating veggie burgers cooked on the same grill with meat, not taking photographs or using medicines, etc.
Instead of spending our limited time and resources worrying about the margins (cane sugar, film, medicine, etc.), our focus should be on increasing our impact every day. Helping just one person change leads to hundreds fewer animals suffering in factory farms. By choosing to promote compassionate eating, every person we meet is a potential major victory.
Admittedly, this results-based view of veganism is not as straightforward as consulting a list. Areas of concern range from the example we set to the allocation of resources, asking questions such as: Do I bother asking for an ingredient list when with non-veg friends and family, perhaps not eating anything, and risk making veganism appear petty and impossible? How should I spend or donate my limited money and time?
Situations are subtle and opportunities unique, thus there can be no set answers. But if our decisions are guided by a desire to accomplish the most good, we each have enormous potential to create change. (link)
That said, if you don't want to use Guinness in your ice cream because it might contain isinglass, I'm sure you can find a different beer. I don't know of one, because I don't drink beer. I couldn't tell you the difference between a pale ale and a stout. When I do buy beer for my husband, it's almost always from one of our local microbrews and I have no idea if they use isinglass or not. Because, as we have established, I am a very bad vegan.
I'm OK with being a bad vegan. You can stop reading my blog if you want, as some have threatened. You can even modify my recipes to your standard of veganism. That's cool with me.
I'm more concerned with making veganism fun and accessible, and in pursuit of that goal I play around with ice cream, write this blog, and do a lot of volunteering for Vegan Outreach, handing out thousands of copies of "Why Vegan" and "Even If You Like Meat" on college campuses, at festivals, and outside of concerts. Is that enough to let me into the vegan club?