Vegan Grey Areas: Tricky Things That May Not Be Vegan

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Some areas of veganism are quite clear.

For example: killing animals to eat them unnecessarily is wrong.

But like most things in life, there are grey areas. For vegans, it’s mostly about how far it is reasonable to go to avoid causing suffering.

In most cases, there’s not a clear right answer, and you’ll find vegans on either side of the issue.

These are mostly small things that account for maybe 1% of the impact of a vegan diet (maybe even less), but they are still things that most vegans will want to think about at some point.

Issues That Are Tricky for Vegans

Here’s a list of grey areas along with a quick summary and links to a more detailed look at each issue.

Potential IssueQuick Summary
Is Food Coloring Vegan?Artificial colors like Red 40 and Blue 1 are regularly tested on animals by researchers because of concerns over how safe they are to consume.
Is Palm Oil Vegan?The palm oil industry is responsible for killing animals like Sumatran tigers and orangutans in brutal ways, and driving their species into near extinction. Very controversial among vegans.
Bone Char in SugarIn North America, somewhere around a quarter of white (and brown) sugar is filtered through bone char (from bones of animals). If you see “sugar” on an ingredients list, should you avoid it to make sure that bone char hasn’t been used to make it?
Should Vegans Own Pets?Some vegans argue that pets are seen as “property” and that animals are not the property of anyone.
Is Hunting Wrong?Not super controversial, but different arguments are made for hunting compared to regular meat eating. Similarly, some wonder if vegans can fish if they let them go.
Vegans and Horseback RidingA pretty split issue. Some vegans feel like horseback riding is “using” the animal and putting its health at risk.
Should Vegans Drive Cars?Cars and transportation in general have a significant impact on the environment, which has an impact on animals. The vast majority of vegans are okay with driving, but there are some interesting lines to consider.
Should Vegans Use Electronics?Some electronics (or components) are made in sweatshops or with child slavery, so should vegans boycott all electronics? Additionally, some electronics may have small amounts of animal products. See:

Is It Vegan To Buy Second Hand Leather?Some vegans will argue that buying second hand non-vegan goods in some cases is okay. Here’s a look at both sides of this argument.
Dating Non-Vegans as a VeganIf you’re an ethical vegan, it’s quite hard to see your partner do something (e.g. consume animal products) that you believe is so wrong. There are some pros and cons to vegan dating that require some thought.
Are Vegans Pro-Choice?This is far from a political website, but this is a look at how a typical vegan sees the pro-choice/anti-choice debate.
Lab Grown MeatLab grown meat will soon become more common as it becomes cheaper. Some vegans would eat it, others would not. (Some vegans don’t even like Beyond Meat, although most like it.)
Dealing With Non-Vegan Food and ProductsAfter going vegan, there are different approaches you can take to address leftover non-vegan food. Similarly, what do you do if you get a non-vegan gift? Finally, there’s a decent chance you’ll accidentally eat an animal product, and it’s good to think about these things beforehand.

There are other issues that aren’t really controversial, but are tricky.

For example, not all wall paint is vegan, but it’s a big pain to confirm if a particular brand is or isn’t. The controversial part is whether or not you should worry about it (and how much).

About the author

Dale Cudmore

Your friendly neighborhood vegan from Toronto. Chemical engineer turned semi-professional soccer player and freelance nutrition writer. I've been vegan for years and try to make life easier for others by sharing what I've learned.

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