Living a vegan lifestyle is undoubtedly easier these days than it once was. For one thing, there are there numerous choices for vegan alternatives to just about every foodstuff imaginable (from vegan fish and chips to vegan ice cream). In addition, there is the fact that food labelling has progressed in recent years and also that societal attitudes are changing to become much more accepting of dietary choices in general.
But that is not to say that living as a vegan comes without its dilemmas, even if some of them are not exactly overly taxing. One such conundrum is, should vegans buy non-vegan gifts for (non-vegan) people at Christmas or for birthdays or other occasions? In other words, does buying non-vegan gifts for others stop the purchaser being vegan?
At VeganFriendly.org.uk we are not here to tell people what they should or shouldn’t do in relation to their lifestyle choices. We are here to bring you the information that could help you make an informed decision about all kinds of things. For instance, whether it is considered vegan to consume Oreos even though the manufacturer suggests there is a chance of cross-contamination with milk (many think it is!). Or whether you are able to obtain healthy amounts of vegan protein without having to exist only on beans and nuts (most people can!).
As such, we are not going to give a definitive answer about whether vegans should buy non-vegan gifts for others. Instead, we’ll explore the subject in more depth and give vegans some ideas about how to make this much less of an issue than it could be.
When Might Vegans Buy Non-Vegan Gifts?
There are some vegans who would answer this question with a single word: never. And if you are able to live in a situation that allows you to live up to your vegan ideals 100%, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, well, good for you (and the animals). But for many people, life is not quite that simple. For instance, many vegans live with non-vegans, whether they are their spouse/partner, kids, parents, friends, second cousins twice removed, whoever.
They will no doubt care for these people (even though they are not vegan!). Most people would consider this to be fine and perfectly acceptable. It would, after all, take quite an extreme point of view to never live with or care for someone who doesn’t share the same beliefs when it comes to eating animals. It may even be counter-productive given that living in an echo-chamber is rarely of benefit.
So, let us assume that you are a vegan and you care for, say, your partner, and their birthday is coming up. Imagine this partner of yours has been dropping massive, not-so-very-subtle hints about the specific present they would like you to buy… and that present happens to be a leather belt/satchel/handbag. As most people will probably realise, leather is not vegan. What is a good vegan to do? Essentially they have four options:
- Buy them the leather article in question
- Buy them a vegan leather alternative
- Buy them something else completely (that is vegan friendly)
- Buy them a voucher to let them buy what they like
There’s probably an option five too, thinking about it: buy them nothing and pretend you’ve forgotten or give the money to a wildlife charity or something. But that’s not necessarily going to endear you to said partner.
In fact, option 2 might not either. People often do not like to be preached to, coerced into a particular belief system or made to feel somehow inferior. Buying an obviously vegan alternative might be seen to fall into that categorisation and might not be overly appreciated. On the other hand, it might show them that something like cork leather can be as attractive and hardwearing as animal leather… but it is a risk.
These options can be applied to just about any non-vegan item that a loved one has either asked for directly or which you know they would really appreciate. Let’s delve into these in a little more detail.
Can Vegans Ever Buy Non-Vegan Stuff for Others?
The thing about veganism is that it is not an exact science. Even the most widely accepted definition of veganism as set out by The Vegan Society leaves plenty of room for interpretation and variation. It states:
Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.
In some circumstances, such as buying a specific gift for a loved one, it could be viewed as fitting into the “seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable” part of the definition. Though for some vegans, that section should be reserved for more health- or life-critical things like medicines or vaccines.
The point that some less strict vegans would make though would be that in buying the gift for someone else, the vegan who buys it is not technically consuming or using that product. It is for a non-vegan. Assuming a vegan buys some dairy cheese for a friend who really, really loves cheese, the fact that the vegan is not consuming it would – in one sense – let them off the hook.
Ultimately, this is going to come down to each person’s individual stance on how they view the ethics of veganism. But we are inclined to believe that it doesn’t stop someone being vegan if they buy a non-vegan gift for someone. In the same way it doesn’t stop someone being vegan if they happen to prepare non-vegan food for people they live with – such as their partner or kids – who are not vegan. Some people would disagree with this assessment, but that’s fine by us.
Buying Vegan Gifts for Non-Vegans
Of course, having said all that, there is no doubt that most vegans would rather buy a vegan-friendly gift for a loved one than a non-vegan gift. Assuming it doesn’t somehow offend the recipient, this is a great way to show friends and family that more often not there is a brilliant vegan alternative to most things.
Your ultimate decision about what gifts to buy for which individuals will no doubt be based upon your relationships with them… and their relationships with veganism. For some people, the idea of a son or daughter buying them an overtly vegan alternative to a non-vegan product they love can feel stifling and controlling and even confrontational and antagonistic (and we’re writing from experience here!). It might be a question of assessing which boats you want to rock and which you would prefer to leave to navigate their own waters.
Aim for Products Not Overtly Vegan
Of course, they might not notice or realise a particular item is vegan. That could be the key to all this: buying gifts that are not obviously vegan and/or gifts that are not even necessarily designed to be vegan but which just happen to be so. As we discuss in our Vegan Gift Ideas article, a good proportion of dark chocolate – and especially the high-end stuff – is vegan friendly. Some of this will be obviously marketed at vegans, though a lot is just very nice chocolate that simply contains no animal products, such as various tasty-looking options at Hotel Chocolat.
This could cover gifts that are vegan alternatives for things people have specifically asked for or hinted at, or just gifts that you think people would like, irrespective of their dietary or lifestyle choices. Of course there are plenty of options available across the whole spectrum of consumer products including:
Vegan Wine & Champagne
As some wine (and other alcoholic drinks) are filtered through isinglass (the swim bladders of fish) or other animal products, it pays to seek out the vegan-friendly wine options. Many wine sellers have vegan filters on their websites to allow you to find those that have not come into contact with animals parts. There are loads of fantastic wines to choose from, with 57 vegan reds and 40 whites classified as vegan on the Majestic Wine website at the time of writing and a whopping 239 vegan wines at Tesco.
There are also numerous options for top-quality vegan-friendly Champagne, and you often can’t go far wrong with a bottle of fizz. And we’re not talking about brands that flash their vegan credentials for all to see. We’re talking the likes of Dom Pérignon, Pol Roger, Moet & Chandon, Verve Clicquot and Perrier-Jouët, all of whom offer vegan Champagne. Anyone receiving a bottle of these vegan-friendly tipples is hardly going to complain that you’re trying to force your vegan ideals down their throat!
Vegan Fashion & Clothing
There are some materials used for clothing, such as the aforementioned leather, wool and silk that are not suitable for vegans. But, thankfully, there are plenty of vegan-friendly options when it comes to clothing. These could be made from any one of a number of plant-based materials such as cotton, hemp, linen, bamboo and even pineapple or cork leather. Alternatively, they could be made from synthetic fibres, such as polyester (though people who are vegan for environmental reasons might not be overly keen on those in general).
The point is, unless someone wants a very specific article of clothing that simply cannot be made from vegan-friendly materials, there is almost always a good vegan option that would fit the bill.
Vegan Makeup & Cosmetics
There are two possible problems with cosmetics and makeup from a vegan perspective:
- It can contain animal-derived products (such as shellac)
- It might have been tested on animals
If asked about it, a good proportion of consumers – whether vegan or not – would prefer cosmetics that haven’t been tested on animals and don’t contain crushed up insects or other animals. As such, purchasing a vegan-friendly brand is surely not going to ruffle many feathers (for want of a better phrase) with the person for whom you have purchase said gift.
Unavoidable Non-Vegan Gifts
There are many pragmatic vegans out there who are not going to get hung up over certain situations. Those who have kids, especially younger ones, for instance, who they want to allow to make their own dietary/lifestyle decisions might not think twice about buying them a dairy ice cream at the seaside (when there is no vegan option available). Though even that kind of thing can cause uproar on the socials!
Another example might be if your granny just so happens to love Ferrero Rocher – which contain various milk-based ingredients, annoyingly! Would a vegan deprive their gran of her favourite chocs at Christmas… or would they use the “as far as is possible and practicable” part of the definition of veganism to make the old dear’s day?
Is a Voucher the Best of Both Worlds?
Of course if this moral quandary is simply too troublesome in these times of challenge, there is another way to avoid both compromising your vegan beliefs and upsetting the recipient of the gift: buy them a voucher.
In this way, you can buy them a voucher for a shop/site that sells both vegan and non-vegan products of the kind they have been hinting they’d like, and then the choice is up to them. If they go for a non-vegan jacket, say, at least you haven’t technically purchased a non-vegan product. And, if they go for a vegan option, happy days!
Vegan Gifts for Non-Vegans Conclusion
It is inevitable that some people will think if a vegan buys a non-vegan gift for someone (or indeed any non-vegan product, ever) they should no longer describe themselves as vegan. We say that’s a bit of a harsh view of things. If you are comfortable with imposing your vegan views on those around you, whether that means your kids, partners, parents or whoever, then of course that’s your prerogative.
We are not here to make a judgement or to suggest you’re doing the wrong thing or that there will be negative consequences down the road. On the other hand, we think a pragmatic approach to life in which we are open to the views (and gift choices) of others – yep, even those who eat meat – is likely to not only make your life less stressful, but also, in the long run, more likely to help others see the benefits of veganism.
If there is a decent vegan alternative for a gift you know someone wants, then clearly it’s worth opting for that. If there isn’t, then it’s time to draw your own line in the sand: bite the bullet and buy them what they want even though it’s not vegan, buy them a voucher to let them decide, or get them something vegan – anything, irrespective of whether they want it or not. They might like it after all. And, if it ends up causing arguments, well, there’s always a donation to an animal charity option next time!