How vegan are you?

I had someone I’ve been corresponding with through email ask me this question recently, and the emphasis of the discussion was on a person raising or hunting, and killing and butchering their own animals for meat. Trying to explain something to someone in writing has always had the side effect of helping to solidify my understanding of, or views on the subject, and after writing what turned into a short essay on the subject, I thought I would post a slightly revised version of it here.

So, how vegan?  In my mind, you're either vegan, or you're not.  Either you believe it's okay to exploit animals, or you don't.  The term “Vegan” is specifically designating a person who, for ethical reasons, abstains as much as is reasonably possible from exploiting animals for any purpose.  If someone is just avoiding eating animal products for health reasons, etc...  then they're a strict vegetarian, but not a vegan.  Some will make that distinction by calling someone either a dietary, or an ethical vegan.  I am definitely an ethical vegan.  

I'm not a rabid vegan by any means, and I come a background of ranchers, farmers, and hunters. While I don't necessarily want to hear about or participate in these things, I am pragmatic enough to see that the hunted animals lived natural lives until the moment they were killed, and those raised for personal consumption are usually well cared for.  I'm at odds with many vegans on this subject, because I recognize that there will always be people who want to eat meat, and people doing so in a responsible way is better than factory farming. Commercial livestock operations treat animals as product, and are never okay in my mind, no matter how “humane” they claim to be, and trophy hunters deserve a special level of hell reserved just for them. But the person (who we will assume is never going to stop eating meat) who chooses to take direct responsibility for how the animals they eat live and die, definitely gets more respect from me than the average asshole spouting about climbing to the top of the food chain as they eat the steak someone else raised, killed, and dismembered for them, without a care for how much suffering occurred so they could have a ribeye at the Outback.

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