Can’t, Won’t, or Don’t?

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Can’t, Won’t, or Don’t?

By Jason Doucette on

One of the things that’s fascinated me over the years is the reaction I hear from vegans when they scan an ingredients list on a new product and find an animal product. It might just be an innocent choice of words, but I always think there’s something more going on:

“I can’t eat that”: this is the most common, and I think the most limiting of the responses. ”Can’t” is a limit, imposed by a rule. It’s arbitrary. Sure, you could finish the sentence with “…without violating my core beliefs,” and when used in other contexts it makes sense (such as “I can’t stand burnt toast,”) but generally “can’t” works globally when it’s a situation accepted or understood by the majority of society, which, sadly, veganism really isn’t.

“Can’t” also implies lacking, sacrifice, or regret, and that’s why I always cringe when I hear it.

“I won’t eat that”: here, it’s more of a statement of will, and I waver between this and the next one. To me, veganism is more than a choice; it’s an expression of my core values, so “won’t” is acknowledging that while I could eat something, I’ve made a deeper decision not to.

“I don’t eat that”: this is a statement of self. There are things you do, and things you do not do. It’s binary, it’s universal, and generally when you don’t do something it’s because it’s not part of your identity.

There are contextual differences, of course, but I think I’m about 60% won’t and 40% don’t, on average. What about you? Can’t, won’t, or don’t?