A vegan, pronounced vee-gun, defines someone who does not consume, use or eat animals or animal derived products.
In terms of food, vegans eat a 100% plant-based diet. That means they don’t eat meat, fish, chicken, nothing that has a mom, a dad, eyes or a face and nothing that comes from anything that had a mom, a dad, eyes or a face. That means no dairy (butter, milk, cheese), no eggs and no honey as well.
In terms of non-food, Vegans don’t wear anything that was derived from an animal, including things like leather, fur, wool, down and silk. There are animal products and byproducts in all kinds of things and vegans do their best to use products that don’t contain those ingredients.
Vegan by Definition
By original definition, vegans embrace an overall compassionate lifestyle and philosophy. Vegans exclude the use of all animal and animal derived products in food, clothing, home goods, cosmetics and essentially any consumer product. Vegans strive, as much as possible, to do no harm to animals in any way and ultimately not support the use of animals as commodities in all areas.
While the tenants of veganism have been around for a long time, The Vegan Society was formed in 1944. One of it’s founding members, Donald Watson coined the term vegan. The group defined veganism as follows:
A way of living which excludes all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, the animal kingdom, and includes a reverence for life. It applies to the practice of living on the products of the plant kingdom to the exclusion of flesh, fish, fowl, eggs, honey, animal milk and its derivatives, and encourages the use of alternatives for all commodities derived wholly or in part from animals.
Vegan vs Vegetarian
In terms of diet, vegetarians are like vegans in that they avoid consuming meat, chicken and fish. But unlike vegans, vegetarians do eat things that come from an animal so they may have dairy, eggs and honey.
Being vegan is about much more than diet.
Different Perspectives on Being Vegan
In terms of being vegan, there is a distinction to be made between people who are vegan in diet only perhaps for health reasons or environmental reasons and those that are vegan in a way that extends beyond diet and encompasses a philosophy and overall lifestyle. People who are vegan in diet only might say they follow a plant-based diet. It’s typical today for the term vegan to be used to mean any of the above.
We’re always hearing about the latest vegan challenge or that someone has “gone vegan” often referring to diet only. For this reason, things can get a little murky. I don’t think it’s going to get crystal clear any time soon. We’ll do our best to make these distinctions.
There are lots of reasons people choose to be vegan, eat a vegan diet or embrace an overall vegan lifestyle and for many it’s a combination of things. Often people find veganism for one reason, then as they learn more, it expands to other areas as well.
Vegan for Animals
Regardless of one’s intentions or reasons, going vegan in any way, shape or form means that fewer animals are harmed and killed, there will be less pillaging of our planet’s resources, and more people will have a greater chance at living healthier lives.
With 10 billion animals killed for food each year in the U.S. alone, even people who lean into veganism, as Kathy Freston talks about in her book Veganist, are helping minimize animal suffering. Things like meatless Mondays have caught on and people are starting to eat fewer animal-food centric meals by incorporating more plant-based meals into their diet.
Vegan for Health
There are many health benefits to eating a healthy vegan diet.
The majority of diseases in this country are diseases of diet and lifestyle. The Standard American Diet of highly processed and animal-based foods is having a devastating impact on adults and children. The Standard American Diet is truly SAD. The U.S. food consumption as a percentage of calories shakes out to 63% of calories coming from processed foods, 25% from animal based foods and only 12% coming from plant-based foods. Diseases typically found only in adults are now showing up in children.
Vegan for the Environment
Everything is connected. The animal-based, highly processed foods and lack of adequate plant-based nutrition is causing disease and depleting financial resources. Animal agriculture is destroying land and contributing immensely to global warming and other environmental problems. It takes 16 pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat. If we didn’t funnel plant food through animals to produce animal-based foods, essentially cutting out the middle man so to speak, there would be enough food to feed the world.