What is a vegan, and what is a vegan diet? Good question and we’re going to explore them hopefully quite thoroughly today.
You might be asking yourself who the author is and what do I have to claim to speak about veganism and tell you what a vegan is. Well, that’s a fair question and I’ll give you a quick 411 on my vegan journey.
I’ve been vegan just over 22 years now as I write this and never felt healthier or more at peace with my diet. I am also almost OCD about keeping abreast of veganism. I study vegan health and the science behind it as well keep my ear to the ground about vegans and veganism on the world wide web and blogosphere.
I also started the first animal rights and vegetarian group on campus at the local university about 20 years ago.
My veganism is inspired by ethics but I am not what I would consider a sentimental vegan.
What do I mean by a sentimental vegan? Well, I love animals for their intrinsic selves and spirits and rights to live an unencumbered life. Unencumbered by adverse human interaction and interference. I am not a touchy feely vegan or a person that has especially deep psychological and emotional bonds with animals. I admire folks who do, but that is just not me.
I am not a vegan who believes that animals should be treated the same as humans, because frankly they aren’t humans. However, as PeTA has put it eloquently, animals are not ours to wear, experiment on, eat, entertain us or abuse or harm in any way.
In fact if anything we owe animals a great debt for their kindness, love and honesty. Further, like younger siblings we owe them protection and comfort and support as we would offer our own younger brothers and sisters.
Enough about that. I’ll speak more about my philosophical vegan leanings at a later date.
Let’s get to the tofu of the matter. First up. What is a vegan?
What is a vegan?
A vegan is someone who doesn’t use the products of animals or use animals in any way. This is quite different from what is a vegetarian.
Let me explain. A vegetarian doesn’t eat the flesh of an animal or any product of an animal that would cause its death. We can debate about eggs, but they are not living animals in that form. A vegetarian is really identified only by diet. A vegetarian will exclude all animal flesh and meat. So a vegetarian will not eat beef, pork, bacon, lamb, veal, steak, burgers, chicken, duck, turkey, fish, seafood etc.
However, a vegetarian will still eat dairy and/or eggs. A vegetarian does not fully exclude all animal products.
A vegan on the other hand is more like a strict vegetarian in diet. So what is a vegan diet? A vegan diet excludes all animal products. So vegans DO NOT eat any animal flesh like beef, lamb, pork, veal, chicken, turkey, duck, fish, seafood etc, and vegans also DO NOT eat any egg or dairy products.
Additionally it must be mentioned that vegans DO NOT eat honey. This is my opinion as well as the official stance of the first vegan organization The Vegan Society.
Some folks will call themselves vegan and still use honey occasionally. This is not strictly to the letter of the law but I’m not about to bust chops about it because there are bigger atrocities being committed to animals and the spirit of veganism is one of trying to minimize the suffering caused by humans on our animal brethren.
So that is the dietary aspect of veganism, but veganism being a more comprehensive lifestyle choice aimed at reducing and where possible eliminating animal suffering goes beyond just diet, which even though it is the greatest cause of suffering and death to animals, is not the only source.
Estimated animal murder in 2009 in the USA for food is around 60 billion land and sea animals per year. That is 1,902 animals slaughtered per second… just for food… just in the USA. With each breath you or I take, 8,000 to 10,000 animals are killed.
That’s horrible isn’t it? Animals not much different then your beloved dog or cat. Similar intelligence, similar capacity for love and companionship.
This is why we exclude animals and their products from our diet. Vegans don’t want to be party to that. Sadly and unaware to many vegetarians, the vegetarian diet is still party to that cruelty and death. A subject which is worthy its own article.
What don’t vegans use beyond diet?
So that is the dietary aspect of veganism and perhaps the most powerful protest that the vegan movement has. As you can see, by becoming vegan if only in diet, you are doing a tremendous service for the environment and your health but perhaps more importantly the animals themselves.
But without the other aspects of veganism, a vegan diet is really just a strict vegetarians lifestyle.
Veganism goes beyond diet. As I mentioned earlier, to choose veganism is a choice about protesting the cruelty and callous disregard with which we treat much of life and sentient beings in this world.
And as vegans we aim to reduce as much suffering as possible and eliminate suffering where possible.
So vegans DO NOT use animal products for their clothing or other personal effects. This means that vegans DO NOT wear leather belts, jackets, shoes or buy leather couches or cars with leather seats. Why cars with leather seats are not vegan is a recent article I wrote.
Vegans DO NOT use or wear fur. Vegans DO NOT wear or buy wool like wool sweaters, wool gloves wool toques etc. Vegans DO NOT use down or other animal feathers in their lives. NO down comforters or winter jackets. Vegans DO NOT use silk either, no silk ties or scarves for example.
Along with not eating honey, vegans DO NOT use other bee products like propolis and royal jelly and bee pollen.
Vegans also DO NOT support animal based entertainment. We DO NOT go to circuses or zoos, rodeos, horse races or other animal based entertainment or amusement. Of course vegans DO NOT hunt or fish either.
Vegans are also opposed to animal research, testing and vivisection which is abhorrent. This is perhaps one of the blackest crimes that humans commit against our fellow sentient beings.
So as much as possible vegans buy and support companies that DO NOT test on animals for our beauty and health products. PeTA has developed an extensive list of over several hundred companies for your cruelty free shopping delight.
How to become vegan
The above list of what vegans can and choose not to use can seem quite daunting, but don’t let it scare you.
We all started out seeking to be more kind and compassionate in our life and in our dealing with the fellow inhabitants of this planet. There is a lot of support out there for you as you embark on your journey towards veganism.
My best advice to you is just go for it. You might like to discuss your feelings for adopting a vegan lifestyle and diet with those closest to you. However, not everyone will be as passionate about the benefits of veganism and you might get some blowback.
Change is hard on a personal level as well as watching our loved ones make some big changes. Diet is big part of how we engage with one another socially and emotionally.
Our mother’s cooking for example is one of the daily ways that she expresses our love for us, so you must tread respectfully and compassionately in the arena of your home and family life as you engage in this change towards veganism.
Remember, humans are animals too and veganism is about doing the least harm to all creatures great and small and that means humans too. And doing the least harm is also about navigating your journey towards veganism so that you don’t antagonize or offend as best you can those closest to you.
However, be aware that you might be ridiculed or made fun of. Take the high ground. As I said before, change is hard for people and many folks might not want to be made aware of the cruelty that is fundamental to the way we currently live. It will make them uncomfortable and they might want to lash out and they’ll likely lash out to you. So just be aware.
My family didn’t understand it at first and those closest to me did demean my choices in the early days. But now my whole immediately family is vegan/vegetarian.
You might not be that fortunate, but I am sure that in time your family will come to respect your decision. And if not, that is okay to. You must live your own life according to your own guiding principles and inner voice.
But you are in good company. Many great and inspiring people are vegan. Some you might not know about and others you might. There are also about 10 million other vegans in the great USA too. I wrote about this in my article about how many vegans are there?
This is not to say that you should become vegan because others have, but it is comforting to know that others you admire have become vegan before you.
So with that preamble the best way to become vegan is to choose the path that is most comfortable for you. I became vegetarian first, as I continued to use cow’s milk in my cereal and coffee and the occasional eggs. This lasted about 6 months until I fully committed to veganism and never looked back.
You might want to go fully into veganism at least the dietary aspect right away and I would heartily support that. 22 years ago when I became vegan there were no really good cow’s milk substitutes. Now there are so I think it is much easier to jump right in. There also weren’t the same variety of mock meats that there are now.
As for the other areas of veganism like leather, wool, down, shampoos etc. There are 2 differing opinions on this. The first which is what I ascribed too was to continue using your leather shoes and such until they wear out. The second which is equally valid is to donate any animal based clothes to charities and make a clean start.
Whichever way you decide to act, I think the smart thing to do is to donate leather jackets or leather pants and furs to charity. It will be much harder wearing those and dealing with folks who point out “well you still wear leather jackets” etc.
If you have a leather couch, unless you can afford to replace it you are likely better off to continue using it and allowing it to be a gentle reminder of your former lack of awareness.
There might be many areas where you have questions about how best to approach. You are welcome to reach out to me and ask my opinion. I am also certain that you have the knowledge and intuition on how best to proceed. My veganism, in fact my life is predicated upon the Golden Rule. I am always thinking before I act about how I would like to be treated in a similar situation. And when you ask that question you very often can’t go wrong.
How to stay vegan
There is one very important nutritional supplement you MUST take and that is vitamin B12. Taking one of these once a week will ensure optimal health.
I have also written about some other vegetarian and vegan vitamins and minerals that you should keep in mind when transitioning to or having been vegan for some time.
But most importantly, don’t beat yourself up if you fail at being a “perfect” vegan. There is no such thing as a perfect vegan. We can only do the best we can, make the best choices you can at the time with the information you have. Don’t sweat the small stuff. If that vegan pizza without cheese has a bit of egg baked into the crust don’t beat yourself up about it.
Veganism is a journey of understanding. Learning how to make better choices for reducing suffering where we can. If you fall down and have a scoop of ice cream or a bit of cheese, don’t beat yourself up, pick yourself back up and do better next time. Don’t give it all up because you made a mistake or succumbed to temptation. We are all fallible. The animals appreciate and admire your efforts. Keep it up. Veganism is not all or nothing, it is rather a philosophy trying to do the most good with the choices we can make. Just keep trying to make the best choice every day that you can. There is much support out there and much love for you to keep going. You can become vegan and you can remain vegan by the daily choices you make and forgiving yourself for any perceived “weakness” or “mistakes” you think you’ve made.