Maybe you’ve been wondering for a while “what is veganism?”.
It’s all over the news after all. From the explosion of meat replacement brands like BeyondMeat and incredibly popular vegan documentaries like Cowspiracy and The Game Changers the lifestyle is becoming mainstream.
So, what is Veganism?
There are loads of misconceptions about veganism, trust me. I’ve been vegan for years, and when I tell people I’m vegan I get a lot of different reactions. Some people respond with blank stares, some with aggressive quips, some with words of encouragement. But more often than not, unless someone is actually vegan or is very close to someone who is, they probably have some misconceptions about what veganism is and why someone chooses to go vegan.
I’ll do my best to answer the question, “What is Veganism” and discuss the the different parts of life choosing to be vegan plays a role in.
What is Veganism – The Definition and Some Clarity
So, what is veganism? According to The Vegan Society, the definition of 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.”
Simply put, vegans try to abstain from consuming or using anything containing animal products as much as possible. It’s not possible to be 100% vegan, but we do our best. This means that when it comes to food, unlike vegetarians, vegans don’t consume eggs, milk, honey, gelatin, butter or anything else that comes from an animal. If you’re an ethical vegan, this idea also extends to other aspects of life like clothing, beauty products, shoes, and more.
For many, the word “vegan” has a negative connotation. It conjures images of angry, red paint-throwing, aggressive, self righteous, and preachy people who are trying to convert the whole world to see things their way. In my opinion, because of this, veganism is undergoing a rebranding. Many companies are avoiding the “V word” and calling their products “plant based” instead.
Anyway, veganism isn’t a cult. It’s not about anger or attacking strangers. Being an vegan is about equality and animal rights…usually. We’re not all in it for the animals. Some people become vegan for other reasons. So before I dive into the world of veganism let me explain the different types of vegans.
Different Types of Vegans – Ethical, Health, & Environmental
Different people become vegan for different reasons including animal rights, nutrition and fitness, and the environment. Even some religions promote a vegan diet. So there are lots of different reasons for being vegan.
Regardless of the reason, the outcome is the same. Less animals are taken advantage of, harmed, and killed when someone decides to become vegan. Here is a quick overview of each type of vegan.
For a more in-depth article about the different types of vegans click here.
I’m what you call an ethical vegan. I became vegan almost entirely because I was horrified by how factory farmed animals are treated. My ideas about animal rights have grown and evolved over the years and extend beyond my food choices.
As an ethical vegan I don’t think that we, as humans, have the right to treat animals as inferior creatures. I don’t believe we have the right to take from them what isn’t ours and use them how we feel is appropriate,. I also don’t believe we have a natural born right to rule over all other species and do as we see fit.
So my beliefs play a role in a lot of the choices I make. This includes what clothes I wear, what products I used, and what activities I partake in.
As can be seen in the recent documentary, The Game Changers, a lot of athletes are becoming vegan to improve their health and boost their game. Athletes aren’t the only people who go vegan for health reasons, however. I’ve met a lot of people who have embraced a vegan diet to combat various health issues and disease, or to just feel better in general.
With the incredibly overwhelming evidence that our planet is in the middle of an environmental crisis, many are turning to veganism as a way to save it. “Beef production is to blame for six times more greenhouse gas emissions than peas” according to Live Kindly. The Cowspiracy website states that a vegan diet can cut your carbon footprint in half. HALF!
So if someone is going vegan for the environment, it’s not without reason and plenty of evidence that it can actually make an impact in our planet’s health.
What is Vegan Food?
Do you know how many times I’ve heard something like this “I don’t like vegan food. I tried a vegan burger once and it was dry and gross.”. More time than I can count.
Seriously? One time, when I was a kid I had a Whopper from Burger King. The bread was soggy and it was cold. Does that mean that all Whoppers are soggy and cold? Does that mean all beef burgers in the world are gross? No. Let’s use some logic here…ok? Okay?
Anyway….now that I’ve gotten that off my chest – what is vegan food? I’m 100% positive that every single person who reads this article has had vegan food. Furthermore I’m certain everyone has also had delicious vegan food. Frankly, it’s impossible to go through life without eating it.
Rice, peanut butter, dark chocolate, and Brussels sprouts, are all vegan. Hell, even Oreos are vegan (unless you buy them in the States, more on that later)!
What about gluten? Is that vegan? Yes! Gluten is found in grains, which comes from plants, not animals. However, for some reason people often assume vegans don’t eat gluten. Most of us do, unless we have a health condition that makes us intolerant or allergic. So, bring the bread and pass the pie. It’s fair game, and I for one am all about it.
There’s a whole world of vegan foods out there. Some that you’ve eaten a million times before and some that are new on the market like the incredibly delicious Beyond Burger. In fact, the list could go on forever. Check out my article The Ultimate Vegan Grocery List for hundreds of foods you can enjoy while embracing a vegan diet.
That said, there are a lot of products you might think are vegan that manufactures have added sneaky animal products to. Here are some things to watch out for.
Vegan Wine, Liquor, and Beer
This one of the most fucked up things I’ve learned about since becoming vegan.
Lot’s of alcoholic beverages are not vegan! For some, it’s obvious. Like Bailey’s Irish Cream…no surprise it’s not vegan. But… brace yourself…lots of wine and beer isn’t vegan. Not because any animal products are needed to produce said beverages, but because weird shit like gelatin, fish bladders, and eggs are added as a way to quickly clarify these products. We, as consumers, want our red wine to look pretty so producers throw in animal products to get all those imperfect looking things out of it. The same items, known as fining agents, are often used to clarify beer too.
Fining agents used to clarify beer and wine include casein (milk protein), egg whites, gelatin, and fish bladder protein. The worst part of all this is that it’s totally unnecessary. Aside from the fact that having totally clarified wine isn’t necessary, most wine will eventually clarify on its own, and there are other non-animal products that can be used as a fining agent like seaweed and volcanic ash.
Avoiding non-vegan beer and especially wine can be challenging. There is an app called Barnivore which makes considerably easier to seek out vegan alcohol, but due to the sheer volume of beverages on the market it can prove a challenge to know exactly what you are consuming.
That said, it is getting easier. Consumers are starting to demand vegan options, so wine labeled or marketed as vegan isn’t totally uncommon. As someone who loves wine I’m hoping for big strides in this regard, especially in Europe, in the coming years.
For more info on vegan alcohol check out our article on the topic.
Honey, Eggs, Milk, Gelatin, Sugar, and Other Sneaky Animal Products to Watch Out For!
I can’t express how annoying it is to pick up a product at the grocery store that looks, and should be, vegan, only to find milk powder on the list of ingredients. Why, oh why is milk in everything?
It’s not just milk either, eggs, honey, lard, casein, whey, bugs and their secretions (yes, you read that right), and other additives can all be found in ingredient lists for foods you might initially think are vegan. Hell, even McDonalds in the States cooks their french fries in animal products.
Speaking of the States, if you live or travel there you should also watch out for sugar in ingredient lists. Strangely, a great majority of the sugar produced there is not actually vegan. Nope, manufacturers have decided that using bone char to make sugar sparkly white is necessary.
Don’t panic though, your days of eating cakes and donuts isn’t over. Organic sugar, beet sugar, and coconut sugar, are never processed with bone char.
PETA has a handy guide on the topic of non-vegan sugar if you’re interested in more info. Plus, I have an amazing and informative (feeling very full of myself) guide to some of the most surprising non-vegan food to watch out for.
What is Veganism? – Living a Vegan Lifestyle
If you’re an ethical vegan like me then a vegan practice doesn’t stop when mealtime is over. There are a lot of other aspects in life that it plays into. This includes choosing vegan clothing, shoes, beauty and feminine hygiene products, medicine and more.
Additionally, being an ethical vegan means participating in animal activism, including but not limited to wearing clothing with vegan slogans, protesting for animal rights, volunteering with animal sanctuaries, and generally spreading the word about veganism.
Here are just a few things to think about when trying to live a vegan lifestyle.
Fur, leather, feathers, goat and sheep hair, silk. All of these items are used on a regular basis to produce clothing and none of them are vegan friendly.
Avoiding animal products in clothing is, for the most part, pretty easy. However, there are still times when I forget to check labels, especially when buying lingerie. With some items, like winter coats and sweaters, it can be annoying to discover wool in nearly everything that looks cute on the rack. For a little help on what to look out for, and some awesome brands check out my guide to vegan clothing.
Leather. It’s the big one when it comes to avoiding animal products in shoes. However, it’s not the only thing to look out for. Lot’s of shoes that appear to be vegan are made with glue containing animal products. So if you want to be absolutely sure that your shoes are vegan make sure they are either PETA approved and/or produced by a vegan brand.
Vegan Beauty Products – Vegan Makeup and More!
A lot of make-up contains sheep’s wool oil, shark liver oil, and animal hair byproducts. Additionally, ingredients like milk, beeswax, and honey are found in a lot of beauty products like creams, lotions, chapstick. Finally, many popular brands test their products on animals which means they are not cruelty-free and not vegan.
If you want to make sure that your beauty products are vegan there are a few things you can do. First, the website Leaping Bunny is a great resource for finding cruelty-free beauty brands and products. Secondly, many brands are starting to label their products as vegan on the packaging. Finally, if you want a list of items to look out for when looking for vegan beauty products check out this article.
Medicine and Veganism
Animal products are in a lot of medicines. Capsules are often made from gelatin, and lactose is a common ingredient in medicine. Even sheep’s wool is used to produce certain vitamin D products.
To be honest, there is only so much you can do to avoid animal products in medicine. There are some alternatives, such as with vitamin D, but not always. Additionally, most medicine is tested on animals, so even if it doesn’t contain an animal byproduct it can’t be called cruelty-free.
Unfortunately, this is one area that, as a vegan, I don’t feel we have a whole lot of control over. I have to keep in mind that our mission should not be one of perfection but instead one of striving to do the best we can.
Avoiding Animal Entertainment & Animal Tourism
Animal entertainment and animal tourism is a common and normalized practice. So much so that most of us don’t even give the topic a second thought. We attend zoos as children on class trips, visit places like Sea World with our families on vacation, and snap selfies with wild animals on vacation if given the chance.
But animal entertainment and animal tourism are two industries that usually take advantage of animals, take them out of their natural habitat, and often leave them mistreated and mentally and physically damaged as a result.
Don’t worry, being an ethical vegan doesn’t mean you have to avoid animals totally. You can still see, interact with, and even help animals that are in need. Doing research about any activity you are interested in participating in when it includes animals is key.
Is the activity run ethically? Are the animals in their natural habitat? Are the animals being harmed or helped? These are all questions you should answer before making a decision when it comes to experiences involving animals.
For more information on animal entertainment and animal tourism check out this article. On a related note, if you’ve ever considered taking a cruise have a look at this article to learn about the impacts they have on animals, the environment, and the workers.
Vegan Feminine Hygiene Products
When I learned that tampons were test on animals I was horrified.
Luckily I had been considering making a change to a menstrual for a while. So this bit of information gave me the push I needed. It was one of the best changes I’ve ever made.
The process wasn’t perfect, and at times still isn’t, but I’m very happy to know that the way I deal with my period each month has a smaller impact on the environment and didn’t harm animals.
Compromising as a Vegan
Holy hell, there is A LOT to consider when trying to live a vegan lifestyle. I just scratched the surface too. There are plenty of other things that aren’t vegan. Including latex condoms, vaccines, batteries, computers, TVs, and common household cleaning supplies, all of which contain animal products.
Trying to be 100% vegan isn’t possible. It’s just not. Some people will even say vegetables aren’t vegan unless they’re grown in manure-less soil. The only thing we can do is try our best and do what we can. We all compromise, we all make mistakes. There is no point in beating ourselves up or feeling guilty, after all, or mission is a positive one. Anything we do to fulfill it helps.
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