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What is Veganism? The Real Definition & 7 Things to Know

Veganism is one of the most heated topics around. Everyone has an opinion about it and people around the world seem to have varying definitions for it too.

Is it the same as plant based? Is it a diet? Is it a lifestyle? Is it about health, or religion, or ethics?

Believe it our not, despite what your Uncle Joe may say, there is an official definition, and it doesn’t include being annoying.

So, what is Veganism? Let’s get some clarity on that once and for all!

What is Veganism – The Definition and Some Clarity

what is veganism? - man playing with a puppy

The answer to the question, “What is veganism?” is pretty simple.

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.”

The Vegan Society

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 it’s possible to do your best. Which is what matters.

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.

Is Plant Based the Same as Vegan?

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.

Even Bilie Eilish recently said, “Vegans have a reputation of being incredibly annoying, and a lot of the time, they are. Sorry.”.

Because of this, veganism is undergoing a rebranding. Many companies are avoiding the “V word” and calling their products “plant based” instead. So, essentially vegan and plant based are the same thing.

That said, be very careful when buying plant based products. Since this is a very new term, it’s being thrown around without any regulation. That means, some companies are getting away with labeling food as plant based if most of the ingredients are made from plants. In other words, read ingredient lists, ask for clarification at restaurants, always look out for non-vegan foods.

Different Types of Vegans

Despite the fact that the root of veganism revolves around the ethical treatment of animals and not exploiting them, different people become vegan for different reasons. Here are the main reasons people become vegan (or follow a vegan diet).

For a more in-depth article about the different types of vegans click here.

Ethical Vegans

Ethical vegans are the OG vegans.

They subscribe and live by the Vegan Society’s definition of veganism. So, to be an ethical vegan is to abstain from eating vegan food, and buying and using products that contain animal products as much as possible.

Most people become vegan for ethical reasons related to animal cruelty. Deciding not to participate in the mistreatment or exploitation of animals leads to veganism, whether directly, or over time.

Health Vegans

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.

Environmental Vegans

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.

Cowspiracy Infographic - Vegan for the Environment

What is Vegan Food?

What is Vegan Food? Papaya and berries

If you’re vegan, you’ve likely heard someone say, “I don’t like vegan food. I tried a vegan burger once and it was dry and gross.” or something similar.

But what is vegan food?

Despite some confusion and negative feelings about it, every single person on the planet has had vegan food already at some point in their lives. They’ve even liked at least some of it.

Some of the best food in the world is vegan, including rice, peanut butter, dark chocolate, coffee, asparagus, and maple syrup. Even Oreos are vegan!

Even gluten is vegan! Gluten is found in grains, which comes from plants, not animals. However, for some reason people often assume vegans don’t eat gluten. Most do, unless they have a health condition that makes them intolerant or allergic. So, bring on the bread and pass the pasta. It’s fair game.

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.

What Is Not Vegan

Despite the growing number of vegan products, and the myriad naturally vegan foods, there are a lot of things you may think are vegan that are not.

Manufactures love to add sneaky animal products to otherwise vegan foods. Here are some things to watch out for.

Vegan Wine, Liquor, and Beer

What is Vegan Wine, Liquor, and Beer?

This one of the most crazy 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 additives like gelatin, fish bladders, and eggs are used to quickly clarify these products.

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 with labels 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!


It can be incredibly annoying 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. Even McDonalds in the United States cooks their french fries in animal products. 

Speaking of the United States, if you live or travel there you should also watch out for sugar in ingredient lists. Unfortunately, many manufacturers have decided that using bone char to make sugar sparkly white is necessary. More on that and how to find vegan sugar in the United States here.

What is Veganism? – Veganism Beyond Food

If you’re an ethical vegan 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. But don’t worry, you don’t have to throw red paint on anyone to be an activist. Vegan 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.

Vegan Clothing

Vegan Clothing

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, 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.

Vegan Shoes

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. 

Check out my guide to vegan shoes for some of the best brands making them.

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

Illness and Vegan Medicine

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, and therefore not vegan.

Unfortunately, this is one area that, as a vegan, you don’t have a whole lot of control over. You have to keep in mind that the mission should not be one of perfection but instead one of striving to do the best you can.

Avoiding Animal Entertainment & Animal Tourism

Animal Entertainment & Animal Tourism - Monkey Behind Bars

Animal entertainment and animal tourism is a common and normalized practice. So much so that most people don’t even give the topic a second thought. Nearly everyone has visited a zoos as children on a class trips or gone to places like Sea World on family vacations.

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

Menstrual Cups

A lot of mainstream tampons are tested on animals. Which means they are not vegan.

But, if you are a woman who menstruates, not to worry. There are vegan, cruelty-free options out here.

Some brands like Seventh Generation and Whole Foods 365 do not test on animals. So, their tampons and other menstrual products are a great option.

Plus, if you are looking for a vegan, cruelty-free, environmental friendly, and affordable way to manage your period, menstrual cups are perfect. Some brands, like Lunette, are even registered with the Vegan Society.

Compromising as a Vegan

As you can see, the question, “what is veganism” has a very layered answer. This article just scratched the surface too. There are plenty of other things that aren’t vegan. Including latex condoms, vaccines, batteries, computers, TVs, some forms of currency, 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, usually Facebook trolls, will even say vegetables aren’t vegan.  But if you’re interested in being vegan, the only thing you can do is try your best and do what you can.

Compromise is necessary sometimes and everyone makes mistakes. There is no point in beating yourself up or feeling guilty. After all, the mission is a positive one. Anything you do to fulfill it helps.