What does the word ‘vegan’ really mean?
In recent years, the word ‘vegan’ has come a long way from the relative obscurity in which it once dwelled. As a concept now associated with people as well known as Oprah, Bill Clinton and James Cameron, the word itself has become fairly widely known. But is it really understood?
Contrary to popular belief, vegans do not just subscribe to a plant-based diet or abstain from animal products as a reaction to the treatment of animals in large-scale, industrialized conditions. Vegans object to our use of animals as “resources” in and of itself, whether the individuals in question are being housed in factories, or in small, backyard, family-farm situations.
This includes (but is not limited to) the use of animals for food, clothing, cosmetics, experimentation and entertainment. It also extends to any situation where animals are being used for labor such as in the case of oxen tilling fields, and any situation where animals are treated as commodities such as in the pet industry, which treats ‘companion animals’ as living merchandise to be bought and sold. (Note: Vegans, as a whole, do not object to the practice of sharing one’s home with animals. Many of us take tremendous joy in being able to adopt or rescue the unwanted refugees of the pet trade.)
Vegans do not use or wear leather, wool, silk, down, fur, or any other fabric that come from animals. Nor do we ingest milk, honey, eggs, flesh, or any other ingredients of animal origin, including ‘by-products’, such as gelatin and casein. We also abstain from using cosmetics, toiletries and (as far as is practical) pharmaceutical products that are made using animal ingredients or animal testing. We also do not support or condone any form of ‘entertainment’ that involves the use of animals, including (but not limited to) circuses, rodeos, marine parks, zoos/safaris, animal racing, and hunting.
Is it possible to really be vegan, when animal ingredients are everywhere?
Although it’s true that in today’s world, it is almost impossible to avoid using some non-vegan items or ingredients, it is also true that avoiding most of them is easier than you think. The rising number of vegans each year has created an increased demand for vegan products. So much so that today, there are many incredibly delicious, easily attainable, and easy to prepare substitutes that would have seemed miraculous to vegan pioneers, such as pizza and ice cream! There’s also a growing number of high-quality replacements for non-vegan clothing, toiletries, cleaning products, household items, and anything else we need to live without exploiting animals.
Every time anyone takes a stand for non-human animals and their right to live free from human oppression, he or she moves all of humanity one giant step closer to a vegan world, where animal fat in our tires and crushed insects in our food will be but a distant memory of less civilized times.
In the meantime, we can at least do our very best to avoid animal ingredients and businesses wherever possible.
Don’t we need some animal products in our diet to be healthy?
For those who might be concerned about meeting all their nutritional requirements with just plant foods, rest assured that even the mainstream and conservative Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association, and described by www.eatright.org as “the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals”) confirms that you do not need to eat animal products to maintain your health.
“It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life-cycle including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence and for athletes.
Many people who become vegan report that their health greatly improves as a result. Perhaps, the lighter, healthier body that emerges with veganism is a reflection of a lighter, healthier conscience that comes with taking a stand against injustice and making a commitment to non-violence.
Finally, unlike the Atkins, Paleo, or South Beach diets, which are trendy fads, veganism is neither a fad nor a diet, but a stand against injustice and commitment to non-violence that impacts one’s eating choices because of ethical considerations. Nevertheless, the growing number of strong, active vegans are a testament to the fact that one doesn’t have to sacrifice one’s physical health to embrace a more gentle way of life.
I like the idea, but isn’t it difficult to be vegan?
Living as a vegan, especially for those of us in the developed world, is much, much easier than it is commonly perceived to be. As we wrote back in 2012:
“During the past few years, the call to reduce our consumption of animal products has grown tremendously… Vegan recipe blogs have proliferated into the hundreds, if not thousands. Both the number and the variety of vegan items available in stores and online are increasing annually. New vegan businesses are opening and thriving more than ever, including cafes, bakeries, restaurants, grocery stores, clothing stores, online boutiques, and even retreat centers and B&Bs…”
Yes, there’s never been a better time. And as the demand for vegan alternatives grows, it’s only going to get even easier.
There certainly is an initial learning period, during which new habits are established, and the vegan newbie might be surprised or even shocked to learn where certain animal products find their way into our lives. But each time we pass up a non-vegan item in favor of a vegan alternative (or even in favor of no alternative, as many of us have done many a time) we can feel strengthened by our knowledge that we have not sacrificed our covenant with the animals for something as trivial as taste, habit, comfort, or convenience.
Stay tuned for responses to the following…
I could never hurt an animal. But why does that mean I should become vegan?
I’m already a vegetarian, and I avoid products that involve extreme cruelty, such as veal and foie gras. Isn’t that enough?
Isn’t it okay to eat animal products if they’re free-range, cage-free, or locally-raised?
Don’t welfare regulations protect animals from unnecessary cruelty?
Aren’t animals here for us to use?
If we all became vegan, wouldn’t farmed animals overrun the planet?
Fruits and vegetables are expensive. Isn’t being vegan a privileged position?
What about people in the mountains of Tibet, or the Inuit? Not everyone can be vegan.
Other animals prey on one another, so why shouldn’t we? It’s a part of natural life.
What about the plants you kill or harm by eating vegan? (AKA: Can’t you hear the carrots screaming?)
How can we grow enough fruits, vegetables and grain for everyone to be vegan when so many people are already starving?
Why should I care so much about animal suffering when there are so many other important issues to focus my attention on?
Doesn’t becoming vegan mean others will see me as extreme? Will I be isolated from my friends and family?
What about my companion animals? Would I have to give them away?
What do I do with all the items I already own that are made from leather, wool, silk, etc.?
But I LOVE cheese!
“You mean, you don’t even use wool, or silk?”
What about animals as entertainment?