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Vegan: More than a Diet, More than a Lifestyle

Vegan: More than a Diet, More than a Lifestyle

In June of this year, the European Parliament passed an Amendment to the consumer food information regulations, giving legal protection to the word ‘vegan’, and making it a legally-enforceable term in the European Union by the year 2014. According to the new law: 

“…the term ‘vegan’ should not be applied to foods that are, or are made from or with the aid of, animals or animal products (including products from living animals).”

Although this obviously indicates that veganism is making its way into our culture and society in a whole new way, this development should perhaps be of some concern to those of us for whom veganism represents much more than food, as it has the potential to reinforce the widespread acceptance that veganism is nothing more than a dietary choice.

The word ‘vegan’ was originally introduced in 1944, by the founder of the UK Vegan Society and inventor of the term, Donald Watson. Although the word was originally used to signify a dietary practice (abstaining from dairy, eggs and honey as well as flesh), the definition was soon expanded to include all products of animal exploitation, including animal-derived fabrics and clothing.

“The word ‘veganism’ denotes a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude — as far as is possible and practical — all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”

66 years after the coining of the term, it seems that both vegans and the world at large are still undecided about whether the word should signify merely a dietary practice, or whether the meaning should go beyond diet.

The adoption of a ‘vegan’ diet for health reasons is becoming increasingly socially acceptable, as doctors, nutritionists, athletes, celebrities and even CEOs are hopping on the ‘vegan diet bandwagon’ to lose weight, get healthy and improve athletic performance. Men’s Journal recently ran an article espousing the benefits of ‘going vegan’ for working out. YouTube sensation Isaiah Mustafa (aka the Old Spice Guy) recently told Jay Leno that his trainer has told him to abstain from animal products (as well as other toxins) to improve his fitness regimen, and ‘ultra-marathoner’ Scott Jurek has been eating vegan for over ten years.

With environmental concerns becoming increasingly widespread, there’s a new trend to ‘go vegan’ for the health of the planet. With everything we know about the ecological impact of animal agriculture, it makes sense that many people are cutting back or even eliminating certain animal products from their diets in an attempt to curb their contribution to climate change, deforestation, pollution, and the other forms of environmental devastation caused by animal agriculture.

This is all good news of course, but to many of us, it actually has very little to do with what we understand veganism to be.


Since the coining of the term in 1944, the word ‘vegan’ has evolved, as the number of individuals who consider themselves vegan has grown. With greater understanding of the suffering involved in all aspects of the animal industry – from our food to clothing to entertainment – a new standard of the word has developed.

As I wrote in my last post:

“The pandemic of violence in the world calls to us to reevaluate our relationship with nonhuman animals – who are victims of the most extreme forms of our collective violence – and to recognize that they are no more meant to be our possessions than African-Americans, women, children, or any other living beings. They too, are individuals, who value their lives, feel pain, fear death, and have a right to live free from oppression.”

Veganism is nothing less than the evidence of one’s commitment to nonviolence – the determination to eliminate our support for cruelty to others carried out on our behalf.

Veganism is a demonstration of the awareness of fundamental principles of justice – an ongoing declaration of our conviction that acts of brutality and oppression are not excusable simply by virtue of the species of the victims.

Veganism is an acknowledgement of the responsibility of the individual – the recognition of our obligation to minimize the harm we cause by our existence, and to develop in ourselves the qualities necessary to become citizens of a better future; where no one is oppressed, where no one is treated as a means to an end.

If we truly seek a peaceful world – a world in which people do not live in fear of one another, and a world in which humans are not universally regarded as the most violent species on the planet – then there is simply no way we can sidestep veganism as the key to the future we are seeking; the essential step on the way to developing qualities that are vital to our continued existence.

It’s an unavoidable truth that veganism will continue to mean different things to different people. But for those who are drawn to its powerful message of justice, nonviolence and personal responsibility, the profound significance of veganism offers us an ongoing opportunity to expand our understanding and truly live the ideals that we believe in.

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Image: Flickr / Genista

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5:41AM PDT on Mar 29, 2014

thank you for the article

3:27AM PST on Jan 20, 2014

Vegetarians and vegans are much more aware of the changes in lifestyle, the importance of animals on a higher level, and the world misuse of resources. These eating choices make it necessary to consider so much more than just what is on our plates. It's a good thing, I think.

6:12AM PDT on Sep 29, 2013

Can you really ask what reason Pythagoras had for abstaining from flesh? For my part I rather wonder both by what accident and in what state of soul or mind the first man did so, touched his mouth to gore and brought his lips to the flesh of a dead creature, he who set forth tables of dead, stale bodies and ventured to call food and nourishment the parts that had a little before bellowed and cried, moved and lived. How could his eyes endure the slaughter when throats were slit and hides flayed and limbs torn from limb? How could his nose endure the stench? How was it that the pollution did not turn away his taste, which made contact with the sores of others and sucked juices and serums from mortal wounds?… It is certainly not lions and wolves that we eat out of self-defense; on the contrary, we ignore these and slaughter harmless, tame creatures without stings or teeth to harm us, creatures that, I swear, Nature appears to have produced for the sake of their beautyand grace. But nothing abashed us, not the flower-like tinting of the flesh, not the persuasiveness of the harmonious voice, not the cleanliness of their habits or the unusual intelligence that may be found in the poor wretches. No, for the sake of a little flesh we deprive them of sun, of light, of the duration of life to which they are entitled by birth and being.

5:57PM PDT on Aug 4, 2013

One of the things I just love the most is how some people will imply that Veganism is nothing more than a diet, until a Vegan points out that it's more than a diet and then suddenly the non-Vegan changes their tune. Suddenly Veganism is actually worse than a cult and is trying to brainwash half the population, and force the other half to kill all their pets.

You can't have it both ways guys.

5:53PM PDT on Aug 4, 2013

"It is true that if we stopped eating all animals today, there would be billions of farm animals who would "go to waste." But there's no way that would ever happen. The likely scenario is that we would gradually decrease the amount of meat we eat, and factory farmers would gradually decrease the number of animals they bred for food."

There are 3 main ideas on how to effect this:
1. The Vegan way - All humans stop eating all animals immediately. This first and best option entails all "food-animals" being spayed and neutered as quickly as possible over a period of time 'til there are comparatively very few left intact (an amount natural to their numbers before we started hugely over-breeding them). This would require a huge effort on the part of humans, which would not be anywhere near as difficult as most people think (for reasons it would take 10 posts to explain). This is admittedly a highly unlikely, but awesome, scenario.

5:53PM PDT on Aug 4, 2013

2. The Half-Vegan way - Humans gradually stop eating meat, so that over a period of time, animals are killed off until there are none left for food, and only those which are a sustainable natural population. This is HIGHLY unlikely, even moreso that option 1, because as long as people are given the legal go-ahead to kill animals, they will likely never stop.

3. The non-Vegan way - All humans stop eating all animals immediately AFTER all the existing "food-animals" are killed and sold for meat (except a few to maintian the natural population).
This is the most likely scenarion and the one that most Vegans would hate and oppose the most.

5:40PM PDT on Aug 4, 2013

"Yeah, yeah, vegans are heroes, everyone else is a murderer, blah blah blah."

Nope. Only people who come in comment threads about Veganism and claim Vegans think every non-Vegan is a murderer are the actual murderers. Everyone else is simply a potential future Vegan.

5:08PM PDT on Jul 11, 2013

@Sarah D
Weight for weight the energy value of grain is several times greater than the energy value of the meat it produces if fed to food-animals. It is often said that a diet of grain could feed Earth's human population more efficiently than feeding the grain to animals in order to eat their meat.

Sorry Sarah D that no one has answered your questions, how rude! I hope this answers your questions

4:53PM PDT on Jul 11, 2013

@Sarah D
It is true that if we stopped eating all animals today, there would be billions of farm animals who would "go to waste." But there's no way that would ever happen. The likely scenario is that we would gradually decrease the amount of meat we eat, and factory farmers would gradually decrease the number of animals they bred for food.

Eventually there would be no more farm animals than any other species on Earth and the ecosystem would return to a natural balance. There are numerous reports that show the measurable difference it would make if the inhabitants of Earth would eat a vegetarian diet.

4:39PM PDT on Jul 11, 2013

@ Sarah D
PRIMARY GASSES ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR GLOBAL WARMING Carbon Dioxide: If one person exchanges a 'regular' car for a hybrid, they'll reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 1 ton per year. If one person exchanges eating meat, they'll reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 1.5 tons per year. If every American dropped one serving of chicken per week from their diet, it would save the same amount of co2 emissions as taking 500,000 cars off the road. Methane Chicken, turkeys, pigs and cows are the largest producer of methane in the U.S. methane is 20x more powerful at trapping heat in the earth's atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Nitrus Oxide The meat, egg, and dairy produce 65% of worldwide Nitrous Oxide emissions. N OX is 300x more powerful at trapping heat in the earth's atmosphere than Carbon Dioxide. 1 calorie from animal protein requires 11 times as much fossil fuel as 1 calorie of plant protein. Nearly half of all water used in the United States goes to raising animals for food. Raising animals for food uses 30% of the earth's land mass, about the same size as Asia. I admire any meat eater that lowers their meat intake and emissions.

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