- This article is about the dietary lifestyle, "Vegan" can also mean "relating to vega", especially the star Vega, as in astronomical references to the Vegan system, or Science Fiction references to aliens from that system. There are several other uses of the word "vega" which occasionally require use of "vegan"
In its adjective form, vegan describes:
- a philosophy and practise of respect for animals, which avoids the use of animals for food, clothing, and other human purposes
- people who ascribe to such a philosophy and practise
- food, clothing, other products, or diets that avoid the use of animals in line with the above.
As a noun, a vegan is a person who follows a vegan lifestyle (i.e. one who avoids animal products).
Veganism is defined in the following quote from the Memorandum of Association (http://www.vegansociety.com/html/about_us/memorandum.php), the British Vegan Society (2004):
- "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; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, including humans and the environment.
- In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals."
The word vegan (pronounced vee-gun, sometimes mispronounced vay-gun) was originally derived from vegetarian in 1944 when Elsie Shrigley and Donald Watson, frustrated that the term "vegetarianism" had come to include the eating of dairy products, founded the UK Vegan Society. The word starts and ends with the first three and last two letters of vegetarian, representing that veganism begins with vegetarianism and then takes it to its logical conclusion. Therefore the term vegan was originally coined to differentiate those vegetarians who (primarily for ethical or environmental reasons) sought to eliminate all animal products in all areas of their lives from those who simply avoided eating meat. A few vegans see use of the word as a noun as offensive, and prefer to be referred to using the adjectival form; they think that "he is a vegan" is wrong, but "he or she is a vegan person" is correct.
Those who are vegans for ethical reasons today generally oppose the violence and cruelty they see as involved in the (non-vegan) food, clothing and other industries. By extension, cruelty and exploitation are ideally avoided in all human activities and relationships between humans as well as with non-human animals. Though vegans are often accused of placing more importance on non-human animals than on their fellow humans, most vegans are aware of human rights issues and seek to avoid companies and organizations that exploit others and to be "ethical consumers"; many find themselves becoming increasingly active in the fight for human rights as a direct result of embracing veganism. Animal products such as leather, silk or wool are avoided. Soap must be of vegetable oil instead of animal. Toothpaste and hair products, etc., must not be tested by animal experiments such as the Draize or the LD50 tests.
- The group argued that the elimination of exploitation of any kind was necessary in order to bring about a more reasonable and humane society. From its inception, veganism was defined as a "philosophy" and "way of living." It was never intended to be merely a diet and, still today, describes a lifestyle and belief system that revolves around a reverence for life. - Joanne Stepaniak (author of The Vegan Sourcebook).
That the vegan movement has distanced itself, over the years, from the simple dietary practice of vegetarianism is evident in British supermarkets such as Sainsburys, Tesco and the Co-op by the numerous products which are marked either "suitable for vegetarians" or "suitable for vegetarians and vegans" - clearly giving mainstream acceptance to the difference between the two systems. For instance, the Co-op supermarket has a website (http://www.co-op.co.uk/ext_1/Development.nsf/504ca249c786e20f85256284006da7ab/923bbd35445996a600256a71002f9a26?OpenDocument#%5B%3Cblockquote%3E%5D) where customers can learn more about these two philosophies' dietary requirements.
Animal products include all forms of meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, eggs, dairy products, fur, leather, wool, silk, and byproducts such as gelatin, rennet, whey, and the like. The Vegan Society and most vegans include insect products such as honey and beeswax in their definition as well. There is some debate on the finer points of what constitutes an animal product; some vegans avoid cane sugar that has been filtered with bone char and some won't drink beers and wines clarified with egg whites, animal blood (this is exceedingly rare today), or isinglass (even though they are not present in the final product). Further, some vegans avoid food cooked in pans if they have been used to cook meat, though this is often impractical in "mixed" households. Although technically an 'animal product' human breast milk is usually considered acceptable food for vegan infants.
Other ideals may include aiming for sustainable agricultural systems that exclude animal by-products such as blood, fish and bone or animal manures. Some vegans view the adoption of such Vegan organic horticultural and agricultural methodologies as integral to their ethical stance.
Many vegans cite, as their primary motivation, the concept of reducing animal suffering. Utilitarian philosophers, such as Jeremy Bentham, and especially Peter Singer, argue(d) that the suffering of all sentient animals should be taken into consideration when making ethical decision; thus, by abstaining from consuming products from animals exploited for food - veganism is the application of this system of ethics. Though Peter Singer's ethical theory recognizes the suffering of sentient animals, it does not, however, rely on the concept of rights. However, philosophers such as Tom Regan and Gary L. Francione believe that because sentient animals are capable of valuing their life, they have the inherent right to possess their own flesh, and therefore it is unethical to treat sentient animals as property, or as a commodity.
For many, the vegan philosophy also has close connections with the concept of Ahimsa, a Sanskrit word central to the Jain sect of Hinduism and taught by Mahatma Gandhi - Ahimsa roughly means "non-killing and non-harming." The American Vegan Society website says: "It is not mere passiveness, but a positive method of meeting the dilemmas and decisions of daily life. In the western world, we call it Dynamic Harmlessness." Ahimsa is also used as a backronym: Abstinence from animal products, Harmlessness with reverence for life, Integrity of thought, word, and deed, Mastery over oneself, Service to humanity, nature, and creation, and Advancement of understanding and truth.
Those who avoid animal products for reasons of health (eg, due to allergies, or to avoid cholesterol), rather than compassion sometimes describe themselves as "dietary vegans". However, popular vegan author Joanne Stepaniak argues that this term is inappropriate because veganism is by definition about helping animals. She believes that a term such as "total vegetarian" would be a better categorisation for those who, for example, avoid eating meat and dairy products, but continue to buy new leather shoes.
A Time/CNN poll published in Time Magazine July 7, 2002, found that 4% of Americans adult consider themselves vegetarians, and 5% of self-described vegetarians consider themselves vegans. This small-sampled poll may suggest that two-tenths-of-one-percent of Americans adults are vegans. A 2000 poll (http://www.vrg.org/nutshell/poll2000.htm) suggested closer to 0.9% of the USA' adult population may be vegan.
In the UK, research  (http://www.imaner.net/panel/statistics.htm) showed that 0.4%, approximately 250 000 people were vegan in 2001.
Modern veganism in context
Veganism as a secular movement is a modern idea, as a reaction to the exploitation of nature, including imposing unnecessary suffering on non-human animals. Although it can be seen as a minor and localised reaction to the excesses of the developed world, the principles behind it can be found in much older ethical/religious doctrine of the East, such as Hinduism, Buddhism or Jainism. (See the discussion of 'Ahimsa' elsewhere on this page, and in Wikipedia).
Much stricter forms of diet have been followed for thousands of years by adherents of Jainism, and a restricted diet is an integral part of their religious doctrine, which promote non-suffering. Jain monks usually follow a much stricter form of veganism where they eat only fruits and beans so that they can avoid indirect killing of plants. In fact, some Jains have been known to starve themselves to death in order to avoid harming any living creature or plants. There are even those who wear masks over their mouths and noses to avoid any possibility of breathing in tiny insects.
Except for these extreme cases, secular veganism is pretty much unheard of in most parts of the world. In most parts of developing countries, meat and animal products used to be a minor part of the diet. Because raising animals for food takes up far more resources than the raising of crops, regular consumption of animal products has historically been limited to the wealthy; this has, in turn, led to animal products becoming "aspirational foods", desirable because of their expensiveness. This situation has begun to be reversed by the rising standard of living in these countries and the associated "westernisation" of their cultures. In many of these countries, health problems associated with over-eating are on the rise, and so are serious environmental problems (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/3559542.stm). Consequently, there is a small but growing awareness of the health and environmental benefits of a vegetarian diet.
There are several diets often thought of as similar to veganism, though there are significant difference, including the aforementioned fruitarian/fructarian diet, raw foods, and the macrobiotic diet. There are also numerous religious groups that regularly or occasionally practice a similar diet, including some sects of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism, as well as some Christian sects such as the Eastern Orthodox church and the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
More recently, many young people who subscribe to the anarcho-punk or straight edge punk movements have embraced veganism, and corresponding beliefs of the animal rights movement. Straight Edge is a philosophy in which one does not partake in the drinking of alcohol, casual sex, or recreational drugs, and was born out of anger at the cultural excesses of the 1980s. Another recent variation of veganism is the "freegan" diet (practitioners sometimes called "opportunivores"), which essentially allows its practitioners to violate the tenets of veganism when a food item is free or of a post-consumer nature (example: discarded food).
For more information see main Vegan Nutrition Article
Diet and nutrition are an important part of the lives of all people. While veganism can require extra effort to maintain a nutritionally balanced diet, this is not generally a problem provided sensible guidelines are followed.
Possible and probable benefits
Besides diminishing animal suffering, a vegan diet is thought to reduce the risk of many health problems, including heart failure, obesity, diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, constipation, cancer, psoriasis, and Eczema though this should not be confused with overall health or longevity. So far no research has shown that vegan live longer than people who eat meat. On the other hand, number of research has shown that vegetarians and those who eat only fish live longer than people who consume meat. But these research are careful to point out the lifestyle difference of sample groups such as smoking, amount of exercise and general socio economic background. General consensus of scientific community is that what matters in health and longevity is how one eats, be it be vegan, vegetarian or a diet including meat.
Many vegan advocacy sites have a tendency to imply that a vegan diet is inherently healthy and a diet consisting of meat is inherently unhealthy. It is likely that such a reductionist view, reducing dietary health to the consumption or nonconsumption of animal products is overly simple and essentially unhelpful. A properly planned vegan diet will supply high levels of fiber, micro-nutrients, and anti-oxidants, as well as limiting the intake of harmful fats found abundantly in some meat and dairy products, all of which promise positive health effects. It must be remembered, however, that lifestyle, environmental health, social conditions, medical access, and emotional well being all contribute to overall health, and the attribution of complex health issues to single causes is usually unwise. The simple elimination of meat from the diet without thought and planning toward providing well balanced nutrition, including protein and mineral intake, is no guarantee of improved health.
Professor Colin Campbell found that the consumption of animal products was correlated with ill health on a statistical basis.(See the China project). His work therefore supports the association of good health with veganism though this outcome should be understood as the result of changing life style than anything else.
Veganism is also more environmentally sustainable, and may improve the conditions of low income people in and out of third world countries by freeing more food for human consumption. But it can be equally argued that increased demand for crop raise price hence impoverishing people who largely subsist on crops. Some counter this argument by pointing out that supply is flexible enough to cope with increased demand. But if this is true, whether some people eat meat should make no difference in the first place.
Also, veganism can make substantial cuts to one's food budget, meat is usually the most expensive thing that people buy, food-wise - and beans, rice, nuts and other vegan staples are inexpensive and nutritious.
For most forms of livestock, approximately 10kg of grain are needed for every kg of meat produced. The remaining 9kg or so of feedstock is converted into gas, waste or fertilizer (and the waste can be toxic, where animals are fed their own waste and the rendered 'byproducts' of other animals). Veganism thus avoids these environmental and food-chain problems. However, it should be noted that grains used to feed livestock is not same as the one consumed by human and therefore, one should not simply equate these two.
See the references below for more detail on these issues.
Vegetarian vs omnivore diet: cycling stamina
Dr. Per-Olaf Astrand did a classic study of diet and endurance using nine highly trained athletes, changing their diet every three days. At the end of every diet change, each athlete would pedal a bicycle until exhaustion. Those with a high protein and high fat meat (carnivore) diet averaged 57 minutes. Those that consumed a mixed (omnivore) diet, lower in meat, fat and protein averaged 1 hour and 54 minutes: twice the endurance of the meat and fat eaters. The vegetarian, high carbohydrate diet athletes lasted 2 hours and 47 minutes: 3 times the endurance of meat eaters. The study merely show that carbohydrate is essential in endurance while meat/protein is primarily used for other purpose. (Source: Astrand, Per-Olaf, Nutrition Today 3:no2, 9-11, 1968)  (http://www.filipinovegetarianrecipe.com/why_vegetarian_foods_are_best_for_you/vegetarian_foods_are_energizing.htm)
For a list of vegan recipes complementary to this article see the wiki cookbook section, Vegan cuisine (http://wikibooks.org/wiki/Cookbook:Vegan_cuisine).
an example of imaginative vegan cooking: vegetable sushi
See main Criticisms of veganism article.
Criticisms of vegans and veganism tend to be broadly organized into four categories:
- practical (the difficulties associated with attempting to achieve 100% veganism)
- 'political' (eg, association with other movements, such as PETA)
- nutritional (questions as to whether a vegan diet provides a balanced source of proteins, fatty acids, calcium, B12, etc)
- moral/ethical objections
Such criticisms and responses to these are covered in greater depth at the above page.
- Prof. V. Smil, Rationalizing Animal Food Production, in Feeding the World: A Challenge for the 21st Century, MIT Press, London, 2000. This provides evidence for the amount of grain required to raise livestock.
- C. de Haan, H. Steinfeld & H. Blackburn, Livestock and the Environment: Finding a Balance FAO, USAID, World Bank, 1998. Provides evidence of environmental damage caused by animal farming, mainly factory farming.
Resources for vegans
Vegan essays online
- Essays by Joanne Stepaniak (http://www.vegsource.com/joanne/essays/index.htm)
- Veganism & permaculture (http://pages.unisonfree.net/gburnett/essay/veganperm.htm)
- Vegan definition in the Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy (BBC) (http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/brunel/A970779)
- Eatveg.com (http://eatveg.com/)
- VeganHealth.org (http://www.veganhealth.org/)
- Free online talks on vegan nutrition (http://www.veganMD.org)
- The Vegan Society webpages on nutrition (http://www.vegansociety.com/html/food/nutrition/)
- The (British) Vegetarian Society page on vegan nutrition (http://www.vegsoc.org/info/vegan-nutrition.html)
- Guiltless grill? Is there another kind? (http://maddox.xmission.com/grill.html) by Maddox in his "The Best Page in the Universe". Maddox routinely publishes articles aimed at provoking extreme reactions. In For every animal you don't eat, I'm going to eat three (http://maddox.xmission.com/sponsor.html), he urges non-vegans to "sponsor" vegans and vegetarians to "nullify the vegetarian moral crusade".
- The website People Eating Tasty Animals (http://mtd.com/tasty/) features essays and articles about hunting and the consumption of animal products. Best known for the creator's legal battle with PETA over the rights to peta.org (http://mtd.com/tasty/editorial3.html).
- The paintings and writings of artist Trenton Doyle Hancock feature creatures called vegans which take control of a people's stomachs, turning them into "vegan vessels".
- In the reality television program "Surviving Nugent", host Ted Nugent, widely known for his anti-animal rights viewpoints, regularly derided the only vegan contestant.
- Matheny, Gaverick. Least harm: a defense of vegetarianism from Steven Davis's omnivorous proposal (http://courses.ats.rochester.edu/nobis/papers/leastharm.htm), Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 2003, Vol 16, pp. 505-511.
- Beyond Vegetarianism (http://beyondveg.com)
- ChooseVegetarian.com (http://www.ChooseVegetarian.com) (why and how to go vegetarian - info on factory farming, environment, vegan health, and recipes)
- VeggieBoards (http://www.veggieboards.com) (message board and recipes)
- Vegan.com (http://www.vegan.com/)
- Vegan.net (http://www.vegan.net/)
- Veganalia (http://www.veganalia.com/)
- Vegan Porn (http://www.veganporn.com/) news for vegans (not a porn site)
- Vegan-Food (http://www.vegan-food.net/) Huge collection of vegan recipes
- Vegan Arts and Artists (http://www.veganica.com/)
- Vegan Views (http://www.veganviews.org.uk/)
- Vegan Represent (http://www.veganrepresent.com/) discussion forum for vegans
- Interviews with Joanne Stepaniak (http://www.annonline.com/interviews/981112/)
- National (UK) vegan festival (http://www.veganfestival.freeserve.co.uk/)
- Vegan Village (http://www.veganvillage.co.uk/)
- Vegan Research panel (http://www.imaner.net/panel/index.htm)
- Vegan Family House (http://www.veganfamily.co.uk/)
- go vegan (http://govegan.de)
- Vegan Blog (http://getvegan.com/blog/blogger.php)
- Fruitarian Links (http://hem.fyristorg.com/fruitarian/links.html)
- Vegan World Order (http://www.veganworldorder.com)
- Vegan Club Wiki (http://www.veganclub.com)
- VeganWiki (http://veganwiki.org/)
- Veganalia celebration (http://veganalia.com/)
- vegan.de (German)
- Jivdaya (http://www.jivdaya.org/Jiv99Vol2Issue2&3.htm)
- VegPeople (http://www.vegpeople.com/)
- The VEGAN website (http://www.vegan-info.com/)
- The Vegan Forum - a vegan message board (http://veganforum.com/forums/index.php)
(See also external links on the vegetarianism page.)