In its adjective form, vegan describes:

  • people (who avoid all animal products),
  • diets (plant-based),
  • food (containing no animal products), and
  • products (containing no animal products and not animal tested).

As a noun, a vegan is a person who follows a vegan lifestyle (i.e. avoiding animal products). Some vegans see this usage as offensive, and prefer to be referred to using the adjective form.

Veganism is defined in the following quote from the Memorandum of Association, 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.

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 where customers can learn more about these two philosophies' dietary requirements.

Other goals may include polyculture and other means of sustainable agriculture. Some vegans see this as part and parcel of their veganism.

Animal productsEdit

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 won't eat food cooked in pans if they have been used to cook meat, though this is often impractical in "mixed" households. An exception is human milk, when freely given by the lactating mother.


Many vegans cite, as their primary motivation, the concept of reducing animal suffering. Utilitarian philosophers, such as Jeremy Bentham, and especially Peter Singer, argue 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 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 suggested closer to 0.9% of the USA' adult population may be vegan.

In the UK, research [1] showed that 0.4%, approximately 250 000 people were vegan in 2001.

Modern veganism in contextEdit

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. Consequently, there is a small but growing awareness of the health and environmental benefits of a vegetarian diet.

Similar dietsEdit

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 tenants of veganism when a food item is free or of a post-consumer nature (example: discarded food).

Vegan NutritionEdit

For references on nutrition, see below.

Obtaining adequate nutritionEdit

The best way for any person, Vegan or not, to attain adequate nutrition is to eat a variety of foods from different food groups (see Food pyramid and the Vegan Society's nutrition pages). Some important nutrients (amino acids, fats, calcium, vitamins A, B12, D and E) are present in good quantities in meat and dairy products. But, with minimal attention, a vegan diet with plenty of all of these can be designed.

As with any diet, vegans need to take a balanced approach and include a variety of foods. A vegan diet has the advantage of avoiding health risks associated with excess intake of fat and cholesterol present in fatty meat, cheese and eggs.

Protein, Amino Acids and VeganismEdit

The American Dietetic Association states ( "Plant sources of protein alone can provide adequate amounts of essential amino acids if a variety of plant foods are consumed and energy needs are met." It is more common to find instances of scurvy and other consequences of vitamin C deficiency in people who subsist purely on a diet of fast food. However, it is important for vegetarians and vegans to be conscious of their intake of protein, B12, calcium and other nutrients. As many health-conscious people know, large intakes of protein, such as the amounts commonly taken in by meat-eating people can cause gout, low calcium and a pleothra of other unpleasantries.

Vitamins and mineralsEdit

The needs for various minerals and vitamins will be met by eating a wide variety of unprocessed foods. Vitamin B12 can be obtained in some yeast extracts (check labels) and other fortified products such as soya milks. No scientific test has yet found a reliable vegetable source (i.e., one that works consistently for all testees) of B12, and the UK Vegan Society recommends the use of supplements derived from bacteria, and that a minimum of 3ug (micrograms) of B12 be consumed daily to avoid the health dangers associated with the elevated homocysteine levels that can result from B12 deficiency.

Fatty acidsEdit

Omega-3 fatty acids can be obtained from Vegan sources such as fresh, cold pressed flaxseed or canola (rapeseed) oils, as well as in walnuts and dark green leafy vegetables (see 'Essential Fatty Acids in Vegetarian Nutrition'). The importance of omega-3s is illustrated by Officer of the United States Public Health Service, and Chief of the Outpatient Clinic at the Laboratory of Membrane Biophysics and Biochemistry at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Dr Joseph Hibbeln's 2003 presentation to the UK's Associate Parliamentary Food And Health Forum, in which he explained the connection between omega-3s and the formation of the human brain; Dr Hibbeln points out that the average American's diet is drastically nutritionally deficient, and that the ratio of omega-3 fatty acids is worryingly low.

Dietary CalciumEdit

There is research which shows that vegans have lower levels of calcium in their body, but this is not supported by any research to show that these low levels are harmful. It is thought that vegans are better able to maintain calcium levels in their body than those following higher protein diets (see Langley, 1988, page 77), and also benefit from having good levels of vitamin K and bone-building minerals found in a balanced plant-based diet. Furthermore, the US Dept of Agriculture (USDA), which exists to serve the needs of America's food producers, has conducted research that shows that vegan women form bone density at a significantly higher rate than omnivorous women.


It is wise for vegans and non-vegans alike to avoid trans fats (found in hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils), in order to have good nutrition. These transfats are most commonly found in snack food, fried food, and other highly-processed foods. Most fast-food restaurants use hydrogenated oil when cooking their French fries.

Balanced NutritionEdit

One should note that nutrition is about balance. Too much or too little of one nutrient can be dangerous. Dietary supplementation may be problematic for this reason, though there is no real consensus on the dangers of "megadosing". Most countries have recommended daily allowances for all vitamins and minerals, and these RDAs may vary from country to country, although some of these may be out of date with regard to current research (as in B12, where the UK RDA is 1ug but this is generally not regarded as adequate to maintain safe homocysteine levels).

Possible and probable benefitsEdit

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, poisons, toxins,cancer, psoriasis, and Eczema.

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.

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.

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.

See the references below for more detail on these issues.

Vegetarian vs carnivore diet: cycling staminaEdit

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 (Source: Astrand, Per-Olaf, Nutrition Today 3:no2, 9-11, 1968) [2]

Vegan cuisineEdit

For a list of vegan recipes complementary to this article see the wiki cookbook section, Vegan cuisine.



Criticism of veganism may be organized into four categories: practical, political, and moral/ethical.


Veganism requires a level of attention to the details of consumption which many non-vegans view as inconvenient, particularly in the area of food preparation. Most dishes prepared in western culture involve at least one non-vegan element - dairy, in particular, is pervasive. And while most people are accustomed to the idea of vegetarianism, it is much more difficult for vegans to simply "eat around" the non-vegan elements in a meal. Unsympathetic non-vegans may resent the extra effort of accommodating the vegan diet, and may additionally view vegan substitutions for non-vegan ingredients (such as soy milk for milk) as inferior.


Perceptions of veganism are often colored by ideological associations with a variety of other movements and organizations, including environmentalism, anti-globalization, and especially more outspoken animal rights activist groups such as PETA. The philosophies of these groups may share tenets of veganism, and members of these groups may be vegan, but there is no formal connection.


The vegan diet is thought by some to lead to vitamin deficiencies, most notoriously of calcium and protein, and of Vitamin B12, which was thought to be derived solely from foods of animal origin, though this claim is now disputed. While a vegan diet may require extra attention to ensure sufficient vitamin intake - particularly during the transition to a vegan diet - cases of vitamin deficiency in vegans are rare, and may be reported in an over-sensationalized way. Reactions to the anti-meat stance of veganism are the same as to vegetarianism.

Vegans tend to suffer less from obesity-related illness, cancers, heart trouble, stroke, and diabetes; however, veganism is not a guarantee of longevity or excellent health - heredity, genetics, pre-existing health problems, and other lifestyle factors play into health and lifespans. Thus the correlation between a vegan diet and improved health has not been conclusively shown to be causal, though there is evidence to support the idea that vegetarians may, after correcting for other factors, enjoy longer lives (link 'Mortality in vegetarians and non-vegetarians: detailed findings from a collaborative analysis of 5 prospective studies' by Key, Fraser, Thorogood, Appleby, Beral, Reeves, Burr, Chang-Claude, Frentzel-Beyme, Kuzma, Mann and McPherson in The American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition).


The primary ethical argument against veganism attacks the concept of "indirect responsibility" via reductio ad absurdum, stating that it is impossible to avoid all harm: animals are sometimes killed in the process of producing vegan food, whether by accident during harvest or intentionally, as pest control. Extensions of this critique assert the individual's moral responsibility in terms of economic connection: those who participate in a socioeconomic structure share accountability for its products. Vegans tend to accept that it is impossible to entirely eradicate harm, but believe it is absolutely possible to minimise harm. Gaverick Matheny's paper in the Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics in 2003, entitled Least harm: a defense of vegetarianism from Steven Davis's omnivorous proposal, refutes the claim that more animals are harmed to cater to a vegan diet. Vegans also by and large promote conservationist environmental and energy policies and sustainable agriculture, not least because such policies are seen as steps toward achieving the aims of veganism on a grander scale, in part by reducing the amount of inefficiently mass-produced meat.

There is some perception that vegans believe themselves to be morally superior to non-vegans. Vegans are typically aware of this and often make extensive efforts to avoid this perception.

See alsoEdit

References Edit


Environmental issuesEdit

  • 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.

External links Edit


Vegan organizationsEdit

Resources for vegansEdit

Vegan essays onlineEdit


Vegan-Related InformationEdit

(See also external links on the vegetarianism page.)

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