What Does It Mean to Be Vegan?

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Written by Moss Lane Staff

Veganism is a lifestyle that works to exclude all forms of use and exploitation of animal products for food, clothing, or any other purpose. From a diet perspective, being vegan means that you don’t eat any food partially or completely derived from animals. 

It can be tough to define vegan lifestyles, because people practice different forms of veganism to fit the life they want to live. Also, there are similar diets out there and the difference between those and veganism is subtle. We don’t blame you for being confused about plant-based vs. vegan diets and lifestyles. 

We dive into the many vegan meanings and implications in this guide. 

A Deep Dive Into the Vegan Definition

Most people associate veganism with food, and for good reason: Being a vegan manifests itself most noticeably through your diet. Vegans are strictly plant-based, and eat nothing that comes from an animal. If you have friends who are vegan, you probably notice their lifestyle the most when you try to cook a meal together, or sit down at a restaurant you both can enjoy. (Luckily, there are lots of great food options that both vegans and non-vegans alike these days!)

This very obviously means that vegans don’t eat meat, fish, eggs, dairy, and so on, but they also avoid byproducts of animal agriculture (like tallow, whey, or gelatin). 

But being a vegan doesn’t only mean you avoid animal products in your diet, but also that you avoid animal products in all parts of your daily lifestyle. The strictest vegans will avoid animal products in things they wear, put on their bodies, or use day-to-day—like cosmetics, purses, jackets, shoes, vitamins, medicine, tools, furniture, and more. 

What Can You Eat as a Vegan?

By vegan definition, you can’t eat any meat, fish, or animal products at all. That’s a pretty simple rule to stick to, though there are some tricky animal products you might not think of (like honey).

That might seem really restricting, but when you consider the full list of what vegans can eat, you can have a pretty rich diet. 

Here’s what vegans can eat:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Nuts
  • Breads and Pasta (assuming they don’t contain animal products—some do)
  • Beans, tofu, and tempeh
  • Rice, wheat, and other grains
  • Vegan milks (soy, almond, pea, nut, hemp, etc.)

Common Products with Vegan Replacements

As we mentioned, being a vegan means that you also don’t use any non-food products from animals. That may seem tough to stick to, but it’s actually easier than ever to find vegan substitutes to common products.

There are lots of great brands for cosmetics and skincare (Milk, Herbivore, and Biossance being some of them). 

There are also a few great vegan leather goods brands. For shoes, Veja offers great vegan leather sneakers, as well as Cariuma and Flamingos’ Life. For handbags, there are tons of leather alternatives from vegan brands. A few that stand out are Nanushka, Senreve, and Hozen.

Why Do People Become Vegans?

People put a lot of effort in to adhere to the strictest vegan definitions. It certainly isn’t easy (or cheap) to replace all your food and lifestyle items with non-animal based products. Why do they go through all that effort? 

There are a few different reasons why people adopt a vegan lifestyle:

To Avoid Animal Cruelty

Most of the animal products consumed in the U.S. come from massive “factory farms.” It’s an understatement to say that living conditions are less than ideal. Sadly, the animal industry seeks to maximize outputs while minimizing costs—at the expense of animals themselves. These animals typically live in tiny, dirty, and harsh spaces that many would think to be unlivable. 

Many vegans chose to adopt their lifestyle because they want no part in this system. 

It can go beyond just the fact that most facilities and farms are inhumane. You might be wondering whether this problem gets solved if the animals live happier, more humane lifestyles. But many vegans believe that all sentient creatures have a right to live and the act of killing itself is wrong and cruel—regardless of the quality of life that animal lived. 

To Eat Healthier 

Many vegan diets do require supplements and careful planning to make sure you’re getting the right nutrition. For instance, studies show that vegans are typically vitamin B12 and vitamin D deficient. Many vegans need to take supplements to account for important nutritional elements they’re not getting from their food. (Here’s a good guide to vitamins and supplements vegans should be taking.)

Beyond that, though, many people choose veganism to be healthier. If the diet is followed correctly, research shows that following a plant-based diet has significant health benefits. 

If you focus more on eating plans (which essentially is what it means to be vegan), you’ll naturally limit the amount of oils, sugars, and processed fats you’re eating. Vegan diets are inherently low in saturated fats, cholesterol, and processed sugars, and higher in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which all leads to lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other ailments. 

And if you’re looking to slim down a bit, research shows that those on a plant-based diet do tend to weigh less than non-vegetarians. 

To Lessen Their Environmental Impact

From greenhouse gas production, deforestation, water exploitation, and more, industrialized animal farming has a huge environmental cost. According to a 2016 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the world’s food-related emissions would drop by 70% by 2050 if we all went vegan. 

Generally speaking, going plant-based is more sustainable than eating meat or consuming animal products in any way. Many vegans choose to adopt the lifestyle to reduce their footprint. And for many individuals, reducing (and ideally eliminating) the amount of meat consumed in their diet is the single most effective way to reduce their impact on the environment. 

Reducing the amount of meat consumed in your diet is the single most effective way to reduce your impact on the environment.

What Does It Mean to Be Vegan Certified?

Any product can claim it’s “vegan,” and there are no regulations on the use of the word. There are a lot of different vegan “certifications” out there, and it’s hard to know which you can trust. 

Here are two of the common labels, and what they mean: 

Vegan.org Certified

 A Vegan.org certification guarantees that each product sold is vegan, containing no animal ingredients or animal by-products, using no animal ingredient or by-product in the manufacturing process, and not being tested on animals. The organization requires documentation on each ingredient to show it is both not animal derived and not tested on animals since 2000. 

Vegan Trademark by The Vegan Society

The Vegan Trademark, administered by The Vegan Society, checks each product against a criteria of standards, like being free of animal products, animal testing, GMOs, and more. It’s one of the more recognized vegan certifications in the world. 

You can read more about other vegan labels across the world here

Other “Vegan”-Like Lifestyles 

When you read more about the vegan definition, you might decide that this strict of a lifestyle isn’t for you. It takes a lot of work!

There are other similar diets and lifestyles that might work better for you, if you want to follow a looser spectrum of what being a vegan or vegetarian means. 

Some other vegan-like diets are:

  • Lacto-ovo vegetarian: Includes the consumption of dairy and egg products, but excludes any consumption of meat. 
  • Lacto vegetarians: Includes the consumption of dairy, but excludes any consumption of meat and eggs.
  • Ovo vegetarians: Includes the consumption of eggs, but excludes any consumption of any other animal product.

What’s the Difference Between Plant-Based vs Vegan?

A plant-based diet is easily confused with what it means to be vegan. 

In their essence, they’re very similar. However, a person who’s “plant-based” sticks to only the diet-part of the vegan definition. They don’t consume any animal products. 

A vegan, on the other hand, doesn’t consume any animal products, nor do they use any animal products—like clothing or cosmetics. It goes beyond just the diet. 

Now that you can define vegan lifestyles, you might feel like it’s the right lifestyle for you to adopt. If you’re ready to eliminate the use and consumption of animals in your life, it’s a great way to reduce your impact on the environment. As you start embracing what it means to vegan, check out our vegan shopping guides, like the best vegan candles

Article Sources

  1. https://www.vegansociety.com/
  2. https://www.vegansociety.com/go-vegan/definition-veganism
  3. https://vegan.com/info/what/
  4. https://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/factory-farming/
  5. https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/10-things-you-should-know-about-industrial-farming
  6. http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/197623/icode/
  7. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/31/avoiding-meat-and-dairy-is-single-biggest-way-to-reduce-your-impact-on-earth
  8. http://vegan-labels.info/
  9. https://ethicalelephant.com/cruelty-free-vegan-certifications-claims/
  10. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/vegan-vs-vegetarian#TOC_TITLE_HDR_2
  11. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/plant-based-vs-vegan
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Moss Lane Staff

The Moss Lane Staff is comprised of seasoned content professionals who specialize in synthesizing large amounts of information and making it accessible to every day readers. This article was written and edited by multiple members of our staff to ensure comprehensive coverage of the topic.