“Vegan” what should it mean?

Who should this term refer to?

Due to the fact that many people are using it in different ways based on different meanings I felt that it was important to put this poll up to get an idea of where the word vegan stands.  I know what it means to me but what does it mean to you or should it mean?

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10 Responses to “Vegan” what should it mean?

  1. Lisa Qualls says:

    I think I would choose different wording for the choices, but thank you for doing this. The way I define veganism is a way of living that seeks to exclude all forms of exploitation and other intentional harm to others. In order to live vegan one must unlearn speciesism, which takes a lot of honest introspection. Of course, every definition is subject to interpretation so I sometimes feel I have to have a full legal document in order to defend veganism. For instance, I leave out “possible and practical” because people have exploited that as a loop-hole and they think of it as permission to use others. But, I use “others” which some people will claim is only refering to people. Living vegan requires honesty with oneself and true commitment to not hurt others. “Hurt”, that is another word that gets abused (for instance the “humanely raised people” think that killing is not hurting).

    It is so important to agree on what veganism means because if it has no meaning, what is the use of having a word at all. A word is supposed to enable communication, but as it stands, the word “vegan” no longer communicates anything specific.

  2. HollyS says:

    Interesting distinctions–thanks for working on this. At least we have some concensus so far in the voting. Regarding the “fights for animals” aspect, I think a person can be vegan without being an activist. But if they fight for animals, that makes them an activist. A person can also be an animal activist without being vegan, but if they’re not vegan, then they’re an animal welfare activist, not an animal rights activist.

  3. Darwinist says:

    Food is the most important way we interact or not with animals. We need a word to help us make the right choice at mealtime for the animals. “Vegan” is that word. “Vegans” are studied in nutrition science. We look for “vegan” options on the menus of “vegan-friendly” restaurants. We buy “vegan” supplements.

    We also buy “vegan” products like belts and shoes. “Vegan” helps us make the right choices here, too. People will understand from the diet application of the word what that means. But people buy more meals than belts, so this is of secondary importance.

    Intentions and aspirations aside, are people who call themselves “vegan” really vegan? Probably not, even if they are trying. Have you watched a movie with a trained animal in a starring role? Do you use any pharmaceuticals of any kind? And then there is the tire thing. In a sense, all vegans are aspiring vegans, with varying degrees of success. It’s hard to pin black and white labels on animals as complicated as humans.

    The word “vegan” is too valuable for that most important issue, food, to be weighed down by dogma. You won’t see menu items that say “pure vegetarian.” We need a word, and that word is “vegan”. The word helps the animals the most this way.

    People who are going out of their way to eat vegan are aware of the other animal issues. Considering where we are in history now, that’s good enough.

    • Lisa Qualls says:

      Darwinist, I agree that food is what we focus on with good reason. It is the thing we have to think about the most as we make decisions about it multiple times per day (we don’t buy clothes or go out to entertainment multiple times per day, for instance), but what I am seeing is that the focus on it to the exclusion of all other aspects has caused the word to change. That is dangerous.

      You say that people will understand from diet, but that is not what I am seeing. I am seeing people change the word vegan to mean a diet that is not very strict. I am an activist who frequently engages the public. I am very sensitive to the way we communicate. I hear the word changing with individuals I talk with and in the mass media. The most vocal people are changing the word, so I think it is important to rescue it.

      Words like Mongoloid and retarded were used when I was a teenager. Now, they are politically incorrect. To use those words is insensitive and inaccurate. As words change we are no longer communicating. It is so bad that I do not just say “I’m vegan” anymore. I put the definition in parenthesis.

      Using a word like “dogma” is a bit extreme. Why is the concept of living without harming others so unthinkable? Why is being clear about what veganism is so threatening?

      • Darwinist says:

        Hi, Lisa. Of course, I’m totally sympathetic to your point of view on this. I am really inclined to agree, because I get annoyed at misuses and abuses of language. It’s just that for me, I care more about the animals then the word itself. Of course, you do, too. But for me, that means letting this short, handy word continue to mean what people think it means for food choices. Of course, there should be no animal products in a food labelled “vegan”. That needs to be the bright line that is at the core of its meaning. But it seems to me the argument over the word happens in relation to what people call themselves. I’m just saying, with people and issues of identity, there is a lot of gray area. I can think of lots of examples to make this point, but that would get tedious.

        For me, I want “vegan” to be an easy, handy word to help the general public navigate the food world, like kosher, vegetarian, or halal. Each has a value system behind it with subtleties, but they serve their purpose. The fact is, this is how “vegan” is being used by most people now, so by default it is at least partly defined this way. Really, your talking about eliminating one meaning of the word. Changing that would be an uphill battle. I would question whether it is worth the effort from you, or anyone, to change that, and if it would even be helpful for animals to try.

        I’ll bet you we would find offensive and misused words among abolitionists in the 19th century, but they got the job done for their most pressing problem. True liberation has been a long process since then. It will be the same for animals. In the mean time, patience will be necessary as people like you further explain yourself to raise awareness. I think that is a small price to pay if the word “vegan” helps the most people make the daily choices that make the world a bit better.

  4. Lisa Qualls says:

    (this may sound like I am angry, but I am not) “I care more about the animals then the word itself. ” The ONLY reason I care about the word is for the animals. I do not give one shit about being in a club, much less an exclusive one. I ONLY care about how the change affects animals.

    The word was originally coined BECAUSE of the corruption of the word “vegetarian”, now “vegan” has followed the same path to corruption.

    I do not want to take away one meaning of it. What you are saying about labeling laws sounds really good to me. I am only concerned about how it is defined. So, for instance, when someone says, “a vegan is someone who does not eat animal products” that is a bad definition and it confuses the public.

    • Darwinist says:

      I know you care and are passionate about this. My point of view is that to be a good advocate, you have to put yourself in the shoes of the skeptic, looking for any chance to discredit you or your ideas. For the average person who wants convenience and cares about fitting in to society, a belief system that requires a major change in lifestyle is more easily ignored than adopted. Actually, making vegan choices at mealtime is easy and getting easier all the time. If that person feels it is worth some small effort to be a vegan, at least in terms of diet, that is a huge success to me, regardless of the self-identification that comes along with that.

      Really, I’m talking about tactics and human psychology. I really only care about what is effective. But that’s just me. Show me it is more effective to reach the masses and create an image of veganism as something that is attractive and exciting by insisting on a pure use of the word, and I’ll change my mind.

  5. RAIN says:

    I think the issue is we have vegan = meaning not eating animal foods which is true because if your vegan you don’t eat animal foods. This statement is true.

    There elements of this definition that are missing which is missing.

    The problem with the vegan as a diet is not bad as a start but the real focus of vegan should not be what elements should and should not be in it. But more about intent and practice.

    If you practice not wearing and eating animals and your intent is to consider animals a value to this planet, value each life and believe that animals of basic interests that we must respect then you are a vegan.

    If you label yourself as vegan and you do not practice what you preach, and it is about you and your well being only and the interest of animals are not something your focused on then even if you abstain from eating or wearing animals your not vegan.

    The focus at the end is the basic interest of animals not to be used or exploited. No diet, no word really can change the intent of a person and his or her way of practice.

    I like Gary Franciones definition.

    I define “veganism” as not consuming any animal products. That is, it means not eating any meat or dairy or animal-derived byproducts.

    And it means not wearing fur, leather, silk, or wool, and not purchasing or using any products that contain animal-derived ingredients or that have been tested on animals.

    Veganism is the principle of abolition applied to the life of the individual.

    I find that many animal advocates are vegetarians, but few are vegans. Many animal advocates think that it is acceptable to eat dairy.

    Animals used for dairy production and egg production are kept alive longer than animals used for meat, are treated as poorly if not worse than “meat animals,” and they end up in the same slaughterhouse.

    There is probably more suffering in a glass of milk than in a pound of steak. Veganism helps to reduce animal suffering in a significant way. Every person who becomes a vegan means that the demand for animal products decreases.

    If you agree that animal rights means abolition, then veganism is the only morally consistent choice that you can make. Just as a person who owns slaves cannot claim consistently to be an abolitionist, a person who continues to consume animal products cannot consistently be an advocate for animal rights.

    The most important thing that we can do as individuals is to become abolitionists in our personal lives – to become vegans who do not consume any animal products.

    • Darwinist says:

      “The focus at the end is the basic interest of animals not to be used or exploited. No diet, no word really can change the intent of a person and his or her way of practice.”


  6. RAIN says:

    Although there is no black and white answer there are some valid points.
    Animal welfare is not bad if the people who try to help animals make the point the veganism is the way to go. Not that you can consume better treated animals.

    Oh and Gary Francione adds these remarks as well:

    My theory is that as long as animals are property, we will never accord them justice. As long as animals are regarded as property, we will sacrifice their interests whenever it results in a benefit for humans. Therefore, we must seek the abolition of their property status.

    There is a belief among many animal advocates that if we improve animal welfare, it will lead to the abolition of animal exploitation. There is no historical evidence for that belief.

    We have had animal welfare in the west for almost 200 years now and we are using more animals in more terrible ways that at any time in human history.

    Animal welfare does little to relieve animal suffering – it only makes humans more comfortable about animal exploitation.

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