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  • Writer's pictureJenni Foshey

What is a Vegan?

INTRODUCTION

Some people are so terrified of the word "vegan".  So, before you click out of this article, try and learn a little bit about it :) 

There's so much to talk when it comes to veganism: health, diet, animal ethics, and environmental sustainability...just to name a few.  Many people deter away from veganism because they "need" or depend on meat. People think vegans are crazy animal rights activists that push their beliefs on others and eat tofu and veggies all the time. This is simply not true for the majority of vegans! Each vegan is different in their lifestyles, beliefs, and even reasonings for choosing a vegan diet and/or lifestyle.  


*Throughout this article, the words vegan and vegetarian are dispersed. Be mindful of which is used to avoid confusion. The term “plant-based” in this article refers to a family of diets including vegetarian, vegan, and everything in-between like a pescatarian.



WHAT IS A VEGAN?

The simplest way to define a vegan is to compare it to a vegetarian. A vegetarian does not eat animals. A vegan does not eat animals OR animal by-products. For example, vegetarians do not eat chickens, but vegans do not eat chickens OR chicken eggs. Vegans do not eat meat (which includes seafood), dairy, honey, or gelatin. 


Whether if it’s after you read this article or if you currently are thinking about switching to a vegan diet, be careful. Many people decide to just randomly switch to a full vegan diet one day and then fail at maintaining it. Why? They don’t transition. So many people I talk to say that they tried being vegan but quit the first day or week because it was too hard. I don’t blame them. It’s incredibly difficult, takes patience, and learning to do it best.  For instance, you need to learn what is and what isn’t vegan, get in the habit of reading the ingredient labels, asking restaurants for ingredients or simply saying “Is this vegan? Is there dairy in it?” I recommend asking “Is there dairy, eggs, or butter in it?”, just to be safe because not everyone knows what vegan means.


So, how do you become vegan? TRANSITION!  


INTRO TO THE VEGAN TRANSITION

I have created the following table to briefly explain the “Steps to veganism”. 

*Each level can carry characteristics of higher levels.


Stay tuned for my more detailed Transitioning to Veganism blog post. Be sure to follow me on social media and check Jenni’s Journey every Sunday for new posts! 


COMMON REASONS FOR A VEGAN DIET

There are many reasons people decide to limit their meat consumption. The most common reasons why people transition to a vegan diet include the following:

1. Animal Ethics- caring for ALL animals, not just the cute fluffy ones. By not purchasing animal products, you are therefore not supporting the cruelty behind animal agriculture. According to Fox and Ward (2007), a desire to avoid the killing and eating of animals is an important ethical commitment for people with any plant-based diet (vegetarian, vegan, etc.). Animal ethics was the first reason I had for becoming a vegetarian a few years ago. I was inspired to become a vegetarian after I read the book Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. Read this book to become more familiar with animal ethics and animal agriculture!


2. Health- eating a plant-based diet is obviously super good for your body. Of course,

eating a vegan diet doesn't mean you can never have burgers or cookies again! There are a ton of vegan alternatives that are easy, convenient, and DELICIOUS! Since I have been vegan, I have noticed that I eat better, look better, and feel better. Many vegans say that they feel more energetic as well. Fox and Ward (2007) also state that people who follow a plant-based diet do so because of their concern for various health issues including cancer, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and kidney stones just to name a few. Plant-based eaters are conscious of the type of food they consume, the quality and length of life they want, and how they want to feel on a daily basis. Most plant-based eaters claim they feel much more energetic, awake, and overall healthier than when they had a diet consisting of meat and dairy.  I highly recommend the documentary What the Health; it relates health, diet, and diseases to vegan and meat-based diets.


3. Environmental Sustainability- Environmental concern is not the top reason for transitioning to a plant-based diet, however it is a big reason as to why and how so many people maintain their plant-based diet (Fox and Ward, 2007). This can be a tricky topic to explain because there are many considerations and perspectives to consider in order to gain a true knowledge of how environmental sustainability is linked to veganism.

One reason a vegan diet benefits the environment is because meat production is simply counterproductive. To clarify, production of one pound of beef requires seven pounds of corn, one pound of pork requires six and a half pounds of corn, and one pound of chicken requires a little over two and a half pounds of corn (Stapleton, 2015). This statistic is one reason why documentaries, like What the Health, state that animal agriculture (primarily beef) is a leading cause of climate change. Based on these statistics, eating chicken technically has less of an environmental impact than beef, so even the type of meat you eat plays a role in the environment.

In addition, meat and dairy industries emit a substantial amount of greenhouse gases which contributes to climate change (Petrovic et. al, 2015; as cited in Stapleton, 2015). The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations claims that one-fifth of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are from animal agriculture- which is more than all transportation emissions, (Koneswaran and Nierenberg, 2008).

It’s important to understand that people enjoy meat and animal by-products for various reasons and may never consider switching to a plant-based diet- that’s fine. Realistically, not everyone will go vegan. Trying to relate veganism to one's beliefs and lifestyle instead of saying they’re wrong is a much more effective way to educate people and get them to care and consider it! 



DIVERSITY WITHIN PLANT-BASED DIETS 

It is very difficult to define a true vegetarian because everyone (vegetarian or not) has different views, reasons, and eating habits that vary definitions.. For instance, some people eat vegetarian unintentionally (some communities might not have meat available like others do), some religions avoid eating certain meats and/or animal products, and others consider themselves vegetarian even though they eat meat one (or more) times a week. So where is the line drawn to differentiate different kinds of plant-based diets?


To start off, there are a variety of combinations of plant-based diets and there is no congruence in types of scientific literature stating their definitions. What makes this more difficult is that each person who has some plant-based diet, has their own self-definitions of plant-based diets, which makes them more diverse across literature and media (Dagnelie and Mariotti, 2017). 


The following table defines different types of plant-based diets, according to Dagnelie and Mariotti (2017). 


*Some vegans don’t buy animal products either, such as (but not limited to): leather, wool, or makeup that has animal by-product ingredients.


STILL INTERESTED?

Stay tuned for the next vegan blog: Transitioning to Veganism

Be sure to follow Jenni’s Journey on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, and Twitter!










 

References

Dagnelie, P. C., & Mariotti, F. (2017). Vegetarian Diets: Definitions and Pitfalls in Interpreting literature on health effects of vegetarianism. In Vegetarian and plant-based diets in health and disease prevention (pp. 3-10). Academic Press.


Fox, N., & Ward, K. (2008). Health, ethics and environment: A qualitative study of vegetarian motivations. Appetite, 50(2-3), 422-429. 


Koneswaran, G., & Nierenberg, D. (2008). Global farm animal production and global warming: impacting and mitigating climate change. Environmental Health Perspectives, 116(5), 578-582.


Stapleton, S. R. (2015). Food, identity, and environmental education. Canadian Journal of Environmental Education (CJEE), 20, 12-24.


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