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.
- "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.
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 philosopers, 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 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 suggested closer to 0.9% of the USA' adult population may be vegan.
In the UK, research  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 . 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 tenants of veganism when a food item is free or of a post-consumer nature (example: discarded food).
For references on nutrition, see below.
Obtaining adequate nutrition
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 ). Since choice is limited in a vegan diet, vegans do need to pay attention to what they eat to avoid nutrient deficiencies. The flip side of this risk is that a vegan diet has the advantage of avoiding the health risks associated with the excess intake of fat and cholesterol present in fatty meat, cheese and eggs. And of course, people who choose to include meat in their diet can avoid the risks associated with excess intake if they pay better attention to what they eat too.
Protein, Amino Acids and veganism
The American Dietetic Association states (http://www.eatright.org/adap1197.html): "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 intaken by meat-eating people can cause gout, low calcium and a plethora of other unpleasantries.
Vitamins and minerals
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 (ie. 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 3μg (micrograms) of B12 be consumed daily to avoid the health dangers associated with the elevated homocysteine levels that can result from B12 deficiency.
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 .
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.
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 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 peopele 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 essentailly unhelpful. A properly planned vegan diet will supply high levels of fiber, micro-nutrients, and anti-oxidents, 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 lifestlye, environmental health, social conditions, medical access, and emotional well being all contribute to overall health, and the atribution 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 nutrion, including protien and mineral intake, is no guarante 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 increase demand for crop raise price hence impoverishing people who largely subsiste on crops. Some counter this argument by pointing out that supply is flexible enough to cope with increase demand. But if this is true, whether some people eat meat whould makes 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 carnivore 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 carbonhydrate is essential in endurance while meat/protein is primarly used for other purpose. (Source: Astrand, Per-Olaf, Nutrition Today 3:no2, 9-11, 1968) 
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 accomodating 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 without dietary supplement may result in vitamin deficiencies most notoriously of Vitamin B12. Other deficiencies include calcium and protein though extra attention to diet intake can ensure to prevent these deficiencies.
Vegans tend to suffer less from obesity-related illness, cancers, heart trouble, stroke, and diabetes; however, this should not be confused with overall health or longevity of vegan. So far no statistical study has shown that vegans will live longer than those who eat meat. On the other hand number of studies have shown that vegetarian and those who only eat fish (but not other meat) do live longer than standard diet.
However, this should not be regarded as conclusive evidence to indicate that meat eating and/or vegans diets are unhealthy. People who exercise vegetarian, vegan or those who only take fish meat tend to belong to higher sociological and economical group who tend to have better quality of life than general population who consume meat, often smoke and exercise less. There is no evidence to show that proper and healthy diet which include meat is somewhat inherently inferior to proper vegetarian diet and vice versa. Another point which should be consider is that it is significantly more difficult to maintain proper diet while being vegan than vegetarian or non vegetarian, therefore, underperformance of vegans may be result of improperly done vegan diet rather than something inheritent in vegan diet.
The primary ethical criticism of veganism is against it's underlying philosopy of "indirect responsibility " via reductio ad absurdum. First of all, vegan diet is not at all bloodless. Field animal such as roden, snake, rabbit as well as worms and insects are routinely killed in the course of producing crops. Moreover, though daily recommended protein intake obtained from vegetarian diet is generally less bloodier than diet consisting of meat, it is theoretically possible to kill less life if one eat meat from free roaming animal (such as fish or meat obtained by hunting). In such instance you are not responsible for life consumed by such animal while it is growing up.
But more importantly, critics point out that any act of consumption is likely to involve proxy killing. When we purchase books (timber), switch the light on (to use electricity) or drive car (gas, plastic, steel, electricity), we indirectly contribute to the destruction of environment hence taking of life. In essence, human existence cause suffering. Most absurd implication of this revelation is that one should not procreate so to avoid proxy killing by the offsprings and their decendants. One who has led pious and vegan diet all his/her life but fail to practice contraception would have caused infinitely more (indirect) suffering than a man who lead the life of greed and gluttony but avoid producing children. In essence, critics point out that veganism merely serve symbolic gesture while it obscure the nature of human activities. What the underlying principle of veganism indicate is that one should consume less. For example, one may be more careful about the "quantity" of food one consume rather than the "type" of food. In essence, critics argue that veganism is not exactly wrong but misguided.
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.
- Animal rights
- Ethical consumerism
- Imitation meat
- in vitro meat
- Living foods diet
- Vegan organic horticulture and agriculture
- Veganic gardening
- World Vegan Day, November 1 each year
- Stephen Walsh Plant Based Nutrition and Health, The Vegan Society 2003, ISBN 0-907337-26-0 (paperback), ISBN 0-907337-27-9 (hardback).
- Gill Langley Vegan Nutrition: a survey of research, The Vegan Society 1988, ISBN 0-907337-15-5
- 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.
- American Vegan Society
- Compassion Over Killing
- Movement for Compassionate Living (the vegan way)
- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
- Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
- Vegan Action
- Vegan Outreach
- Vegan Organic Network
- Vegan Society (U.K.)
- Vegan Online community
- VEGA - Vegetarian Economy & Green Agriculture (U.K.)
Resources for vegans
- VeggieBoards (message board and recipes)
- Veggies Catering, Very large database of groups and diary
- VegGuide.org (online veg-friendly restaurant guide)
- Vegan eateries in London
- Cheap vegan meals
- Is It Vegan? (online database listing products suitable for vegans)
- Peta2 ( Question Reality Question Authority )
- Nutties - Vegan Gifts, Hampers and Baskets (U.K.)
- GreenZones.org - Green Online Community and GreenZones Eco-villages (Vegan Lifestyles)
Vegan essays online
- Essays by Joanne Stepaniak
- Veganism & permaculture
- Vegan definition in the Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy (BBC)
- Free online talks on vegan nutrition
- The Vegan Society webpages on nutrition
- The (British) Vegetarian Society page on vegan nutrition
- Guiltless grill? Is there another kind? 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 , he urges non-vegans to "sponsor" vegans and vegetarians to "nullify the vegetarian moral crusade".
- The website People Eating Tasty Animals 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 .
- The paintings and writings of artist Censored page 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. Nugent's comments are apparently indicative of a growing tension between vegans and hunting enthusiasts.
- Matheny, Gaverick. Least harm: a defense of vegetarianism from Steven Davis's omnivorous proposal , Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 2003, Vol 16, pp. 505-511.
- Beyond Vegetarianism
- Vegan Porn news for vegans (not a porn site)
- Vegan-Food Huge collection of vegan recipes
- Vegan Arts and Artists
- Vegan Views
- Vegan Represent discussion forum for vegans
- Interviews with Joanne Stepaniak
- National (UK) vegan festival
- Vegan Village
- Vegan Research panel
- Vegan Family House
- go vegan
- Vegan Blog
- Fruitarian Links
- Vegan World Order
- Vegan Club Wiki
- Veganalia celebration
- vegan.de (German)
- The VEGAN website
(See also external links on the vegetarianism page.)