On Defining Veganism

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What is veganism?

A wise person once said, “It is what it is… and it’s not what it’s not.”  In the interest of dispelling some common myths and misconceptions, let’s begin with what veganism is not.

Veganism is not:

  •  a vague concept open to a vast array of interpretations that has “as many definitions as there are vegans”.
  • It is not a “diet”, a “lifestyle”, a “fad” or a “phase”.
  • It is not a lofty, seemingly unattainable goal at the end of a long and arduous “journey” (if veganism is any part of a journey, it’s the first step on the path toward living a life where justice is a priority and morals matter, not the last step).
  • It is not some “moral high ground” or a (faux) ivory tower from which one claims superiority over those who are non-vegan.
  • It is not a game where one makes up one’s own rules and “cheats” when the mood strikes.
  • It is not a “menu choice” or cuisine option.
  • Veganism is not the same as vegetarianism, which is the arbitrary exclusion of one or more animal products from one’s diet while continuing to consume other animal products and/or secretions  (thereby promoting some animal exploitation rather than all animal exploitation) and there is no such creature as a “vegan-vegetarian” or “vegetarian-vegan”.  To refer to oneself (or someone else, or a diet) as such would be like saying, “I flew here in an airplane-helicopter” or “Look at that beautiful elephant-walrus!”.  The fact that the two may have similarities does not make them synonymous or interchangeable.  Just ask any walrus who’s had an unwanted encounter with an overstimulated elephant…

elephant-walrus tattoo

To treat veganism as anything other than the definition that follows is to confuse some very important matters and is a tremendous disservice to the non-human individuals whose lives depend on presenting and maintaining a clear, consistent vegan message.

Veganism is:

  • “A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—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 humans, animals and the environment.  In dietary terms, it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”Vegan Society 1979

Please note that, in the definition, the dietary aspect of veganism is mentioned secondary to the ethical aspect.  This is not an accident or an oversight.  It is intentional and for good reason.  While there is an obvious and important dietary component to living vegan, it goes much deeper than mere food choices.

ethical-position-002-bfbv
 

If we are to educate others about veganism, it’s incumbent upon us to not only have a clear understanding of what veganism is, but to make sure we’re able to convey that message clearly and consistently by not intentionally or tactily promoting what veganism is not.  We need to say what we mean and mean what we say (and not say it mean!) if people are to understand the information we’re trying to give them because, again, billions of innocent lives are at stake.

The simplest and most immediate action one can take to stop the violent oppression of the most vulnerable members of our global society – non-human individuals – is to start living vegan, as this is the primary means of dismantling speciesism and moves us toward achieving the abolition of animal enslavement and exploitation for human pleasure, tradition and convenience.  If you are already vegan, please educate others about veganism.  If you are not vegan and believe that animals matter morally, please consider living vegan as it is the choice that matches your morals.

I encourage all readers to click the blue links embedded in this essay and explore the information on those sites.

Live vegan.  Educate others.  Start now, here’s how:

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