Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
- This article is about the philosophy and lifestyle; "Vegan" can also mean "relating to vega", especially the star Vega, as in astronomical references to the Vegan system, or Science Fiction references to aliens from that system. There are several other uses of the word "vega" which occasionally require use of "vegan"
In its adjective form, vegan describes:
- a philosophy and practise of respect for animals, which avoids the use of animals for food, clothing, and other human purposes
- people who ascribe to such a philosophy and practise
- food, clothing, other products, or diets that avoid the use of animals in line with the above.
As a noun, a vegan is a person who follows a vegan lifestyle (i.e. one who avoids animal products).
- 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. A few vegans see use of the word as a noun as offensive, and prefer to be referred to using the adjectival form; they think that "he is a vegan" is wrong, but "he or she is a vegan person" is correct.
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 have on occasion been accused of placing more importance on non-human animals than on their fellow humans, most are aware of human rights issues. Often they will seek to avoid companies and organizations that are seen to be exploitative of others and to be "ethical consumers". Many become active campaigners for human rights as a direct result of embracing veganism. Animal products such as leather, silk or wool are avoided. Soap must be made 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, (nonhuman) dairy products, fur, leather, wool, and byproducts such as gelatin, rennet, whey, and the like. The Vegan Society and most vegans include insect products such as silk, honey, and beeswax in their definition as well, although some vegans use these products, arguing these animals probably do not feel pain. 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 albumen (egg white), animal blood (this is exceedingly rare today), or isinglass (even though they are not present in the final product). Also, some vegans avoid food cooked in pans if they have been used to cook meat or eggs, though this is often impractical in nonvegan households.
Further, "animal products" in a vegan context more precisely means "products derived from animals unnaturally or without their consent". Hence human breast milk, while technically derived from animals, is natural for human infants, and therefore completely vegan; indeed, many vegans consider it the healthiest and most desirable food for infants. By comparison, a human drinking cow's milk naturally intended for calves is according to vegans unnatural, and therefore forbidden as an "animal product".
In addition to not using animal products, vegans refrain from supporting "animal services", like circuses featuring caged animals, zoos, and other entertainment business that use animals. Most vegans also refrain from using hygienic, cosmetic, or other products that are tested on animals.
Other ideals may include aiming for sustainable agricultural systems that exclude animal by-products such as blood, fish and bone or animal manures. Some vegans view the adoption of such Vegan organic horticultural and agricultural methodologies as integral to their ethical stance.
Many vegans cite, as their primary motivation, the concept of reducing animal suffering. Utilitarian philosophers, such as Jeremy Bentham, and especially Peter Singer, argue that the suffering of all sentient animals should be taken into consideration when making ethical decisions; 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 Jainism, Buddhism and Hinduism, originally taught by Mahavira and Buddha in the 500 BCE, and more recently promoted 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 American adults consider themselves vegetarians, and 5% of self-described vegetarians consider themselves vegans. This small-sampled poll may suggest that 0.2% of American adults are vegans. A 2000 poll suggested closer to 0.9% of the USA' adult population may be vegan.
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. They abstain from eating root plants such as garlic, onion and potatoes because it requires one to kill the plant. Stricter Jains also abstain from walking on grass. 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.
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 wealthy countries, the greatest volume of animal products is eaten by the poor, health problems associated with over-eating are on the rise across the world, and so are serious environmental problems. Consequently, there is a small but growing awareness of the health and environmental benefits of a vegetarian diet, mainly amongst the wealthy and well-educated. Many - though not all - vegans hope to encourage others to examine cultural norms and come to their own considered ethical codes and philosophies. One interesting example is provided in the case of African-Americans who chose in the 1960s to express their concept of Black Power through the conscious choice of healthy vegetarian diets; rejecting the traditionally animal-heavy forms of 'soul food' in favour of an African-inspired vegetarian soul food was a potent form of empowerment. This politically and health-based veganism is enjoying a renaissance amongst African-Americans, with a number of politically savvy hip-hop artists spreading the word. This movement hopes to educate African-Americans of all socio-economic backgrounds on the health, environmental, and political dimensions of food: an inspiring example of veganism as an integrated and organic philosophy of life. Socrates, a vegan himself (in ancient Greece, "vegetarian" implied the abstinence from all animal products), said that "The unexamined life is not worth living", and this attitude is often found amongst secular vegans.
There are several diets often thought of as similar to veganism, though there are significant differences, 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 tenets of veganism when a food item is free or of a post-consumer nature (example: discarded food).
An interesting sub-set of veganism, raw veganism, advocates the consumption only of raw foods and the elimination of processed foods from the diet. A small scale study of raw vegans found them to be slender and healthy.
- Main article: vegan nutrition
For most people, a varied vegan diet presents no significant nutritional problems, and on the contrary usually comes with several health benefits, such as decreased cholesterol. However, there are several nutrients vegans should pay attention to. Vitamin B12, a bacterial product, cannot be reliably found in plant products, and so vegans are recommended to make sure they eat foods with B12 added (such as fortified yeast extract and margerines or many boxed cereals), or take supplements. Also, British vegans should ensure they get adequate iodine, since in the UK iodine is usually gotten via dairy products rather than iodized salt. No other nutrients present special problems. In the past nutritionists advised that vegans should make sure the plant proteins they ate together formed "complete" proteins, but today this is thought to be unnecessary, and few vegans do so.
If the vegan diet is not varied, one would worry about possible deficiencies in certain vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. If the vegan is elderly or a younger child, their exposure to the sun may be limited, which they they may not recieve Vitamin D from the sun. Vitamin D is found in dairy products and is essential for the absorption of calcium. Calcium may also be a concern if the vegan is not eating a variety of foods, especially leafy green vegetables, fortified products, almonds, soy products, and dried fruits. However, calcium is less of a problem than many think: calcium retention is affected by things such as salt intake as much as calcium intake, and animal protein has been linked to calcium loss. In scientific tests vegan women are usually found either to have the same rates of osteoporosis as meat-eating women, or slightly lower ones.
One nutrient that is sometimes overlooked when analyzing the vegan diet is docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). DHA can be synthesized from alpha linolenic fatty acids; for omnivores, a good source for this omega-3 fatty acid is seafood and eggs. For vegans, this very healthy fat can be found in soy, walnuts, flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, and canola oil, but many vegans do not include these specific foods in their diets. This fatty acid is very important for brain function, eye function, and for the transportation of valuable nutrients in and out of the cell. Omega-3 fatty acids must be taken into consideration for any vegan diet, and special consideration for younger children and the elderly because growing and aging brains need these nutritious fats.
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. The Independent newspaper reported recently that the very oldest people tend to have a large proportion of vegetarians among their ranks. The same source quotes research by Dr Pramil Singh, of Loma Linda University in California, showing that vegetarianism provides a 3.6-year survival advantage. The research was based on a 20 year study of people of the Adventist faith.
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 essentially unhelpful. A properly planned vegan diet will supply high levels of fiber, micro-nutrients, and anti-oxidants, 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 that lifestyle, environmental health, social conditions, medical access, and emotional well being all contribute to overall health, and the attribution of complex health issues to single causes should be approached with caution. The simple elimination of meat from the diet without thought and planning toward providing well balanced nutrition, including protein and mineral intake, is no guarantee of improved health any more than a careless and ill-considered omnivorous diet.
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 also be understood as the result of an overall change of life style.
Veganism is also more environmentally sustainable than a diet based around animal products, and may improve the conditions of low income people in and out of the global south by freeing more food for human consumption. It has been argued that increased demand for crops raises prices, hence impoverishing people who largely subsist on crops, though quite how an increase in demand for crops would lead to such an outcome is left rather vague.
Veganism can make for substantial cuts to one's food budget, meat being usually the most expensive thing that people buy, food-wise - beans, rice, nuts, greens and other vegan staples are inexpensive and nutritious. For those vegans who eschew "junk" foods and heavily processed products, the savings are dramatically increased.
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 'by-products' of other animals). Veganism thus avoids these environmental and food-chain problems.
See the references below for more detail on these issues.
Vegetarian vs omnivore diet: cycling stamina
Dr. Per-Olaf Astrand conducted an informal 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, triple the endurance of the high-protein group. (Source: Astrand, Per-Olaf, Nutrition Today 3:no2, 9-11, 1968) 
Vegans enjoy almost as wide a range of foods as animal product–eaters do, since almost any dish containing animal products can be adapted by substituting vegan ingredients. Soy milk works for milk in almost all recipes; eggs can usually be replaced by the appropriate egg replacers (one popular version is made from potato starch). Artificial "meat" products, such as imitation sausages, ground beef, burgers, and chicken nuggets are available in many supermarkets, although many are only vegetarian. Also, some Asian cuisines contain many dishes that are naturally vegan.
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 accommodating the vegan diet, and may additionally view vegan substitutions for non-vegan ingredients (such as soy milk for milk) as inferior.
The lifestyle choices can be equally inconvenient. For example, avoiding clothing and shoes containing wool or leather, most brands of latex condoms (as latex is often produced with the milk protein casein), hygienic products such as soap and the myriads of other animal products that many people are used to using takes skill and experience. This means that shopping for a vegan can be an awkward event filled with questions that sales assistants can't answer, even for a person with experience in these matters. Because of this, many view the practical lifestyle choices as equally or more inconvenient than the actual diet itself.
Perceptions of veganism are often influenced 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. Vegans also find themselves the butt of jokes on TV and in film, usually depicted as unattractive, humourless idealogues, and their food as bland, uninspiring, or revolting.
The primary ethical criticism of veganism is against the perceived underlying philosophy of "indirect responsibility " via reductio ad absurdum. First of all, say these critcs, a vegan diet does not stop the killing of animals in the production of food. Field animals such as rodents, snakes and rabbits as well as worms and insects are routinely killed in the course of producing crops. This argument depends on the perception of the critic that vegans have fallen into the trap of the Perfect solution fallacy. Proponents of Veganism would argue that the intent is to avoid suffering, realizing that there is no way to live without infringing on some other life, and point out that environmentally sustainable farming methods greatly reduce the number of animals killed through the application of herbicides, pesticides, and chemical fertilisers, the use of monocropping, and the use of huge harvesting machines. Critics further argue that, though daily recommended protein intake obtained from a vegetarian diet is generally less bloody than a diet consisting of meat, it is theoretically possible to take fewer lives if one eats meat from free roaming animals (such as fish or meat obtained by hunting). In this instance the consumer is not responsible for living organisms consumed by such an animal while it is growing up. Vegans would argue that there is not enough space and resources on the planet Earth to allow Free Range farming to meet the dietary desires of the current human population.
Critics also 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 a car (gas, plastic, steel, electricity), we indirectly contribute to the destruction of the environment and therefore the taking of life. In essence, human existence causes suffering. Vegans would respond that minimizing suffering is their goal, as eliminating it is unrealistic. Further, they argue that they seek to both minimize the inadvertent and eliminate the deliberate. When presented with the choice of minimal inadvertent suffering and deliberate suffering, the vegan chooses the former. One implication of the critic's position is that one should not procreate, so as to avoid proxy killing by one's offspring and their descendants, so one who has led a strictly vegan diet all his/her life but failed to practice contraception would have caused infinitely more (indirect) suffering than a man who led a life of greed and gluttony but avoided producing children. Yet, this argument, which could arguably be seen as a Straw man, ignores the fact that people who are driven by greed and gluttony have not been shown to not procreate or that vegans, in any official position, advocate avoiding contraception; indeed, while many straight-edge vegans abjure casual sex - or, in some cases, sex itself - there is also a proportion of vegans who believe in zero population growth and take steps to ensure that they will not reproduce. Veganism generally does not take a reproductive stance, leaving that decision to each individual vegan, as reproductive choices are made by all individuals. A vegan parent would argue that raising vegan children involves less cruelty than raising omnivorous ones, and that the more vegans there are, the more pressure there is on industry to minimize cruelty in their products. If a shampoo manufacturer eliminates animal products and testing from its products, they are eliminated for all consumers, vegans and non-vegans alike.
In essence, critics claim that veganism merely serves as a symbolic gesture while it obscures the nature of human activities, yet these activities are exactly what vegans are seeking to change, starting with their own. The underlying principles of veganism indicate that one should consume less. For example, one may be more careful about the quantity of food one consumes rather than the type of food. Vegans would take this one step further and argue that food consumption does not have to be an either/or situation. A responsible consumer can control their quantity and type of food consumption and enjoy the benefits of both decisions. Critics argue that veganism is not exactly wrong but misguided, while vegans argue that the same can be said about their critics.
Sometimes vegans can be perceived as believing themselves to be morally superior to non-vegans; this is sometimes genuinely the case, and often not. This can give rise to such misconceptions as veganism being a religion, as the deeply religious have also been criticized for similar perceived behavior. Any individual who has deep moral or ethical convictions is convinced that they are right, and may believe that others who don't share those convictions are wrong, or at least misguided. The interaction of these groups with the cultural mainstream often involves friction, but this is often true of any defined social group. Many vegans try to preempt stereotyping by making efforts to avoid behaving in ways that might reinforce it, realising that such behavior may be counter-productive to the goals of veganism. Unfortunately, some new vegans and those predisposed to aggressive and confrontational behavior may strengthen the stereotype, especially among those who may only meet a handful of vegans and develop an opinion on those few encounters; equally, many vegans find that no matter how they behave, there will always be non-vegans who respond negatively, even aggressively or violently, towards them for deviating from the social norm. Humans tend to police their social boundaries quite strictly, and those who fall outside them often fall victim to behaviours ranging from the merely impolite to the downright dangerous. Reactions to veganism vary wildly according to local social mores and habits.
- Animal rights
- Environmentalism, Ethical consumerism
- Imitation meat
- in vitro meat
- Living foods diet
- Vegan organic horticulture and agriculture, Veganic gardening
- Vegetarianism, World Vegan Day, Wiktionary:Veg*n
- Animal Liberation Front, Animal Liberation Front Supporters Group
- Animal testing, Vivisection
- Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty
- GANDALF trial
- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
- Peter Singer
- Barry Horne, Henry Spira
- Linda McCartney
- 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
- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
- Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
- Vegan Society (UK)
(See also external links on the vegetarianism page.)
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