Veganism; What is It? What’s the Philosophy Behind It?


Followers of the vegan movement do not only exclude meat and meat products from their diet (see Vegetarianism), they also reject consumption of any and all animal products; not just dairy and eggs, but products such as leather and honey too. This has lead to many viewing Veganism as a lifestyle, beyond a dietary choice. Veganism in western cultures has its origins in Vegetarianism. Around 1806 Dr William Lambe and Percy Shelley were amongst the first Europeans to publicly object to eggs and dairy on ethical grounds. In 1944, Donald Watson of the (Vegetarian Society) set up a new quarterly newsletter. It was called “The Vegan News” based on “the first three and last two letters of ‘vegetarian’”. At first, it was used for non-dairy vegetarians. The first vegan society in the United States of America was founded in 1948 in California and distributed Watson’s newsletter. In the 60’s and 70’s, the vegetarian food movement emerged in the United States as part of the counterculture, concerned about health, the environment, and industrial food producers. During the following decades, research by a group of scientists and doctors in the U.S. argued that diets based on animal fat and animal protein, are detrimental to health.
While veganism got associated with the punk subcultures during the 80’s, the vegan diet became increasingly mainstream in the 2010’s.
According to the Vegan Society, “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 animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.” As we discussed before, individuals who transition to join the numerous food production and food consumption movements that have emerged in recent years usually cite concerns about health, animal welfare, and the environment. Today, compassion (not just for animals but equally for humans) and environmental concerns are a key reason why many choose a vegan lifestyle.

The vegan diet can offer many health benefits including better heart health, weight loss, and reduced risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes. Eating a vegan diet can reduce the risk of cancer by 15%. This may be due to the fact that plant foods are high in biologically active compounds in plants that protect against cancers. However, people eating only plant-based foods need to be aware of how to obtain certain nutrients, including iron, vitamin D, protein and calcium. Many plant foods are excellent sources of protein, but vitamin B12 is found almost entirely in animal products; so many vegans take supplements in the form of fortified foods or take extra vitamins. Vegans may also avoid any clothes, soaps, and products that use or contain parts of animals, such as leather and animal fur. Some adopt this lifestyle for its environmental benefits as a sustainable diet.

So what do vegans eat, what does a vegan diet look like? A vegan diet is diverse and comprises all kinds of fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, seeds, beans and pulses. Instead of cow milk, vegans use plant-based alternatives, often enriched with minerals and/or vitamins.

The number of vegans keeps increasing every day, especially since the mid-2010’s. More vegan shops are opening all around the world and vegan options have become standards in supermarkets and restaurants as well. Some notable vegans include; Stevie Wonder, Prince, Fiona Apple, Greta Thunberg, Daisy Ridley, and Joaquin Phoenix.

Beardsworth, A. and Keil, T., (1992) “The vegetarian option: varieties, conversions, motives, and careers.” The Sociological Review 40 (2), p. 253–293.
Parker, John. “The year of the vegan” The Economist. Accessed 7 October 2020.
Smith, Amy. “What to know about Vegan diets” Medical News Today. Accessed 7 October 2020.
The Vegan News, 1944. Accessed 8 October 2020.

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