People who are vegan avoid eating and exploiting animals in all parts of their lives. This means that they not only avoid eating meat, dairy, honey and eggs, but they do not participate in horse riding or other activities that exploit animals for human gain, even when that gain does not result in the death of an animal.
The Vegan Society defines veganism as:
"A 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."
That means that vegans avoid wearing wool or leather, eating eggs, consuming milk or meat, eating fish, and using animals and other sentient beings as part for work or entertainment.
A vegan diet is a diet that excludes all products that involve the killing or exploitation of sentient beings. That means that people who eat a vegan diet only eat foods made by plants. They do not consume meat, dairy products, honey, eggs or fish.
People who exclude these products from their diets are following a vegan diet, but that does not necessarily mean they are vegan.
Veganism is a lifestyle, not a diet. To be vegan, an individual must exclude all forms of exploitation from their lifestyle. Those following a vegan lifestyle will not wear leather or wool, will avoid make-up, toiletries and household items that have been tested on animals, and will not bet on dogs or horse-ride.
If you're excluding animal products from your diet but not your lifestyle, you are plant-based, not vegan, though it is accurate to say you are following a vegan diet.
There are currently 600,000 vegans in the UK and roughly 15 million vegans in the world. Veganism is growing and is predicted to be a major lifestyle trend in coming years.
Vegans exclude all forms of animal exploitation from their diets, including milk and eggs, as these industries harm cows and chickens. Vegetarians exclude meat from their diets, but still eat other animal products like eggs, dairy and honey. They might also participate in animal exploitation in other forms, by racing dogs or horses, for example, or buying leather handbags.
Lots of vegetarians exclude meat and fish from their diets because they care about animals, without realising that the production of milk, eggs and honey harms animals.
Pescatarians do not eat meat, but do eat fish and other seafood.
For more information on the difference between vegans and vegetarians, you can read our article What's The Difference Between Being Vegan And Vegetarian?.
A vegan meal is a meal that does not include meat, fish, dairy products, eggs or honey. Vegans only eat food that has come from plants. They exclude all forms of animal exploitation from their lifestyle and try to live without causing harm or fear to sentient beings.
If you are cooking a meal for a vegan, it is very important that you properly research what vegans can and cannot eat. You'll find that a lot of the foods you have in your cupboards will be accidentally vegan, like most breads and pasta, but you should research specific products you buy properly to make sure you are not feeding your vegan guest anything they abstain from eating.
Some vegans eat palm oil and some do not, so you should probably also check whether or not your vegan guest consumes this product before you cook.
Vegan diet benefits
The benefits of a vegan diet are well documented. Veganism is good for animals, for health and for the environment. Generally, vegans cause less suffering to sentient beings, are in better health and have less impact on the planet.
Every year, more than 150 billion farm animals are slaughtered unnecessarily for food. Humans do not need to eat animals in order to survive, which means that these deaths are not needed. In order to provide the amount of meat most western individuals consume, it is necessary for farmers to cram as many animals as possible into a small spaces so that they can make as much profit as possible.
This is called ‘factory farming'. Factory farming animals involves many cruel practices, including the removal of the teeth and tails of baby pigs, forced impregnation and the trimming of chicken beaks. Animals are slaughtered for food at a much younger age than they would ordinarily die. Despite rules and regulations in place meant to protect them, animals killed in slaughterhouses still cry and thrash for their lives.
Factory farming and animal agriculture has a massive impact on the environment. It is estimated that farming is responsible for 37 percent of all methane emissions, 90 million tons of carbon dioxide, 260 million acres of deforestation, 3 million acres of rainforest destruction and the increase of the rate of global warming by up to 50 percent.
Lots of water is used to grow meat. Because of this, meat eaters use around 5,000 litres of water a day to sustain themselves on an average meat-eating diet, compared to the 1,000 litres used by a vegetarian.
It takes 1,790 litres of water to grow 1kg of wheat, versus 6,980 litres of water to grow 1kg of beef. The production of meat is draining the world's resources and we use lots of space to grow the food we need to feed to animals, when we could be using it to grow food to feed hungry people, instead.
There are many common health afflictions that vegans are less likely to suffer from, including:
Vegan diets tend to be higher in dietary fiber, magnesium, folic acid, vitamins C and E, iron and phytochemicals. They tend to be lower in calories, saturated fat and cholesterol. Vegans tend to be thinner even when compared to vegetarians, have lower cholesterol and mostly lower blood pressure.
Though vegan diets tend to be healthier than non-vegan diets, it should be noted that being vegan does not automatically mean you are healthy. There is lots of vegan junk food available in supermarkets or restaurants. This food is still loaded with calories and unhealthy ingredients.
If you are looking for a vegan diet plan that meets all of your nutritional needs, or can help you to lose weight or train like an athlete, it is best that you consult a vegan nutritionist. Vegan diets tend to be healthier than non-vegan diets, but care and consideration must be taken whilst transitioning. It is very important that you make sure your new vegan diet is meeting your nutritional needs.
This is easy to do once you know what you need to eat and where it can be found.
If you're going vegan, it is really important that you take a B12 supplement, which you can find in most health food stores. B12 is vitally important for keeping your nerve and blood cells health. A deficiency in B12 is extremely dangerous.
You should be taking B12 supplements whether you are vegan or not, as lots of people who eat milk and dairy products are still deficient in B12.
For more information on B12 and it's important, you can read our article How To Get B12 On A Vegan Diet.