A few months ago I saw someone on Facebook write, “it doesn’t meant that she’s not vegan because the way she eats doesn’t fit your definition of veganism,” in reference to a newly veganized celebrity. That celebrity had admitted that she hadn’t given up meat, so she shouldn’t fit anyone’s definition of vegan, actually. But my question here is how can one person have a definition of a thing that is different than someone else’s definition of that same thing? Is it because things are similar? But that doesn’t make sense. My cats haven’t been reclassified as dogs because they have four legs and whiskers. I don’t use the words “kitchen” and “bathroom” interchangeably because they’re both rooms in my house with sinks in them. I don’t call the sofa “my bed” because I’ve taken a few naps on it. So why is it said that someone has gone vegan because he or she is eating more vegetables? If different ways of eating are similar, it doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have the same name.
Maybe people think they’re allowed to redefine a certain word because it’s a relatively new one? But “vegan” already has a definition, and it’s a perfectly fine one at that. The word “vegan” was coined by Donald Watson in 1944 by using the beginning and the end of the word “vegetarian”. Mr. Watson said, “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 humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.” The Oxford American dictionary defines it as “a person who does not eat or use animal products.” Mirriam-Webster defines “vegan” as “a person who does not eat any food that comes from animals and who also does not use animal products (such as leather).” The sources all seem to agree what the definition of “vegan” is.
Several weeks ago I came across an article online called “Frustrations of a Wishy-Washy Vegan”, in which the author, who referred to herself as a vegan, complained about strict vegans giving her a hard time whens she eats fish, cheese, and other animal products. She said that she doesn’t understand why people see veganism as “an all-or-nothing sort of lifestyle”. I commented on the article that there is no such thing as “strict vegan” or a “wishy-washy vegan’. There are vegans. And then there are non-vegans. She was clearly an non-vegan. My problem wasn’t with her diet (although I would love to live in a vegan world!), my problem was that she was attempting to redefine “vegan”, thus watering down the meaning word.
Recently, Ellen DeGeneres announced her new footwear line, which contains shoes made with both leather and suede. Since Ellen calls herself “vegan”, there was natural outrage in the vegan community. And then there was backlash on that outrage from people telling “angry vegans” to calm down. Ellen, who is incredibly popular, is a very bad celebrity spokesperson for veganism, since she has admitted that she eats eggs and has been the face of a cosmetics company that tests on animals for years. Profiting from products made with the skins of animals goes against the very philosophy behind veganism. Of course vegans are going to be angry. A high-profile beloved celebrity calls herself a vegan, even though she isn’t, clouding the definition of the word for the general public who already don’t quite understand what it means.
Don’t get me wrong. I know that transitioning to veganism is something that takes time, and people can be on different parts of the path. And that’s okay. Wherever a person is on that path is great! As I’ve said before, I applaud anyone who is headed in the direction of going vegan, and for whatever the reason that they’re headed that way. But even if someone is traveling in that direction, if she’s eating meat and eggs she’s not yet vegan, just as sitting in a New Jersey Transit bus headed east on Route 3 doesn’t mean I’m in New York City.
While the main reason for going vegan used to be for the animals, people have been changing their diets for health reasons lately, which is wonderful, because there are so many health benefits to eating this way. There are many different factions to this health-minded movement though, and they don’t all agree with each other, which has caused some strange in-fighting in the vegan movement. There are the Nutritarians, the Plant-Strong People, the Engine 2 Dieters, the Starch Solution people and so on. I’m always happy to see anyone give up animal products, no matter what the reason, but sometimes it does seem like their message might be clouding the true definition of veganism. On social media I’ve had people write the nastiest comments on my food and recipe posts: “You eat too much processed foods”, “You eat too many carbs”, “there’s oil and salt in that recipe”, “soy is gmo”. etc. Recently I even had a real-life troll lecture me about my use of cashews in non-dairy cheese. What everyone needs to remember is that oil, salt, gluten, and nuts do not come from animals and are therefore acceptable foods in a vegan diet. In fact, you can eat these things and still be healthy.
On the vegan lifestyle page that I run, people have complained about the mention of certain vegan beauty brands (some of which are accidentally vegan), because they contain chemicals. There has been some confusion around “vegan”, “natural”, and “organic” too. They don’t mean the same things, and they shouldn’t be used interchangeably. (So please don’t make things awkward for me by brining prepackaged baked goods to a potluck at my house and arguing with me that “they came from a natural foods store” when I tell you that I can’t put them out because they contain eggs and butter.) Of course I think we should all try to use products that don’t contain harsh chemicals, but sometimes the only products that people can afford or find in the area where they live are those drugstore brands. And you know what? That’s okay. The people who buy their non-animal ingredient containing non-animal tested $1.99 shampoo at Walmart are no less vegan than those buying their all-natural ingredient hair care products that cost the same price as a small car at Whole Foods.
This is a topic I’ve written about many times now, and I’m sure I’ll be writing about it again. I wish I could be done with it, but it continues to come up. Lines are getting blurred, words are getting redefined, messages are getting mixed. Please, for the sake of the animals, let’s use the word “vegan” with the definition that was intended for it.