Are you Vegan or Plant-Based?

By Scott Burgett | 3.21.18

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It took me awhile to distinguish between the two and what I should label myself as. After immersing myself into all things veggie, I started to learn the differences between the two.

The definition of veganism: 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. Specifically, pay most of your attention to the second phrase “as far as is possible and practicable.”

I think that this is most important part of the definition because of the confusion around the term vegan from the public. The “all-or-nothing” connotation that comes with the term vegan is misleading and can make some feel that it’s impossible to ever actually “go vegan.”

People might think if you eat or use an animal product after going vegan, then all of a sudden you’re out of the club. That is far from the truth. Even the most hardcore vegans understand mistakes are common, it’s how you respond to that and get yourself back on track.

To better understand how it became so popular, let’s adventure back in time to when it all started.

A History of Veganism

In order to understand vegan history, we have look first to vegetarian history. In 1888, the London Vegetarian Society split from the original UK Vegetarian Society, which was originally headquartered in Manchester, England.

Two years after this second national group formed, Ghandi, then a law student, joined this assembly. His influence helped spark a worldwide movement as we’ll later see.

By 1910, the first vegan cookbook was published titled No Animal Food: Two Essays and 100 Recipes by Rupert H. Wheldon. This landmark cookbook sparked the never-ending debate about whether humans should consume milk and eggs.

Two decades later in 1931, Ghandi spoke at Vegetarian society meeting in London and took his ideals a step further. He said “milk is an animal product and cannot by any means be included in a strictly vegetarian diet . . . I am convinced that in the vast vegetable kingdom there must be some kind, which while supplying those necessary substances that we derive from milk and meat is free from their drawbacks, ethical and other.”

This message greatly resonated with the members of the Vegetarian Society and many others. This very idea started to form the principles of veganism that we know today.

Fast forward to 1944, in which an animal rights pioneer, Donald Watson, invented the term vegan. He was eager and determined to find another term for “non-dairy vegetarians”, so he called a meeting within the London Vegetarian Society. The immediately started brainstorming with a group of names that fit.

Some of the rejected names included dairyban, vitan, and benevore. After much collaboration, they ended up with vegan by using the first three letters of vegetarian. Donald Watson believed that this shift was “the beginning and end of vegetarian.”


What is the Definition of Veganism?

Vegan was officially a word and it needed a formal definition. Another member of the society, Leslie J Cross, recommended the definition be stated as “ to end the exploitation of animals by man” and “the word veganism shall mean the doctrine that man should live without exploiting animals.”

As time went on, this definition expanded and morphed into “to seek an end to the use of animals by man for food, commodities, work, hunting, vivisection, and by all other uses involving exploitation of animal life by man.”

Armed with a term and a definition, the vegan movement began to spread across the world. In America, the first two vegan societies formed in California. After much success with one group, the second dissolved and joined forces. By 1960, the American Vegan Society had formed and is still very active to this day.

Fast forward to 2017 and veganism has grown into the millions. It’s estimated that over 3.5 million Americans have identified themselves as vegan. Although the term gets used loosely to sometimes describe only diet, the main goal still revolves around reducing and avoiding animal cruelty by any and all means.  


Plant Based Enters the Mainstream

More recently, the term plant-based diet has come into the mainstream. A plant-based diet a vegan diet with the opportunity to include some animal products. Technically, you could lump vegetarian, semi-vegetarian, lacto-ovo vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian, flexitarian, nutritarian, & vegan all within the scope of the term plant-based diet.

Dr. T. Colin Campbell helped coin this term in his book, The China Study, which describes his research that took place in the rural villages of China and found surprising correlations between a plant-based diet and positive health outcomes.

The formal definition of plant-based diet is as stated: a diet of any animal (including humans) based on foods derived from plants, including vegetables, whole grains, legumes and fruits, but with few or no animal products. The key difference between plant-based and vegan is the word “diet.”

That is because a plant-based diet refers exclusively to what you eat, not how you consume other products in your life. The popularity of this label meets people where they’re at: making a change for their health rather than for the animals.

On the other hand, plant-based diet doesn’t quite roll off of the tongue like vegan. This causes a tendency for the terms vegan and plant-based to be used interchangeably when identifying one’s self.

I will be the first to admit that I am guilty of using both terms to describe my dietary and personal habits. Sometimes it comes down to reading the person you are talking with or the situation you are in when discussing the topic. In some circles, vegan is a negative trigger word versus plant-based.


Are you Vegan or Plant Based?

Examine where you’re at in your journey and pick one. The best part is you can refer to yourself as vegan one day, and plant-based the next. In the end, your title is not what’s important, it’s the reasoning behind it. Find what works for you and go for it.

My journey lead me to use plant-based diet when I started out, but since then I find myself using vegan much more often. My role in the vegan community is continuing to grow, so it’s much easier to lead with that.



Which term do you prefer? Let me know in the comments below!

2 Comment(s)

  1. Dana
    April 2, 2018

    Your website looks awesome! Keep up the good work!

    1. Scotty
      April 2, 2018

      Thank you Dana!

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