Vegan

ˈviːɡ(ə)n/

n.

  1. a person who does not eat or use animal products.

adj.

  1. using or containing no animal products.

The definition of veganism is pretty clear and concise, not too many grey areas lurking amongst a nuanced description that is numerously interpretable.

Society, however, has different ideas about what constitutes our lifestyle of choice. It’s not so much that what veganism actually is might be up for debate, rather that people’s implementation of it into their lives has vastly varied and sometimes contradictory facets.

We all come to veganism in different ways – perhaps this is one reason for the diversity of interpretations. For some, they have been born into it, others find it through activism, while more recently, fashion, health and a ‘think global, act local’ mentality has swayed people to make the conscious decision to part ways with our carnivorous ancestors for personal wellbeing and planetary betterment.

Each of these offers an individual perspective upon meat-free living, the most ephemeral of which would be the Insta-vegan. Perhaps more of a social declaration than a change for change, veganism found through the scrolling images of Instagram and implemented to conform with the cookie-cutter iconography of the thousands of Insta-yogis or social celebrities is built on a foundation of sand.

Trends don’t last, otherwise they wouldn’t be trends. So those joining the online bandwagon of new vegans are doing so more to gain likes than save lives. But is there anything wrong with this? Some would argue that they are converting for the wrong reasons, that their hearts aren’t in it for the greater good and that it is undertaken merely to appear a conscientious ‘grammer. Beyond this, however, is the fact that they have changed, for whatever reason. Perhaps they will return to the miasma of the omnivorous, but how many have they influenced in that brief period of ethical enlightenment? Perhaps they change for superficial reasons, but then learn enough to remain vegan beyond the fad.

Of course, it would be great if they had discovered the cruelty-free way of living along an educated path, but they arrived, and ultimately that is far, far better than never starting the journey.

Activists are often the most ‘visible’ of the meat-free masses. Wearing the t-shirts, toting the banners, standing strong on the front line, they are doing the dirty work that few others wish, or perhaps are brave enough to do. Some might describe them as the ‘true vegans’, the ones making a difference and seeing beyond the cloistered walls of the abbertoirs and laboratories.

Their work is incredibly admirable and most certainly to be praised, but they obey by only one side of the activism coin; to scream, shout and ruffle feathers. Sometimes, walking gently and speaking softly, gently infusing people’s lives with a message rather than bludgeoning them with a truth stick, is far more beneficial and effective. Again though, activists are not wrong. They are simply ‘doing vegan’ in their own way.

In some regards, the born and bred, or long-term vegan is the best of the lot. Living consciously life-long, they walk their talk in an understated manner, so used are they to the ways of the vegan. There is no other choice, and there never has been, and it is this matter-of-fact mannerism that can often provide the greatest influence for others. Fit and healthy, younger than their years, yet highly knowledgeable on all things animal-free, they can be seen as a shining beacon, a poster-child for the cause, with their radiant skin, their cruelty-free conscience, and an unimpinged lifestyle that seems so easy. Long-term vegans know how to shop, often know how to cook, they know all the vegan hacks, tasty treats, stylish clothing and cruelty-free cosmetics to make an animal-friendly life look not only an absolute breeze, but also highly desirable. And yet what of the greater good? Do they donate to causes, practice what they preach in their choice of career, or otherwise go out of their way to promote, expand or support the movement that far beyond their own lives? Possibly – but possibly too, these bastions of herbivorousness aren’t as omnipotent as we first believed.

Diet has become accountable, to some degree, for almost 50 percent of the top 20 causes of death. From cancer to heart disease, diabetes and stroke, many fatalities can be attributable at some level to an unhealthy diet. And while not the panacea of the Western World, veganism takes positive steps towards righting those wrongs.

Weight, high cholesterol or diabetes can sometimes be managed or reduced by a vegan diet, but it is also simply healthier. Less saturated fats, less carbohydrates, less hormones, plastics and chemicals ingested, eating a balanced, clean, vegan diet can whittle away the extra inches and produce an incredible vitality rarely, if ever, achievable on a diet laden with meat or dairy. Eczema and other skin ailments, respiratory issues and gut health can also be cured from removing dairy from the menu, and this can lead to eliminating all animal products. These are all highly inwardly-focussed reasons to step onto the vegan path, very much about the direct impact upon the individual. So should these vegans be admonished for their reasons? Absolutely not. The lives they are saving and the planet they are protecting may be afterthoughts, perhaps even inconsequential or utterly unknown, but they have found significant validity in the removal of animals from their consumption. They say that from little things, big things grow, so let them, nay, encourage them to grow!

A growing concern for the conscious-minded, yet more and more also for the average global citizen is the very real issue of climate change. Fossil fuels, plastics, deforestation, all are contributing to the rising temperature of our little blue and green home. We think of monolithic factories belching plumes of thick, black smoke into the atmosphere and cars pouring carbon monoxide from gridlocked highways as the primary threat, but meat and dairy do more for global warming than any other single industry.

People are turning vegan for the planet – in some senses you could say for the future of all living things. The altruistic move is hypothesised by some as the single greatest action we can take to fight global warming. While it doesn’t address health, animal welfare or any other of the myriad reasons for making the switch, it is possibly the most powerful reason. So are these, the ones who are turning their backs on meat for the good of the whole wide world, the perfect vegans? Yes they are…but then again, no they aren’t. Why, you may ask, are these not the noble model candidates for pro-veganism?

Simply, because all the other types of vegans are too.

There is not right and wrong, no better or worse. There are differences of opinion, there are those committed for life and those following a whim, there are young and old, hippy and executive, men, women, parents and children – but there is no ‘true’ vegan – they all are.

So whether you have never known any other way of being, whether you are just starting out on your vegan path, or even if you are simply V-curious and dabbling tentative toes into the pool of compassionate living, celebrate your decision, hold your head high and know that, with that one simple choice, you are changing the world, for yourself, for the planet and for almost 200 beautiful animals every single year.