Newsletter - Animal Writes sm
14 November 1999

 By Joanne Stepaniak, M.S.Ed.

Can you tell me all the kinds of vegans there are?

Hmm, let's see.... There are big, small, old, young, tall, short, gay, straight, thin, fat, single, married, wealthy, poor, Asian, Black, Hispanic, White, brown, "green," Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Muslim, agnostic, atheist, democrat, republican, socialist, capitalist, leftist, rightist, liberal, conservative.... Well, you get the picture. There is no one kind of vegan.

The term "vegan" was created in 1944 by a small group of people in England who broke away from the Leicester Vegetarian Society to establish the world's first Vegan Society. Donald Watson coined the actual term by combining the first and last parts of the word "vegetarian" because, as Watson stated, "veganism begins with vegetarianism and carries it through to its logical conclusion." The group championed a totally plant-based diet excluding flesh, fish, fowl, eggs, honey, animals' milk, butter, and cheese. In addition, they opposed the use of animal-based commodities and encouraged the manufacture and use of alternatives. Their mission statement asserted that the elimination of exploitation of any kind is necessary in order to bring about a more reasonable and humane society and emancipate both humans and animals. In 1960, the American Vegan Society was founded in the United States by Jay Dinshah. It fully supported (and continues to support) the precepts of the British Vegan Society, advocating a totally plant based diet and lifestyle free of animal products.

The term "vegetarian" was created in 1847 by the people who eventually became the first members of the Vegetarian Society of Great Britain. It refers to individuals who do not eat meat, fowl, or fish. The word "vegetarian" encompasses strictly what one eats and does not allude to behavior outside of diet. As a result, there are many different kinds of vegetarians because there is a wide range of food choices within these parameters. There are vegetarians who are ovo, lacto, ovolacto, macrobiotic, raw foodist, natural hygiene, oil-free, sugar-free, high-protein, low carbohydrate, and so on. Within the boundaries of the basic definition, the possibilities are limitless. This is because there is no ideology behind the meaning of "vegetarian" that consolidates each person's individual perspective or motivation. Therefore, people may choose to be vegetarian for any number of reasons and their diets may differ vastly. Because vegetarianism deals exclusively with food, the concept of a "vegetarian lifestyle" is an oxymoron. The only thing a vegetarian has in common with other vegetarians is what they don't eat.

Contrary to vegetarianism, veganism was founded on deeply held ethical convictions that espouse a dynamic respect for all life. This philosophy unifies vegans everywhere, regardless of superficial differences. Hence, a vegan from one part of the world can relate to and empathize with a vegan from another part of the world despite their disparate culture and language.

There are no such entities as "part-time vegans," "partial vegans," or "dietary vegans." People who merely consume no animal products, including no eggs, animals' milk, or honey are not vegans; they are "total vegetarians." Until one's commitment extends beyond the scope of food, the word "vegan" does not apply, regardless of how the media or certain individuals wish to employ it. Unlike vegetarianism, being vegan does not entail simply what a person does or doesn't eat -- it comprises who a person is.

People who are vegan attempt to imbue every aspect of their lives with an ethic of compassion. This influences their choice of clothing, personal care products, occupation, and hobbies, as well as food. It also colors their political perspectives, social attitudes, and personal relationships. This is not to say that all vegans think alike, act the same, have analogous opinions, or view the world and their place in it identically. Nevertheless, vegans do subscribe to a shared tenet that builds a collective awareness. It is this coalescence of consciousness that creates a bond among vegans and has the power to transcend cursory distinctions. In the final analysis, despite our diversity, there is only one type of vegan -- a person who is committed to and practices a reverence and respect for all life.

Joanne is the author of The Vegan Sourcebook.

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