Eggplants in a dish. Veganism.

What is Veganism?

Being a vegan is characterized by the exclusion of animal products from your diet. A true vegan also abstains from using any non-food products made from animal byproducts. Here’s a look at what it means to be a vegan, why many people choose to be one, and the disadvantages of veganism. 

What it Means to Be a Vegan

Vegan is often confused with vegetarian. While a vegetarian avoids eating meat, many of them still use animal-based products. Depending upon the strictness of a vegetarian diet, even eggs or fish may be included. Being a vegan is significantly different from other vegetable-based diets.

It’s more than a change in what you put in your fridge -- it’s a change in your principles and lifestyle.  Food groups aside, an astonishing amount of everyday things are made with animal byproducts: soap, leather, yarn, cosmetics. Even honey is a no-no in veganism. 

Why Be a Vegan? 

Choosing to be a vegan may stem from a choice rooted in ethical or environmental decisions or healthy living. In short, being a vegan is rooted in the idea that through the portrayal of your own moral code, you can improve your environment. 

For many people, veganism is a way to rebel against the exploitation of living things; abstaining from anything that requires animals to be produced may ultimately improve the environment. Additionally, not eating meat or any other animal byproducts may offer considerable health benefits. 

Ethical Reasons

The living conditions of animals used for food, clothes, and other products are often far from comfortable. According to The Vegetarian Resource Group, some vegans “choose this lifestyle to promote a more humane and caring world.” Refusing to use items produced through involuntary efforts of animals in poor environments discourages these practices and also strives to make the world a gentler, more balanced place. 

Environmental Reasons

Environmentally, veganism helps minimize animal agriculture, which is thought to contribute to deforestation, the production of greenhouse gasses, require vast amounts of water, and otherwise wear on the planet in a negative way. By refusing to support the production of products requiring animals or animal byproducts, vegans hope to make make the planet itself healthier. 

Health Reasons

Other people become vegan for their own health, which is sometimes referred to as strict vegetarianism. This lifestyle restricts dietary decisions but puts less emphasis on the boycott of products like silk and beeswax chapstick. For example, someone who needs to eat a heart healthy diet generally bases their diet on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats. It is thought that excluding animal products altogether may be even better for the heart than sticking to chicken and fish. 

In addition to cardiovascular benefits, Authority Nutrition reports that some studies suggest eating vegan can help prevent Alzheimer's disease, cancer, and obesity. Furthermore, there is a lot of concern regarding the antibiotics fed to animals raised for their meat and how these antibiotics can affect humans through consumption. 

Disadvantages of Being a Vegan

While all of these things offer strong benefits for veganism, there are serious disadvantages to this lifestyle as well. One of the biggest concerns amongst both vegans and vegetarians is getting enough protein. Whittling out the biggest sources of protein (meats), can eventually result in iron deficiency. Other vitamin and nutrient deficiency concerns include Vitamins A, D, B-12, and calcium. 

Veganism is a serious imposition, which means you have to be incredibly determined. Few restaurants offer a vegan menu even if they have vegetarian options available, and grocery shopping for animal-friendly products is not easy either.

It can also be difficult to find alternatives to items like soap or chapstick, and you have to be careful about your choices in accessories, clothing, coats, and shoes. Items that are vegan-appropriate can be considerably pricey. While a vegan lifestyle can be rewarding and provide benefits for you, your environment, and the planet, true veganism demands considerable sacrifice.

Last Updated: April 05, 2017