What defines vegan?


A previous blog post stirred up quite a discussion about the meaning of the word vegan. In trying to define what vegan means to me, and searching for answers to some questions posted about what truly makes a person vegan, I asked Jen what she thought.

I was going to reply to a recent comment and write five words that seemed to sum up my take on what makes a person vegan. Prompted by Mark Bittman’s “VB6” book (Vegan Before 6 PM) title, I thought I summed it well:

“Vegans don’t eat meat.”

Of course, this is true but vegans also don’t eat dairy, eggs, or honey. They also won’t wear silk, wool, leather or any other clothing made from or by animals, or purchase products containing animal ingredients such as shampoos and lotions.

So, I came up with another way to convey my feelings by saying:

“Vegans don’t consume any product that harms animals.” This sounded very clunky and I wanted something much more precise and to-the-point.

Time passed and there was more discussion about my feelings on being vegan and what it meant to me. How it made me feel and why I chose a vegan lifestyle. I probably came up with a dozen or more short sentences in my attempt to define “vegan.”

Then Jen said one word that took all of these words and all of these thoughts and all of what I was thinking and combined it into a single word:

a·him·sa /əˈhimˌsä/
noun (in the Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain tradition) The principle of nonviolence toward all living things.

That is vegan to me.

I’m not perfect nor do I strive for perfection. I am human and I am flawed. But I am vegan.

3 thoughts on “What defines vegan?

  1. Vegan for the Earth

    As a Vegan I would regard myself as ahimsa to all non human lives, but I could not guarantee the same in an inter human context. 🙂


  2. spare_wheel

    “about what truly makes a person vegan”

    you don’t get to decide this.


    while many vegans claim to practice “ahimsa”, in my experience, many vegans tend to limit their ahimsa to:

    a) diet
    b) clothing
    c) domesticated animals and pets

    i call this a good beginning…

    PS: the secular term for “ahimsa” is negative utilitarianism.


  3. Someone who practices ahimsa may not himself commit violence upon another. Does this also prohibit him from eating insects or smaller (down the food chain) forms of life? What of plants and the science even they appear to have a “coping” mechanism for when they are being attacked (a/k/a/ eaten)? What exactly constitutes a “living thing?”


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