So often, I see or hear veganism referred to as a diet or even a special diet, and I always wonder if there is not a better phrase which could apply. Technically, as vegans do and do not consume certain things, then it could be said that they adhere to a certain diet, and whilst this could be said to be special in the positive sense, beautifully recognising the value of diverse species, the adjective more often implies a negative: strange, out of the norm, or a hassle to deal with. If cruelty-free meals are to become normalised in today‘s societies, they need to become normalised linguistically too, and so I am always pleased when an event registration form contains the words, "I eat/do not eat...," or, "I am vegetarian/vegan/omnivorous," rather than, "Special dietary requirements."
What is wrong with the words vegan diet though, minus the 'special?' For me, if depends on the context. If I were going to eat with somebody for the first time, and they asked me what I eat, I could say, "My diet is vegan," and that would be completely accurate, yet I‘d also be correct in saying, "I am vegan,“ which encompasses many more aspects of my life than just my nutrition. Being vegan means not only that I abstain from eating animal products, but also from wearing them, from using them, and from supporting the exploitation of other species in any way that I can. So whilst my diet is vegan, veganism, as a whole, is not a diet; it‘s so much more.
There are a number of people who do not eat animal products, for a range of health and environmental reasons, yet do use them in other ways, either by choice or due to their personal circumstances. This constitutes a vegan diet, otherwise known as a plant-based diet, but can be differentiated from veganism as a lifestyle or a philosophy. That is not to say though, that these persons are not worthy of respect, nor should they be attacked for identifying as vegan; each case of reduced meat and dairy consumption helps the cause, and whilst friendly communication and sharing of information may lead to a rejection of leather shoes in the future, none of us knows the precise circumstances of the person in question.
Now that diet has been addressed, we can ask if lifestyle or philosophy is the better choice? Personally, I‘m really picky as to how I use the former, because of the connotations it has in my part of the world, central Europe. Perhaps it is used neutrally in places where some readers of this post live, but here, it is frequently associated with a phase with which one is expected by dominant society to get bored of, or to grow out of; 'their lifestyle choices,' often acts as a discrete synonym for, 'things they do of which I do not approve, and hope will change soon.' Whilst some new vegans do change their minds fairly quickly for various reasons, I find dismissal of what for many constitutes a serious lifetime commitment to be unjust. So I don‘t tend to describe veganism as a lifestyle, unless I am talking amongst other vegans or supportive persons, or about a lifestyle element which happens to be affected by my veganism, as with the posts in th is great Flaming Vegan category! Others may like this term, and that is of course their right, though being aware of possible connotations and perceptions may prove helpful in certain situations :)
That leaves me with philosophy, which fits well with my interpretation of veganism as an ethical approach to how one lives their life as a whole. Yet my ethics are not the same as each and every vegan on the planet, nor are they set in stone. I‘m currently questioning, for example, whether I feel morally comfortable giving money to vegan-friendly, meat-serving restaurants, to show that there is a demand for vegan options, or whether I should frequent only plant-based locales. Whilst I identify as being anti-speciesist, opposing any hierarchy of species, others are committed to veganism from welfarist or rights perspectives, but do not see a mouse, a man and a monkey as morally equal. As some object to the term, 'pets,‘ believing that veganism includes a duty to abstain from the language of ownership, others reclaim such terms, reinventing them to represent care and respect.
Philosophy? Perhaps is is more correct to say that veganism is a collection of philosophies, linked by the common aim to reject exploitation of non-human animals. On the other hand, perhaps there is no correct answer, but addressing this with fellow vegans makes, for myself at least, a rich, interesting and educational discussion either way.
Image courtesy of Tony Hall used unchanged under the terms of the Creative Commons license (CC BY-ND 2.0).