What is vegan? The answer is easier than you think.

What is vegan? The answer is easier than you think.

The question of what is vegan might seem complex, but being vegan really just means one little thing, and it’s not hard. So, what is vegan? And what isn’t?

There’s a perception out there that if you don’t eat whole, raw foods, then you’re not vegan. That veganism has to involve some sort of deprivation diet. This could not be more untrue.

Over the past couple of weeks I feel like I’m seeing a lot of misrepresentation of what is vegan and what isn’t. It began with The Blonde Vegan blaming her eating disorder on veganism and ended with a comment that I recently read on a plant based forum I belong to.

My heart goes out to Jordan Younger – The Blonde Vegan –  and her struggle with food. As someone who’s also had body image problems, I can absolutely relate. Where I take issue is with the idea that veganism caused her orthorexia because it’s so restrictive.

Veganism doesn’t have to be this way, but someone who has issues with food can certainly incorporate those anxieties into her veganism. But it’s not fair to say that veganism was at the root of her problem. Eating disorders are complex, and it takes more than eschewing animal products to cause that sort of self-loathing. This is me speaking from experience. It trivializes eating disorders to imply that veganism alone can cause something as deep and severe as anorexia or orthorexia.

The comment that really upset me didn’t come from an ex-vegan though. It came from a current vegan who said that some people who “claim to be vegan” actually eat processed food. This sort of judgement within the vegan community is doing our movement far more harm than good.

There seems to be this unspoken game of “Who is the most vegan?” within the vegan community, and everyone has a different definition of what is vegan. It makes veganism seem unapproachable, and it doesn’t serve animals at all. And isn’t veganism supposed to be about protecting animals?

I want to disspell this myth that you’re not “really” vegan unless you eat not only plant foods, but specific plant foods. No, no, no.

What is vegan? Vegan means that you don’t exploit animals. Period.

Here are some vegan foods and drinks that you might think are off limits, because they’re not whole foods, and they’re certainly not healthy in excess:

+ Wine

+ Chocolate

+ Coffee

+ Many, many brands of potato chips. Check this recipe for vegan Dorito-crusted tofu, and then tell me that veganism is about deprivation.

+ Soda

+ Pilsbury Crescent Rolls

+ Oreos

I could list vegan junk foods all day, because there are thousands of options. When I was reading that comment about people who “claim to be vegan,” I was halfway through eating a chocolate bar and on my second glass of wine. Both the chocolate and the wine were animal product free, meaning that they were vegan. Veganism isn’t about a pure diet, I promise!

What is vegan? Veganism is a lifestyle that’s about avoiding animal products as much as humanly possible. If it doesn’t contain animal products and wasn’t tested on animals, it’s vegan. Food doesn’t have to be raw, whole, grain free, sugar free, or gluten free to be vegan. It just has to be animal free.

I’m not saying that I don’t respect plant-strong vegans, gluten free vegans, or grain free vegans. All that I’m saying here is that you don’t need any of those adjectives to be vegan. You just need to embrace a cruelty-free lifestyle, and that lifestyle can include potato chips, wine, and cupcakes if that’s how you want to do it.

This ongoing game of Who’s the Best Vegan is bad news, y’all, and we need to quit it. It doesn’t serve our community, and it doesn’t serve the animals that we’re trying to protect. Pass the potato chips!

Image Credit: Potato Chips photo via Shutterstock

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About the Author

My name is Becky Striepe (rhymes with “sleepy”), and I am a crafts and food writer from Atlanta, Georgia with a passion for making our planet a healthier, happier, and more compassionate place to live. My mission is to make vegan food and crafts accessible to everyone!. If you like my work, you can also find me on Twitter, Facebook, and .
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  • Julie

    Thank you for an insightful article. I’d like to mention that although animal products are not used in Pillsbury crescent rolls, they are made using Palm Oil which hurts animals. All rain-forests are being decimated by the demand for cheap palm oil, killing orangutans, rhinos, elephants, tigers and their homes at an alarming rate.
    I’m not defining what is vegan or not, i just know that vegans care about animals so would want to know this is a huge issue – more than 300 soccer fields of rainforest are destroyed per HOUR in Malaysia and Indonesia alone. The air pollution is also devastating as are the photos of orangutans running from the fire, half burned with baby in arms.
    There is no such thing as sustainable palm oil as the industry is so widespread that it cannot be regulated and RSPO members are not complying with sustainable guidelines. I find palm oil in many vegan frozen foods and it’s in many toiletries and cleaners. It’s really frustrating not to be able to buy these convenient items.I do write to the companies asking for a change. Palm oil is also found in most toiletries, cleaners and cosmetics.

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