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Are Vegans Vegetarians? Part 1

October 12, 2015
Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

Source This is Hope, the Book
By Will Anderson


The content of this multi-part blog is based on one of my presentations at the 2015 NAVS Summerfest last week.

The debate over the meaning of vegetarianism is not new. People have deliberated whether dietary vegetarianism was entirely plant-based or included animal products like milk, eggs, and honey since the founding of the first Vegetarian Society in 1847. What I am proposing is not new, though the reasons (environmental, social justice) have grown. Here we are continuing a conversation about what the meaning of vegetarianism should be. We are part of a debate that has been going on most recently since the 1830s.

In a break with tradition, I offer that veganism is not vegetarianism except in our minds by what we inherited as artifacts from vegetarianism’s history. The word vegetarian was first used in print in 1842. Practitioners of “the vegetable diet” of that era ate a largely raw vegan diet that often was associated with self-improvement, church congregations seeking to enhance their spiritual beliefs, and improving the higher self and that of humankind. However, the first Vegetarian Society at its 1847 founding allowed egg and dairy consumption as part of the vegetarian movement to accommodate its members.

The definition and our understanding of what the term “vegetarian(-ism)” means is inconsistently applied by organizations, food manufacturers, the media, vegetarians and the public. As we will see, this causes constant confusion and makes attaining a vegan planet unnecessarily difficult. How often should we be forced by this confusion to explain the “types” of vegetarianism and tag veganism into the mix? The violence and injustice waged against other animals, ecosystems and people will be reduced when we restore clarity to our language regarding vegetarianism and veganism.

Today, interpretations of vegetarianism range from veganism as an expression of justice, nonviolence and nonexploitation of others that we apply to everything we do in our lives—all the way to it being a practice that concerns itself solely with a dietary choice that can include all foods except “meat”. I will demonstrate the misunderstandings this creates and the harm it causes to our progress as a movement. Pointedly, the confusion in our messaging about veganism and its association with vegetarianism is our responsibility. We can take cues from the Vegan Society, founded by the creators of “vegan,” but must also respond to a world that has changed since the term was first used.

Perhaps what most of us can agree on is that the term vegetarian has meant many different things to different people, eras, and cultures. The core definition of vegan has not changed. Unlike vegetarianism, there is no confusion about veganism being the clearer, more effective and comprehensive approach to end the harms in our relationships with other beings. In fact, veganism reflects the original “vegetable dietarians” as they were called before the term vegetarian took hold. I will provide you with links to the history of our movement with the last installment of the blog series.

We must own the language if we are to communicate the vegan message effectively. The more clear and concise we can make it, the more powerful it will be for our advocacy. Veganism states itself exactly; vegetarianism is all over the place as to what it means.

NEXT: History – A review of the historical circumstances when vegetarianism lost its vegan meaning, and the events that led Donald Watson and others to create the term, “vegan.”

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the schisms of isms
what we are or
are not.
if we live by kindness,
that is the
best that
we got!!!!

Karen Lyons Kalmenson

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Patricia Austin permalink
    October 12, 2015 8:30 am

    Thank You Stacey, I would like to add that when speaking of the history of veganism, I believe it is very important that we include the practice which in fact dates back over a thousand years, only known by different names.  The documentation is found in religious practices, such as Christian, Buddhist, Jainism etc., I feel the core principle and practice of the attempt toward “non-harm,” is a crucial shared principle and practice.  It is said that veganism is not a “religion,” which I personally agree with (it is a moral position not a religious a one-though some can most certainly be led to a spiritual/religious path through veganism because it invites a powerful and soft heart), however they all have the shared moral overlap, in the same way that an agnostic shares the belief of “treat others as you would like to be treated” which is shared with his/her fellow citizen who follow the Christian religion.

    The reason I find this important is the fact that veganism at its core principle is nothing new, it is not a “fad,” It has existed for over a thousand years old.   it is simply the most fundamental and basic of human beliefs and built into our moral paradigm, sadly however not practices-just preached. With Gratitude,Patricia Austin-Puccio

    From: Our Compass To: Sent: Monday, October 12, 2015 8:49 AM Subject: [New post] Are Vegans Vegetarians? Part 1 #yiv5663596493 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv5663596493 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv5663596493 a.yiv5663596493primaryactionlink:link, #yiv5663596493 a.yiv5663596493primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv5663596493 a.yiv5663596493primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv5663596493 a.yiv5663596493primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv5663596493 | Stacey posted: “Source This is Hope, the BookBy Will AndersonPart1:The content of this multi-part blog is based on one of my presentations at the 2015 NAVS Summerfest last week.The debate over the meaning of vegetarianism is not new. People have deliberated” | |

    Liked by 1 person

  2. karenlyonskalmenson permalink
    October 12, 2015 10:08 am

    the schisms of isms
    what we are or
    are not.
    if we live by kindness,
    that is the
    best that
    we got!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. October 14, 2015 6:33 pm

    If it comes from an animal it is not VEGETarian. I think we need to take the work back. Let those consumers of animal secretions make up their own work — secretarian??


  4. October 14, 2015 6:34 pm

    *word* not work


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