Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Part Time Vegan?

In recent months there has been a spate of celebrities embracing the vegan diet for health reasons. Among these celebrities are Bill Clinton, Venus and Serena Williams, Chaka Khan and Michelle Pfeiffer. But does this make them vegan?

I think we first need to look at the definition of vegan. According to the Vegan Society “A vegan is someone who tries to live without exploiting animals, for the benefit of animals, people and the planet. Vegans eat a plant-based diet, with nothing coming from animals - no meat, milk, eggs or honey, for example. A vegan lifestyle also avoids leather, wool, silk and other animal products for clothing or any other purpose.”

So this doesn’t include someone who intentionally eats a bit of fish here and there or intentionally drinks some cow’s milk now and again.

I would therefore define some of the recent celebrity vegans as wannabe vegans. Or perhaps, more correctly, that they’re on a plant based diet (after all, “plant based” doesn’t necessarily mean they eat 100% plants!). But in my mind they are not vegan unless they comply with the above definition.

You are either a vegan or you’re not a vegan, you can’t be in between. It’s a bit like someone who has given up smoking, they are either a smoker or a non-smoker, but can’t be something in between. If a non-smoker has a puff of a cigarette every week are they still a non-smoker? Of course not.

And as far as veganism is concerned, my lacto-vegetarian friend who comes along to the vegan pot-luck, and eats vegan food at least once a week, is he a vegan? Of course not.

Yes we want to encourage people to go vegan as it is far better for the planet and the animals than a meat based diet. And it’s great to see celebrities embark on a plant based diet, as this may encourage others to also consider their food choices. But don't be too quick to label them as vegan while they are still eating some animal products! When they have publicly stated "I'm a vegan, I don't eat any animal products" then we can call them vegans.


  1. Very true. Although concepts often have different definitions that all survive the natural selection of the linguistic ecosystem, the truth is that something that is defined as not doing anything (such as smoking or consuming animal products) cannot have different "degrees". Either you are, or you are not.

  2. Lacto-vegetarianism is flexitarianism (but flexitarianism is not necessarily lacto-vegetarianism)... any person can call themselves a vegetarian if they can drop the prefixes. If I eat a SWD I can still call myself a vegetarian. I am an ovo-lacto-pesca-shellfish-pollo-beef-pork-vegetarian, or just vegetarian for short. A vegan eats a vegetarian (no prefixes) diet. A person is either vegetarian or they are not. The recent semantic war over the word vegan is reminiscent of a similar struggle over the meaning of vegetarian that took place years ago.

  3. let's make the standards and requirements as strict as possible. let's show that it's almost undoable to be a vegan. let's also consider vegan the nec plus ultra, the perfect attitude where diet is concerned. let's make sure the label applies to as few people as possible, to a little vegan club that it is very difficult to enter. surely, let's keep the word vegan miles away from anyone who as much as has put on a leather shoe in the past five years. let's disregard for convenience's sake the fact that all vegans too make use of animal products somehow, somewhere (and just conveniently draw the line where we want to draw it) and let's especially be very afraid of a watering down of the word vegan if we don't do all of this, so that in the end it could mean, like... anything!

    a pretty straight vegan, playing devil's advocate for a sec