The internet is filled with easy to answer questions. Thanks to the power of search engines, people can have their curiosity satisfied in milliseconds. For basic questions such as ‘what is a vegan?’ – which is searched thousands of times a month in the UK alone, there’s a single, easy answer. However, what it actually means to be vegan is a deeper question, with a deeper answer.
Plant-based Vs Vegan
Some people that claim to be vegan are instead ‘plant-based’ – where they omit the consumption of animal products but continue to use animal products in their wider life. While going plant-based is amazing for the animals, it also means you’re consciously choosing to ignore the wider suffering that goes on in the world of animal exploitation.
What does being vegan really mean?
On the surface, vegans are people who completely omit animal products from their lives. This means no meat, eggs or dairy. But it also means no honey, no wool, no silk, no household products that derive ingredients from animals and even avoiding certain ingredients such as Vitamin D in orange juice that is derived from Lanolin (a wax secreted from a sheep.)
However, being vegan also means more than just avoiding animal products. It carries a deeper meaning. While it’s important to avoid falling to cliche, what it means to be vegan is something that transcends a basic explanation.
In my opinion, this is what it means to be vegan…
You’re a more compassionate person
Almost everyone has some form of compassion within them. Veganism, while at first seeming extreme to everyone who chooses the lifestyle, is ultimately a step forward towards connecting your own compassion to the lives of other beings. It’s a choice to forgoe ‘easy’ products and ‘normal’ choices and instead take a different path.
It’s important to stress this isn’t an elitist club or a contest. You don’t win anything for being more compassionate – but it is a beautiful feeling to know you’ve chosen to minimise the suffering you cause to other creatures.
You actually give a shit
Many critics of veganism speak of the awful humanitarian crisees of our times, asking us “why don’t you help humans first?” Yet these same people do nothing to actually minimise the suffering in our society. While veganism isn’t a cure-all, it was recently reported that it’s the biggest thing one person can do for the environment.
So not only are you saving animals each time you choose not to eat them, you’re saving the planet too. And as for people, the majority of vegans also grow their compassion and become involved with anti-plastic and anti-fast fashion movements – both of which exploit workers and the planet to no end.
Being vegan is a pro-human, pro-animals movement. You care equally – unlike people who try to shut you down with examples they themselves do nothing about.
You represent something important
As a vegan, you’re most likely in a minority. As such, people will base their opinion of vegans and their receptivity to our message based on you. While veganism is hotly debated online, it can be even more tense when discussed in person. You’ll feel attacked, you’ll feel like an outside and you’ll often feel like you’re being ‘holier than thou’. What it means to be vegan is that you must persevere through people’s doubts and remember that you’ve chosen something good.
Your actions will be judged, but you’ll also be listened to and understood by those who respect you. This is why it’s so important to decide how to interact with others. At first, going vegan might feel like something you want to shout about – and it’s easy to get preachy when you’re armed with all the facts and you feel so terrible about how the rest of the world turns a blind eye. However, if you persevere you’ll find that a gentle approach is generally better.
You’ll never be perfect
What does it mean to be vegan? It means accepting that, for all your efforts, you’ll never be perfect. There’s a tendency in the wider vegan community, especially on social media, to try to ‘out-vegan’ each other. If someone posts a picture of a vegan fridge, someone pops up commenting on plastic. This in-fighting is counter productive, but sadly seems to be a part of the vegan ‘club’ some people favour over a more inclusive vegan world that we aim for.
You’ll make mistakes with food. You’ll make mistakes with products you buy. But that’s okay – it’s all part of the journey. Being vegan means trying your best and learning as you go (though you must genuinely try, otherwise it’s not worth calling yourself vegan).
Ultimately, then, what it means to be vegan is to try your best to set examples, educate others and uphold your beliefs. We are here to spread a message, and it’s important we do it in the right way. Being vegan doesn’t make you better than anyone – but it does wonders for the planet and for the beings you choose not to harm. That alone makes it an amazing thing.