For the last few years, I have heard the terms Vegan and Plant-Based thrown around a lot. It seems like people are using the terms interchangeably, and I have to admit, I don’t like that!
Being vegan can feel like a full-time job at the beginning because you need to check a lot of labels and learn a lot of new terms – ingredients to eat and ingredients to avoid. Adding in the term Plant-Based to both marketing and regular conversations makes it even tougher.
This article goes through the ins and outs of these terms to make things more clear for you wherever you are on your vegan journey.
To start, I will define each and work on taking the grey area around them away. Let’s clear this up once and for all.
A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.
This definition is long, but it does touch all facets of vegan life. You have probably seen this statement in many places before.
Vegan is the food you eat, the clothes you wear, any textiles you use, any outings/gatherings you attend, the products you use to be the gorgeous vegan you are! Vegan covers everything in our lives ‘as is possible and practicable.’
To me, Vegan is very clear cut and has great structure around it. I am not left confused on what is/what isn’t vegan.
This is a more nebulous term, and I think this is where the confusion comes in.
Plant-Based means eating more foods that come from plants – veggies, beans, lentils, fruits, nuts, seeds… While it doesn’t tell you what foods to avoid.
I often think of the quote by Michael Pollan, “Eat food, mostly plants, not too much” when I think of plant-based eating.
It doesn’t cut out meat, dairy, or any other animal-based products, it is simply stating to eat more plants.
From my vegan/nutrition perspective, this is still a good thing because it has people eating more veggies, more legumes, more fiber, and beautiful phytonutrients even if not totally cutting out animal products.
In my mind, I have made a clear line between Vegan and Plant-Based because I see this out in the world. I need to be mindful when purchasing food to make sure it is actually Vegan when labelled Plant-Based.
There are companies now using the term Plant-Based in place of Vegan. I’ve seen this terminology used more in the last year or two. My best guess is that they feel Vegan is too much of a hot-button word. It makes people anger quickly, so replace that with Plant-Based which is a lot softer. The edges have been removed.
On top of that, maybe the marketers think that if someone is not vegan, they will not buy the vegan product. Plant-Based gives them a way in.
This unfortunately brings the confusion between the two even higher – the grey area thicker. As a vegan, you are more likely to eat something you would otherwise choose not to eat because of the assumption it is vegan when in fact it is not because it is labelled Plant-Based.
You can be a plant-based vegan, a whole-food plant-based vegan, but you are not necessarily a vegan if you are plant-based. You can also be a vegan and not consider yourself plant-based.
You could still eat meat and/or dairy. You could even be paleo and consider yourself plant-based.
This is basically a lesson in Semantics 101!
I have found these definitions to be the most helpful to my vegan life because they remind me to question ingredients and products and to not just take a trendy label as my truth.
Always check labels, look for those tricky ingredients or processing methods (I’m thinking of you, sugar! Sometimes processed with bone char.)
Marketing is finally catching onto this vegan thing, and it doesn’t really have rules when it comes to this stuff. They just want to sell.
If you are unsure in the grocery store, take a picture of the product and ingredient list and put it back on the shelf. Do some research when you get home until you feel comfortable with what you have found.
Ask your server questions about their plant-based meals to make sure they are vegan.
A great example of restaurants trying but missing the mark is the release of the Beyond Meat burger at A&W here in Canada. When it was first introduced, the burger had mayonnaise on it. So here is this plant-based burger with animal products smothered all over it. They have since remedied this, but it serves as a great reminder. Ask questions!
Not all people have the same definitions of plant-based and vegan that we do.
In the end you just need to check.
Vegan and Plant-Based are terms that are here to stay, so we might as well get comfortable with them.
While the definition of Vegan is clear, concise, and well thought out, Plant-Based is cloudy and ever-changing.
Keep asking questions and doing the research because this Plant-Based stuff gets murky!
Yours in plant love,