In this post, I am going to explain a bit more in-depth the difference between “Vegan” and “Plant-based”. Probably you think that these terms are synonyms but they are not: here I am telling you why, hopefully making your life a bit easier in identifying what is vegan and what is plant-based. I know it seems like I am repeating myself and it might be, but, you know, repetita iuvant (which translates literally to ‘repetition does good’).
Let’s give some sense to these words:
Vegan = Someone who doesn’t consume any product derived from animals, in all aspects of their lives from food to clothing, to make-up and beauty etc.: no animal products whatsoever. It is not only a diet but also a lifestyle and a philosophy. The idea behind it is that there is no need to exploit animals in order for us to live. But it doesn’t stop here: the abuse that a vegan doesn’t encourage for the animals applies to also people and the environment because, usually the industries like fish, meat, dairy are not famous for having good ethical practices. Just an example, the meat industry is a barbaric business that destroys the environment, creating pollution (from greenhouse gases to water pollution – for further reading click here and here) which affects the people.
Plant-based = A diet where a person eats food that is not derived from animals. It is a diet, it can be considered at a similar level of omnivore diet, vegetarian diet, Dukan diet, etc.
We have already seen – here and here – that there are certain brands (like Coca-Cola, Unilever, Procter & Gamble, etc.) holding an almost complete monopoly of the food industry, with their name products but also through the owning of parent companies. And we have ascertained that they are not vegan for the animals nor the environment or the people. For example, there is a new version of KitKat being advertised as vegan. But they are owned by Nestle which is definitely not vegan. So, they should actually be advertised as plant-based.
There are also many clothing brands that are advertising themselves, or some of their products, as vegan as they don’t use materials derived from animals. But, again, while these products don’t contain they come from brands that are not actually vegan and uses wool, leather, feathers etc in their other products. Examples are provided by the clothes and shoes produced by brands like Adidas and Nike: while some of their products might be made without the use of animal products, they both have issues on matter of ethical treatment of employees, animals and the environment (you can find information on Adidas and Nike here and here).
Similarly, on the matter of make-up and beauty products, we enter that universe controlled by L’Oreal, Yves Rocher, Maybelline, Pantene etc, all professing to make vegan products while testing on animals (making such products not cruelty-free: which is another thing to look out when buying vegan beauty products and there are lists of brands that are vegan and cruelty-free that you can find, for example, on the CrueltyFreeKitty and EthicalElephant websites).
So we are getting to the main point, which is the ethics of the company producing vegan or plant-based products.
I know that now the vegans eating Oreos and washing their hair with some L’Oreal stuff are already fairly pissed at me. But I am only stating the facts: these products are not vegan because these big companies are not vegan, exploiting animals and workers and deforesting the Earth. True, their products might be slightly more affordable, but there is a price behind that and I don’t want to sound cheesy, but that price is ethics. Every time you buy some Heinz beans or mayonnaise or whatever, you are financing a system that is exploiting the exploitable. This is not a criticism, only something that should be taken into consideration. Especially if we want the end to animal suffering, better working conditions and a cleaner world: whenever you can, shop locally, look if there are food cooperatives that get their fruit&veg from the local farms, look up for those smaller online shops that are selling trusted vegan products. In the beginning, it will be difficult, but we are in 2021 and there really are so many options.
This has been since I started transitioning to my vegan lifestyle: it has been hard, but I hacked the best ways to get real vegan food. When I moved to the UK I had to start all over: while I was looking for jobs (but also while I was waiting tables or worked in a bar) I couldn’t afford to get to the farmers’ market, but I was still avoiding these big companies by going to the supermarket late in the evening to get food at very reduced prices, buying clothes at the charity shops (going to TK Maxx for a treat, but obviously being extra careful to all the label products). Only now that I am in a good job I can finally sit and look for alternatives to the supermarkets & Co. So it is possible, it takes time and some patience, but it is doable.
However, this point raises the issue of “white veganism”, one of the criticisms made to vegans/plant-based people: in short, this critique says that those that can afford to be vegan are mostly white people from the northern hemisphere and that veganism is linked to colonisation, making it difficult for BIPOC and people in the southern hemisphere to be vegan because either vegan products exploit immigrants and those living south of the Equator or because the prices of vegan products are inaccessible to BIPOCs.
I think it has already been made clear that if one is vegan (see above) they will have a care not only for the well-being of the animals but also of the environment which means people too. Here, I can quite agree with the critique of white veganism as a diet is a consequence of colonialism: the big multi-national companies that are deforesting the Amazon forest and exploit indigenous people to plant palm oil and to build intensive farms are indeed the fruit of colonisation (also if I were you, I would read this article). But these companies are not vegan. They have some products that are plant-based, but not vegan. So I would like to redirect the critique of white veganism to actually a “white plant-based movement”. The same movement that sponsors the consumption of Impossible Foods (see why Impossible Foods Ltc is not vegan), Beyond Meat and all those meat-alternative companies that advertise making ultra-processed plant-based food at such high prices, making it really Impossible for people on low income to buy them. A vegan can live with pasta, rice, legumes, fruit and vegetables and have a balanced, healthy and affordable diet. And you can make a lot of meat-alternatives by yourself (casually dropping some recipes for tofu and seitan to make at home)!
It should also be argued that those talking about white veganism never mention that the meat industry takes away a big chunk of subsidies and that actually a redistribution of resources would help in having good fruit&veg at cheaper prices while also being organic.
Behind veganism there is an idea that no sentient being, nor the environment, should be exploited: it is with this optic that we look at the practices of big companies and discern what is vegan and what is not. While what vegans eat is a plant-based diet, it is much more than this. Also, no one is perfect and we are all trying our best.
If you have any thoughts on this let me know in the comments down below.
See you for the next post!
Environmental Impact of Meat Consumption – University of British Columbia
Is eating meat bad for the environment? Future Learn
Why do we need alternative sources of protein? – Future Learn
JBS Meat Processor USA – Shop Ethical
10 Major Companies Responsible for Deforestation – Earth.org
UK farmers prepare for overhaul to farm subsidies after Brexit – Financial Times
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