plant-based vs vegan

Hi, I thought that I would come on here and clarify the differences between the term vegan and the term plant-based. The two are often used interchangeably because they have one common attribute which is the avoidance of eating animals or animal byproducts. Nevertheless, even this singular commonality does not always hold since some plant-based individuals do consume small amounts of animal products.  


Veganism is the moral conviction that animals are not ours to exploit. As such, vegans avoid exploiting animals in every aspect of their lives, so long as it is feasible. The Vegan Society has a more eloquent definition, stating that veganism is “a 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”. From these definitions, you can note two things. The first is that veganism is more than not eating animals, it is an ethical stance that influences what you wear, how you shop, and what you consider to be leisure. You’ll also note that both definitions imply that veganism is practiced within the realms of what is reasonable. This is because in certain cases, such as vaccines that are tested on animals or that contain animal byproducts, it is not possible to avoid animal exploitation


As mentioned, the common thread between plant-based and vegan is the food that one eats. A plant-based diet is based on plants and involves little or no animal products. Many plant-based individuals don’t eat any animal products, while others might on occasion. This deviation is because plant-based individuals abstain from eating animals for environmental and/or health reasons. In effect, you can consume small amounts of animal protein without significantly harming the planet or your health. On the other hand, given that veganism is the moral conviction that exploiting animals is wrong, vegans take a more absolute stance on eating animals- we simply do not partake in it. Now I am not saying that you can’t initially go vegan for health or environmental reasons, but to truly adopt it as a lifestyle, you will have to make the ethical connection.


  • A vegan is plant-based by default because vegan food excludes all animal products and is thus plant-based
  • A plant-based individual is not necessarily vegan for two reasons. 1) They can consume small amounts of animal products and 2) Even if they don’t consume any animal products, their lifestyle may support other forms of animal exploitation (buying leather, going to zoos, purchasing cosmetics tested on animals, etc.)


Example 1: the transitioning vegan

Picture this: I’m at a restaurant with a (recently) vegan friend of mine and two meat-eating guys. Although there are vegan options, my friend at the time orders the butter chicken because she “likes the sauce”. Now I thought that this was self-evident, but ordering a dish that has meat, dairy, and/or eggs is not vegan and “picking out” the meat doesn’t make it any better-it’s just a waste of food. Also, since we were out with people who ate meat, ordering a meat dish whilst claiming to be vegan made veganism look like a full-on joke. Therefore, although someone claims to be vegan, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they truly abide by the lifestyle. In this case, my friend at the time had recently transitioned toward veganism, so I hope that she is truly vegan today.

Example 2: the “flexible” vegan

I put flexible in quotations, because unlike plant-based diets, there is no grey area within veganism, at least not when it comes to food. Someone I follow on social media, let’s call him Joe, claims to be vegan. While vacationing, however, Joe eats meat, dairy, and eggs because of the #culture. Is Joe vegan? No, he is plant-based and I’ll tell you why. First off, veganism is about avoiding animal exploitation when possible and practicable and in 2019 you can find vegan options everywhere. Even the least vegan-friendly places have staples like rice, potatoes, and beans so traveling isn’t a valid excuse to eat animals- next! Secondly, vegans do not consume animals and that’s on period. I wish I had a more substantive argument for that one, but you just can’t call yourself vegan whilst knowingly eating animal flesh or byproducts. If exploiting animals for food is wrong at home, then it’s wrong when you travel. Moreover, while small amounts of animal protein can be a part of a plant-based diet, eating animals while traveling is definitely NOT a part of a vegan lifestyle and you can fight me on this.


The point of this article is not to shame anyone, but to demonstrate that vegan and plant-based are not synonymous terms. Although many people will call themselves vegan when they are transitioning or when they are plant-based, it doesn’t mean that the definition of veganism changes. Mind you, any reduction in total animal products consumed means that fewer animals that are being bred into existence to be slaughtered which is great progress! What I’m not finna do, however, is act as though you can claim the term vegan while eating animal products (however infrequently), because that is not the case. And listen, I know that the term “vegan” is sexier and shorter than “plant-based” -even in French (végane vs végétalien), but saving animals IS sexy. Bottom line, unless you’re committed to ending animal exploitation in every way possible, you should not be out in these streets calling yourself vegan.

Tough love,



16 thoughts on “plant-based vs vegan”

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