Why I Call Myself Vegan *Not Plant-based

By Zoe Peled

Founder | Vancouver Vegan Resource Centre (VVRC)

BOD | People Ensuring Animal Care Exists (P.E.A.C.E.)

Photo Credit Design-Kind

I have some qualms about the term “plant-based”. Though we have seen a few versions of the term in discourse, for the sake of consistency in this piece, I am going to remove the quotations and use the hyphenated spelling.

Let me introduce one of the first articles that appear on a Google search of the term, from Wikipedia, and the subsequent definition of plant-based, according to the source:

A plant-based diet is a diet of any animal (including humans) based on foods derived from plants, including vegetables, whole grains, legumes and fruits, but with few or no animal products.” 

The last line is the one that is problematic. Due to the prevalence of plant-based in contemporary food and nutrition culture and marketing, plant-based and vegan have become interchangeable. To the majority of consumers who may not choose to do additional research, this is accepted and absorbed without any critical questioning. To myself (not the majority), this is very, very, problematic indeed. 

Plant-based and Vegan mean two entirely different things. The interchangeabilty of these terms has led to confusion, misrepresentation, and a complete lack of awareness around the background of a significant movement, why it exists, who created it, and who it supports and defends. 

Plant-based could easily be called plant-focused, plant-centric, or plant-forward. Based on technical definition, someone could identify as plant-based, and still consume animal products in various amounts. A plant-based recipe may have animal ingredients in it. Plant-based is (my personal favourite and self-coined term) plant-fluid, and has been created to replace Vegan, to (apparently), appease folks that are left dissatisfied with the taste that Vegan/Veganism leaves on their palates, along with the people associated with it, the movement as a whole, and its tactics. 

Take it down a notch, they say. 

Your tactics are extreme, they say. 

I don’t want to see those pictures, they say. 

Making me uncomfortable isn’t how you’re going to change me, they say. 

It is common rhetoric that within situations of injustice, we observe the majority requesting the “defenders” to be conservative in their communications. They ask the graphic content to be used minimally, or not at all. They ask the audio to be turned off, or not considered whatsoever. They ask for the personal, emotional side of it to be left out, and above all, make the information comfortable. 

How do we make something comfortable that is inherently not comfortable?

How do we make something conservative that is radical? 

How do we make something less extreme that is incredibly extreme at the core of its very nature? 

If we consider the animals that are killed for the Meat and Dairy industries alone, and remove any emotional adjectives or sentiments, the facts are as follows:

Billions of animals die within these industries every year. They are slaughtered for use by humans. 

Depending on the industry and product, they are killed in one of a few different ways. These methods are selected based on efficiency, financial factors, and aim to process as many animals as possible in limited timeframes. They are not methods that are humane. 

(Note: If we observed these exact methods outside of the slaughterhouse in a domestic situation, for example, they would unquestionably be classified as acts of Animal Cruelty.) 

The industries are heavily influenced by sponsors, money, and consumer demand. 

This situation is extreme. 

This situation is not comfortable. 

You are not made to be comfortable within this discourse. Advocacy, in any capacity, for any living being or cause, exists to challenge comfort, to create dialogue, to spark controversy, and to instigate change. 

We see a lot of the use of the term Plant-based being utilized as a safe word. In a majority of situations, we see it applied to businesses and marketing practices. While the marketing experience in me acknowledges this (and understands why, to an extent), the personal side of me strongly states that I do not call myself plant-based. I call myself Vegan. 

Vegan is a lifestyle. 

It is a movement that has a rich, diverse history. 

This history consists of many folks speaking up on behalf of animals, from 1944 on (when the term “vegan” was officially coined), and from the early 1800’s (some of the first accounts of vegetarianism). These folks have protested, been laughed at, scoffed at, and have been on the receiving end of violence, profanities, and hate. This history, and these people, call out to be honoured. 

Using plant-based instead of vegan does not honour this history, acknowledge it, or reflect it. In fact, it serves to deflect it, and shift focus, to an aesthetic that is visually pleasing, a set of marketing terms that are deemed comfortable, and move away from anything causing feelings of distress. 

Vegan is a commitment. 

A vegan lifestyle does not use animal products, in any capacity. Though most of it is focused on our plates, it includes what we wear, the beauty products we select, what we clean our homes with, which businesses we support, and the list continues.  

All vegans do what they can to honour this lifestyle, and even six years in for me, it is an on-going process of education, lots of personal research, and growth. 

Vegan is an emotional investment. 

We bear witness (willingly and unwillingly) to stories, images, videos, and in some cases- live examples of animals being put in the most unimaginable situations possible, often (if not always), at the hands of humans. 

We watch animals as they are kicked, spat on, burned alive, maimed, chopped, cut open, choked, taken from their offspring and families, beaten, laughed at, thrown, and completely dismissed and disregarded. We see this happening in mass numbers, on a daily basis. 

We are laughed at. We are told to shut up, get a life, or f**k off. Once in a while, we are on the receiving end of the middle finger, a thrown object, a scoff, spit, and advised to focus on human suffering and put our energy towards things that matter. 

These reasons, and so many more, are why I use the word Vegan. 

Vegan is a complex, historical term, and movement. 

Every time I make a conscious decision related to it, I consider that, and honour it in my choices. 

Plant-based and Vegan can co-exist as two separate terms. There is no inherent negative with drawing more awareness to a lifestyle that reduces animal products, and reduces animal suffering. The central, critical issue is with plant-based replacing Vegan. 

The term plant-based cannot replace the term vegan. This replacement poses the risk of disregarding a history of a pivotal movement, a history that has shaped it, sustained it, and come to define it. We should be proud of this history. We should accept “ the uncomfortable”, and use it as fuel moving forward.

In conclusion, to the plant-based folks: I appreciate, recognize, and observe your efforts within this lifestyle. I encourage you to take it a step further, omit animal products, and utilize the term vegan with pride and strength. 

To the vegan folks: I appreciate, recognize, and observe your efforts, commitment, and passion to this lifestyle and these animals.  For those I know, and will meet in person, and for those I may never connect with, thank you for speaking up, for defending, and for trying to shift a way of thinking that needs to be shifted.