In my first post, I used the word “vegan” (or some form of it) 70 times. Is that a record? Probably not. Vegans never shut up about veganism.
But what actually is veganism?
Some -isms are mystifying. Veganism is certainly not an exception. Like my restaurant waiter, whose eyes glaze over as they nod their head yes—but with uncertainty—upon being asked “can anything be made vegan on the menu?”… there’s a chance you’re equally as confused as to what I mean when I say “vegan.”
Perhaps I should begin by explaining what veganism is not. It is not a diet. It’s not some phase that your nephew is going through. It’s not a cult.
Veganism is a lifestyle. Here is a good definition from the Vegan Society :
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.
Pretty clear, right? One thing to emphasize is the phrase “as far as is possible and practicable.” We vegans are not an unreasonable folk. We get that nobody is perfect and it’s not always practical to stand hard and fast in our veganism…essentially, we know that there are no “vegan police” who will revoke our veganism for eating something we didn’t realize had honey in it, or for assuming (because it’s not always realistic to trace something back to its source) that the sugar we bought to bake our vegan cookies was made without bone char (I’ll touch upon honey and bone char in later posts). We have good intentions, and we have a clear moral compass, so as best as possible, as much as we can, we avoid animal products.
I wouldn’t harm an animal—whether it’s my own cat or, say, a random pig. Would you? And if I can’t do it, I certainly won’t pay someone else to do it. Not only does that still cause the animal harm, but think about the position I’ve now put someone else in! They are forced to harm animals for a living.
I’ve chosen to live in accordance with my own ethics. And that feels amazing. Absolutely uh-may-ZING!
It’s Not Just About Food?
Nope. It’s so much more than that. As the Vegan Society explains, “[f]rom accessories and clothing to bathroom items, animal products are found in more places than you might expect.” 
Now, it’s not surprising that veganism is often misrepresented as a diet. Food does play a major role in living a vegan life. Everyday, three times a day, we make a choice about whether or not we want to perpetuate and contribute to the harm of living beings. (And, if you’re like me and you love snacks, you might be making that decision upwards of eight or more times a day!! Don’t judge me; I eat a lot.)
So a vegan will follow a plant-based diet. Vegans do not consume any animal products—including by-products like milk (or other dairy products such as whey, lactose, or lactic acid ), eggs, or honey. (And yes, fish are animals, too. I really do not understand when some people came to believe fish were plants??) We may still consume processed, non-organic foods, so long as no animal products are used as ingredients. We also avoid supplements that use animal products, or apples and candies coated in bug-derived wax.
Additionally, a few ingredients might be considered as problematic for vegans, even though those ingredients are not sourced directly from animals. For instance, sourcing palm oil is often detrimental to orangutan and elephant populations. So many vegans will avoid palm oil.
Now, while all vegans are plant-based, not all plant-based people are vegans. Does that make sense? The difference becomes clearer when looking at other facets of the vegan lifestyle.
Clothing and Accessories
Most people comprehend that fur is out of the question. Many non-vegans, from my experiences, also avoid fur. But leather and suede are just as problematic, as are the following materials:
- Snake, alligator, lizard, etc. skin
- Down feathers
No leather belts, bags, or shoes. And, of course, no shoes assembled using animal glue.
Furniture and Other Goods
So, since we’re not buying clothes or accessories made with animal products, we’re also avoiding the purchase of, say, a leather couch, or a car with leather seats. (Side note: Tesla is producing an all-vegan car!) Essentially, we avoid the same fabrics in our decor (no silk sheets, wool rugs, etc.).
For our personal care items—including cosmetics and brushes—we will make sure animal ingredients have not been used (e.g., no milk and animal fat in our soaps). Additionally, vegans will not use products that were tested on animals.
Activities and Entertainment
Another big no-no for vegans is entertainment which exploits animals no zoos, no SeaWorlds, and no aquariums…no horse racing or greyhound racing, either; and definitely no hunting.
To be a vegan means that you will evaluate the decisions you make, asking yourself: “Will this decision contribute to the suffering, abuse, or exploitation of animals in any way, either directly or indirectly?”
If the answer is yes, and we have other options (and we usually do), we do not make that decision.
To end, allow me to pose the question put forth by the animal rescue Edgar’s Mission:
If we could live happy and healthy lives without harming others… why wouldn’t we?
 // The Vegan Society. (n.d.). Definition of Veganism. https://www.vegansociety.com/go-vegan/definition-veganism
 // Hidden Animal Ingredients in Foods: http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/hidden-animal-ingredients-in-foods.html