So, here’s the thing, people frequently use terms associated with a “plant-based lifestyle” interchangeably, but they don’t all mean the same thing. Saying this, it’s less important worrying about what to label yourself (or others, why are we labeling others?!?) and more important to do something. Anything. Whether it’s for your health, the animals, the environment, or any other reason, I believe a more plant-based approach is the way to go!
What’s a vegan lifestyle? Veganism is a lifestyle that seeks to harm animals the least amount as “possible and practicable”. A “vegan diet” is plant-based (i.e. no animal products such as cow’s milk, chicken’s eggs, or bee’s honey and no flesh either, not even fish) but vegans also don’t wear leather, wool, or silk. They don’t participate in any forms of animal exploitation. Although a plant-based diet and “vegan diet” are used synonymously, technically there is no such thing as a “vegan diet”. You can eat whatever you want as long as it’s not from an animal. Being vegan just says what (and who) you aren’t eating. There’s healthy vegans and unhealthy vegans. People identify as “junk food vegans” or “health vegans” “ethical vegans” or “whatever-you-want-to-call-it vegans”. Honestly, it doesn’t much matter to me what you call yourself, but it matters to the animals that you don’t eat them. That’s my goal, and we don’t have to share it, but how you get to your goal is up to you. Having a goal is the best place to start. Even if we don’t share the same goal, if you label yourself as one of these things, or even if you consider yourself an animal lover, we already agree more than we disagree. In the end, less harm is better than more harm. That’s why my favorite quote is “Don’t do nothing because you can’t do everything. Do Something. Anything.” by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.
“Don’t do nothing because you can’t do everything. Do Something. Anything.” – Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.
What’s a vegetarian diet? Vegetarians don’t eat animal flesh or meat, but they do eat animal products such as eggs, honey, and dairy. Being vegetarian does not mean that you avoid animal exploitation or leather, but some vegetarians do not wear leather. Therefore, vegetarianism is a diet and not a lifestyle. I was a vegetarian for two years before I became vegan. Hey, no judgment here. It’s important to remember where we have come from *cough* some vegans.
What’s a plant-based diet? Plant-based means that you do not eat anything from an animal. You do not have to be vegan to be plant-based, but you are plant-based if you’re vegan. If this makes your head hurt, don’t get caught up on it. As previously mentioned, worry less about what you call yourself and more about what you do yourself. Saying this, call yourself, or don’t, whatever you identify with. Some people use the term plant-based, even if they’re vegan in theory, just to avoid a stigma, stereotype, or judgment.
What’s plant-forward (also referred to as flexitarian)? A plant-forward approach or diet is when you still eat animal products (you can be vegetarian, semi-vegetarian, pescatarian, or a reluctant omnivore) but eat them sparingly. They accompany your meal, but they’re not the focus. The main feature of your diet is plants. Hey, the more vegetables in our diets, the better.
Okay, so what’s a whole food, plant-based diet? This tells someone what you are eating: a plant-based diet that is centered around whole, plant foods. No animal products (plant-based) but also only whole foods or minimally-processed foods (processed as in adding something bad or taking away something good). No oil, refined (or added) sugar, refined flours, or “junk foods”. This also means sparingly eating concentrated sweeteners like maple syrup and minimally-processed foods like peanut butter, seitan, or tofu.
Here are a few resources:
Dr. Greger explores and analyses nearly every nutritional question or aspect you’ve ever been told, been asked, or asked yourself. This site predominantly consists of short videos that analyze and combine studies and facts to address myths, misconceptions, and questions involving plant-based nutrition: Nutritionfacts.org
These sites feature the what, why, and how of being vegan: https://vegan.org/about-veganism/ & https://www.vegansociety.com/go-vegan/definition-veganism & https://www.pinterest.com/jonathanbrant98/vegan-tips-nutrition-and-inspiration/
Colleen explores every aspect of veganism that I can think of. From the various social aspects to animal welfare to common questions to health, you’ll find it all here: https://www.colleenpatrickgoudreau.com/
Learn about nutrition, health, and ethical science from like-minded doctors, nutritionists, and medical experts: https://www.pcrm.org/
Are you wondering how and why to start eating plant-based? Look no further! (Actually, please look further. There’s so much information out there): https://www.forksoverknives.com/plant-based-primer-beginners-guide-starting-plant-based-diet/#gs.0yrnfb & https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/what-is-a-plant-based-diet-and-why-should-you-try-it-2018092614760
What is a whole food, plant-based diet and what do you eat? Isn’t it a little extreme? Are salads all you eat? Nope: https://nutritionstudies.org/whole-food-plant-based-diet-guide/ & https://nutritionstudies.org/what-is-a-whole-food-plant-based-diet/
Here are some of the leading plant-based doctors. From heart disease to autoimmune diseases to type 2 diabetes, boom, the queens and kings in their field have arrived: http://www.theveganjunction.com/top-20-plant-based-health-professionals-to-follow/
Are you ready to get inspired and get to work? Here are some documentaries that will do just that! https://www.livekindly.co/21-must-watch-vegan-documentaries-change-the-world/
I love and agree with this excerpt from The Joyful Vegan, coming in November of 2019, by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, published by @benbellavegan:
“It’s a very human impulse to see and be seen in terms of identities, especially those that are important to us, but there are downsides to seeing everything through this lens, including feeling that groups similar to our own undermine the very nature of what makes our group unique. Social psychologists even have a name for this — they call it categorization threat or distinctiveness threat: when groups too similar to our own threaten the special identity of our group. ⠀
.⠀This may explain why people who self-identify as “ethical vegans” spend so much time criticizing people who stop eating animal products for health reasons (those who self-identify as “plant-based”). It also may explain why people who self-identify as “plant-based” spend so much time criticizing people they consider “junk-food vegans.” Ironically, it is the commonalities between these groups that create the tension. ⠀
.⠀In being obsessed with our minor differences, we lose sight of our major goal — to protect animals from suffering, cruelty, and violence. The problems animals face in this world aren’t because of the few people who have stopped eating animals; the problems animals face are because most people have not. ⠀
.⠀It’s not that we shouldn’t have an ideal to aspire to or a moral code to live by, but when ideology becomes a holy relic to be worshiped rather than an aspiration and a guide, we’ve lost the plot. When we become more attached to the belief system than to the potential for that belief system to help us accomplish our goals, we’ve lost our way. We mistake the finger pointing to the moon for the moon itself. It’s the difference between setting out to inspire rather than setting out to convert. It’s the difference between attracting and proselytizing. It’s the difference between being enthusiastic and Evangelical. It’s the difference between wanting to be right and wanting to be effective.”
So, what’s the difference? The difference is everything for the animals, the Earth, and your health. In the long run, it matters more what you do and less what you label yourself as. Most people love animals but prefer to think they’ve lived happy (albeit short) lives. They say things like, “I don’t want to know!” or “But they’re here for us!” Most people respect their bodies and want to be healthy. Yet, people say, “Well, there’s not much I can do.” or “We’re all going to die anyway.” Most people want a clean world for themselves and their children. Yet, organizations refuse to acknowledge the threat animal agriculture has on the environment and climate change. So, I encourage you to not be most people—complacent, willfully blind, stubborn… Don’t wait for the government, the health industry, or someone else to change. You are the only one who you can guarantee to change. It has to start somewhere, and it starts within. Best of luck! Get informed, get involved, and change the world. Sometimes the hardest part is just getting started.