You've probably been hearing a lot of buzz about veganism lately. It's certainly not a new diet or way of life, but it's gained a lot of attention in the past few years. As of 2017, about six percent of Americans identify as vegan, and although that doesn't sound like much, only one percent of people in the US were vegan in 2014. That's a huge increase in just a few years!
The term plant-based has been circulating quite a bit lately as well, and in some cases, vegan and plant-based are interchangeable. But that's not always true. As someone who eats a plant-based diet and also identifies as vegan, allow me to explain the differences (and similarities).
The Core Foundation of Each Diet Is the Same
Veganism is all about eating a diet that doesn't contain any animal products, including meat, chicken, eggs, fish, dairy, honey, etc. Basically, anything that comes from a living, breathing, conscious being isn't on the menu for vegans. That's also true for plant-based people; their diet is all about eating food that comes straight from the earth, rather than from animals, so it's a healthy mixture of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. But the plant-based diet eliminates some additional foods, which we'll get into below.
Not All Vegan Food Is Plant-Based
Although both vegan and plant-based eaters steer clear of animal products, their diets will slightly differ. Because the plant-based diet focuses more closely on health, rather than ethical or environmental issues (more on that later), plant-based eaters generally won't consume anything that's processed or packaged, even if it's not made with any animal products.
For example, did you know Oreos are vegan? Yep, our most precious childhood cookie contains no animal products whatsoever. However, while people who are vegan will eat foods like this, if you're plant-based, you probably aren't going to go anywhere near it. If it doesn't occur naturally, you aren't going to be eating it on a plant-based diet.
The Motivations Behind Each Lifestyle Are Sometimes Different
There's a lot of overlap here, so it's hard to strictly categorize the motivations behind being vegan and plant-based. But for the most part, people are vegan for ethical or environmental reasons. They don't eat food that comes from animals, use leather, wear fur, or use makeup that's been tested on animals. Similarly, because the animal agriculture industry releases greenhouse gasses that contribute to climate change, vegans have chosen to preserve the planet by nixing meat and dairy from their diets.
While some plant-based eaters certainly feel the same way about these ethical and environmental issues, their reasons are mostly health-based. An overwhelming amount of scientific research shows that eating plants wards off diseases and cancers, improves digestion, enhances fitness performance, and balances out your hormones. That's why plant-based eaters stay away from things like french fries, even if they're technically vegan.
However, you wouldn't be hard-pressed to find people who have a foot in both camps. Take me, for example. My initial reasons for going vegan were because I could not consciously call myself an ethical person, animal-lover, or environmentalist while still eating eggs, fish, and steak. However, the more I learned about the diet and the more I felt immensely positive changes in my own life, the more I realized that eating plant-based was the way to go.