extending the definition of veganism

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  1. I like it. That said I can’t help feeling you have it backwards. That’s not to say I think you are wrong but it’s a “vegan-centric” perspective which in my view is back to front.

    As I see it, veganism isn’t a thing, rather it’s an idea about ethics. And that idea is simply that we extend our already established ethics (developed over thousands of years) to include other species whenever we can. Articles 3-5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are the principles we can expect to apply to other animals under veganism.

    On that view, veganism IS how we treat other people and it CAN BE how we treat other species – no new ethics need be developed. In terms of the definition of veganism, well I guess that can be whatever it is, but underneath that is – I believe so, anyway – what I’ve described above.

    In the end, veganism is a personal stance and it’s up to us to decide what that means. I object to the notion there are actual vegans. It’s not a club, it’s ethics. Everyone is vegan, it’s just that most haven’t worked out how far they can go with that or if they even want to do so.

  2. Carrie Britten says:

    Thank you so much for such a well thought out article. I was vegetarian for 30 years, and have been vegan for 8 years. This lifestyle has become more popular over the last few years, so I guess it’s not surprising that the definition has become somewhat more diluted. My MD once asked me about what foods I eat. I told him I was vegan, and he asked me, “yes, but how often do you eat red meat?”. If a highly educated person is confused about veganism, we have a long way to go.

  3. Vetrel Smith says:

    Unfortunately, those who are not truly vegan haven’t coined a one-word way of identifying themselves. It is also unfortunate how disturbing this issue has been for so many years. I’m not vegan and I never say that I am and even correct those who have called me one. I often refer to a percentage of my diet that is plant based. I also am very concerned about all animals, the impact of my purchases have on the environment and my care towards both of them, but I won’t ever use the word vegan. I’m afraid being human and prone to making errors or being ignorant would not qualify me. Love your website. 💕

  4. “it’s okay not to be a vegan” is like saying: “it’s okay to rape children”.

  5. Daniel Reynolds says:

    This type of approach and wording usually leads to welfarism.

    The reason veganism came about was because a rift form in the vegetarian society. Two separate societies formed- one that allowed for the inclusion of dairy and eggs, and included other people who ate animal products and one that did not. The one that supported dairy and eggs because the more popular and more well funded group, eventually leading to Douglas’ proclamation and definition of “vegan”.

    We can see the same mechanism at play in veganism today.

    Because of compromised ethics and welfarism, veganism is watered down by those who’s personal ambitions do not align with the logic and reason of veganism.
    Just as the vegetarian society was co-opted by eggs and dairy in the 1880s, so too has the vegan society been co-opted by rescue and adoption, ethical bee keeping, backyard hens, and holistic grazing.

    The definition of veganism is based on the logic and reasoning of need. We do not need to enslave (domesticate) animals.

    Since compassion is a subjective metric by which to measure veganism, it isn’t apt to apply.

    Compassion is cloaked in emotion, and can produce irrational and compromising positions, directly conflicting with veganism assertions that animals are not ours to own.

    Compassion has a neurological and human element- it feels good to be compassionate. So much so that it could be considered an addiction. Some people want to help to feel good about themselves, effectively chasing their own emotional gain rather than applying logic and reason to there worldview.

    When compassion fails to provide us with a clear answer, invariably it is logic and reason that show us need.

    Of course this creates conflict from those addicted to producing endorphins and other neurological chemicals through “compassion”.

    Logic and reason shows us that when we are trying to “help”, we may just be helping ourselves.

    It is easy to give a homeless person a few dollars and feel good about yourself, and to pretend that you have done your part.. it is much harder to challenge the system that allowed that person to become homeless in the first place.

    I find most cases of “extending the definition of veganism” to be half measures, attempts at better function in a broken system.. essentially welfarism.

    This creates even more hypocrisy and confusion.

    For instance- how can a vegan tell other people not to domesticate an animal for personal gain while they domesticate a cat or dog in their home? Essentially they are saying that they can be concerned about the welfare of an animal, bit others cannot.

    This encourages a welfarist approach.. if the act of enslaving an animal isn’t the problem, then it must be the treatment of the enslaved animal that matters.

    Suddenly the very logical and reasonable foundation of veganism is challenged, and we are including humans- because isn’t it more compassionate to consider how human lives would be disrupted by the end of animal domestication (ownership).

    Before veganism, it was the Pythagoreans… Logic and reason and their pursuit did not start in the 1940s, but I think veganism has done a good job at removing definition musical chairs, but as we can see, there is still danger with the co-option of rescue and adoption by people claiming to be vegan.

    There are many grey areas when human on human activities are broached, but there is no grey area for other animals.

    We are obligated to decide for our own species, but no such obligation for other species.
    It would be speciesist to assume we can or should decide for other species.

    Compassion is inherently flawed in this sense, playing off our emotions, clouding and compromising our ability to utilize logic and reason, making us manipulatable.

    Just as the Vegetarian Society was corrupted by popularity and money when they allowed for the inclusion of animal products (dairy and eggs), so too can The Vegan Society be compromised.

    “The introduction of new information is necessary to allow for dissent away from it” -cognitive paradox.

    I see the first reply in this post asking for another definition of veganism, a well defined definition besides Donald’s.
    I’m nearly beyond a shadow of a doubt that this person wants to define veganism as a way to break it apart, because you must first be able to identify something before you can deny it.

    Logic and reason is our blessing and our curse.. which fits nicely with the paradox of subjective existence.
    As our brains develope into adulthood, our ability to make the hard choice over the easy choice is what defines our species. Still, we are subject to the social pressures around us.

    The pressure to conform and fit in. The pressure to not challenge the status quo. Veganism is about giving up the personal freedom to enslave other animals. Much like an adult chooses to give up alcoholism or another escape to care for their children, or societies children. The hard choice over the easy choice. Neurology. Logic and reason.

    Are we destined to play musical chairs with our titles for logic and reason til it is too late?
    Perhaps. tho personally, i cannot embrace it.

  6. Leberecht Friedeberg says:

    To be honest, I was looking for a definition of veganism beside that of Donald Watson.

    But again, I did not really find helpfull hinds for an abstract description of veganism beside this. Watsons definition has the problem of his joker card “if practical” and I I am still on my search to find a general description/evaluation what is practical and not.

    1. Daniel Reynolds says:

      I feel you are searching for a definition so that you may challenge it.

      The definition of veganism is based on the logic and reason of “need”.

      That need is based on biological imperatives.

      Your particular request often culminates in a sophist attempt to move the goal posts, and ultimately utilizes an equivocation fallacy.

      Regardless of your position, would you agree that “moving the goal posts and equivocating” are tactics used by people to compartmentalize their actions?

    2. You are mixing up two words.
      “Practicable” is something that we are able to do.
      “Practical” means little more than convenient.

    3. Marko Valente says:

      Anti-specism !?
      When the subject is a nonhuman sentient species, would you act, do, say, suggest,… same way if the subject would be human sentient species?

      Would be better word without anti which would mean species equality – is there such one?

  7. Angus Matin says:

    In others words: are vegans looking at production, context, upstream reality, or are they just interested in being ‘pure’ as to what they consume? I have been trying to make vegans understand on social media for some years now that we need to take an interest in production, the production of what we eat, because even so-called ‘organic vegan lettuce’ is probably grown using non-organic steer/chicken/horse manure/remains. If we want a truly vegan world, a truly vegan diet, we must become producers, and if we cannot be producers, we must support veganic agriculture as it exists today, and amplify it as much as possible.

    1. Hi Angus, thanks for your kind words and overall feedback. And you’re right; there’s undoubtedly non-British vegan origins that need to be explored. Perhaps I’ll look into it when I get around to updating the post.

      Regarding bees, I think there’s a larger issue at play. Humans have exploited one species of bee specifically for honey production, killing the biodiversity of native species along the way. Additionally, there’s a path forward where we can encourage and grow pollination without extracting honey—so why not explore that option? I’d encourage you to read our honey article if you haven’t already.

      As for certain crops causing harm and death in the production of crops, this is absolutely something that needs to be reviewed. But, on the other hand, we also have to acknowledge that our very existence is harmful. And as described in the definition of veganism, we’re seeking to exclude exploitative practices as far as is possible and practical.

    2. Daniel Reynolds says:

      While I am prone to agree, this also undervalues the systemic nature of the problem humans face.

      It’s kind of like the Amish absolving themselves of modern society to be able to forgo technology (which they don’t entirely do).

      You’ll notice that they aren’t actually creating systemic change, and you will still see the Amish participating on an economic level, even as they distance themselves socially.

      It is common to conflate systemic problems with animal exploitation with personal choices.. but suggesting that everyone start their own veganic farm and grow their own produce isn’t practicable by the general society (if you are giving away money to do so tho, please email me).

  8. Angus Matin says:

    Nice article. You did skip an awful lot of non-British vegans-avant-la-lettre, of course in your historical summary. In any case, there is an argument to be made that almonds and some other tree fruits are not vegan, and yet people consider them so because they come from plants. The truth is, bees are enslaved by humans to service miles and miles of monocrops, which are draining the groundwater, particularly in another drought year here in California. There is also an argument to be made that bee-keepers, at least some of them are actually vegan heroes, saving bees from other humans, who would destroy them with poisons, perhaps, if they didn’t know they had a bee-person to come remove the problem hive (too close for human comfort) and put it somewhere safe and adjacent to blooms. There is a Yemeni family in Berkeley which does just this. They have a shop where they sell honey, wax, etc… I would argue these people respect and love bees (extracting rent perhaps?), and monocrop almond farmers do not.

    1. Daniel Reynolds says:

      You would *dissent.. the argument has already been made, you are simply choosing to dissent away from logic and reason

  9. But you wouldn’t be vegan because you are choosing to needlessly exploit animals.

  10. Julie Dunbar says:

    Hi, great read, thankyou.
    I’ve been vegan since 2016 apart from a few slip ups that included……….caramel squares? but I’m past the temptation now after realizing it wasn’t just about the food.
    It was overnight that I decided to go vegan and I had been vegetarian for a year or so before that. It was my inner self shouting at me not to “take” from animals so I listened. Now…..I’m on my way to a mostly raw diet….. apart from mash and roast potatoes! I can’t give them up, I’m from Ireland ???
    I chose not to talk about my food or lifestyle choices because I get so much negativity and the usual “what do you eat then?!” Or, or! Some people tut and walk away!….only happened once lol but some people won’t accept what needs to change in their own lives or for the planet….so I usually keep quiet about being vegan.
    Thankyou for this article.
    Thankyou for your compassion, may it spread out to all the planet xo

    1. Hi Julie, it’s so lovely to hear about your experience so far.
      I love your honesty, and I too, have had my fair share of slip-ups over the years.
      Also, kudos for going mostly raw, that’s impressive!
      I know the feeling of not wanting to deal with those common questions, but I’ve learned to see those situations as an opportunity to share a different perspective on how we consume food. Little interactions with people become a reference point for their encounters with veganism in the future.
      Thank you for your kind words, and thank you for your compassion.

    2. Being secretive and acting ashamed of being vegan doesn’t exactly encourage our goal of justice for the other animals.

  11. Judy Tripp says:

    Dear Michael: I do consider myself vegan but I love honey and since I didn’t think any animals were being harmed I have considered it ok. Should I then consider myself vegetarian? Except then restaurants and friends cooking would assume I eat eggs, cheese, fish maybe — am I really being an ass if I say I am vegan?

    1. Hi Judy, apologies for the delay in getting back to you!
      Fundamentally, honey is an animal product and is therefore not vegan. Have you considered some alternatives to honey such as maple syrup and agave nectar?
      As a reference, it might be worth reading Simon’s comment above about how he positions himself to others?

    2. Daniel Reynolds says:

      You are definitely part of a group of people who would be watering down veganism by claiming you were, in fact, a vegan.

  12. I do not think you answered Dominic’s question. He was wondering if fruits, depending on bee pollination would be considered vegan.

    1. Hi Sunni, I don’t know the answer to that question. In fact I have as many questions Dominic. But for me personally, I choose not to consume honey based on the reasons I stated above.

  13. Thanks for the post Michael,
    One of the things that always seemed a grey area to me are honeybees, and by extension their pollination. If it were not for honeybees, we would not have almonds, avocados, oranges, berries, and many other fruits. Are these foods still vegan?
    I also see honeybees as somewhat different from other animals, and let me explain why. Honeybees are true social insects, meaning that no single honeybee or any honeybee caste can survive without the other castes. Individuals are cells of a superorganism, which is the hive. The hive goes through growth and contraction cycles throughout the year, and some honeybee behavior may seem cruel to us, but is necessary for the survival of the hive (culling infected larva, forcing drones out in the fall, altruistic suicide of diseased bees, workers forced to work to their deaths, queen supercedure, etc..). It is for these reasons that the survival of the hive is more important than survival of individuals. We should then be focused on the well-being of hives rather than individuals.
    I wouldn’t have learned all of this if it were not for my own hives. Being a beekeeper has helped me learn so much about honeybees, the multiple serious threats they are facing, and how important they are to our food system, especially fruit, vegetable, and nut production.
    So I understand that honeybees can be exploited, but what about the role they play in pollination for food production? Are the foods they pollinate able to be considered vegan? I mean this as a genuine question and have always wondered this myself, and would love to hear your thoughts on this.

    1. Hey, Dom, I hope you’ve been well!
      You have far more domain knowledge and experience than me when it comes to the ecosystem of hives and bees.
      I’ve never heard of the idea of the superorganism—so I find it to be fascinating.
      When it comes to ethics, I like to keep things simple.
      I 100% agree that honeybees are critical for everyone’s survival and if it weren’t for beekeepers, we’d all be in serious trouble.
      However, whether or not bees produce an excessive amount of honey, the intended use of their honey is for the insulation of their hive and to feed themselves and their families (please correct me if I’m wrong).
      I’m sure they’re around—but I’m yet to see a beekeeping practice that purely exists to breed more bees for pollination without any extraction of honey. There’s no return on investment for such a practice, whether it’s to sell the honey or consume the honey. So this mentality in itself is exploitative. I’m not sure how else to view it.
      To throw some ideas out here; what if we had dedicated bee sanctuaries? Or what if local communities came together to do beekeeping in their yards, but with no intent to extract honey? Is that too idealistic? Is that too much to expect from humans? Heck, would I do it? I don’t know. But it’s something worth pondering nevertheless.
      I think you’ve inspired us to write an article to go more in-depth on the topic 🙂

      1. Honey is used by the bees as a food source in the winter, but not insulation. When it gets cold, bees will huddle together into a tight ball and consume honey as they slowly move upward toward the top of the hive through the winter. The temperature just outside the cluster of bees is not much warmer than outside. Excess heat and moisture is vented upward out of the hive.
        The most common type of honeybee raised by humans, the Italian honeybee, has been selectively bred to produce much more honey than they need for winter in most climates. The idea is that you can take the excess produced by the bees, and leave the rest, although some producers will take nearly all of the honey and feed them sugar water instead.
        Actually, it is possible to exploit honeybees for their pollination, and this is frequently done by some commercial beekeepers. In February-March hives are moved to northern California for almond pollination, then in April-May to Oregon, Washington, New York, and Michigan for blueberries, apples, and cherries. In the summer, they are kept in the midwest for clover to produce honey, then from October to January they are kept in Florida for oranges until the process starts again the next year. A less exploitative alternative would be to keep hives in one place, but since these crops only bloom for 3-4 weeks out of the year and modern agriculture clears out other year-round sources of nectar (“weeds”), the bees would starve if they were kept there.
        And yes, it absolutely is possible for communities to raise bees solely for pollination in a non-exploitative way! There is a type of hive called a top-bar hive which is a long, rectangular or cylindrical hive. They can be built by hand or made from natural materials such as a stump. In fact, this type of hive is commonly used in Africa where it is called a bee gum. This type of hive is the most natural type of hive to give bees since a tree stump is an ideal place for a hive to live in the wild. However, they don’t do well in cooler climates because there isn’t much room for the bees to move up (bees instinctively migrate upward over the winter), and since they are small, they frequently swarm (reproduction on a hive level). There are some communities that raise bees this way in New Mexico and Arizona.

      2. Michael and Dominic,
        Thank you Dominic for explaining about bees a little bit. I came here to do the same but you have done a much better job than I would have!
        Michael, I can highly recommend the documentary “More than Honey” (2012) it’s a great film about bees and beekeeping.
        I truly believe beekeeping can be ethical but I also know it very often isn’t (even if it is just for pollination) and thus vegans should consider that when they consume fruits, almonds or vegetables that are pollinated by bees! (however I also think that even the worst kind of beekeeping is still more ethical than even the most ethical way of any other kind of animal farming)
        So my point is I think it can be more ethical to consume some honey but no fruits, nuts or vegetables that have been pollinated by bees from exploitative (who do not care much about the loss of entire hives) commercial beekeepers (however it is not that straight forward to find out how exactly these fruits, almonds and vegetables have been pollinated).
        So what does that mean for the term “vegan”? If we follow your simplified definition, then I think to be a vegan we would also have to stop eating everything that has been pollinated by “domesticated” bees (wild bees and other insects might actually play quite a large role in pollination, but I think more research in this field is needed).
        Maybe this would be the most ethical way, but maybe not, let’s say for example one part of your diet that is important for your health is something that is pollinated by bees, there might be a replacement that isn’t pollinated by bees but maybe it doesn’t grow where you live so it has to be transported a big distance to get to you which of course is less energy efficient. (this is just hypothetical I don’t have an example, I just wanted to make the point that sometimes there is no 100% ethical solution at least not at the moment, actually leather shoes is a good example, since I stopped wearing leather shoes my plastic shoes don’t even last a year… whereas the leather shoes lasted a few years and if I had taken better care even longer)

        But otherwise a great article! Apart from the bee and honey stuff I agree with everything!
        And I would be very interested if you wrote an article about bees and pollination! Actually I should really do some research myself I would really like to avoid foods that are linked to exploitative beekeeping.
        Ah and if I tell someone that I’m vegan I often add “but I eat honey” (even though I very rarely do) it just seems more honest that way.

        1. Dominic and Simon,

          Thank you so much for taking the time to add your knowledge and experience regarding the dynamics of honey as it relates to veganism.

          There’s lots to digest here, and admittedly, I’m not in a position to answer the question about supporting crops that rely on the pollination of bees.

          On the surface, though, I still feel like there’s a more ethical solution than supporting the honey making industry—which we’ve started to brainstorm in this conversation.

          This has piqued my curiosity to go deeper, and yes, we’ve watched “More Than Honey”. I may need to consult with you both in the future about this topic—as it’s caused a lot of confusion in the vegan community.

          And Simon, you’re spot on, there’s never going to be a 100% ethical solution for anything—as it seems like we’re always going to exploit an animal indirectly.

          Thanks again for your time.

        2. There is o such thing as “ethical beekeeping”.
          This is just circular reasoning, to justify exploiting for human gain.
          People love to pretend like being polite and saying a bunch of fancy justifies their unnecessary exploitation.
          This is no different.

          1. Daniel Reynolds says:

            People dissent from logic and reason when logic and reason do not suit them.

            The double edged sword of cognition- that which allows us to reason also allows us to dissent from it.

  14. First three letters and last two letters to write vegan is what you meant in your article.

    I think the “possible and practicable” part of the definition is important. Because I have hard to fit feet, and I’ve quickly worn out or donated many pairs of poorly fitting vegan leather shoes, I’m permitting myself one pair of gently used leather dress shoes every two years. I’ve seen processed foods advertised as vegan online that list honey as an ingredient.

    I prepared traditional egg custard and eclairs for my flexitarian Mom in her last four months of life to help her stop losing weight so quickly. On the rare occasions eating out where dessert is allegedly vegan and honey, egg and dairy free, I resist asking if the sugar is bonechar free to encourage restaurants to have options at all.
    Recently, as I am a single and rural vegan, I’ve become more omnivore friendly. I’m not advocating as other vegans are, yet no one complains when I surprise them with homemade vegan cupcakes. When one’s livelihood depends of supporting veganism, one would be, can I say?, a “professional vegan”. For those of us amateur vegans, we might not be able to sacrifice the relationships with the few family members and friends we have. Thank you for your time to read my comment.

    1. Hi Rhea, thank you for picking up the typos, and for sharing your experiences!

      I think you make some really valid points concerning the definition of veganism.

      I think your examples reflect your intent and commitment to veganism. One of the motivations behind writing this article is the example of said vegans to willfully pursue non-vegan options when there are clear “possible and practical” alternatives.

      I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve accidentally consumed cow’s milk, cheese, honey, butter and other animal products over the last five years, and I accept they’ll be many more accidents to come.

      I also don’t think it’s necessary to sacrifice personal relationships for veganism. At least this hasn’t been the case for us.

      1. People only care about their own convenience. It is no different that human slavery.

        Would you say the same thing about ending relationships if the argument was about keeping other humans as chattel property?

    2. Daniel Reynolds says:


      How would you feel if the victim was human instead of animal?
      Would your compromise be acceptable then?

      For instance- would taking upskirt photos of women in public be acceptable if done very infrequently.. let’s say- one every 2 years or so?

      We often find it easier to compartmentalize our bad behavior when we cannot relate to the victim- perhaps this analogy will better help you personally see why compromising your position is illogical, unreasonable and unethical.

    3. Veronique says:

      Please stop calling yourself a vegan when you’ve just pointed out the ways that you’re in fact a non vegan. If you’re choosing to be an omnivore, then call yourself an omnivore. Simple. Thanks.