You may have heard both of these terms thrown around but while they are used interchangeably there are actually subtle differences that help you tell them apart.
This doesn’t mean that everyone use these terms “correctly” but this post is meant to help you tell them apart and know when to use which word.
What is a vegan really? And who is plant-based?
Both avoid animal products, right?
The answer is (surprise, surprise!) yes.
Well. Sort of.
It actually depends on which distinction you use. (Yes. To make matter worse, there are different distinctions.)
Actually, according to what I’ve seen, there seem to be two main distinctions (plus one less common one). I prefer the second one of these and that’s how I find most vegans distinguish between plant-based and vegan, but there is a different approach:
1. Always vs. most of the time
Forks over Knives distinguishes between vegan and plant-based by saying that vegans will avoid animal products in their diet 100 % of the time while someone who is plant-based might still eat small amounts of animal products.
2. Way of life vs. diet
I would instead like to explain it like this: while a person who is plant-based doesn’t eat food that is made involving animals, a vegan will likely apply this thinking to all aspects of life. This includes not buying leather or wool and using only vegan, cruelty-free skincare etc.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t be vegan if you still have these things at home. For example, I still have an old leather belt that I’ll use until it’s broken and then I’ll buy a new one that’s not made from leather.
3. People vs. food
This one kind of follows on the second distinction but few people seem to think about this.
When you’re walking down the aisles in a grocery store, you’ll see different brands using different labels to make their products attractive to different customers.
Commonly for vegans that label will be either plant-based (which typically means definitely no animal products whatsoever) or vegan.
But, I’m not sure vegan is such an appropriate term here because isn’t veganism a lifestyle which would then mean that the word vegan would be “a person who lives a vegan lifestyle”.
Consequently, food really can’t be considered vegan right?
On a side note, it really strikes me as odd when companies use the labels 100 % vegan or 100 % plant-based.
As opposed to what? 99 % plants and then that 1 % bonemeal that just got in there by accident? (yikes).
Can you be vegan?
I’m not talking about you per se, but humanity. I’m really asking the question: can anyone ever really be vegan?
I would say yes, of course. But I know that there are other people out there who might argue with that and say – quite rightly – no.
Simply because there are so many things that are out of our control, such as the way people and animals are exploited in the production of virtually every single thing around us.
As an example: I’m sitting here, writing this on my laptop which has surely had some amount of human and animal suffering involved in making it, whether it’s for the parts or the assembly of them.
Batteries are needed for a lot of our technical devices, such as smartphones and laptops. Some of these things we consider essential in this day and age (and if they’re not essential, they’re typically difficult to do without).
But batteries have a dark side of their own. They typically require different kinds of metals to function and more often than not this is the alkali metal Lithium.
Lithium is typically mined in rock or underground reservoirs and releases a lot of CO2 and can require tons of water.
Mining for Lithium can also have adverse effects on animal life, which was evident in 2016 when a leak of toxic chemicals occurred in Tibet due to mining and as a result, the river overflowed with dead fish.
So how can I call myself vegan when I am a consumer of so many things that cause the death of animals in other parts of the world?
I don’t know what else I would call myself and we need to distinguish between certain things. Veganism is about good intentions and minimizing suffering in all aspects of life. Sadly, not everything is within our control.
Key difference between vegan and plant-based
The most prominent difference between the terms is that vegans will apply the no-animal-product-things to all aspects of life while someone who is plant-based will typically only avoid it (at least for the most part) in their diet.