Many people are misinformed on what a vegan really is, other than just “some vego,” or have no idea what a vegan is at all, in effect asking the question; “what’s a vegan?”
Sometimes, those who have some idea about veganism only believe that a vegan just avoids meat, milk, honey and other animal products in food. What many of these people do not realize is that veganism extends beyond diet and can influence various other aspects of life.
Of course, vegans avoid consuming foods in which animal-based ingredients have been included. These foods and ingredients include meat, fish, chicken, cow’s milk, goat’s milk, cheese, honey, gelatine, cochineal (which is a very common red food colouring made from beetle shells) and more. Many vegans will avoid consuming animal products for reasons such as animal rights and environmental impact, but avoiding consuming animal products also provides significant health benefits. Plenty of meat-eaters and vegetarians have cholesterol problems due to excess consumption of cholesterol-filled foods (such as eggs; vegetarians unaware of this are quite susceptible to cholesterol problems); a vegan diet is completely cholesterol free. Also by consuming healthy food, blood pressure can drop to very good levels and be maintained easily. One other significant health benefit of veganism is the decrease in hormone consumption; many animals are given hormones for growth, which in turn end up in the consumer’s body. A vegan diet excludes this unhealthy use of hormones.
Not only do vegans avoid consuming animal-based food products, but they apply veganism to other aspects of their lives. Vegans avoid clothing with animal materials in them, such as silk, wool and leather. Alternatives for these three very common materials exist, such as satin for silk, acrylic for wool, and nylon/synthetic for leather. Generally, the animal-based materials are more expensive than their synthetic counterparts, however some people do believe this is a quality compromise; this can be true at times, but quite often is not, as the price difference is based on the attainability and manufacturability of materials used.
Cosmetics are also a significant factor of a vegan lifestyle. Many cosmetics contain silk, milk products, wool fat (called lanolin) and so on. Cosmetics free of animal ingredients are readily available from department stores and are usually identifiable by “cruelty-free,” “no animal ingredients” or similar markings, along with an indication of “not tested on animals.” Cosmetics extends to not only include make-up, but also perfume, toothpaste, soap, hair products, moisturizing creams, sunscreens and more. Even condoms usually contain casein (which is a milk ingredient). Most latex condoms contain this ingredient, however an internet search will tell you which condoms do not contain animal ingredients (quite often the non-latex condoms, such as polyisoprene condoms, are safe for vegan use).
Beyond food, clothing and cosmetics, many vegans also apply their vegan lifestyle to other aspects of life. This includes cars (eg. avoiding leather upholstery), furniture (eg. Avoiding suede or leather couches), electronic goods and cases (eg. Avoiding leather laptop cases and choosing a phone sock over a leather phone case), even photos may be an issue (as glossy photos usually contain gelatine).
The reasoning behind veganism is quite clear to some, though others may be unsure. Most people become vegan because they believe animals are entitled to have their own life, and disagree with the idea of killing or injuring something living just for food, clothing, cosmetics or other uses, especially when alternatives are very much readily available. Not only are many animals injured or killed for human benefit, but they also are usually subject to harsh living conditions (it is very common in many countries for chickens to be cooped up in spaces the size of A4 sheets of paper, and the terms free range and organic do not necessarily mean that the animal has had a great life; a cow could have had an hour of roaming in a paddock and be cooped up for many hours on end, and still be labeled with these terms).
The environment is also a significant factor in some people’s decisions to live by a vegan lifestyle. For example, for a standard meat eater to eat for one day, approximately 15 000 litres of water are used in the production of food (just for that one person to eat, for just that one day) and a vegetarian’s diet uses approximately 5 000 litres of water, whereas a vegan’s diet uses approximately 1 500 litres of water only. Meat production also contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. As an example, the greenhouse gas emissions from producing one kilogram of beef equates to the greenhouse gas emissions of more than three hours of driving. This is partly due to the methane release from cows. Many people who take an anti-veganism stance argue that “the cows need to be eaten so that they stop releasing methane into the environment,” however, this argument is invalid, because if the production of meat were cut down (such as by following a vegan diet), the need to have so many cows bred so often and quickly (through use of growth hormones) would not exist, and there would not be near as many cows releasing lots of methane into the atmosphere.
As can be seen from reading this article, the definition of a vegan extends beyond being merely a vegetarian, and encompasses lifestyle choices, resulting in many benefits not only for the human, but for the animals and the planet also.