Is there a difference between being a vegan and following a plant-based lifestyle? I believe there is.
Wikipedia defines veganism as "the practice of abstaining from the use of animal products, particularly in diet, as well as an associated philosophy that rejects the commodity status of sentient animals." I think it's the 'associated philosophy' that gets us into trouble here. Are you a vegan if you wear cosmetics that are tested on animals? What if you eat honey or wear silk? I met someone this weekend that called himself a vegan even though he eats fish and seafood. Is one person's definition of veganism more right than another??
In addition to the lack of clarity of the term, there is alot of stigma attached to the word 'vegan'. As much as I think PETA does very important work, I also believe that they have helped portray vegans as militant protestors pointing the finger at the 'evil doers'. There is also the view of the 70's tree-hugging hippie that's high all the time. When the media portrays vegans they usually fit into one of these two categories. As such, the word 'vegan' is tinted with negative impressions that make people feel defensive and judged.
Some people have the impression that vegan equals healthy. However, there are many foods that do not contain animal products, and are therefore considered to be 'vegan', but they are not healthy by any stretch of the imagination. Oreos, potato chips, french fries, white bread, soda, and Twizzlers are just a few examples. These are not real foods. They are some sort of chemistry experiment. Our bodies were not designed to eat these processed foods that are high in refined sugars, fats and salt, and a vegan person that subsists on these foods is not following a healthy diet.
As a species, we evolved to exist on foods in their natural form. Whole vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds. These are nutrients packaged the way nature intended. The nutrients in animal products originally came from plants that were eaten by the animal.
I embraced the plant-based philosophy from a scientific health perspective. I believe that the scientific evidence demonstrates that a whole foods, plant-based diet is healthier than other diets that contain animal products and processed foods. That is my personal view based on the research I have done and on the evidence I have noticed with my own experiments. That is not to say that I don't appreciate the merits of animal rights arguments. I also believe that a plant based diet is the best dietary option for environmental reasons, and these benefits have become more evident to me as I have progressed on my plant-based journey. All in all, it just makes sense to me.
When I first eliminated animal products from my diet, I didn't always eat healthy foods. I was somehow able to rationalize that as long as I was eating 'vegan', I was eating healthy. I see this as part of my progression towards a whole foods, plant-based diet. Gradually, I began eliminating the non-foods and replacing them with more actual plant foods. Even today, I'm not perfect. The occasional cupcake does cross my lips, but I'm no longer fooling myself that it's a healthy cupcake, even if I made it myself with organic sugar and unbleached enriched flour.
I don't think we can always be perfect, but when we know better, we do better. As I learn to listen to my body and it's infinite wisdom, I know when I'm doing the right thing, and when I'm fooling myself, and I strive to replace unhealthy habits with healthy habits. I am working towards being better than I was yesterday, and my health reflects the choices I make on a regular basis.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” - Aristotle
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