About 2% of Americans are vegans, meaning they eat no animal products. It seems pretty straightforward, but animal products are many places you may not expect them- like marshmallows and Jello. If you look really closely you may find it in sugar (bone char is sometimes used in the the refining process of cane sugar) and some red food dye (cochineal is derived from an insect of the same name). In addition to diet, a strict vegan lifestyle means no leather, no silk and only using soap/laundry detergents made without animal fats.
What does it mean to be vegan? It depends on who you ask.
Some people say you can only be a vegan if you adhere to 100% of the description above. One vegan post I read indignantly complained about “so-called vegans that eat honey,” saying that if a bee isn’t an animal, then it must be a plant or a mineral (thus anyone who eats honey isn’t a vegan). Perhaps surprisingly to some, PETA has taken a more moderate approach with respect to sugar, saying:
While PETA supports a strict adherence to veganism, we put the task of vigorously reducing animal suffering ahead of personal purity. Boycotting products that are 99.9 percent vegan sends the message to manufacturers that there is no market for this food, which ends up hurting more animals.
Every vegan diet is different
Veganism is defined by what you don’t eat. Salad is vegan, but so is Crisco. That makes it hard to speak about vegans in general. Plant-based diets can easily lead to vitamin deficiencies, but this doesn’t have to be the case if they are well planned. More restrictive diets such as raw diets and even fruitarians are sometimes included in studies of vegans. That being said, only 11% of vegans are overweight, compared to roughly 2/3 of the general population in the US, so there should be some general conclusions we can draw from medical research. Most studies are of “self-identified vegans,” meaning they include anyone that calls themselves vegan, both the strict and honey-eating.
The purpose of this blog is to explore the health effects of a vegan diet. Thousands of studies relating to veganism have been done and more are being done all the time. I will do my best to wade through all this info and present the take-home points in an unbiased way.