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Donuts have purple stuff in them, and purple is a fruit.
Potentially edible!
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Fabulous food!
Delectable diets!
Bodacious bods!
♫ You don't win friends with salad! You don't win friends with salad! ♫
—"Lisa the Vegetarian", The Simpsons[1]

Veganism is a way of living that seeks to exclude the use and consumption of animal products — be it the leather in your shoes, the cashmere goat wool in your sweater, or the cheese on your pizza.

A big aspect of veganism is the diet, which excludes products from any and all animal sources, as far as possible.

The word veganism may refer to such a diet, but very often it is used as a synonym for what could more narrowly be described as ethical veganism. Here, people embrace a vegan diet for certain ethical considerations (most notably, Animal rights), and consequently apply the same exclusion principle to other areas, too: they boycott animal resources like fur, leather and wool, preferring substitutes (which may be less environmentally friendly than their authentic counterparts); they oppose the use of animals for entertainment, i.e. in circuses, zoos and marine parks; and many are against animal testing. In an even broader sense, veganism may refer to a set of philosophical considerations which are key thoughts of ethical veganism.

There is some dispute on what to call vegan. For example, honey is consumed by a considerable number of people who also regard themselves as vegans, although it comes from bees, which are animals. For outsiders, such discussions, in their seeming vanity, might bear resemblance to OS Wars. Given that these discussions often focus solely on the semantics of the word “vegan” — and not on the more important ethics — this seems somewhat legit.

Freeganism is a practice with close ties to veganism. Freegans hold the same ethical principles as vegans, but are okay with eating animal products that were in some way "free" - that is, the consumption of said products does not increase their demand. An example would be if someone were about to throw perfectly edible meat in the trash.

Vegans usually make a distinction between complex animals and less complex living beings who might not even feel pain[2][3][4][5] and thus do not as a rule consider important that they may be eating extra animal protein in the form of insects and other minute arthropods in organic food vs. conventional food.[6][7] Note that, although the term "organic" tends to be loosely associated with veganism, a vegan diet does not necessarily imply the exclusive consumption of organic food.[8]


Snack-tacular veggies.

There are many health benefits of removing animal products from one's diet. These include reversing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and other ailments. The scientific literature substantiates these claims, such as the reversal of coronary artery disease[9] and increasing insulin sensitivity[10] through the adoption of a vegan diet alone. Some studies that have been published on the topic — particularly by vegan proponents like Caldwell Esselstyn and Dean Ornish — have received criticisms of methodology by a blogger.[11] But an increasing number of studies shows that the fewer animal products we consume the healthier we are in terms (at least) of type 2 diabetes, even healthier than a non-westernized omnivore diet with low meat and fish intake and after accounting for various confounders and risk factors (e.g., age, body mass index, smoking, alcohol, sweetened beverages).[12] But a vegetarian diet will not benefit type 2 diabetes if it is rich in simple carbohydrates.[13]

Some animal-derived foods may pose greater risks to health. Meta-analyses tend to show a mild to moderate increased risk of all-cause mortality with consumption of red — and, especially, processed — meat.[14][15][16][17] Red and processed meat may, most notably, increase risk of prostate,[18][19] colon,[20][21][22][23] thyroid,[24] esophageal, [25][26][27][28] breast,[29] and other forms of cancer.[30] In particular, meat cooked at high temperatures may produce an additional number of carcinogens.[30] Higher meat consumption, particularly processed meat, may also promote a higher risk of diabetes,[31] cardiovascular disease,[32][33][34] and obesity.[35][36][37] Dairy and eggs are generally more controversial but there may be some benefits to excluding them such as reduced risk of breast cancer.[38]

No cows were harmed in the making of this burger.

Conversely, higher consumption of certain plant-derived foods such as fruits, nuts, and vegetables have shown to have had a generally positive effect on health with reduced risks of the same diseases.[39][40] This may partially explain the generally lower incidences of cardiovascular disease,[41] diabetes, cancer,[42] obesity, and other diseases among vegans and vegetarians.[43] Moreover, for vegans as well as non-vegans, consideration must be given to ensure adequate intake of vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin B12 in the case of vegans, because of its absence from non-fortified plant foods, though it's present in some yeasts.

An evolutionary argument for a plant-based diet can be done, to contrast "paleo" fad diets, that the early human diet was plant-based. The diets of human ancestors were primarily based upon plants for much of their evolutionary history (Australopithecus and early Homo species)[44] although diets varied across regions, with some populations consuming more animals than others. A study of strontium/calcium ratios in skeletons[45] shows that the niche of early Homo species may have included exploitation of underground plant resources such as starchy roots and tubers, contradictory to the prevailing belief that meat was a universally present component of the diet. Although physiological comparisons of humans and other hominid species suggest that there is an increased adaptation to the digestion of meat (e.g. longer small intestine) in humans, these adaptations are not large enough to support a large consumption of meat, and dairy products were entirely absent from the adult human diet for a large part of its evolution until recently, with the domestication of cattle and other animals.


  • Fewer complex animals were harmed in the making of your meals, clothes, etc. The avoidable suffering of animals, while not completely prevented, is minimised. However, some less complex animals will still have their habitats destroyed or will directly die in the making of other food or clothes (such as insects and other small animals).
  • Much lower in saturated fat and a lack of dietary cholesterol, which may be a benefit if the so-called lipid hypothesis holds true.
  • Plant foods require less water to produce than animal foods (liters of water used in production/kilogram of food).
  • Plant crops produce more food per acre than livestock animals (pounds of food/acre of arable land). It is claimed that if everybody switched to a vegan diet it could free up 75% of global farmland for other uses such as nature and prevent the destruction of pristine environments for farming.[46]
  • Some estimates place the contribution of livestock to greenhouse gas emissions at 51%.[47] (This includes the CO2 contribution from mechanized farming and transport of the livestock.) It is claimed that switching to a vegan diet reduces the carbon footprint of your food by up to 73%.[46]
  • Some vegans are motivated to consume only plant-based products for ethical reasons, and view their lack of engagement with the factory farming system present in modern husbandry as a strong benefit.


Methylcobalamin (vitamin B12): Better Living Through Chemistry!Wikipedia[48]

Criticisms of veganism can often be applied to non-vegans as well. While it is accepted that vegan diets can have some health benefits, vegans can be at risk for certain nutritional deficiencies even though these deficiencies are shared with non-vegans (except vitamin B12, which contemporary humans mostly get from animal products — seafood, meat, milk, eggs — in a purely 'natural' diet).[49] Furthermore, the latter have 5 more deficiencies: fiber, folate, magnesium, vitamin C, and vitamin E.[50] Vegan and non-vegan deficiency risks are:

  • Vitamin B12 deficiency, leading to anemia and/or neurological problems.[51]
  • Iodine deficiency, leading to thyroid problems.[52] In the developed world, this is not often an issue due to the iodization of table salt.
  • Calcium deficiency, leading to bone fracture risk.[53] Kale is a decent source of calcium in plants, though it contains less per serving than dairy. Most, but not all, plant milk is fortified with calcium to a similar level as dairy milk.[54]
  • Omega-3 deficiency, leading to neurological problems in children of pregnant mothers.[55]

Vitamin B12[edit]

It is essential that vegans include a vitamin B12 supplement or B12-fortified foods in their diets (e.g. most plant-based milk brands, many breakfast cereals, or B12-fortified nutritional yeast), or the algae Chlorella pyrenoidosa[56] to prevent deficiency.[57] This is particularly true for women in early pregnancy because B12 deficiency is known to increase the likelihood of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida, by fivefold in babies.[58]

In 1926, Minot and Murphy found that a man was cured of pernicious anaemia with liver extracts, a discovery for which they received the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1934. Ricke and Smith isolated crystalline vitamin B12 in liver extracts in 1948. Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) is a vitamin that is synthesized in nature only by microorganisms. Bacteria that produce it often grow in the roots of plants eaten by herbivores, which are then eaten by omnivores and carnivores. These bacteria are then propagated in the gut of herbivores becoming the source of B12 when they are eaten. Thus meat is generally the principal dietary source of B12 but other animal products such as eggs also contain B12. It is necessary for animals and is present in every animal tissue at very low concentrations (1 ppm in the liver). A B12 deficiency causes pernicious anaemia, which as the name suggests has a gradual onset that steadily destroys several parts of your body and will kill you if untreated; even if subsequently reversed it can result in permanent organ and nerve damage, and significantly elevates future risk for stomach cancer. The need for vitamin B12 in some animals is covered by taking or absorption of vitamin B12 produced by gut microorganisms. But humans only get vitamin B12 from food or supplements, since vitamin B12 synthesized by microorganisms in the intestine cannot be assimilated.

However, if a vegan has no problem with the eating of genetically modified food, it is great to know that certain bacteria do produce vitamin B12 automatically. While B12 producing genetically modified plants as of yet don't exist, the existence of bacteria such as these could make it possible in the near future.[59] This criticism might thus only hold against those that oppose GMOs.

There are claims that vitamin B12 needs can be met from non-animal foods, including fermented products (tempeh, fermented black tea, some beers, and MarmiteWikipedia yeast spread) and some seaweeds. However, studies have found that the level is typically not high and can vary considerably, particularly in fermented foods where B12-producing microorganisms may not be present or may exist only as contaminants.[60] Nutritional yeast, a common flavoring used in vegan cooking, does not naturally contain B12 although it is often fortified with the vitamin.[61][62] Marmite, which is made from brewer's yeast, a byproduct of fermenting beer, [63] also does not naturally contain B12 for the same reason, but likewise is fortified with B12 and other vitamins. [64] Hence the (British) Vegan Society still recommends all vegans take B12 supplements either as pills or in fortified food.[57]

Vegan death[edit]

No, we're not talking about the latest heavy metal band.[65] Unfortunately, there are a few vegans who, insisting they can survive on only kale and sunlight, give the rest a bad name. There have been several court cases regarding vegan parents killing or seriously sickening their children through their diets. Many of these are also fruititarians or otherwise neglectful of their children.

  • In 2001, Garabet and Hazmik Manuelyan, fruititarians from Surrey, England were placed under a 3-year community rehabilitation order (though they could have potentially faced prison) for the death of their undernourished 9-month old daughter. The daughter had been fed a fruit-based diet and died from a chest infection brought on by malnutrition. The parents were vegans but switched to a diet of raw vegetables, fruit and nuts in 1996.[66]
  • In 2002, Roby Jan Moorhead and Deborah Anne Moorhead from New Zealand were sentenced to 5 years in jail for the death of their infant son. The son died from bronchopneumonia associated with anaemia and brain damage, which was brought on from vitamin B12 deficiency.[67]
  • In 2011, Joel and Sergine Le Moaligou of Amiens, France were sentenced to 5 years in jail for the death of their undernourished 11-month old daughter. The daughter, who was fed only on breast milk, was suffering from pneumonia, but the parents refused to take her to the hospital despite a doctor's advice; the parents only used alternative medicine. An autopsy revealed severe deficiencies of albumin, protein and vitamins A and B12, which led to susceptibility to bronchial infection.[68]
  • In 2011, Jade Sanders and Lamont Thomas of Atlanta, Georgia were sentenced to life in prison for the death of their 6-week old son, Crown Shakur. The baby died from extreme malnourishment from being fed only soy milk (not modern soy-based infant formula, which is safe[69]) and apple juice. The parents did not seek medical attention as the baby wasted away.[70]
  • In 2019, Jennifer and Jeromie Clark of Canada were sentenced to 32 months in prison for the death of their 14-month old son in 2013 from a treatable Staphylococcus infection that was brought about by malnutrition. The 'radical Christian' family followed a strict vegan diet and shunned medical attention.[71][72][73]
  • In 2015, Sean and Maria Hosannah of Canada were sentenced to 30 months in jail for the 2011 death of their daughter who died from "chronic malnutrition from a vegan diet devoid of Vitamin D, B12" and sufficient protein.[74]
  • In 2016, Elizabeth Hawk faced criminal charges over the malnutrition of her 11-month old son. Hawk allegedly only fed her son fruits and nuts, and the son suffered from a severe rash as well as loss of control of his motor skills.[75]
  • In 2017 in Belgium, 7-month old Lucas died from malnutrition after his parents Peter S. and Sandrina V. fed him "oat milk, rice milk, buckwheat milk, semolina milk, [and] quinoa milk. All products which they also sell in their store."[76]

Besides death, a B12-deficient diet in mothers and/or their infants can cause in infants "a cluster of neurological symptoms, including irritability, failure to thrive, apathy, anorexia, and developmental regression."[77]

Harm no animals[edit]

Llama used as beast of burden.

There is also a more background criticism of the "try to harm no animals" claim of vegans. The very world we live in, with cars, computers, 2.2 kids, and specifically the requirements of many vegans and non-vegans for out of season fruits and vegetables, as well as more exotic grains, places great stress on the natural environment as we cut down forests and kill off natural habitats in favor of farms, orchards, and of course mines, oil fields, etc. For example, starting around 2011, ongoing debates over quinoa, "Are we harming subsistence farmers?" "Is the meat industry worse than the quinoa industry?" "We are destroying precious land for the latest grain fad!" have popped up, each side happy to blame the other for everything from starving farmers to global warming. Many who make these arguments fail to realize cattle are fed on those same grains.[78][79]

But maybe the idea of living without exploiting animals like bees falls down when you consider the role of many animals in pollinating crops. Farmed bees are commonly used in industrial agriculture to pollinate fruit trees and nut trees such as almonds; oil crops such as rape and borage also depend on bees.[80] Industrially-reared honey bees may be brought in at pollination time, rather than relying on wild bees; someone concerned about cruelty to commercially-farmed bees would have to know how their plants were pollinated. But the critics fail to explain the need of cruelty. Bats pollinate tropical fruits such as mangos, durians, and guavas, and agave plants used for tequila and vegan honey substitute, although few people would suggest this is unfair exploitation of bats.

Ethical vegans often respond to these criticisms by referencing the Vegan Society definition of veganism, which is "Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to animals for food, clothing or any other purpose".[81] Vegans explain the wording of "as far as is possible and practicable" is here because of these issues, and that the point of veganism is to reduce as much as possible one's effect on animals; it is not about personal purity.[82]

It could, however, be argued that, if vegans do not eat farmed animal products, farmers (especially in poorer countries) will often use animals for other purposes such as transport (horses, donkeys, etc) or labor/working fields (horses, oxen, wildebeests). Vegans would logically be opposed to this (PETA is even critical of pet-keeping[83]), but although many countries have laws on animal welfare and/or labelling schemes for good practice, it's almost impossible to purchase foodstuffs that are guaranteed not to involve animal labor. The counterargument is, again, that veganism is about excluding cruelty only as far as it is possible, and that animal labor is a more ethical alternative to keeping animals in appalling conditions before slaughtering them. An additional counterargument is that animals grown for meat require, themselves, that a significant percentage of produce from crops be redirected to feeding them until they are slaughtered - therefore, abstaining from eating meat would actually translate to fewer crops and, logically, fewer cases of animal exploitation in agriculture.

It also might be good to note that most of the vegetables (and meat) in US commercial agriculture use migrant labor.[84][85] Who are often paid under the table at much lower rates than legally allowed, not protected by labor laws, and deported if they complain.[86] And imported foods aren't any better in terms of labor conditions and pesticide use. So it would be good to be careful about the source of one's food if abuse of sentient beings is a major priority.

Perhaps the best answer is: harm as few animals and humans as is reasonably possible, which is the actual definition of veganism according The Vegan Society.[87] Or, y'know, Soylent Green.

Vegans harming animals[edit]

Some vegans take their diet as far as imposing it on their pets. Vegan diets are especially harmful to cats, which are obligate carnivores who cannot digest carbohydrates. Attempting to place a cat on a purely plant-based diet may kill the cat.[88] Vegans are also lobbying to put the dogs in Los Angeles animal shelters on a vegan diet. Though dogs are capable of digesting plant matter, they are primarily carnivorous, and a vegan diet would make it difficult for the dogs to get the necessary nutrition they need and cause digestive problems.[89][90][91][92]

What can be said for sure is that strong claims coming from either side about vegan or non-vegan nutrition might be wrong and are not supported by facts. For now people who want to feed their pets vegan should be careful. They have to use complete and balanced commercial food and go to a veterinarian on a regular basis.[93]


Vegan processed food, July 2014.

Many vegans, such as YouTuber Vegan Gains, webcomic artist Priya Cynthia Kishna, and the creators of the documentary Forks Over Knives, often exaggerate the benefits of a vegan diet. Claims include "meat is the biggest cause of all preventable diseases". Whilst there are many benefits to a vegan diet, these exaggerations are dangerous, as they can mislead people into thinking that they can't get ill, so that they end up not getting treatments for said illnesses, opting to treat themselves through diet alone.

Fortunately, there are others in the vegan community who criticize such exaggerations and call for objectivity; these include Unnatural Vegan, dietician Ginny Messina, and the founders of Vegan OutreachWikipedia.


An example of exaggeration found in the vegan community can be found on the topic of dairy products, cancer and IGF-1. Various vegan websites claim that all dairy products greatly increase the risk of breast and prostate cancer and this is due to their high levels of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1).[94][95][96][97][98] Whilst milk does have a higher IGF-1 concentration the idea that all dairy products have high levels is not true as fermentation and other dairy processes destroy IGF-1 concentrations[99][100][101], this means that most cheeses are low in IGF-1, which studies have found.[102][103] Also not mentioned by vegans is that wholegrain intake is associated with higher circulating concentrations of IGF-1.[104]

The consensus view from cancer experts such as the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund is that there is limited but suggestive evidence that dairy products increase risk of breast and prostate cancer, whilst there is strong consistent evidence that dairy decreases the risk of colorectal cancer.[105][106] Vegan websites cherry-pick their information and do not mention that dairy products decrease risk of colorectal cancer. It is also worth noting that the increased risk of prostate cancer has been found usually with whole or skimmed milk, not other dairy products and the data is inconsistent from observational studies.[107][108][109][110][111][112] Although the data is suggestive it does not show causality, as much more research needs to be done.

In 2018, the Committee on Carcinogenicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COC) issued a statement after evaluating recent data on dietary IGF-1, concluding that overall "on the basis of the available evidence, IGF-1 from foodstuffs in the diet is not expected to increase the risk of cancer in consumers."[113] It has been noted that IGF-1 is likely to be broken down in the gut and not absorbed to any significant extent.[114] The IGF-1 in human plasma is found at concentrations that are 10.5 to 77 times greater than that in bovine milk.[115] It is therefore unlikely that IGF-1 from dairy is associated with cancer risk. Despite this, vegan websites continue to make unsupported statements such as "IGF-1 is a potent prostate cancer stimulus and also contributes to premature puberty in children".[116]

Some plant-based doctors such as John A. McDougall have said that vegans should also give up consuming soy products because soy protein raises IGF-1 concentrations.[117] However, only large amounts of soy protein (>25 g/day) modestly increase IGF-1 levels.[118][119] It is unlikely that most vegans will be consuming over 25g of soy protein a day.

Other vegan products[edit]

Although veganism is most closely associated with food, many vegans will shy off using other animal products where possible or convenient. One of the most common examples is a refusal to wear leather and other animal fibers such as wool. However, while food is labelled with ingredients so that it's fairly simple to see what it contains (once you know the code), there is no requirement for many products to indicate whether they contain ingredients derived from animals.

Whole industries are heavily dependent on what vegans would call animal abuse and exploitation. Many glues (e.g. "hide glue"), resins, varnishes, etc, use gelatine (aka gelatin, derived from cows, pigs, horses, rabbits, and other animals) and other chemicals of an animal origin. Hence a lot of footwear even if made from non-leather products may still contain animal products.[120] Traditional (analog) photography was based on film and photographic paper that included gelatine, although digital photography avoids that problem. Gelatine is used in some cosmetics, under the name "hydrolyzed collagen". The pharmaceutical industry not only tests on animals, but has historically used gelatin to coat pills, although vegan alternatives exist.[121][122] In the drinks industry, animal ingredients such as gelatin, egg white, milk, and fish products are often used to clarify wines though may not be listed on ingredients (none or almost none is present in the final product); however vegan alternatives exist.[123] There are many similar applications in biotechnology and industry involving colloids, filtration, coatings, etc, that may also use gelatine.[121]

Hence in practice it is very hard for vegans to avoid using some products with animal ingredients, and most will focus on trying to minimize the suffering they cause, while writing stern letters asking for more research into vegan products.

Radical vegan and animal rights jack-assery[edit]

Deep down, I truly hope that oppression, torture and murder return to each uncaring human tenfold! I hope that sons accidentally shoot their fathers on hunting excursions, while carnivores suffer heart attacks that kill them slowly. Every woman ensconced in fur should endure a rape so vicious that it scars them forever. While every man entrenched in fur should suffer an anal raping so horrific that they become disemboweled. Every rodeo cowboy and matador should be gored to death, while circus abusers are trampled by elephants and mauled by tigers. And, lastly, may irony shine its esoteric head in the form of animal researchers catching debilitating diseases and painfully withering away because research dollars that could have been used to treat them was wasted on the barbaric, unscientific practice of vivisection.
Gary YourofskyWikipedia[124]

Some vegans can be the most sanctimonious and fanatical holier-than-thou pricks you will ever meet outside of a church or mosque. A few self-proclaimed vegan organizations, particularly PETA, are a perfect mirror of the anti-abortion cult. Like "pro-lifers", these people do not see themselves as being above bullying, censorship, deceit, or even violence in furtherance of their crusade. Some vegans are capable of great cruelty to ex-vegans and others they perceive as apostates or backsliders.[125]

Radical vegans bullied a San Francisco butcher shop into hanging an animal-rights poster denigrating the owner's business.[126] Similarly, radical supporters of animal-rights threatened violence against the Guggenheim art museum for displaying videos by Chinese artists featuring animals.[127] These individuals are not above mounting campaigns of online harassment, even against meat-eaters who are trying to find ways to do so sustainably.[128] In some areas, vegans have adopted the tactic of barging into restaurants and shouting slogans.[129] Threats orchestrated by vegan extremists forced a restaurant and petting zoo in rural Victoria, Australia, to close; the proprietors feared for their own and their employees' safety.[130] Vegan rhetoric is often casually offensive; activists like Joey Carbstrong have compared pigs, cows, and chickens to Jews in the Holocaust,[131] or slaves in the antebellum United States. These vegans don't see a problem with that.[132] However, the vegan who has been the most vocal and prominent in using Holocaust language to describe the plight of animals is activist Gary Yourofsky, who is himself Jewish,[133][134] and takes this intentionally provocative approach to highlight alleged problems with factory farming. The casual racism of these vegans extends to harassing First Nations people for engaging in traditional hunting and crafts promised to them by treaty.[135]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


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