By Dani Taylor
The term “vegan” has been around for about a century. In the world of health and nutrition, that is a relatively long time for a “diet” to exist. Many people don’t understand that veganism is much more than a diet, and it is truly a lifestyle. Thoughtful consideration is given to decisions ranging from the obvious- food- to lesser-known aspects such as choices in clothing, toothpaste, makeup, vacation destinations, and more.
The most obvious restriction that vegans observe is the consumption of meat. Vegetarians also refrain from eating meat but will still eat dairy products, eggs, and honey. The vegan diet excludes any product that comes from or causes harm to living things. Avoiding these types of foods/drinks may seem like an easy task, and the truth is that many products that are assumed to be vegan are not.
Dairy is one of these sneaky ingredients that can hide in plain sight. Milk powder is used as an additive in plenty of processed foods, and this fact is one that often surprises new vegans. Until you have more experience shopping for vegan-friendly foods, reading labels is necessary.
Another unexpected additive is gelatin. Candy, marshmallows, gum, and other common foods may contain gelatin which is derived from animal parts (usually skin, bones, and ligaments). There are alternative versions of these products that contain a gelatin substitute known as agar which has a similar texture but is made of plants (seaweed). Again, checking nutritional labels is vital to determine whether or not an item is indeed vegan.
Alcohol presents a problem when it comes to filtration processes. Many people may not realize that traditional filtration involves the use of fish bladder, gelatin, and other animal-based protein. Hidden dairy in mixed drinks ordered at a bar may also surprise well-meaning vegans. Nutritional labels are not as readily available for alcohol, so it may be wise to research drink choices before purchasing.
Clothing and Material Goods
Another area in which non-vegans may be surprised is clothing and textiles. Leather, wool, fur, and silk are all avoided by vegans. Fur and leather may seem like obvious materials to avoid, but wool and silk can sometimes come as a surprise. Although animals may not be directly killed in the collection of wool or silk threads, the idea that the living creatures could be (and often are) harmed in the process makes the material off-limits in the vegan lifestyle.
Down comforters, pillows, and other home accessories are avoided by vegans as well. The exploitation of animals in any way is distressing to vegans, especially when synthetic or plant-based alternatives are readily available. Faux leather, natural plant fibers, and other vegan materials have become more popular, in part, due to their cruelty-free status.
When you notice the clear, glowing skin of a vegan, what you won’t see is animal-derived products on their face. Surprising ingredients found in makeup include beeswax, lanolin, honey, collagen, carmine, cholesterol, and gelatin. Fortunately, many beauty companies have heard consumers' requests for plant-based alternatives and changed their ingredients.
Other self-care items often containing non-vegan ingredients include toothpaste, soap, shaving cream, shampoo, conditioner, hairspray, and nail polish. If you are trying to use only vegan products, consider checking with the company to determine the ingredients before purchasing. By supporting companies that produce vegan products only, you can help ensure that options are available to consumers like you in the future.
When discussing the topic of personal care items like makeup, the reality of product testing needs to be considered. Just because a product doesn’t contain ingredients derived from animals doesn’t mean it’s cruelty-free. Laboratories often use animals as test subjects before new products are sold for human use. These animals live their whole lives in cages and are subjected to pain, fear, and ultimately, death. The archaic practice is inhumane and unnecessary.
The beauty industry is not the only place you will find animal testing. Pharmaceutical companies, medical schools, companies that manufacture cleaning products, and even government agencies continue to abuse animals for testing purposes. Avoiding all products developed using these practices can be difficult. One way to check for cruelty-free products is to look for stickers or symbols designating them to be vegan by the Vegan Society or Peta.
Different Motivating Factors
While vegan individuals generally follow the same “rules” regarding their lifestyle choices, their reasons for choosing to be vegan can vary greatly. Some of these motivators intersect, while others stand alone.
There are ethical vegans whose motivation lies in the protection of life. Their primary purpose is to not contribute to the harm of other living beings. They are vegan for the animals and embrace the lifestyle as a gentle way to coexist with all creatures of the world. Many times, these are the vegans you will find taking an outspoken stance against animal cruelty.
Another reason individuals choose the vegan lifestyle is for their health. Heart disease, high cholesterol, cancer, and other health concerns can often be prevented by choosing a vegan diet. Plant-based foods boost immunity, energy, and overall well-being. Many athletes focus on a vegan diet to avoid inflammation and speed up recovery after injuries.
Environmental vegans understand that animal agriculture is a massive contributor to climate problems, pollution, soil erosion, energy and water waste, species extinction, and other pressing environmental issues worldwide. Recent studies suggest that switching to a vegan diet is one of the most powerful ways to make a positive impact environmentally.
Religious or spiritual beliefs can also be a motivating factor for some vegans. The value of animal lives is a key principle in many religions across the globe. While some vegans grow up with these values as children and continue living vegan as adults, others discover later in life that the choice to live a vegan lifestyle lines up with their spiritual beliefs.
No matter what your motivation might be to live a vegan lifestyle, the benefits are clear. At first, new vegans may struggle to read labels and understand the little-known facts about everyday products. With some experience and research, living a vegan lifestyle becomes less about what is given up and more about what is gained. For many vegans, a clear conscience, a healthy body, a joyful spirit, and a happy planet make it worthwhile.