Often when we speak to people on our stalls about the fact that veganism is not a diet they respond by saying they realise it’s a lifestyle. We understand why people use that word, as it does indicate that veganism is about more than food, which is very important especially given the number of YouTubers, bloggers, chefs and celebrities who are conveying veganism as nothing more than a diet. But is it accurate to say instead that it’s a lifestyle? Is that the best way to counter the prevailing misconception that veganism is about nothing more than what we eat? And does it matter?
Words matter. They are the tools we use to express ourselves, to convey ideas, to explain concepts. We choose them carefully so as not to be misunderstood. When discussing something as important as the rights of non-human animals it’s important that the words we use are accurate.
What does it mean when we say that something is a “lifestyle”?
1. way of life, way of living, manner of living; 2. the habits, activities, behaviour and living conditions that are typical of or are chosen by a person or group.
“Lifestyle” is often used alongside words such as “active”, “sedentary”, “desirable”, “fashionable”, “healthy”, “trendy”, “luxury”, “frugal”, and “products.”
Veganism is the rejection of the exploitation of non-human animals. Veganism is recognising that it’s wrong to use and kill living, feeling beings as though they were things. It’s saying: “I see that is wrong and I won’t do it anymore; to the best of my ability I will not participate in or contribute to the subjugation, exploitation and killing of non-human animals.”
Going vegan is deciding to live our lives acknowledging that moral principle in everything we do. How we do that, what lifestyle we adopt while doing that, whether active or sedentary, frugal or expensive, trendy or grungy, healthy or junk-food, can vary greatly. There is no one way to live vegan, but there is only one “veganism”.
“Vegan” and “veganism” are nouns which succinctly describe the very important concept of acknowledging that non-human animals are not things, they are living, feeling persons just as we are, and therefore it is wrong to exploit them for what we can take from them. We don’t need to search for any other terminology to convey that concept, these are our words and we should use them proudly: “I am vegan. I went vegan. I live vegan. Go vegan.”
Adding “lifestyle” to the word “vegan” changes its meaning entirely. A lifestyle is something we adopt and it can be something we may pick up or put down, something we select bits of, or follow two days a week or for an experimental month. None of those things apply to veganism. Veganism is acknowledging and living by the moral requirement not to use animals as things. You don’t pick that up and put it down depending how convenient it is. You don’t pick and choose elements of it. You don’t do it two days a week, or for an experimental month. Once you acknowledge the moral requirement you become vegan, you live vegan. You may do so with a very different lifestyle to your vegan neighbour, but you are both living vegan.
For these reasons we don’t describe veganism as a lifestyle on our vegan information stalls or on our pages. As noted above, we realise that a lot of people are using the word with the best of intentions, to counter the idea that veganism is only a diet. For us though, the best way to counter that misconception is to talk to people about the fact that veganism is about justice, it’s about acknowledging the moral requirement not to use animals as things. Once we see that, it becomes crystal clear that it’s not a diet. What we eat is an incident of veganism; it flows from the moral requirement not to use animals as things. That moral requirement is what we keep our focus on, and what we must keep our focus on, for the animals.