What is the difference between plant based and vegan?
This is such a common question that we thought we would add some info behind the difference between plant based and vegan, and why we personally chose to become Plant Based Planet. In this blog we explore the development of veganism, the unexpected things that are not vegan and why people might choose either, or neither, label for their own lifestyle choices.
While some cultures have been predominantly vegetarian or vegan since they began, the actual word ‘vegan’ has only been around since 1944, around 100 years after the word ‘vegetarian’. ‘Vegan’ was a new label created by Donald Watson, founder of the Vegan Society, to make a clear distinction for those vegetarians who also did not consume dairy products.
In the decades since, as vegetarianism has grown in awareness and popularity, it is only in very recent years that veganism has become more mainstream. For a long time, it was a very niche market and those who were vegan faced endless difficulties checking information and making vegan choices. Even as recently as 2018, it was still difficult for brands to label their products ‘vegan’ because of some of the negative conceptions that went with it in terms of taste and texture. Around this time, the term ‘plant based’ started to grow, as well as the steady increase in the launch of brands that were smashing the vegan stereotype with products so packed full of flavour and innovation that they were catching the eye of even the most meat-dedicated eater!
What does plant based mean?
There are two main ways that the term ‘plant based’ is used: firstly to say that something has been made from plants, suggesting a natural, non-processed product and secondly, the way that is arguably used more often nowadays, to mean that something that doesn’t contain meat, fish, eggs or dairy. It is used to describe both a product or an overall dietary choice: ‘I am plant based’, ‘this dish is plant based’. There is also a nuance to plant based which means that some people consider themselves plant based because the majority of what they eat falls into this category, but they may sometimes have something that does. You can definitely see how these terms have all become so complicated! Add to the mix ‘flexiterian’, ‘seagan’, ‘pescetarian’, ‘lacto-ovo vegetarianism’ and countless more and it’s clear that food and lifestyle choices are more varied and personal than ever!
At Plant Based Planet, we have always been about being a bit more plant based everyday, rather than striving for instant perfection. Everything that we offer is plant based and our treats are designed to make plant based life that bit sweeter for everyone. Being plant based ourselves wasn’t an overnight story and we are constantly learning more. We currently choose not to label ourselves vegan, but that doesn’t stop us fully supporting and admiring the choices that full vegans make. Even some full vegans won’t throw away non-vegan things that they have when they make the switch, but will replace them with vegan alternatives when they are worn out.
What is a ‘full vegan’?
Over time the definition of ‘vegan’ has both become more refined in terms of what it means at its most strict, but at the same time even more muddy! Some will use it interchangeably with ‘plant based, as a shortcut to explain their dietary needs or simply to explain that a product is an alternative to the expected (vegan leather is a great example of this, which is a newer term for plastic leather-look fabric).
To make the distinction, new terms have developed as things have become less clear. You may have heard the phrase ‘ethical vegan’ or ‘full vegan’ – this is veganism at its most strict, and essentially the true definition of what it is to be a vegan. This means no animal products, in any part of life. As well as not eating meat, they won’t eat fish, dairy or eggs. But as every vegan will tell you, it does not stop with your diet. A vegan life affects the clothes you wear, the products you use, even the way that you travel and it is this list of more complicated areas that has led to so many different interpretations and sub-genres of veganism.
Some of the lesser-known exclusions for a vegan lifestyle include:
Fabrics – leather, wool and silk are all produced from or by animals and are therefore not considered vegan. This one often confuses people as although it’s obvious that leather means the end of life for a cow, wool can be taken from a sheep without slaughter. However, it is still an animal product and therefore counts. This makes a difference to the clothes you can buy, as well as homewares and given that leather is found in so many places, may even impact where you eat out or where you stay on holiday: if you are eating a vegan meal sat in a leather chair, is it really vegan? A vegan purist would have a good argument there to say that it is not.
Alcohol – you may have seen the vegan mark appear on more and more alcohol bottles in recent years and wondered what was non-vegan about other options! There are many things that can make a drink non-vegan, from milk stouts and chocolate porters that use real milk proteins, to a wine and beer clarifying process that requires the use of fish product (isinglass), to the use of honey as a botanical in gin distillation. Cream liqueurs, honey mead and Turkish Bouhka are other unexpected nos.
Unexpected foods – show us a plant based person who hasn’t been asked whether they still eat eggs and we will show you someone who could do with some fun treat-based Plant Based Planet sweets to learn a bit more about the non-restrictive side of being plant based! However, to a full vegan, there is far more off the list than eggs and whey protein. Unexpected non-vegan foods include some varieties of figs (which become edible when a wasp crawls inside and dies in the process, being eaten by the fruit!), honey (obviously made by bees), truffles (hunted by pigs, although vegan versions can be found which are located by humans), sweets that contain gelatine (unlike our full range of sweets that have no animal product at all!) and many red processed foods (a common dye, derived from insects, called carmine, cochineal carmic acid).
Cosmetics and household products – campaigns against animal cruelty have been making headlines for decades and testing on animals is well-publicised. Not everyone realises though that a product that hasn’t been tested on animals may not be vegan. Cosmetics, washing products and household cleaners can contain all kinds of unexpected ingredients. Lanolin comes from sheep wool and is used for many moisturising or glossy skin products. A lot of fabric conditioners contain animal fat, under a variety of names including tallow dimethyl ammonium chloride, lauric acid, oleic acid and many more. This is a great example of how much information needs to be understood to make vegan choices, and why the vegan label appears on a lot of the most surprising products, to help with decision-making and possibly highlight that other options may not be. As a sidenote, a product that is labelled vegan doesn’t currently necessarily mean it has never been tested on animals. There is a movement to change this as no vegan would want to endorse animal testing.
Feather down and fur – from duvets to pillows to super-warm puffa jackets, the use of fluffy duck or goose down has been keeping humans warm and cosy for as long as we know. But along with fur (even fur trims around hoods), these come straight from animals and are therefore not vegan.
Souvenirs – holiday trinkets so often include animal products: shark teeth necklaces, painted oyster shells, coral jewellery, rabbit fur pendants, silk scarves, and would not be a happy gift to bring home for a vegan.
Tattoos – this is surely one of the most surprising non-vegan things! There are vegan inks available but most commonly-available inks contain anything from a number of non-vegan ingredients: bone char which is used to increase the density of pigments, gelatin, insects or glycerin from animal fat.
Although there may be any number of motivations for becoming either plant based or vegan, from sustainability to health, love of animals to availability, there is an on-going need for more information to help people to make the best choices for them. Through our work at Plant Based Planet bringing great treats, sharing accessible information and bringing plant-curious people together, we aim to do our bit to help more people discover plant based happiness within!
We would love to hear from you about your own plant based journey, your easiest swaps or biggest challenges, anything that has surprised you about non-vegan products or greatest discoveries. Please get in touch to chat all things plant based at email@example.com or join the conversation on Instagram @pbplanet.