Vegan, Vegan diet, and Vegan-ish: a Comprehensive Lifestyle Choice or a Plant Based Diet?

It was a great moment for vegans when we turned on the television and saw Kathy Freston on the Oprah Show touting the vegan diet.  With her beauty and poise, she made a great spokesperson for the vegan diet.

However, as the show went on, she assuaged nervous Oprah staffers by telling them that they didn’t have to go 100% vegan … they could be “vegan-ish.” That’s when many of us vegans started to get a little uncomfortable…

Kathy Freston
Kathy Freston’s Veganist book cover.

It’s not that I’m opposed to people eating only a partially vegan diet.  If you’ve read my previous blogs, you know that I am a big proponent of doing the absolute best you can, and being really proud of that.  Even if you only feel that you’re able to eat a vegan diet 50% of the time right now, you’ll still be reducing the suffering and needless death of animals by 50%, you’ll be reducing your carbon footprint by 50%, and you’ll make some great strides toward bettering your health.

Veganism or a plant based diet?

However, there is a difference between a bonafide vegan and someone who eats a vegan diet:  The word “vegan” connotes a basic philosophy that other living beings are not ours to exploit.  Therefore, vegans do not eat other animals or their products, we do not wear other animals (like leather, suede, fur or wool) and we do not use products that contain animal ingredients (such as many shampoos and other household products.)  It may be next to impossible to do all this perfectly, but as long as a person is doing his or her best to abide by these principles, they are officially vegan.



Beyonce Vegan or plant based
A vegan who wears fur?
Photo credit: DFree /

Vegan for health

There are many people who are not particularly concerned about the animals or environment, yet choose to eat a vegan diet for health reasons.  These people are eating a vegan diet (plant based diet), but are not vegans, because veganism is an entire philosophy – not just a diet.  In fact, many people are now using the term “plant-based diet” instead of “vegan diet” to differentiate between those who adopt this diet for health reasons versus philosophical reasons.


However, while you can be a bonafide vegan or a person who eats a vegan diet, you cannot be “vegan-ish.”  For example, just like you cannot be Christian-ish (you either believe that Jesus is the son of God or you do not) you cannot be vegan-ish either (you either believe it is acceptable to kill or exploit other beings for human purposes or you do not.) 
I’m not here to tell you what you should believe.  If you eat a vegan diet full time or part time, I’m simply requesting that you either call yourself a vegan, or say that you eat a vegan diet, based on whether you espouse a vegan philosophy.  Just please don’t call yourself “vegan-ish!”  
Cover image: Screenshot from The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Sarah Taylor

Writter & Reviewer

The Conscious Vegan Columnist

Sarah Taylor is the author of Vegan in 30 Days, and runs the popular blog "The Vegan Next Door".

She has a certificate in Plant Based Nutrition from Cornell University, is on faculty at Joel Fuhrman's Nutritional Education Institute, and has been featured on many television and radio shows internationally.  

Her next book, Vegetarian to Vegan, will be available in 2012.

More about Sarah

Check out Sarah's blog – The Vegan Next Door