A vegan is a person who avoids as far as possible the use of any animal products for nourishment or for any other purpose. Vegans are considered by many to be a subset of vegetarians, and also an expansion of the concept of vegetarianism beyond one's diet. Many practicing vegans would argue that since veganism is concerned with an entire lifestyle rather than a mere dietary regime it is a philosophy of life which should be thought of as entirely separate from vegetarianism.
The word vegan, derived from VEGetariAN in 1944, when Elsie Shrigley and Donald Watson created the Vegan Society, is commonly pronounced vee-gun by its adherents. Vegan is also as an adjective to describe people, diets, and food.
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3 Similar diets
4 Possible problems
5 Possible benefits
6 See also
7 External links
Animal products include all forms of meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, eggs, dairy products, fur, leather, wool, silk, and byproducts such as gelatin, rennet, whey, and the like. The Vegan Society and most vegans include insect products such as honey in their definition as well. There is some debate on the finer points of what constitutes an animal product; some vegans avoid cane sugar that has been filtered with bone char and some won't drink beers and wines clarified with egg whites, animal blood (this is exceedingly rare today), or isinglass (even though they are not present in the final product). Further, some vegans won't eat food cooked in pans if they have ever been used to cook meat, while other vegans are content to simply remove meat, fish, eggs, and milk from their diets.
The term vegan was originally coined to differentiate those vegetarians who (primarily for ethical or environmental reasons) sought to eliminate all animal products in all areas of their lives from those who simply avoided eating meat.
Vegans site as their primary motivation the concept of reducing animal suffering. Rooted in utilitarian philosophy, as expressed by authors such as Jeremy Bentham and Peter Singer, veganism is the belief that humans have a moral obligation to avoid causing suffering to any other living creature. Animals are seen to have the same inherent rights as humans to a life as free from suffering as possible. Therefore vegans not only avoid eating meat and dairy products but also avoid the use of any product whose production involves the suffering of animals. Depending on one's level of commitment this can include not using certain medicines because they are tested for safety on animals. Some feel so strongly about it that they avoid buying film made from gelatin and buy digital film instead. While there continues to be a debate within the vegan community regarding these issues, the overall goal of veganism is to reduce animal suffering to the greatest extent possible. For this reason many vegans are also supportive of the animal rights movement.
A Time/CNN poll published in Time Magazine July 7, 2002, found that 4% of Americans consider themselves vegetarians, and 5% of self-described vegetarians consider themselves vegans. This small-sampled poll may suggest that two-tenths-of-one-percent of Americans are vegans; there are about half-a-million American vegans. A 2000 poll suggested closer to 0.9% of the USA population may be vegan, i.e. 2.5 million citizens...
In the UK, research  showed that 0.4%, approximately 250 000 people were vegan in 2001.
There is no such thing as a "dietary vegan." A "total vegetarian" may eat a diet free of animals products for health reasons, such as avoiding cholesterol, and not out of compassion for animals. However, popular vegan author Joanne Stepaniak writes that the term "dietary vegan" is inappropriate because veganism is by definition about helping animals, and a term such as "total vegetarian" should be used for people who avoid eating animal products for health reasons but, for example, buy new leather shoes.
Vegan philosophy has close connections with the concept of Ahimsa. Ahimsa is a Sanskrit word for non-killing and non-harming. It was taught by Mahatma Gandhi to his followers. The American vegan society website says: "It is not mere passiveness, but a positive method of meeting the dilemmas and decisions of daily life. In the western world, we call it Dynamic Harmlessness." Ahimsa is also an acronym: Abstinence from animal products, Harmlessness with reverence for life, Integrity of thought, word, and deed, Mastery over oneself, Service to humanity, nature, and creation, and Advancement of understanding and truth.
There are several diets similar to veganism, though stemming from different philosophy, including fructarianism, raw foods, and the macrobiotic diet. There are also numerous religious groups that regularly or occasionally practice a similar diet, including some sects of Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Christian sects including the Eastern Orthodox church and the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
According to the American Dietetic Association's position paper on vegetarian diets, vegans eating a varied diet have ample sources of nutrients, but vegans should pay attention to intake of vitamin B12. There is a lot of evidence however that indicates it is not difficult to acquire sufficient levels of B12 provided one consumes a variety of foods that are supplemented with it. This includes many kinds of rice milk, soy milk, yeast extracts, breakfast cereals, and meat analogs. Vegans generally have lower calcium intake than non-vegetarians but may have lower calcium requirements as well. Vegans (and vegetarians) should also take into consideration omega-3 fatty acid intake. Most people in modern countries don't get enough of this nutrient, so it's not a problem with the vegan diet per se, but higher levels of long chain omega-3s are found in fish than in plant sources. So, vegans should include abundant omega-3 sources in their diet such as flax seed, walnut and dark green vegetables.
Veganism may reduce the risk of many health problems, including heart failure, obesity, diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, and cancer. Veganism also may be healthier for the enviroment and may improve the conditions of low income people in and out of third world countries by freeing more food for human consumption.
(See also external links on the vegetarianism page.)