Dietary v ethical vegans

January 13, 2020 6:30 am Published by Leave your thoughts

We’re in the middle of Veganuary right now – a month ‘renamed’ by the Veganuary organization, which aims to get as many people as possible ‘eating vegan’ in January (and hopefully beyond). It’s a good time to think about veganism in general and to take stock of some of the issues surrounding it. One of the most prominent, right now, is the uneasiness between the different strands of the vegan movement. ‘Vegan’ is an overarching term – but there’s more than one kind of vegan.

Dietary versus ethical vegans: should it be a fight?

The Vegan Society has a clear definition of veganism:

‘Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.’

This, for many people, is a definition of an ‘ethical vegan’ – a person who has decided to become vegan because of concerns about animal cruelty and exploitation. Historically, this was pretty much the only reason people became vegan; it often followed on from an earlier decision to become vegetarian.

Nowadays, however, not everyone who’s currently vegan has animal welfare as their main priority. Instead, there’s a growing trend to eat vegan for health reasons – or for environmental reasons. People who come to veganism in this way tend to be known as ‘dietary vegans’.

Let’s take a look at the three main reasons why people decide to go vegan.

For the animals

For many people, veganism is straightforwardly about animal cruelty. Vegans avoid anything that contains animal products or that uses animals to create it. Meat and fish are obviously out, as are milk, butter, cheese and other dairy products. Vegans also refuse to eat commercially produced honey, wear leather or eat products made with gelatin and other animal by-products. They believe strongly that no animal should suffer because of them.

The Vegan Society extends its exclusions to cover ‘animal-derived materials, products tested on animals and places that use animals for entertainment.’

For the environment

In recent years, there’s been a steady increase in people going vegan for environmental reasons. Although Veganuary’s own statistics reckon that ‘environmental vegans’ make up only 12% of the total number at present, they’re the group most in the news right now (and are also at the forefront of the Veganuary campaign this year).


Environmentalists have begun to make it pretty plain: meat production is a major source of water use, water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Land use and deforestation are equally important issues, with rainforests being cleared to grow the crops eaten by intensively farmed animals. There are some dissenting voices, with some insisting that in certain parts of the world, eating meat or fish actually makes the most sense environmentally. However, the overwhelming message coming out is that if you care about the world, then you care about all its organisms and ecosystems. For a clean world, you need to eat clean.

For your health

Vegans have always reckoned they were healthier than other people, but the health benefits were seen as a lucky (or well-deserved) by-product of their ethical stance, rather than their main motivation for going vegan. For dietary vegans, the case is exactly the other way round: they’ve eliminated meat from their diet purely on health grounds, and any benefit that brings to animals is a bit of good fortune.

Dietary vegans avoid meat mainly because of its high saturated fat levels and its link to cancers. They strive to get everything they need from a wholly vegan diet, planning it carefully to cover all the bases, so as not to miss out on vital elements like iron, vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium and Omega-3 fatty acids.

All for one?

It’s a little disingenuous to try to divide vegans up into different tribes. Most people have more than one motivation for going vegan. In many cases, vegans will argue that the positive environmental/health/animal welfare aspects simply bolster their case, proving that their main reason for going vegan (whatever that may be) must be right, because its side-effects are so beneficial.

Would animal-lovers be happy to go vegan if it made them sick and had negative environmental consequences? Would planet-activists be prepared to go vegan if that caused great suffering and reduced their own life-expectancy? Would healthy-eaters be willing to sacrifice animals and the planet, if that’s what it took to get their personal cholesterol levels down?

For most vegans, it’s a virtuous circle of benefits, with each one feeding into and supporting the others. However, it has to be acknowledged that some vegans are a little more feisty in their attitudes towards the other types. There’s a fair amount of bickering in publications, online and in person.

‘The animals don’t care why you’re not eating them’

Some vegans reckon that so long as people eat vegan, it doesn’t matter why they do it. For them, the end-result is the same. They also hope that people eating vegan for other reasons will quickly come to find the idea of killing and eating animals repellent – if only because they haven’t done it for so long – so will be properly converted anyway.

Many ethical vegans are also pretty pleased about the rise of dietary veganism, because it’s brought so many more products onto the market and into their shops. It really never has been so easy to eat vegan, and that’s got to be a win-win situation.

However, other vegans are much angrier. They argue that people who take up veganism for reasons of health or environmental concerns lack the core values of veganism and will be perfectly happy to resume eating meat if a way can be found to make that healthier or more environmentally sustainable. They reason that environmental or health-conscious vegans might virtuously eschew burgers – but have no problem eating a cereal bar stuffed with cricket protein. They feel that dietary vegans might also not be particularly bothered about, say, animals being used as entertainment, for cosmetic testing, in the fur trade or for work purposes. And they worry that this lack of concern dilutes their overall message and focus.

NGF and vegans – of all kinds!

It’s not a problem we’re attempting to solve in this blog. And that’s because, at Naturally Good Food, we simply cater for all kinds of vegans – dietary, ethical, accidental….even reluctant! You can check out our full vegan range here, with its emphasis on wholefoods and organic products. We’ve got all the storecupboard ingredients you need to live a happy, healthy vegan life, whatever your personal pathway towards that goal.

Naturally Good Reads v2

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This post was written by Yzanne

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