Vegans avoid animal exploitation across their entire lifestyle, whereas those on a plant-based diet do not consume animals or animal products, but might still exploit them through other activities.
A vegan individual is likely to eat the same diet as a plant-based individual, but a vegan will avoid other forms of animal exploitation. Vegans won't wear leather, for example, but someone on a plant-based diet might wear leather, wool and silk.
The definition of veganism, as defined by The Vegan Society, 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."
The definition of a plant-based according to Wikipedia is: "A plant-based diet is a diet based on foods derived from plants, including vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and fruits, but with few or no animal products."
What's the difference between a vegan and a plant-based diet
There is no difference between a vegan and a plant-based diet. People who live vegan lifestyles eat the same food as those on a plant-based diet. They avoid meat, dairy, eggs and honey, and eat only foods that come from plants.
There are some people who follow what's called a 'whole foods plant-based diet', which is defined by what it includes rather than what it eliminates. People who are following this type of diet are not expected to cut out all animal products, but to center their diet largely around whole plant-based foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes.
Differences between vegans and plant-based individuals are more commonly found in the choices they make around the clothes they were and the activities they participate in.
What do vegans do different from plant-based people?
Vegans exclude, as far as possible, all forms of animal exploitation from their lives, not just from their diets. They won't wear leather, wool or silk, for example, or use cosmetics that are tested on animals. Vegans will also avoid riding horses or camels, or paying for entertainment that involves animals, such as zoos, circuses, or aquariums. Vegans will also avoid companies who fund animal testing or exploitation. For example, lots of vegans avoided Thomas Cook because they funded trips to orca shows, a practice they ended in July 2018 after intense protesting.
Plant-based individuals might still participate in forms of animal outside of the things they eat. This would mean that they would be unable to call themselves vegan, though they might say that they follow a 'vegan diet'.
Why choose vegan over plant-based?
If you want to avoid harming animals, you should choose to be a vegan instead of labelling yourself as plant-based. Animal abuse does not start and end with what you put in your mouth. All across the world, animals are used for the benefit of humans when there is really no need for us to exploit them.
Plant-based followers still wear leather, wool and silk. The production of all three products causes immense suffering to cows, sheep and silkworms.
Leather is a bi-product of the beef and dairy industry. Beef cows are fattened and slaughtered for their meat, whilst dairy cows suffer through a life of constant milking and the removal of their calves, before they too face the slaughterhouse.
Wool is taken from sheep once a year. The process of removing wool from sheep often causes them great distress and pain. Sheep have been specially bred to produce more wool than they can cope with for this purpose, which is cruel and unnecessary. Sheep are exploited their whole lives for their lambs and their wool, and eventually for their meat.
Silk is extracted by taking the cocoons of silkworms bred on farms, which harms them greatly, and so this luxury fabric must be avoided by vegans, too.
Vegans also avoid the exploitation of animals for entertainment. They are against the selective breeding of dogs for dog shows, for example, and horse riding. Vegans also avoid circuses, orca shows, aquariums and petting zoos, because the use of animals for profit is not vegan.
Vegans seek to avoid doing anything that exploits any sentient being, and seek to live a lifestyle that's as cruelty-free as possible. Plant-based individuals tend to exclude animal products from their diet only.
If you are looking to change your lifestyle because you want to avoid harming animals, you should work towards becoming a vegan, rather than plant-based.
Plant-based diet Vs vegan lifestyle
A vegan lifestyle seeks to exclude as far as possible all forms of animal exploitation, and that can only be a good thing. If we can live our lives without harming other creatures, why wouldn't we?
A vegan lifestyle has the added benefit of being environmentally friendly. The dairy industry, which is intrinsically linked to the production of leather, is extremely damaging for the environment. Dairy cows produce greenhouse gases, and many estimates state that the industry is the biggest contributors towards climate change. This year The Independent newspaper reported that the dairy industry is on track to become the world's biggest polluters, surpassing the oil industry.
Avoiding meat and dairy is now recognised as the single biggest way you can reduce your impact on the planet. It stands to reason that this would involved avoiding bi-products like leather, which are not accepted by vegans, but are acceptable to those who are plant-based.
If you're concerned about the environment, you should be making changes that exclude all animal products, not only from your diet, but from your lifestyle.
The impact of vegan, vegetarian and plant-based diets
The impact of vegan, vegetarian and plant-based diets on the environment is a positive one. It's generally recognised that these diets are less environmentally destructive and cause less harm to animals than omnivorous diets.
Those with omnivorous diets have the highest carbon footprints at 3.3 tons of greenhouse gas emissions. Vegetarian diets contribute only half of this. Vegan diets are even lower.
Why should I be vegan?
If you're against animal cruelty and want to protect the environment, the best thing you can do is go vegan. You can get everything you need nutritionally from a vegan diet. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that vegans live longer, have fewer health issues, lower blood pressure, lower incidence of heart disease, lower risk of developing diabetes and are better at maintaining a healthier weight. You may need to supplement your B12 intake, but this is easy to do.
Veganism is increasing in popularity. There are approximately 3.5 million vegans in the UK, up from 540,000 in 2016. It is estimated that there are somewhere between 550 million and 990 million vegans worldwide.
As the number of vegans increases, the demand for vegan food does, too. Food suppliers are meeting demand. Large supermarkets like Tesco, Sainsbury's and Asda have their own meat and dairy-free ranges.
There's also been an increase in the production of non-food vegan products. You can now find entire ranges of vegan clothing, shoes, clothing and beers.
There's a supportive community of vegans out there to help you transition. Look for local vegan Facebook groups, and subscribe to the plant-based News newsletter to receive email updates about important vegan topics.