Definition of Veganism

Vegan food

The quick definition of veganism

Vegans don’t eat, wear or use anything from animals — whether from land animals (meat, dairy, eggs, honey, shellac, leather, fur etc) or from water animals (fish, prawns, crab, lobster etc). Vegans also exclude, as far as is practicable, all forms of animal exploitation and cruelty

Other definitions explained

Vegetarian vs vegan

The main difference between a vegetarian and vegan is that a vegetarian avoids any products from slaughtered animals but a vegan avoids all animals products – whether  from living or slaughtered animals. So all vegetarians don’t eat meat or fish (and avoid flesh from other water animals such as crabs, prawns and lobster), and do eat eggs/dairy and honey.

There are three types of vegetarian – according to whether they eat eggs/dairy.

Lacto-vegetarians eat dairy but not eggs.  Ovo-vegetarians eat eggs but not dairy. Lacto-ovo vegetarians eat both eggs and dairy.

Plant-based vs vegan

Plant-based and vegan are often used interchangeably, but there is a distinct difference.

The term ‘plant-based’ refers to diet alone – which is 100% vegan. However, veganism extends further than diet — it is a wider ethical choice that seeks to exclude the exploitation of animals as far as is practicable. This includes avoiding wearing animal products (eg fur, leather, wool), using products which are tested on animals and using animals for entertainment.


A pescatarian avoids all meat (red and white) but eats fish and other animals from water habitats (crabs, prawns, lobsters etc). They may or may not choose to eat products taken from living animals such as dairy and eggs.


Flexitarians, sometimes known as semi-vegetarians, refers to someone who eats a predominantly vegetarian diet but occasionally eats meat or fish. Meat-reducers also fall into this category.

Vegan food 2

What don’t vegans eat?

Vegans don’t eat anything that comes from an animal. That includes meat, milk, cheese, other dairy products, fish, eggs, honey and some more obscure animal products such as shellac and beeswax. This means no damaging animal protein, animal fats or cholesterol in their diet.

What do vegans eat?

Vegans tend to have a healthier diet packed with good stuff! Vegans eat bread, pasta, rice, fruit and vegetables, nuts, beans, peas, lentils and other pulses. We can also eat meat, fish and dairy alternatives often made from soya, almonds, coconuts, oats and nuts. Pretty much anything can be made vegan!

Have a look at what vegans eat at our Vegan Recipe Club – there are hundreds of delicious recipes just waiting for you to try.

Do vegans eat…

  • Eggs? No, vegans don’t eat eggs as they come from an animal. Eggs are not just a ‘by-product’ from chickens. Hens are farmed in horrendous conditions; selectively bred to lay more eggs than their bodies can handle and commonly have their beaks trimmed – a painful procedure. The male chicks are killed at just one day old.

See our page about the egg industry for more information.

  • Fish? No, vegans don’t eat fish. Many people believe eating fish is healthy, less cruel and better for the environment. Nothing could be further from the truth.

See our page about the fish industry and its health implications for more information.

  • Cheese? No, vegans don’t eat cheese that is made from dairy. Cows must be made pregnant and give birth to produce milk. They are locked into a cycle of perpetual pregnancy and the male calves are killed shortly after birth. (Don’t panic – there are lots of vegan cheeses available!).

See our page about the dairy industry and its health implications for more information.

  • Bread? Yes, vegans eat bread. Bread is a grain-based food and so most regular bread (including sliced bread, rolls, bagels, tortillas, pitta and sourdough) are vegan. Check the ingredients to make sure there are no hidden ingredients like honey or milk powder. Gluten-free bread often contains eggs.
  • Pasta? Yes, vegans eat pasta, including durum wheat pasta and wholewheat pasta — but not egg pasta. You can find vegan pasta (including vegan ravioli) in the regular supermarket aisle.
  • Chocolate? Yes, many dark chocolate brands are vegan. However, milk chocolate and white chocolate contains cow’s milk. You can buy vegan versions! Check the ingredients or see our page about the best vegan chocolate.
Vegan people

What does it mean to be vegan?

Veganism is a celebration of life! It’s not just a diet, it’s a way of living and a protected belief system. Veganism doesn’t simply mean avoiding certain foods. It affects the clothes you wear, the cosmetics you use, the products you buy, and the way you see and interact with the world.

Happy pigs

Why do people go vegan?



Veganism is a celebration of life! It’s not just a diet, it’s a way of living and a protected belief system. Veganism doesn’t simply mean avoiding certain foods. It affects the clothes you wear, the cosmetics you use, the products you buy, and the way you see and interact with the world.

Healthy heart dairy free vegan


Vegans have a significantly reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, dementia and some cancers, with lowered cholesterol and increased energy levels. A balanced, wholefood vegan diet is packed with a wide range of healthy, disease busting foods high in vegetable protein, fibre, complex carbohydrates, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and good fats. Being vegan also means no damaging animal protein, animal fats, cholesterol, animal hormones or pus – plus a much reduced chance of food poisoning.

Viva! Planet


Concern for the environmental devastation caused by animal agriculture and fishing are also key reasons why vegans avoid animal products. The decimation of wildlife and natural habitats is one of the greatest challenges the world faces. As food production expands to meet the world’s appetite for meat, eggs, dairy and fish, emissions from animal agriculture continue to rise. The only way to stop this is to change the way we eat.

Cooking vegan

Frequently asked questions

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about veganism. If you don’t see your question here, we have an entire page dedicated to vegan FAQs, plus our vegan health FAQs.

How many vegans are there?

It is hard to estimate how many vegans there are. According to the Waitrose Food & Drink Report 2018 – 19;

  • Thirty-three per cent of the population are cutting down on – or cutting out – meat
  • 9.5% are vegetarian 3% are vegan – which equates to  2 million people calling themselves vegan
  • 60% of vegans and 40% of vegetarians have adopted the lifestyle over the past five years.
Happy vegan

One thing is for certain — veganism is rapidly growing and is gaining momentum every day.

Are vegans healthier?

Yes, a vegan diet provides all the nutrients and minerals you need, without the added animal fat, animal protein and growth factors which come from meat and dairy. So vegans do tend to be healthier. See our vegan health FAQs for more.

Where do vegans get protein?

It is a misconception that a vegan diet is low in protein. Most people in Western societies have the opposite problem – far too much protein – and protein deficiency is almost unheard of. The best plant sources of protein include pulses (lentils, beans, chickpeas, peas and soya), nuts, seeds and wholegrains (wholemeal bread, wholewheat pasta and brown rice). One large serving of cooked tofu could provide up to half the protein you need in one day!

Read more about protein on our A-Z of nutrients.

Where do vegans get calcium?

A healthy vegan diet containing the foods listed below on a daily basis will cover your calcium needs. The best plant sources of calcium are: tofu, fortified vegan breakfast cereal, plant-based milk alternatives fortified with calcium, dried figs, kale, sesame seeds and tahini, tempeh, wholemeal bread, baked beans, butternut squash, almonds and Brazil nuts, spring greens and watercress.

Read more about calcium.

Juliet Gellatley

“The most powerful action you can take to end animal suffering, protect the environment and reduce disease is to go vegan. Society is changing. People are increasingly accepting the benefits of veganism; the tide is turning. Support Viva! and help us campaign for a better world.”

Juliet Gellatley, Viva! founder and director.

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