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The basic definition of vegan is someone who neither eats or uses animal-based products in their lives at least within the realm of reality. For example, using fuel is animal based since it’s petroleum, but most people still must use it to get around. Some vegans will still get operations that use animal-derived products and drugs but still call themselves vegan.
Vegans usually want to stop the slaughter of and mistreatment of animals, eliminate the health risks associated with eating animal products, and they want to reduce their environmental footprint. It all boils down to doing the least amount of harm that you can do to animals and the environment. When given the choice to starve and die or eat an animal a vegan may choose the least harmful way such as eating eggs over the chicken. Some vegans claim they would choose death instead.
For some people being vegan also means a strict adherence to not using any type of animal product at all in terms of clothing, furniture, or makeup. Some new vegans will even get rid of all the clothing and or furniture they already have that is animal derived. Some vegans claim keeping those items is better because just throwing them away adds to the landfill and dishonors the life given up.
You’ll find pretty much all sorts of definitions of vegan from the strictly food-based idea of not using any animal products in food, to the not using any animal products in clothing, furniture, household appliances, medicine and more. Some vegans will not even get vaccinations since some vaccines were tested on or derived from animals. Others take it even farther and will not get life-saving treatment that requires using parts of animals and choose to pass away instead.
The truth is Vegan does have a specific political meaning. It was started by Donald Watson the founder of The Vegan Society because vegetarian was already taken, and vegetarians often eat dairy products and eggs. He wanted to coin a term that meant that adherents did not consume or use any type of animal products if it could be prevented. He used it in a paper he wrote against vegetarians due to their consumption of dairy.
For others, it’s just about food. They just don’t eat animal-based foods such as meat, dairy and other additives that are derived from animals such as some flavorings and spices. For this reason, a lot of people that consider themselves vegan choose to say they are plant-based instead because they don’t want to be associated with the politics and responsibility of being vegan which can be radical when it gets down to the nuts and bolts.