All vegans have their own personal definition of veganism, it’s not like there’s one person who invented it.
The Vegan Society is the group that’s been around the longest, and here’s how they define veganism in general:
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.
It’s a specific definition in some cases (i.e. don’t eat meat), but it’s not very clear in other situations.
A strict vegan always stays on the “safe” side of these cases.
Let’s look at a few to illustrate the picture.
Grey Areas for Vegans
There are quite a few grey areas on what “as far as possible and practical” actually means sometimes. For example:
- Sugar in North America may have been produced using bone char. Strict vegans avoid anything that just lists “sugar” on the ingredient labels, while other vegans might say that’s unreasonable.
- Artificial colors are often tested on animals by researchers. Strict vegans avoid them, while other vegans don’t.
- Vitamin D from animal sources is added to many cereals in microscopic amounts. Strict vegans still won’t buy that cereal, but many vegans will.
- Food could be cooked from oil shared with animal products (e.g. fries and burgers may share oil at fast food places). Strict vegans won’t buy anything because of the chance for contamination, but others will because they’re still not contributing to animal suffering.
I could probably get that list up to a dozen or so, but I think the picture is pretty clear.
Pretty much anything we do has some impact, directly or indirectly, on other people and animals.
Vegans simply seek to minimize their impact as much as reasonably possible.
Strict vegans are willing to sacrifice most things and stay on the safe side whenever an ethical issue comes up. Other vegans aren’t as conservative, and are fine with reducing their impact 99% of the way (or whatever the actual number may be).
Even if you’re not as strict as someone else, that doesn’t mean you’re not vegan. Feel free to pick the vegan option if you’re every surveyed.