CNN ran an article yesterday about a new documentary that examines the health benefits of the vegan diet. “Forks Over Knives” chronicles the research of two doctors that have been testing the theory that a vegan diet can prevent, and maybe even reverse, common diseases and health problems better than traditional medicine.
My interest is definitely peaked and I’m certain I’ll see the film eventually, but what really jumped out at me in the article was the distinction made between the terms “vegan” and “plant-based.” The article notes that you only hear the word “vegan” mentioned in the film once or twice – and never from the doctors. According to one of them, that’s intentional.
“If you start to use the v-word, people get nervous. Somehow, there’s a feeling from years ago that vegans are strange. There are so many negative connotations,” said Esselstyn…”
Initially, that stings a little. However, the more I thought about this yesterday, the more I understood (and the less offended I was).
First, they’re right. For a variety of reasons, the term “vegan” has gotten a bad rap. For a lot of people it evokes images of screaming protesters and judgmental hippies (or something similar). The vegan movement has itself to blame for some of that, but mostly this misperception is just a reflection of the general public’s unfamiliarity with what it really means to be vegan.
Second, calling a diet that eschews all animal products “plant-based” instead of “vegan” isn’t necessarily just savvy PR. Technically, they do mean something different. What these labels actually do is separate the vegan diet from the vegan lifestyle (as I’ve explained a little on this site, being vegan is about more than just food). More specifically, they separate people whose primary focus is animal-welfare and those for whom it’s really just about health.
For some people, making the switch to a plant-based diet for health reasons does eventually lead to full-on veganism. For some, it never goes beyond food. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Whether you follow a “plant-based” diet or proudly call yourself a vegan (as I do!), fewer animals are suffering because of it. At the end of the day, that’s all that really matters.