What Is Veganism? All About Vegan Products

By Angela Tague in Thinking Sustainably

In 1998, I gave up meat. It was never my favorite part of a meal as I was growing up, and I often felt guilty eating it while surrounded by my many pets. Avoiding meat is the cornerstone of a vegetarian diet. But what is veganism? In general, being vegan means avoiding animal products, including eggs and dairy.

Throughout the years, I've become more mindful of what it means to consume other animal products, and I'm slowly learning how veganism aligns with my personal values. Although I'm vegetarian, I describe myself as having "many vegan moments" simply because it makes me feel my best physically and emotionally.

Are you on a similar journey? If you're interested in consuming fewer animal-derived products in the year ahead, I hope my research will help you understand what a vegan lifestyle might look like, how to identify vegan products, and why this choice bolsters environmental sustainability.

A vegan pho soup filled with tofu, vegetables and noodles

What Is a Vegan Diet?

When I hear the word vegan, the first thing I think of is food. According to The Vegan Society, a vegan diet is plant-based. This means vegans do not eat any animal foods or byproducts, including dairy, eggs, fish, insects, meat, and shellfish. Many also avoid honey.

Instead, vegans fill their plates with vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, beans, nuts, and other plant matter. One strange but deliciously vegan find I discovered at a lavender plant farm last spring is lavender tea jelly. Who knew?

The most challenging animal product for me to eliminate from my diet is cheese, but many dairy alternatives have helped to ease the transition. Vegan cheeses made from nuts, oats, soybeans, rice, and other plant products are available at most grocery stores. Personally, I'm a huge fan of cheese and butter alternatives made from cashews. These products are creamy, flavorful, and delicious!

What Is a Vegan Lifestyle?

Many vegans choose to take their veganism beyond their plates and adopt a vegan lifestyle. This means being mindful not to use any animal-based products and often becoming an advocate for environmental sustainability, animal welfare, and animal rights.

I love the definition of veganism provided by The Vegan Society, which encompasses these ideas:

Veganism is a philosophy and 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; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.

How to Identify Vegan Products

You may already have some vegan products in your kitchen pantry or bathroom cupboard. Take a peek! Look closely at the product labeling, and you might see the words "vegan" or "plant-based."

Some manufacturers get certified by the 501(c)3 nonprofit organization Vegan Awareness Foundation (the official name of Vegan Action). This allows them to sport the V-in-a-heart circular logo on their packaging. This Certified Vegan symbol is a globally recognized registered trademark that identifies items that do not contain animal products or byproducts. These products have also not been tested on animals, according to the organization's website.

Although this logo can be seen on thousands of products, not every brand or seller has taken the step to get certified, such as a start-up producer you might visit at the farmer's market or meet at a craft fair. In these cases, you may have to browse the ingredient list to determine whether the product is vegan and meets your personal needs.

vegan labeling on toothpaste tubes

Animal Ingredient Checklist

It's easy to spot milk or eggs listed on a loaf of bread. But what about some of those uncommon ingredients or long words you've never seen before? Some may be derived from animals. Here's a list of ingredients and items that are animal-based—and not vegan—from Vegan First:

  • Albumen (the white of an egg)
  • Angora (fiber derived from rabbits)
  • Carmine (red dye obtained from beetles)
  • Cashmere (fiber derived from goats)
  • Casein (protein derived from cow-based milk)
  • Civet (fragrance derived from an African civet cat)
  • Cultured dextrose (ingredient derived from animal-based dairy)
  • Gelatin (ingredient derived from animal bones, horns, and other body parts)
  • Guanine (ingredient derived from fish scales that adds a shimmery appearance to nail polish, makeup, and shampoos)
  • Isinglass (derived from fish and used in glues, jellies, and alcoholic drinks)
  • Lard (derived from the abdominal fat of pigs)
  • Musk (oil derived from deer)
  • Silk (fabric derived from worms)
  • Suede (fabric derived from cow and pig skin)
  • Tallow (ingredient made from rendered cow fat that may be found in crayons)
  • Whey (protein found in cow-based milk)

This list is not exhaustive. If you see an ingredient that you're not sure about, do a quick Google search and inform yourself.

How Veganism and Sustainability Align

So, what is veganism all about? While most conversations focus on compassion for animals or dietary benefits, the environment also deserves attention.

Vegan Outreach—a 501c3 nonprofit organization working to end violence toward animals—explains that animal-based agriculture contributes heavily to greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution, and air pollution. They share that 56 to 58 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from the animal agriculture industry stem from meat and dairy production. When it comes to water usage, one-third of available drinking water is used to support these industries.

Beautiful fall forest landscape with green, yellow and orange leaves

Whether or not you want to consider veganism as part of your approach to supporting global health, your everyday choices make a difference. The Tom's of Maine Stewardship Model focuses on sustainability by using naturally sourced and naturally derived ingredients to create safe, effective products and packaging. As a Certified B Corporation, Tom's of Maine promotes human and environmental health by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, conserving water, sending less to the landfill, and improving the sustainability of product packaging.

To learn more about environmental sustainability, browse The Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change report, which provides a global assessment of emissions reductions and mitigations. Chapter 7 details agriculture, forestry, and other land uses.

Veganism goes beyond what you eat. Choosing to not consume, use, or endorse animal products means you're supporting environmental sustainability initiatives. To learn more, read up on the difference between cruelty-free and vegan products.

Image Source: Angela Tague

The views and opinions expressed in any guest post featured on our site are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of Tom's of Maine.

Why It's Good

Learning more about different lifestyle choices can help you align your day-to-day decisions with your personal morals and beliefs. Veganism, for example, stands against animal cruelty and advocates for eco-conscious living by saying no to using or eating animal-based products.