The Ism in Veganism: The Case for a Minimal Practice-based Definition


This article argues for limiting the definition of the term “veganism” to a minimal one that denotes veganism as the abstention from the consumption of animal-derived products, thereby treating it as a neutral term exclusively describing a pattern of action. As the practice of veganism has become popularized, the promotion of veganism and animal rights has gained mainstream attention, and scholarly research on veganism has proliferated, the term veganism has often come to be used to denote an ethical or political position. We argue that this slippage from treating veganism as a practice to treating it as a belief complicates and confuses both scholarly analysis of, and plain-language conversations about, veganism. We examine the history of the term, its different uses, and motivations individuals may have for arriving at vegan practice to show that there is no coherent basis for treating veganism as anything other than a material practice. We argue that using veganism strictly to describe practice is not only logically appropriate and conducive to more clarity in discussions and research about veganism, but will encourage clearer and more nuanced engagement with the ethics, activism, and everyday practices of vegans in all their variety.

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  1. 1.

    These arguments hold no matter what the category “animal-derived products” ultimately includes and excludes. For some debates about this see Balch 2017; Cascio 2017; Wilkinson 2019.

  2. 2.

    An “ethical and political commitment to uncover and reject the ideologies that justify and enable the consumption of nonhuman animals” seems to describe anti-speciesism much more than veganism (See Horta 2010; Horta and Albersmeier 2020; Vinding 2016).

  3. 3.

    To make things more confusing, Francione refers to the entire theory as “ethical veganism,” which he defines as “a profound moral and political commitment to abolition on the individual level” (Francione 2010).

  4. 4.

    This assertion of veganism as the appropriate “moral baseline” has been contested. See Dominick 2015; Francione 2012; Hsiung 2009; Sawhney 2015.


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Dutkiewicz, J., Dickstein, J. The Ism in Veganism: The Case for a Minimal Practice-based Definition. Food ethics 6, 2 (2021).

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  • Veganism
  • Diet
  • Ethics
  • Belief
  • Practice
  • Language