What Does It Mean to Be Vegan?

The literal definition of veganism is one who abstains from using animal products (Merriam-Webster). To break it down, a person who is vegan will reject the commodity status of animals and cease to consume, abuse or exploit them. Believe it or not, there are actually several different groups people identify with when they refer to themselves as vegans. There are ethical vegans, plant-based vegans, raw vegans, HCLF vegans, and eco-conscious vegans. So what’s the difference?

The 5 Main Types of Vegans

  1. Ethical Vegan– Ethical vegans represent one of the top groups of the population that identifies as vegan because their commitment is rooted to the firm moral belief that animals should not be abused, consumed, or exploited in any way. They make the choice to go vegan because they want to lead a more compassionate life with their individual choices. Ethical vegans follow a variety of diet choices and may lean towards healthy foods, junkfood, or a mix of both. Their extent of their commitment to animals does not stop at thinking about what (or rather who) is on their plate each meal, but it also includes halting the support/use of products in other areas of their life (i.e. bath, body, cleaning, decor, clothing, accessory and cosmetic products). Many ethical vegans are vocal and participate in animal advocacy by promoting veganism through means of social media, protests, boycotting industries that profit from the abuse and/or exploitation of animals, signing animal rights petitions & lobbying directly for legislative change as a more impactful movement of progression.

  2. Plant-Based Vegan– Plant based vegans are the next most popular group that make up the majority of vegans. They typically choose to make the switch for health reasons such as disease reversal/management or weight loss. When talking about plant-based, it is typically referring to their diet as some still choose to use animal products in their lifestyle such as leather and often products (knowingly or unknowingly) that were tested on animals or come from their by-products. There are groups who also refer to themselves as “plant-based” and consume animal products like bee pollen & honey although this does not meet the universal definition of “vegan” and is more appropriately categorized as “vegetarian“. Much like ethical vegans, some plant-based vegans may still consume unhealthy foods while others follow a more strict diet by avoiding processed foods altogether and focusing on whole foods.

  3. Raw Vegan– Raw vegans are classified as those who choose to exclude animal products and cooked foods from their diets. They typically do not consume plants that have been heated or cooked, usually for the health benefits or for spiritual beliefs. If their food has been heated, it must have a temperature below 104-118 degrees Fahrenheit still be considered part of their raw diet.Their menu consists of mainly fruits, nuts seeds & raw vegetables. Some raw vegans will follow these restrictions 100% of the time, while others choose to do it for 2/3 of their meals (some only eating cooked dinner or another meal once per day). Following this type of diet usually helps them avoid processed foods and allows them to maximize their nutrient intake as it is slightly diminished during the heating process. Several methods used to prepare foods on a raw diet are dehydrating, juicing, blending, sprouting & soaking. They may or may not incorporate supplements into their diet as some believe all essential nutrients are provided through their raw diet.

  4. HCLF Vegan– HCLF stands for high carb, low fat. Much like plant-based or raw vegans, this group focuses on abstaining from animal products in their diet more than the ethical commitment of veganism. When they follow a HCLF diet, these vegans will consume higher quantities of carbs and eat as little fat as possible. Some focus on incorporating carbs from whole foods like fruits, vegetables and grains while others will consume higher amounts of foods like pasta & rice. They still need to consume some amount of fats in their diets and will use sources from healthy fats like avocados, seeds & nuts but in lower portions. This group is an alternative for those who want to be health conscious and lose weight from a vegan diet but is not as restrictive as a fully raw vegan diet.

  5. Eco-Conscious Vegan– While there are vegans that make their commitment strictly for the sake of animals or their health, others are dedicated to preserving our planet through their diet and lifestyle. Eco-conscious vegans typically do not consume animal products because of the havoc the meat & dairy wreak on the ecosystem. This is because factory farming has been shown to produce toxins like methane gas into the air and overfishing has resulted in an imbalance that can erode the food web ultimately leading to the loss of other marine life. They may or may not choose to consume healthy foods, but will usually consider the environmental repercussions their decisions have on an individual level. These vegans will typically avoid products like palm-oil due to concerns of deforestation and buying produce that is not in season because of wasteful shipping methods. They may even look deeper into food certifications to ensure their choices are making a positive impact on the earth. Their ultimate goal is to reduce their carbon footprint and the impact they have on negative climate change. Eco-conscious vegans may also avoid the use of single-use products and follow a more minimal lifestyle. Much like ethical vegans, eco-focused vegans might also be more vocal about their diet and/or lifestyle by advocacy through a variety of different platforms.

The Bottom Line

There’s a reason the word “vegan” is so closely associated with food. Each group ultimately supports the same goal: reducing animal use in diets. Some take it a step further by considering ethical or environmental impacts while others are simply focused on the health aspects. No matter what the reason for their commitment or cause they belief in, individuals in each of these groups are benefitting the overall well-being of animals in some kind of way. Simply through their diets, they are reducing the amount of abuse animals experience through means of torture, slaughter, seperation, rape, confinement and exploitation for their by-products. Every vegan makes a difference, no matter the type. Regardless of their motivations, being a vegan means making some kind of meaningful change in their lives and it has a positive impact on so many more than they will ever know.

Are you vegan and if so, what group do you identify with? If you’re wondering if a vegan diet and/or lifestyle is right for you and your family, I’m happy to answer any questions you might have in the comments section below. Every bit helps move us forward towards positive change in the world even if it’s for a single meal, purchase or conversation.


As always, thanks for your love & support.

‘Til next time!

Em 🌱

Emmy May, The Plant Based Bae
Emmy May, The Plant Based Bae

Hi! My name is Emmy May and I’m The Plant Based Bae. I was born and raised in the Midwest, and have called Southern California home for the past seven years. In 2018, I decided to switch to a vegan diet which led to me improving my overall quality of life and learning a lot about health & humanitarianism. Since then, I’ve had countless conversations with vigorous vegans and curious omnivores to share what I’ve learned along the way.

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