I’ve been asked this question a lot recently, and after answering it a few times I thought, hmm…I should probably make sure I’m right. Now that I've searched the web high and low and am certain my understanding was correct (mostly), I thought I’d just write a post about it so I have a resource to send to future inquirers. The difference between plant-based and vegan is more complicated than one might think, so let's break it down.
The understanding of a plant-based diet is often split right down the middle. First, everyone agrees that a plant-based diet is a diet that is based on, well, plants. Someone on a plant-based diet eats fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds. They eat whole-foods and do not consume processed foods.
This next part is where there seems to be a fairly even divide on what a plant-based diet really is, and why I said I was “mostly” right. So, depending on what you read or who you ask, you might hear one or both of the following...
Opinion 1: Someone on a plant-based diet does NOT consume any animal by-products, such as meat, dairy, eggs, and even honey. (This is the definition I like.)
Opinion 2: A plant-based diet CAN include animal by-products, such as meat, dairy, eggs, and honey, as long as it is a very SMALL amount. In other words, the diet is still "plant-based", consisting primarily of fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds.
A vegan is someone who does NOT consume any animal by-products, such as meat, dairy, eggs, or honey. However, vegans can still eat processed (vegan) food, such as delicious Oreos and French Fries.
The big difference between a vegan and the first definition of a plant-based diet is that vegans don’t necessarily eat a “plant-based" diet, because processed foods are not necessarily “plant-based”. The processed foods could still be considered vegan, but the additives and chemicals knock them out of the plant-based category.
Vegans also consider veganism to be not only a diet, but a lifestyle. Vegans do not wear or use any products that contain animal by-products. For example, vegans don’t buy or wear leather, or use shampoo that has animal by-products in it. (You’d be surprised how many products out there, including your shampoo, have animal by-products in them.) Vegans also do not buy, use, or support products that have been tested on animals.
A plant-based vegan is someone who only consumes plant-based whole foods. While they eat fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds and do NOT consume any meat, dairy, eggs or honey, they also do not eat any processed vegan food, such as Oreo’s or French Fries.