Home»Op-Ed»Are Dietary Vegans Vegan At All?

Are Dietary Vegans Vegan At All?

By Published On: 6 March 2013Last Updated: 17 January 2017

It's not a bad thing to adopt a plant-based diet for health. But if ethics are not a part of one's choice to go "vegan" should the word even be used? Would clarifying help or harm the animals?

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Something tells me these chickens and billions like them do not care about human "cravings"

Something tells me these chickens and billions like them do not empathize with human “cravings”

In a post heard round the community last week, Alex Jamieson declared she was no longer vegan. She believes she craved animal products, and after denying, then hiding, these cravings, declared her “truth” in a post that left many ethical vegans with a bad taste in their mouths.  Alex has made a living off of veganism, due in part to having written several books about vegan living/dieting. Now she says “you can love and care about animal welfare and still consume them.” As a holistic health coach who now gives in to her cravings, what would she say to clients who crave salt, fat, caffeine, tobacco, or alcohol?

I’ve read a lot of reactions to Jamieson’s post and many argue she never was vegan in the first place. The Vegan Society defines veganism as follows:

“…a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude – as far as is possible and practical – all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose…”

A friend and fellow vegan has often told me she doesn’t believe that people who only go vegan for health will stay vegan. I used to disagree; after all, when I first went vegan, it was for health. It soon became about much more than that, and I feel comfortable in using the term “vegan” to describe my own philosophy and way of living. But it begs the question: if you merely eat a vegan diet, are you vegan at all?

Last week we reported that Venus Williams cheats on her vegan diet, which she adopted after being diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome in 2011. Bill Clinton adopted a mostly vegan diet after a quadruple bypass and having stents placed in his coronary artery. Chaka Khan went vegan after being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.

It’s not a bad thing to adopt a plant-based diet for health; in fact, it’s something I talk to my parents about all the time. From what I can tell however, ethics was never a part of Williams’, Clinton’s, or Khan’s choice to go “vegan”… so should the word even be used? Doesn’t it cause a bit of ethical confusion when someone declares themselves an “ex” vegan? Jamieson is not the first known name in the community to defect, but of those who do, it’s usually not someone who has simply changed their philosophy on the exploitation of and cruelty to animals.

What do you think? Should ethical vegans take the word back? Should dietary vegans instead call themselves plant-based? Would clarifying help or harm the animals?  And how do we handle the “I’m no longer vegan” declarations that seem to come up every so often in the community?

Photo credit: Daria Zeoli and the chickens who live at Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary



  1. Alison May 30, 2017 at 5:41 am - Reply

    The original definition of the word Vegan as created by Watson was that Veganism was a diet. It was later changed by animal rights activists who had joined the Vegan society to its current definition. So Yes, You can be a dietary Vegan, in fact, to me that is the more correct usage of the term as I am a purist and believe that the founder gets to decide who is or isnt something.

    I personally am Vegan for my health. Some people have chosen to say I am not Vegan, then again, some people have chosen to tell me I am not Gay, or in my religion because I dont attend church so I say to that–kiss my ass!

  2. […] – Your Daily Vegan, 06 de marzo de 2013, disponible en línea en: https://www.yourdailyvegan.com/2013/03/06/are-dietary-vegans-vegan-at-all/ […]

  3. Luis Tovar March 10, 2013 at 2:18 am - Reply

    “Dietary vegans” is an absolute nonsense. It is like to say “dietary feminists”. Veganism is a moral principle of non-exploitation.

    It doesn´t matter what Vegan Society says nowdays. They are not part of a social movement, but a business. We should focus on the beginning of veganism:

    “The object of the Society shall be to end the exploitation of animals by man”; and “The word veganism shall mean the doctrine that man should live without exploiting animals.”


  4. Denise March 9, 2013 at 5:15 pm - Reply

    I would never fault anyone who makes efforts whose end results are a benefit to animals. I am a vegan and I very occasionally ‘cheat’ with products that might have milk ingredients. Every product in my house is not vegan. I do my best, but sometimes convenience or economy has to win out. It sucks but it’s true. As a community we have to stop demanding perfection in a world that is set up to make our lifestyle difficult.

    Having said that, I believe Alex Jamieson had every right to make the statements about animal welfare that she did. We also have the right to express ourselves and say what a load of hooey it is. Respectfully. :)

  5. GJ Brandt March 9, 2013 at 3:17 am - Reply

    How many Vegan have cats or dogs, or any pet’s?
    What is there social contract with there pet’s?

    If you do have a pet then your not a Vegan by this “…a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude – as far as is possible and practical – all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose…” definition

    I have a social contract with my cats, i feed them and they live in my house. They spend time with me and my family. They provide comfort and warm a lap. Its a give and take between us, but i am using my cat for “any other purpose” so by your definition then i would not be a vegan.

    • Scott August 12, 2014 at 8:39 am - Reply

      To be fair I think there is no harm in having a rescue pet. Rescue centres are overflowing these days and what do they do? Kill them! Not exactly rescuing them there are they?! OK so you may be the master of your pet at home but at least it has a roof over it’s head… plenty of chances to go for a nice walk or even a run, food and vet care. You can be a vegan and have a pet! I don’t agree with buying new pets from breeders or mills though. These practices just continue to support the breeders to breed their animals even more!

      • Randall March 11, 2018 at 11:56 am - Reply

        I disagree. Dogs and cats are mainly carnivores. By feeding them, I’m participating the killings of animals. So saying The definition of veganism should only depends on mainly ethical reasons, is totally one-sided.

  6. Steve Foerster March 7, 2013 at 7:32 pm - Reply

    Hi, Daria. I wasn’t referring to questioning those who’ve fallen away from a vegan lifestyle, which makes sense, since we’d want to know what happened and how it might be prevented in the future. I’m referring to the orthodoxy of insisting that those who are vegan for health or environmental reasons aren’t really vegan because their motives aren’t holy enough.

    Look at it this way. None of us, NONE of us, has zero negative imact on animals. The inclusion of animal by-products is pervasive throughout our society. Drive a car or take the bus? They’re in antifreeze and brake fluid. Live in a building? They’re in bricks, cement, and paint. I’ll skip the long, depressing list.

    That doesn’t meant that we shouldn’t minimize the harm — we should! But to say that someone who’s come 96% of the way isn’t really one of us when none of us are at 100%, well, that seems like an approach focused more on excluding people from our movement than welcoming them into it.

  7. Daria Zeoli March 7, 2013 at 7:23 am - Reply

    So much good conversation here! Thank you, everyone! A few thoughts/responses…

    @Jonathan: I don’t think it’s wrong to keep using a leather belt that you had before you went vegan. There are many reasons why it’s not always prudent to ditch every animal-based item you own from your pregan days. Personally, I would replace it with a non-leather version once I could no longer wear it.

    @BYOL: Health vegans who are committed to a vegan lifestyle, in that they don’t exploit animals for use in ways that surpass just their diet, are vegan. *Former* animal rights activists, tattooed or not, aren’t vegan. There is a difference between attacking someone and wanting there to be a clarity so that the average Joe doesn’t think that being vegan is a fad that can be ditched once it becomes too difficult. I don’t want to attack those who eat the SAD, and they are not my real opponent. I want to attack the industries that exploit animals and keep the truth hidden from the masses through slick advertising, secretive practices, and straight-out lies.

    @lIZ: It’s not about being pristine, but when people like Alex Jamieson say “you can love and care about animal welfare and still consume them,” what does that say to people who are new to veganism and trying to learn about all the aspects of it? It says “don’t be vegan,” and that’s not what I want to say.

    @Peter Parker: Veganism isn’t about perfection, but that being said, there is a huge difference between, for example, using a car that has animal byproducts in it and eschewing veganism because you craved a hamburger. As I said to Jonathan, owning non-vegan things from your pregan days does not make you not vegan. I like that description of being vegan – the easiest and the most challenging thing you’ve done. Thanks!

    @Steve Foerster: I don’t think questioning an ex-vegan makes vegans “kooks.” I think accepting straw arguments like “my body craved eggs and milk and meat” dilutes what we’re all so passionate about.

    • Scott August 12, 2014 at 8:45 am - Reply

      I agree with your statement on having pregan items. I was thinking of throwing them all out but then I thought if I do that then the animals death and pain would seriously have been for nothing. Part of me wants to get the utmost use out of the products I have made from animals and another part of me feels guilty everytime I use my pregan items. Is that natural? I dont’ think it stops me being vegan… the fact alone I want it to last as long as possible to respect it’s death shows that. I do however avoid, as best I can, items made from animals.

      • Daria Zeoli August 13, 2014 at 5:20 am - Reply

        Yes, I think that the guilt is a perfectly natural reaction, Scott. Owning items from before you knew isn’t uncommon. It’s how you move forward that matters.

  8. Steve Foerster March 6, 2013 at 11:19 pm - Reply

    “Halt! We’re the Vegan Police, and I’m afraid we’re going to have to take your motives in for questioning!”

    Seriously, it’s this sort of insistence on orthodoxy that makes most people think that vegans are kooks, which turns people off and thus does more harm than good. And I say this as someone who’s been an ethical vegan for five years now.

  9. Jason Thompson March 6, 2013 at 10:25 pm - Reply

    I eat a 100% plant based diet and I am on a journey to become an ethical vegan. In casual conversation I say I am vegan to help the person understand a point (such as why I am declining their offer of animal food). But, I am not even close to being able to claim being vegan yet. I still have some items with leather, a personal care product that is tested on animals that I have not used up yet, and even Worcestershire Sauce in the pantry (contains anchovies). I am slowly getting rid of these things but it does not happen over night. So, the answer to this question for me is NO, you can’t be a vegan unless you are totally vegan. It is the same as trying to call yourself Jewish by eating only Kosher foods. Vegans eat a plant based diet and some non-Vegans also eat a plant based diet. The diet is only one component of being Vegan.

  10. Peter Parker March 6, 2013 at 10:11 pm - Reply

    First off, I feel sorry for Alex. Mainly because she bears the burden of what many see as a betrayal and also because if she ever does decide to come back, even within the wonderful compassionate community that make up vegans, most will inevitably consider her an outcast. That said, I also understand that it is nearly impossible to live a purely vegan lifestyle today as animal products have penetrated into so many common items we buy and the information about them in terms of veganism can be convoluted at best. I have eaten a strictly vegan diet for over two years now but there are still some non vegan things I own that I haven’t gotten rid of yet. Do I consider myself vegan? Yes. You may disagree, but your own level of hypocrisy is likely just a matter of degree. Veganism is a way of life, a frame of mind and the actions and decisions you make from that perspective will bear this out. I aspire to be more vegan every day, but to exist within society and lead a life of fulfillment takes a little compromise. I don’t mean compromise by eating meat, but some things like accepting those in your family with out judgement on these conditions takes some discipline. Being vegan was both the easiest and most challenging thing I’ve done and I can’t see myself in any other context now.

    • Scott August 12, 2014 at 8:48 am - Reply

      Having non vegan items you still use is fine I think… isn’t it worse to just throw them out? Then the animals death and pain would REALLY have been for nothing. You are using those items right to the absolute end showing absolute respect for it’s life and death. Good for you!

  11. lIZ March 6, 2013 at 9:34 pm - Reply

    I’m happy that people are trying, or tried or are even talking about it. Sorry that it’s becoming ruined by mainstreaming? Hell no! Many more people are tuned into the plight of animals. Children are refusing to rip apart animals in biology class. Do I care if some of these people cheat or aren’t doing it right or for the right reason? Do I care that you have done it right and now someone who isn’t doing it right, or for the right reason DARES to call themselves vegan? I don’t care that someone doesn’t fully grasp the issues. I’m so happy for those of you who are pristine but I’m happier still for the many animals who won’t suffer just because someone started out with meatless Monday. More will follow, and isn’t that really what we want? Chill out.

  12. Corrie March 6, 2013 at 7:50 pm - Reply

    I think the main thing to keep in mind in this discussion is compassion. I have been saddened by some articles and posts that demonstrate a lack of compassion for people like Alex, or those celebrities who choose to use the label vegan, because I believe that at its core, compassion is what veganism is about. If we have it for animals but not for people, we’ve gotten off track. Yes, it can be messy and cause confusion for people to use terms in different ways, but that is life. It’s the same way in religion; I’m Catholic and have yet to meet another person who uses that label to mean the exact same set of beliefs and practices that I adhere to. I’m a supporter of honest, affirming dialogue about the importance of language and appreciate those here who have offered that; I have learned from you. However I think there are some in the vegan community who could benefit from an invitation to re-connect with their compassion around this issue.

  13. Debby March 6, 2013 at 7:04 pm - Reply

    I’m curious if the for mentioned celebs are actually Vegan? This would mean they do not wear leather, fur, wool etc. or used products with ingredients.derived from animals. I think people throw the word around to much these days, Venus if you cheat then you are not a Vegan; plain and simple! She can say she eats a plant based diet and thats fine; but don’t be a hypocrite and make us true Vegans look like fools!

  14. Muriel G March 6, 2013 at 3:37 pm - Reply

    Sometimes it’s hard to know if someone is vegan for health or for ethical reasons… Because people sometimes find it easier to use the health argument to justify being vegan (even if they are vegan for animals) because society is more tolerant towards health reasons than towards ethical reasons.
    But I agree: someone who doesn’t care about animal exploitation should not be called “Vegan”.

  15. LorriePaige March 6, 2013 at 3:04 pm - Reply

    A person who only doesn’t eat animal products (and is not ethical or environmental) is a vegetarian–at best, a strict vegetarian. If they chose to only not eat meat then they are a lacto-ovo vegetarian. Vegetarianism in ANY way, shape or form is about health/dietary only.

    It has ALWAYS been this way by original definition.

    We vegans are part of the cause of why the word vegan is now erroneously defined these days. When you go to vegan sites, what do you mostly read about? FOOD. Vegan themselves add to the erroneous way in now what the media and celebs thinks of as vegansim being just about what one eats.

    Also, veganism is not a “lifestyle” (as some vegans even say). Veganism is a life. Period. And a life is more than just food.

  16. Paulla March 6, 2013 at 3:00 pm - Reply

    First I just cannot imagine craving meat! But secondly, I went from flexitarian to vegetarian a year ago because my weight his a plateau and I read that recovery time for runners is shorter if you don’t eat meat. That being said, I remember well saying i would never go vegan only to find myself (two months later) going that way. It started just for the weight but the more I read as studied about it the more I evolved. I do my best to make ethical vegan choices but I typically use the term plant-based because of the negativity that do many people associate with the word vegan.

  17. BYOL March 6, 2013 at 2:49 pm - Reply

    I think every time someone chooses to eat plants instead of animals is a victory. Who really cares about a title? And to the point about health vegans not really being vegans, many are very committed to a vegan lifestyle while I know many animal rights activists from the 90s (who still have their “vegan” tattoos) who have gone back to eating meat. Why are we attacking one another when we should be closing ranks and attempting to attack those who eat the Standard American Diet, which is our real opponent.

  18. M. Butterflies Katz March 6, 2013 at 2:43 pm - Reply

    Alexandra was not vegan. Fact. Veganism is not a diet for your own health. That is called a plant-based or plant-powered diet. Veganism going mainstream has become diluted and lost its true meaning. It’s quite sad, really. People are bringing down the true meaning of the word. People who go vegan for the true reason to go vegan; they don’t want to be a part of the demand for exploiting animals – don’t go off of it. Clinton and all the others you mentioned are NOT vegan and never were. I have been an unwavering vegan for 34 years. I know very well what a vegan is.

  19. Jacki March 6, 2013 at 1:49 pm - Reply

    I hadn’t even heard of Alex Jamison until last week. Curiosity got the better of me so I checked out Vegan for Dummies and some chapters include “Standing up For Animals”, “Sticking to Your Guns and Staying Vegan” and “Beyond Food – Embracing the Whole Vegan Lifestyle”, so whatever reasons she gave for going back to eating animals, she knows the issues. I can’t even imagine the psychological gymnastics that takes.

    Saying that, I think there is a huge difference between eating a vegan diet and being a vegan. It was health reasons that made me start eating a vegan diet from a vegetarian one. As I was changing my diet I started reading everything about veganism I could get my hands on, which thankfully included books that talked about AR, the ethics of eating animals, their secretions and using their bodies for clothes. It is for these reasons I will never go back to vegetarianism and I guess that’s the whole issue, how can anyone who knows the truth go back?

    For me being vegan includes the diet, the lifestyle and the ethics. Without all three parts its just a plant based diet and even though that is temporarily good for the animals, I don’t think there is anything worse for the movement than someone claiming to be an ex vegan.

  20. Mandarince March 6, 2013 at 1:45 pm - Reply

    I think there should be a difference between plant-based and vegan. For me, plant-based means that the human being focuses only on himself and the things done for animals and environment are only side effects which this person do not really care about. But being vegan actually means putting oneself aside and focusing on animals and the environment, so that other beings and the planet are not harmed. That’s my motovation… I don’t want another being to be abused because of me, never.
    Sorry for my english btw, since I’m a little bit pissed off after reading the blog of Alex J… for me that’s not craving, it’s simply selfishness…

  21. Jonathan March 6, 2013 at 1:37 pm - Reply

    It seems like there are already plenty of words that accurately describe and categorize the various diets and ways of thinking. Vegan, vegetarian, ovo-vegetarian, lacto-ovo-vegetarian and pescatarian. The latter three should really just go away. Does anyone really care if a person eats mostly plants, but sometimes eats eggs and cheese? Don’t worry about the lacto-ovo-pesca.. they can settle for vegetarian. I think “dietary-vegans” should just label themselves “vegetarians.” The term “vegan” could then be reserved for “ethical-vegans,” and this would allow those who want to label themselves to do so without further explanation. And this hyphen business is getting out of hand. “I’m sometimes-monday-vegan-cheese-tuesday-pesca-ovo-outta-control!”

    And considering that classification of life is what got us into this mess in the first place, one wonders if we should be labeling at all.. Am I the only one that gets a twinkle in his eye when the idea of extinction comes up?

    Back to the topic, what’s the consensus on vegans using old or second hand products that contain material sourced from animals? On one hand, I don’t want to use an animal product and promote to others the idea that it is acceptable, yet on the other it’s more friendly to the environment if I don’t produce more unnecessary waste. For example, I have an old leather belt that works just fine. I could get rid of it and get a faux leather belt. But to an observer, would both not be the same? It’s possible that I would be compelled to point out to everyone (including innocent passersby) that what I’m wearing looks like leather, but is not actually.

  22. Allyson Dwyer March 6, 2013 at 12:59 pm - Reply

    I think that there is a big distinction between a plant-based diet and a vegan, ethical and philosophy driven, diet and as such, there should definitely begin a way to infer distinction between the two.

    I say this because very often in news headlines, I’ll see “x celebrity is no longer vegan!” and the celebrity will say a quick little quote, something along the lines of, “oh I needed some chicken back in my diet.” News items like this appear often, and people read them and see veganism as something that is fickle, or a fad diet similar to Atkins or South Beach. But it isn’t, as there is a whole belief system behind veganism. There’s a difference between a celebrity who says they did it for health, and one like Alicia Silverstone who champions the ethical mindset of veganism. Stories like these seem to dilute the real movement. And veganism is a community. If one person picks and chooses how they wish to address veganism, it seems like they were never really invested to begin with, and so there is a mentality difference.

    And people who do have a diet/health mentality about it seem to not even try or be invested in the ethica aspect. It’s always frustrated me to meet long time vegans or even vegetarians who have no sense of the issues, even after so many years of not consuming meat products. I don’t know how someone can live like that and not learn or grow with their own life decisions. Anyway, as I said, if they choose to not engage in that kind of learning, then I do think there is a stark difference between just plant based and veganism.

  23. KD Traegner March 6, 2013 at 12:50 pm - Reply

    Some people say it doesn’t matter why you’re vegan- it only matters that you are.

    Logic would say that a vegan (me) would agree, right? Well, if you have no ethics about what you are eating then it’ll be pretty damn easy to set it aside at whim. After all, who stays loyal to “a diet?” Not the majority. So, if you are vegan without any ethical considerations, then it’ll be easy for you to become an ex-vegan when the non-vegan cupcakes are passed around the office.

    Does that mean I’m hating on all health vegans? Absolutely not. I appreciate that their vegan diet helps the animals. (That, and I rarely hate on anyone) But if you are a health vegan, why not go all the way? You’ve already proved that you have commitment to veganism through your diet, why not take it further? I’d support you, I’d help you and so would thousands of other vegans out there.

    I guess that doesn’t answer the question, should dietary vegans call themselves vegan? In my opinion, no. If it’s not on one’s plate, but it’s still in one’s closet/home/etc., then one is a vegetarian. Vegetarians consume some animals, not others. It fits.

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HELLO! I'm KD Angle-Traegner.

Writer, activist, and founder of Four Urban Paws Sanctuary. I’m on a mission to help people live a vegan life. Read more about KD…