Introduction to Veganism

Vegans don't participate in the exploitation of nonhuman animals. In other words, they avoid anything that requires nonhuman animals — birds, reptiles, fishes, insects, and so on — to be used or killed. This includes food, clothing, entertainment, and transportation.

Vegans don't: a] Eat chickens' eggs, pigs' flesh, cows' milk, or bees' honey. b] Wear anyone's skin (‘leather’), hair (‘wool’), teeth (‘ivory’), fibers (‘silk’), or feathers (‘down’). c] Patronize zoos, aquariums, rodeos, or horse-drawn carriages. e] Buy cats or dogs from breeders (though adoption and fostering are important). d] Use cleaning products tested on mice or rabbits. f] Hunt or fish.

Why Should I be Vegan?Right now millions of nonhuman animals are being used — treated like things or resources. Each is a unique individual who values his or her life. Each wants to avoid harm and feel contentment. You know this well if you have ever cared for cats or dogs. (Chickens love sunbeams and snuggling no less!) Experiences aside, you probably think we should hurt animals only when necessary. Reflecting on this intuition will help you understand our obligation to be vegan.

Right now millions of nonhuman animals are being used — treated like things or resources. Each is a unique individual who values his or her life. Each wants to avoid harm and feel contentment. You know this well if you have cared for cats and dogs. (Chickens love sunbeams and snuggling no less!) Experiences aside, you probably think we should hurt animals only when necessary. Reflecting on this intuition will help you understand our obligation to be vegan.


Imagine that I have caged squirrels in my bedroom. I enjoy starving them to death and listening to their mournful cries. I can have new victims trapped and delivered with one phone call, and my family has done this for generations. For these reasons I describe my behavior as pleasurable, convenient, and traditional. Yet it's quite clearly wrong. Why? Because squirrels are being needlessly harmed. This evaluation suggests two simple principles:

1) We shouldn't cause nonhuman animals to unnecessarily suffer or die.
2) Pleasure, convenience, and tradition can't make something necessary.

These principles are based on beliefs held by nearly everyone, but they don't match most people's behaviors. So the question is: What would happen if we applied them not only to exceptional cases, like my squirrels, but also to our daily lives? We would realize that over 99.9% of the suffering and death we impose on nonhuman animals isn't necessary in any sense. Most nonhuman exploitation can only be defended on grounds of pleasure, convenience, or tradition.

Excluding dire and unusual circumstances, humans have no need to: a] Eat an animal's flesh or secretions. b] Wear or use an animal's skin, hair, teeth, fibers, or feathers. c] Patronize zoos, rodeos, aquariums, horse-drawn carriages, circuses and movies that involve nonhuman performers, or events where animals are made to fight or race. d] Breed or capture nonhumans for ‘pets’ or ‘guards’. e] Perform dissections or use products tested on nonhumans. f] Hunt or fish.

Alternatives are readily available. Our food, clothes, and cleaning products can be derived from plants, minerals, and synthetics. We have each other for protection and machines for transport. We can entertain ourselves with music, games, books, crafts, and sports. Of course, there might come a time when your only alternative is boredom or mild discomfort. Choose it rather than participate in violence against the innocent. Always keep the victims in mind!

Correct the inconsistency between what you claim to believe and what you actually do. You have that power, and you have that responsibility. Allow your daily behaviors to show respect for the millions of unique individuals who are suffering and dying for no good reason.

How do I Become Vegan?Start today! Becoming vegan isn't difficult, but it does involve some effort and planning. You can anticipate reading labels, asking questions, and discussing your new behaviors. Eventually, veganism will become second nature. If you want, it can fade into the background of your life. Vegans certainly don't feel burdened every time they eat, shop, or seek entertainment.

Never forget the reasons behind your decision. Veganism is a matter of justice, not of ‘mercy’ or ‘compassion’. It should be expected of us because it's morally right, not regarded as a praiseworthy option. Vegans aren't heroes. They are just people doing the minimum required to show respect for nonhuman animals. The information below can help you join them.

Food: Fruits, grains, beans, seeds, fungi, vegetables, spices, and herbs are widely available and come in countless varieties. There is no shortage of resources to help you unleash their culinary potential. Try cookbooks like "Teff Love" by Kittee Berns, "The Joy of Vegan Baking" by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, and "One-Dish Vegan" by Robin Robertson. Explore blogs like Vegan Richa, Hell Yeah it's Vegan!, and Vegan Dad. Watch videos from Tasha Edwards, Heather Nicholds, and Cooking With Plants.

Restaurants: Search for vegan-friendly places to eat with Happy Cow, UrbanSpoon, and Yelp. Never hesitate to communicate your needs or ask your server questions.

Nutrition: Reference the book "Becoming Vegan" by registered dietitians Vesanto Melina and Brenda Davis, a position paper by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) [pdf], a pamphlet by the International Vegan Association [html or pdf], or a website by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

Shopping: Food, clothing, and toiletries can often be purchased from traditional sources. There are also specialty shops like Vegan Essentials, Pangea Vegan Store, and Vegan Cuts.

Living with Others: Tell your friends, family, and coworkers as soon as possible. If you are forthright about your veganism, and exactly what it entails, you can usually avoid awkward social situations. For more advice read the book "Vegan Freak" by Bob and Jenna Torres.

Due Diligence: Vitamin D3, carmine, and shellac are among the substances derived from nonhuman animals that aren't always obvious. Decode ingredient lists by searching Google or referencing a glossary by VRG. You will quickly become knowledgeable about what we put in processed foods. Some ingredients might be animal-derived (like stearates). Avoid them or ask the manufacturer.

Taking Medicine: Read this note on compounding pharmacies by Gary Francione.

Alcohol & Sugar: Bees' honey and isinglass, a gelatin derived from fishes' swim bladders, are among the exploitive ingredients and filtering agents used in some alcohol. Barnivore lists brands to avoid. White sugar derived from sugarcane is often filtered with charcoal made of cows' bones [pdf]. This isn't true of agave, molasses, turbinado, and other sweeteners. Avoid sugar of unknown origins. Sugar that is certified organic or derived from beets wasn't bleached with bone char.

More: How Do I Go Vegan, Vegan Starter Kit, International Vegan Association, and Go Vegan Radio.

Exploiting nonhumans is never okay, and most people can become vegan right away. But if you believe you must take it slow, consider transitioning over the course of a week or two. Maybe start by changing what you eat for breakfast. Questions? nathan {@} candidhominid {.} com

Possible Questions
What about vegetarianism?    response
Do vegans have to be perfect?    response
What kind of future do you want?    response
How do milk and eggs hurt animals?    response
Will becoming vegan change anything?    response
What about health and the environment?    response
Doesn't ‘vegan’ mean something else?    response
What is the history of veganism?    response
How is ‘vegan’ pronounced?    response

Note: Many ideas on this page are influenced by the Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights developed by Gary Francione. Links to external sites are provided to help you with various aspects of becoming vegan. It's possible they lead to some non-abolitionist content that I oppose.