Opinion: Ethical Vegan vs. Health Vegan - Does It Matter?

August 25, 2014

Recently, a vegan fitness guru that I follow on Instagram posted about animal cruelty in circuses and raised a call to arms against these practices. I personally support the anti-circus movement but was surprised to see somebody complaining that they follow this person’s Instagram account for healthy vegan recipes, NOT for, shall we say, vegangelicalism. Perhaps I was naive in thinking that people who adopt a vegan diet would also support animal rights causes. Perhaps the person who posted that comment is not representative of health-based vegans. In either case, it became clear to me that there is, to some extent, an ideological rift between those who are vegan for health reasons and those who are vegan for ethical reasons. Furthermore, those who are vegan for ethical reasons are often viewed by the “other half” as militant extremists. I am personally a vegan for ethical reasons, though I do enjoy the health benefits that veganism offers. I’m willing to say that vegans can agree to disagree, at least for now, and try to work together in the name of a greater good. Just because the motives for adopting a plant-based diet are different, doesn’t mean we cannot identify with one another–and here are three reasons why.

Opinion: Does It Matter Whether You're Health or Ethical Vegan?

1. Animals and people will feel better for it.

Regardless of one’s motivations for going vegan, the end goal is still a good one: encourage more people to eat vegan which results in healthier humans and happier animals in the long term. From an ethical standpoint, veganism is about the difference that individuals can make by decreasing the amount of suffering they cause as well as spreading the word about veganism to encourage others to adopt the lifestyle. Thus, it is in the interest of ethical vegans to encourage others to try plant-based diet, whether for health, the environment, or the animals. Health-based vegans likewise benefit from spreading a positive message about the lifestyle–so ultimately, both groups want more people to try and adopt veganism.

2. Both sides will better understand one another.

I love myself some vegan cupcakes, no lie. So learning more about the health-related reasons for going vegan is a continually educational experience for me. I love learning about the health benefits of a vegan diet and always striving to do better for myself. I also believe that people who are vegan for health reasons only could stand to learn a bit about the treatment of animals in the food industry and factory farming. Sure, it’s not appropriate to give unsolicited advice on diets, but if you’re discussing veganism with a fellow vegan or someone who’s interested in becoming one, there’s no reason not to bring up the ethical benefits of veganism, too!

3. Approaching veganism from a variety of perspectives is more likely to influence others to become vegan.

Let’s be honest. You won’t convince anyone to cut their meat habits by telling them meat is murder (any Smiths fans in the house?). People don’t want to be shamed or guilt-tripped into things, so the most effective way to discuss veganism with omnivores is with a positive attitude and to focus on the healthful aspects of veganism. But sometimes you may find people who love animals and are open to learning about the ethical reasons, in which case it’s helpful to discuss these benefits of veganism and how it helps animals. Know your audience and don’t proselytize so you don’t come off like a Bible salesman!


What motivated you to become vegan? Do you feel that there is unnecessary tension between the two major vegan groups? Or do you think it’s more fluid? 


Photo: Annie Smith Co on Etsy

Samantha is a vegan professional in the tech industry living in Austin, Texas with her boyfriend. Her background is in library & information science and classical studies. She loves cooking, biking, movies, reading, the science fiction & horror genres, crafting, thrifting, and the occasional video game. Check her out on Pinterest and Google+. You can also reach her at lestersn [at] gmail [dot] com.


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