News, Op - Ed

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


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 Lester

Samantha Lester

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.
Samantha Lester
  • Wonderful points, Samantha! I do sometimes sense a tension between the different kinds of vegans. While I was transitioning to veganism for health reasons, I also learned about the awfulness of factory farming and animal testing. Once I was more aware, my veganism became both a health and animal-rights driven choice. That being said, I sometimes feel apologetic about my brand of veganism because it was a health thing first. As you suggest, it would behoove us all to remember that progress comes in different forms for everyone–and directing others’ attention to the positive points of a vegan diet can be incredibly powerful!

  • Jes Walton

    My friends jokingly call me the “emissions vegan” or the “climate change vegan,” because I’ve chosen a plant-based diet for these reasons. There’s lots of good articles about the major impact of the meat industry on our atmospheric composition, but here’s a good one for starters: My body feels great too, so I often find myself talking about both! We don’t have to be one or the other!

  • My friend told me that what is worse than eating animals is eating their food, it was a bit funny so i struggled to man up. Thank you for your blog, most days i completely relate with current matters in my life. It makes a huge difference in my life.

  • Dan Bukowski

    I agree I am not sure what all of the in-fighting is about between the “ethical vegans” and “health-conscious vegans”. We should just be vegans. I fall into the health-conscious camp and I find nothing wrong with this. At the end of the day, we are living the greatest lifestyle ever, we face many of the same challenges when it comes to nay-sayers coming at us with our lack of protein and depriving ourselves. Veganism is one of those things where the “why” isn’t as important as the fact that we just “are”.


Take care of yourself:
ethics news animal rights opinion

latest stories