Colin and Woody. Photo courtesy of Woodstock Farm Sanctuary.

Food Empowerment Project’s mission is to help people understand how their food choices can change the world – for the good.

What does “vegan” mean?

A vegan is someone who avoids consuming anything which comes from a non-human animal or an insect. This includes chickens, eggs, fish, milk, lobster, and honey.

Food Empowerment Project (F.E.P.) promotes veganism for ethical reasons and we want to make sure you are fully informed about this compassionate choice.

Vegans avoid leather, wool, silk, and honey because these products depend on the same kind of exploitation and cruelty that animals farmed for food suffer and have similarly negative consequences for the environment. Vegans also avoid purchasing products that contain animal ingredients and products that were tested on animals. They also seek not to participate in the suffering of animals used in entertainment, such as marine parks and circuses that have animals.

The term vegan is also used to differentiate consumer items which contain only plant-based ingredients (and are not tested on animals) from those which involve animal ingredients (such as: “This cake is vegan; it does not contain eggs or milk”).

Why go vegan?

People go vegan for a variety of reasons, but from F.E.P.’s perspective, the main reason to go vegan is compassion for animals. Animals are sentient beings: they are individuals who are uniquely aware of their own existence, who feel pain and pleasure, and who bond with others in systems of kinship that they value deeply and grieve for when they are lost.

It’s clear that they suffer when they are confined, forcibly separated from their families, have their reproduction controlled, and are mutilated and killed in the routine practices of agriculture that involve animals (Food Empowerment Project explains in great detail the fate of various “farm” animals on our website —see links under “What happens to animals raised as commodities?” below).

Veganism is also better for human workers and the world we live in. Jobs in slaughterhouses and dairy farms, for instance, consistently rank among the most dangerous in the U.S.: animals in fear or pain may try desperately to escape, injuring the workers in the process; animal agriculture industries are notorious for lax safety and health standards; and, of course, the standard tools of violence used in the industry carry their own risk to workers (see our pages on Slaughterhouse Workers* and Factory Farm Workers.*) The raising and slaughtering of animals is also catastrophically harmful to the environment (see our Pollution and Environmental Racism pages).

*Food Empowerment Project also readily acknowledges the abusive treatment of produce workers and advocates for them, as well.

How to go vegan

The basic idea of being vegan is to purchase and consume only items which are 100% plant-based and avoid all activities that support animal abuse and exploitation.

  • Switching to a healthy vegan diet is not simply a matter of removing animal foods while keeping the same diet you had before. Instead, you will need to reinvent your diet, such that you are eating a wide array of fruits, vegetables, and plant-based products. And we know this is not easy for everyone, especially for those living in areas characterized by limited access to these foods.
  • When shopping for non-food items, such as clothing, bedding, furniture, and body care products, it is important to understand what your items are made from. Often the salesperson or manufacturer can help you with this, but you might also consider buying from one of the growing number of online vegan stores (which carry a wide variety of shoes, bags, belts, cosmetics, supplements, body care items, food, and clothing).
    • For textiles such as a sweater, rug, or mattress, there is generally a label which lists the materials (some plant and synthetic textiles are acetate, acrylic, cotton, hemp, linen, modal, nylon, rayon, and spandex). Fortunately, vegan clothing is easy to find (most T-shirts and jeans are cotton).
    • Shoes are also generally labeled. Many include leather, but they’re often made from plant- or synthetic-based materials like hemp or “man-made materials.”
    • For soap, moisturizer, shaving cream, toothpaste, deodorant, and other body care products, you can consult the ingredients list, but that may be confusing, as many body care ingredients have chemical names. Instead, you may want to look for a “vegan” or “100% plant-based” label. And always make sure the products are not tested on animals. Contact the company if you are not sure.
    • For cosmetics, sadly, many mainstream brands are not vegan, as carmine (crushed beetles), beeswax, and other animal products are widespread. In this case, your best option is to locate some manufacturers which offer vegan lines; again, the internet is a great resource. Keep in mind that most makeup brushes are made from squirrel or other animal fur, so be sure to get synthetic brushes. (Many cosmetics sold in the U.S. are tested on animals, though as of 2013, no cosmetics sold in the E.U. are.)

As a new vegan, the important thing is to make your best effort and to eliminate the obvious animal-derived ingredients from your shopping cart. Over time, you will become more comfortable with your lifestyle and gradually learn to eliminate the less obvious ingredients, as well.

Is a vegan diet healthy?

Yes, a vegan diet is healthy and appropriate for all kinds of people of various ages. In fact, “It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.” [1]

What happens to animals raised as commodities?

Animals used for their reproductive secretions (“dairy”):

Animals used for their flesh (“meat”):

One final note: In the face of growing consumer awareness about the horrors of animal agriculture, these industries have increasingly tried to portray their treatment of animals as “humane,” using terms like “free-range” and “cage-free,” among others. These terms hide more than they reveal: there’s nothing “humane” about these animals’ lives, or deaths.

Find out more in the Humane Myths section.

[1] Position of the American Dietetic Association: vegetarian diets.