The other day I received an email from a non-vegan acquaintance telling me about the delicious vegan food served at a local festival. The food was advertised as “vegetarian,” however, and she found that well, confusing.
“If they were serving vegan food,” she asked, “why not just say vegan?”
Many of us have noticed this trend lately: advocates deliberately using the term “vegetarian” in place of “vegan.” For some, like Bruce Friedrich, it’s a strategic tactic. He finds he’s able to reach a broader spectrum of people and have more fruitful conversations that way. “Vegetarian” is more inviting, less scary-sounding, he argues, while still being technically correct.
For others, the use of the term “vegetarian” has to do with reclaiming the word, since early vegetarians were in fact vegan. Over time, the word became co-opted by people who described themselves as vegetarian even though they still ate eggs and dairy.
While I can understand the arguments for using the word “vegetarian” instead of “vegan,” I find that it confuses people and makes the spread of veganism even more unlikely. As British activist Louise Wallis notes, how can we “expect others to embrace veganism when we won’t even embrace the word?”
When the public sees vegan organizations advocating “vegetarian” in their materials (even if the content is, in fact, vegan), they think vegetarianism is “enough.” Which, of course, it isn’t. The egg and dairy industries are among the absolute worst in terms of animal cruelty. (If you have not looked into these industries, please do. It’s beyond shocking. Just google “male chicks,” “battery cages” or “dairy veal connection” for starters.) Telling people about the horrors of dairy and egg production and then handing them a brochure that urges them to “go vegetarian” is both confusing and misleading.
And if it’s true that the term “vegan” is unfamiliar and off-putting to people, the only way to remedy that is to normalize it through continued use in our everyday conversations and outreach. Shying away from the term only guarantees that it will retain any stigmas that may currently be associated with it.
I understand that some people transition towards veganism slowly and that vegetarianism can be a stage in that transition. I support and applaud any efforts people make to stop eating animal products. (And certainly it’s preferable to go vegetarian than to do nothing at all.)
But I think it’s important to be clear. If we’re going to use words to communicate effectively, let’s use the correct ones. If we mean vegan, let’s say vegan. I, like Will Tuttle, “Love That Word“! If we want a vegan world, let’s say so. After all, if we can’t even say it, how can we expect to achieve it?
Image by Rachael Herbert