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  • Writer's pictureThe Climate Coach

Vegan or plant based diet - what's the difference?

They're the same right? They both just mean eating only food that isn't derived from animals...don't they?

Plant based

A plant based diet is essentially exactly what it says on the tin - a diet derived from plants - so no meat, dairy, fish or eggs. It's also worth noting it's not a diet in terms of trying to lose weight - you can absolutely have very unhealthy as well as very healthy plant based diets. Usually this type of diet is to support climate - because in general (not always) animal products have significantly higher emissions than plants.


Vegan means following a plant based diet as well - but is also slightly broader in terms of it being more of a lifestyle. You may hear people refer to living a "vegan lifestyle" and this includes things broader than just a plant-based diet. The other areas included tend to revolve around avoiding animal exploitation by humans - so for example, vegans may also choose not to visit Zoos, Farms or Aquariums and it also may include other things like medicines or other products that are tested on animals. That's not to say all vegans avoid everything mentioned - but it's just a general aim to avoid animal exploitation as much as possible.

Why it matters?

Unfortunately, there is a lot of stigma around being vegan. Vegan "activists" are often invited to talk shows on radio and TV to discuss Veganism - but the topic has for some reason become very politicised so the debates often get heated and turn into a shouting match. This is in part probably why they keep happening - because it makes good viewing or listening and ultimately gets better ratings. The stigma and politics does seem very bizarre to me because to simplify it, the vast majority of these people are just standing up for and promoting something that they feel strongly about. Of all the topics that are discussed in these types of forums, it's rare to find ones that are so dividing and conflicting. As an example, I don't think I've ever seen similar questioning or criticism for someone being interviewed about trying to prevent human trafficking or child exploitation (and no - I'm not trying to compare those topics directly, I'm just using those to demonstrate a point).

Ok, but whats your point?

Well because of the issues above, you may find stigma when even mentioning the word - like "Do you have a vegan option?" at a restaurant (regardless of whether you actually are vegan or not!) so it's worth knowing. Following a plant based diet doesn't have the same stigma attached (yet!) - so it might be easier to ask for a plant based option in the example above if you wish to avoid any potential conflict. That said, plant based isn't as widely used and some don't realise that when it comes to food, they are broadly the same so you may still need to clarify by saying vegan.

So in summary...

If you are only adjusting your diet for climate (e.g. not for morale or health reasons) and are still visiting Zoos and/or using other products derived from animals, then you are just following a plant based diet rather than living a vegan lifestyle. Diet wise - both are equally great for climate and even if you replace have a few meals a week with vegan or plant based meals - that's still a great step in the right direction.

If you have any thoughts, feedback or ideas you wish to contribute on this or any other topic covered by The Climate Coach - please get in touch, we'd love to hear from you.

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