In my article “When is a plant-based diet not plant-based and what about health?“, I expressed concern about the fact that Melbourne-based food sciences academic, Katherine Livingstone, had indicated that plant-based diets could legitimately contain meat and dairy products.

In relation to diet, I believe most vegans regard the terms “vegan” and “plant-based” as synonymous. Examples are easy to find, including:

Will Tuttle, author of “The World Peace Diet”

Tuttle refers to “a plant-based way of eating” under the heading “The Vegan Revolution”. He uses the term “plant-based” more than sixty times in his book, usually with the word “diet”, but also with “food”, “meals”, “eating”, “way of eating” and others, and argues strongly against the use of egg and dairy products.

Beyond Meat, a company producing only vegan products

The company refers to its products as “plant-based”.

On its FAQ page, it poses the question: “Beyond Meat® looks just like meat. Is it really vegan?”

The response: “Absolutely. Beyond Meat® products are 100% vegan.”

Beyond Meat has received widespread media intention, including (but not limited to): CNN; Forbes; Fortune; Fox Business; LA Times; New York Times; Wall Street Journal; and Washington Post.

Australian campaign group, Animal Liberation Victoria (ALV)

The term “plant-based” appears dozens of times on ALV’s stand-alone “Vegan Easy” website (including on the page “Why Vegan” and on pages highlighting vegan businesses), and many times on its main website.

A response to my article caused me to look into the issue further. It appeared on the “Cellular” website, which I had not heard of previously. [Footnote]

I was unimpressed with various aspects of the Cellular article, including the fact that the author used the main image from my article and misspelt my name. (Both issues were unchanged at the time of posting this article.)

However, to the extent there are competing views among well-credentialed authors on the subject, the Cellular author had reasonable grounds for an alternative view.

He linked to another article partially addressing the issue, by Martica Heaner, which appeared on the website of the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies. Heaner focused initially on the terms “vegan” and “whole food, plant-based” but also commented on “plant-based”.

She noted that the concept “appears to have been co-opted by many in the non-vegan world”. That notion is consistent with the concern I had expressed regarding potential confusion among consumers.

Nevertheless, those who take the position that the term “plant-based” allows for some animal products may justify their approach through a strict interpretation of the word “base”. For example, the word is defined by the Oxford dictionary as:

“A main or important element or ingredient to which other things are added”

Heaner indicated that prominent author Marion Nestle, from the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, re-defined the term “plant-based” when she said in an interview that it “does not necessarily mean vegan, which entirely excludes animal products”.

Other academics who appear to have adopted a similar position include:

  • Frank B Hu of the Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health. Hu distinguishes between “plant-based” and “strict vegetarian” diets.
  • David Pimentel and Marcia Pimentel from Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Cornell University. They have referred to the lactoovovegetarian diet (which includes egg and dairy products) as plant-based.
  • Emma Lea, Anthony Worsley and David Crawford from (like Katherine Livingstone) the School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences at Deakin University. They define a plant-based diet as “an eating pattern that is dominated by fresh or minimally processed plant foods and decreased consumption of meat, eggs and dairy products”.

Another relevant point is that some products consumed by many vegans are not plants or derived from plants. For example, mushrooms are fungi.

Conclusion

To assist in conveying a clear message, I recommend that those who promote a vegan lifestyle or vegan diet avoid using the term “plant-based”.

With benefits for all animals (including humans) and the environment, it should be natural to express and perceive the term “vegan” in an extremely positive sense, and those of us who adopt and promote the lifestyle should be proud to use it.

Author

Paul Mahony

Footnote

The response to my article appeared without an author’s name on the “Cellular” website. The “About” page refers to the site’s author as Rico.

The Cellular article also criticised various aspects of my involvement with the animal rights group Melbourne Pig Save. I will respond separately to those comments.

References

Livingstone, K., “Why you should eat a plant-based diet, but that doesn’t mean being a vegetarian”, 13 July 2017, https://theconversation.com/why-you-should-eat-a-plant-based-diet-but-that-doesnt-mean-being-a-vegetarian-78470#

Heaner, M., “Vegan, Plant-Based Diet or… What Label Works?”, T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies, 16 Oct 2015, http://nutritionstudies.org/vegan-plant-based-diet-or-what-label-works/ (The article was utilised for the Cellular article.)

Tuttle, W. “The World Peace Diet”, Lantern Books, 2005, http://www.theworldpeacediet.com/

Hu, F.B., “Plant-based foods and prevention of cardiovascular disease: an overview”, Am J Clin Nutr 2003;78(suppl):544S–51S, http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/78/3/544S.long

Pimentel, D. & Pimentel M. “Sustainability of meat-based and plant-based diets and the environment”, Am J Clin Nutr 2003;78(suppl):660S–3S, http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/78/3/660S.full

Lea, E.J., Worsley, A., Crawford, D., “Consumers’ readiness to eat a plant-based diet”, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2006) 60, 342–351 (2006), doi:10.1038/sj.ejcn.1602320, https://www.nature.com/articles/1602320

Image

saschanti17, “Healthy homemade chickpea and veggies salad, diet, vegetarian, vegan food, vitamin snack”, Shutterstock