Types of Vegans (Why There are Really Only 3)

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Spoiler alert: There are only three types of vegans: ethical, religious, and environmental vegans.

I’ll explain what these types are, the importance of knowing the roots of veganism, and why dietary vegans might more properly be termed ‘plant based’ in this article!

P.S.: I’m both a credentialed nutrition expert (aka- dietitian) and vegan, so I have lots of experience on this subject!

Disclaimer: This review is providing information and also the authors opinion. It is not personal dietary advice. Talk to your doctor about any health concerns or dietary changes. See our disclaimers for more details.

Chart that lists the Types of Vegans. The type is on one side, and whether or not they are rooted in non harm towards animal is on the other side (the content is also in the text of the blog post)

What is a Vegan?

A vegan is someone follows a vegan philosophy. This philosophy is rooted in non harm to animals, and inspires a lifestyle change to reduce animal exploitation.

The most common definition comes from the Vegan Society:

“Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”

Source: The Vegan Society

Based on this definition, both diet and non diet practices are a part of of the philosophy and lifestyle we call veganism.

To better understand veganism, we must learn about the roots!

Veganism is rooted in non harm to animals.

In essence, it can be viewed as a body liberation movement. We (as a society) have determined what we can and can’t do with animal bodies, and vegans are pushing back against that through activism (P.S. just living the lifestyle is also activism!).

The roots go far beyond the The Vegan Society’s 1988 definition.

That’s because the concept of non harm to animals dates way back.

Some suggest it might have began as early as when Jainism was introduced with their practice of ahimsa (non violence) (1).

That’s important because a common misconception is that vegans just avoid foods that contain animals – when ‘plant based’ might be a more ‘politically correct’ term for the diet alone.

‘Plant based’ typically means food that mostly or (or 100%) comes from plants – not animals (although there is no set definition).

Types of Vegans

Now that we learned what a vegan actually is, what kind of vegans are there?

I think this is best summed up in what motivates the philosophy. As noted before, veganism is rooted in a non harm philosophy, so we must ask this question when we talk about ‘types of vegans.’

Based on this, the three types of vegans are (FYI- vegans can identify under any or all of these types too!):

  • ethical vegans
  • religious vegans
  • environmental vegans

Want to watch a summary of the three types of vegans? Check out my Youtube Short below!

Ethical Vegans

Ethical vegans advocate for animal rights through a vegan lifestyle and activism.

Most vegans are ethical vegans!

In fact, this term might actually be the umbrella term for the next two types of vegans.

Ethical vegans follow a vegan philosophy for animal liberation (instead of health) as the primary motivation to stay vegans (although both can be present).

The term ‘ethical vegan’ is used often used to distinguish vegans from ‘dietary vegans’ (those who just follow a vegan diet often motivated by health reasons).

Is ethical veganism rooted in the philosophy of non harm to animals (as practically as possible?): Yes!

Religious Vegans

Religious vegans reduce exploitation towards animals as a part of their religious beliefs.

For example, some religions believe killing animals is a sin.

Religions that practice veganism include (FYI- not a comprehensive list, and not all of these individuals identify as vegan):

  • Jainism: A component of this religion is non violence to all living beings – called ‘ahimsa’ (2). Some Jains also avoid root vegetables for the prevention of killing small insects and uprooting the vegetables.
  • Buddhism: Many Buddhists believe in karma, rebirth, and practice ahimsa. It is thought by some that that harming sentient beings produces bad karma (3).
  • Seventh Day Adventism: Many of these Christians follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, and some are vegan. A plant based diet is an important topic in this religious group that advocates a return to a diet where food was provided from the land and animals were not killed (such as pictured in the Garden of Eden from first book of the bible-Genesis(4)).

Personal story: I identify as a Seventh Day Adventist!

My reasons for veganism stem from ethical veganism, and, as a Christian, I also feel like my beliefs align.

Please note that these are my personal thoughts of scripture.

Through my lenses, I personally believe that in heaven, animals will not be consumed or used for clothing, furniture, etc. (the Bible says that there will be no more death in heaven).

“and he shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall be no more; neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, any more: the first things are passed away.”

Source: Revelation 21: 4 The Bible (ASV version)

I also believe through scripture that God created all animals, so why should consume them- given that I can be healthy without animal products?

Is religious veganism rooted in the philosophy of non harm to animals (as practically as possible?): Yes! In fact, veganism likely started from religions! We just didn’t have a definition like we do today.

Environmental Vegans

Some individuals choose to follow a vegan lifestyle veganism out of concern for the environment.

Many environmental experts and researchers agree that plant based foods are better for the environment(5).

There is also growing recognition that animals used for things – like clothing and furniture create a large carbon footprint.

Going vegan solely for the environment could have some spiritual ties as well. Some individuals may be environmentally motivated to honor natural ecosystems.

They believe that in order to help preserve the planet, non harm towards animals should be practically respected as well.

Is environmental veganism rooted in the philosophy of non harm to animals (as practically as possible?): Yes- while not obviously related, they are connected. Some environmentally motivated vegans recognize the importance of preserving the ecosystem, and practice non harm towards animals as much as possible to also help preserve the planet.

This graphic lists the types of vegans (ethical, religious, environmental and (conditionally) dietary, and differences between them. (this is already explained in the post)

What About ‘Dietary Vegans’ or ‘Health Vegans?

Dietary vegans (sometimes also called ‘health vegans’) are individuals who follow a vegan (or mostly) vegan diet.

However, they may or may not deliberately practice other lifestyle factors associated with veganism.

For example, dietary vegans might still choose to go hunting or buy clothing that is made from animals.

According to this definition above, that wouldn’t be aligned with a vegan lifestyle (unless there was some special circumstance).

Again, the key question to ask is:

What is the motivation?

Is it rooted in a philosophy of non harm to animals (as practically as possible)?

While there certainly may be exceptions, ‘Health’ or ‘dietary’ vegans likely follow a vegan diet for health reasons instead of body liberation for animals.

Could there be other reasons why someone only follows a vegan diet? Of course!

In fact, I still called myself vegan when I was using animal products in the my lifestyle- I simply didn’t know or take the time to learn. (you can read more about my vegan journey here).

While a healthy vegan diet in itself isn’t “bad,” following this diet without other lifestyle changes is missing out on the philosophical aspect.

So while health reasons can be behind veganism, in my experience, they are more often more of a gateway to the philosophy.

If we forget the roots of veganism, it’s easy to just make it out as a diet, when it’s clearly more than that!

Is dietary veganism rooted in the philosophy of non harm to animals (as practically as possible?): Not by default! Accounting for only the dietary aspects of veganism leaves a wide gap in the philosophy. So while this type may be rooted in non harm towards animals, it may also just be someone who consumes a vegan diet.

Can You Choose a Vegan Diet For Health Reasons Though?

A vegan diet can certainly be healthy, and can be chosen for health reasons (please work with your doctor and dietitian if you have questions about this).

However, it’s not true that a vegan diet is the only way to be healthy (and this is coming from a dietitian who happens to be an ethical vegan)!

We just don’t have the research to definitively say that including some amount of animal products isn’t healthy.

And there are plenty of healthy diets that include some animal products, like the Mediterranean diet.

Types of Vegan Diets

There are many types of diets that can be classified as vegan.

The thing that they all have in common is that they exclude animal products including:

Vegan food includes:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Starches
  • Grains
  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Oils and other fats

Under that broad category of “vegan diet, ” there are even more restrictive versions.

Here’s a few vegan diets you may have heard of.

  • Whole food vegan diet – this diet focuses on whole plant based foods that are minimally processed. While mushrooms aren’t technically plants, they are often included as well.
  • Gluten free vegan dietNot all vegan diets are gluten free, but you can be gluten free and vegan. Foods with gluten include (but are not limited to): wheat, barley, rye, triticale.
  • Raw vegan diet: This diet includes only (or primarily includes) raw vegan foods. This means that the food is not cooked. Some variations include have some amount of cooked foods, like the Raw Till 4 diet or paleo vegan diet.
  • Fruitarian: This diet primarily focuses on fruit.

Do Types of Vegans Really Matter?

Text reads: Types of Vegans (+ why there are only three). There is a picture of Christine on a couch with a cat. Second picture of a falafel salad.

Ok, so maybe you read through this and are wondering: but does any of this really matter?

Do we really need to define what a vegan is? And what the types are?

There are pros and cons to defining what a vegan truly is:

Pros

  • It recognizes that veganism is more than a diet.
  • It helps distinguishes the difference between a philosophy and solely being on a plant based diet.
  • It helps to clarify boundaries, not only in terms of diet, but in entertainment, clothing, etc.

Cons

  • Some will take the definition literally and feel inadequate (however- there are no perfect vegans)!
  • Going by one set definition may not recognize nuance within veganism.

I actually don’t care if you call yourself vegan- whatever your reason is (shocked?).

My point (and the point of this opinion piece) is to address the roots of veganism. Not to point fingers or hold one type of vegan on a pedestal.

Doing that creates something I like to call: the vegan police.

No one is perfect. When we come from a place of judgement, we fail to recognize that many of us hold vegan values, whether we are aware of it or not.

How we practice them may look different.

Also, some of us even know what standard practices is within the animal industry.

We can’t pretend to know everyone’s situation, and how we practice veganism might look different. And factors like food access and mental health can not be ignored.

Still, the label does help to clarify the vegan philosophy which is rooted in non harm (as practically as possible).

So, I can’t pretend to tell you how to ‘vegan.’

I’ll leave you with this profound quote:

“The question is not, Can they reason?, nor Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?”

Jermey Bentham

Did you learn that veganism is more than what vegans eat? Leave a comment and let me know!
And while you’re here, why not explore the blog?
You’ll find more vegan content including topics like:
How to Transition to Veganism  
Are Vegans Skinny? 
 Vegan Challenges we Don’t talk about Enough

Vegan Grocery Shopping (How to)
Plant Based Diet Books
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9 thoughts on “Types of Vegans (Why There are Really Only 3)”

  1. I never thought there were religious vegans. One of my best friends is an ethical vegan, and I respect her position. Thank you for an interesting post.

  2. Pastor Natalie

    I really appreciate all the information on this topic and did not realize there were a variety of types of vegans. Thank you for sharing 😊

  3. Thanks for all this great info! I try to avoid animal products when I can but some of the info you provided I was unaware of, like honey is not considered vegan. Thanks for sharing!

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