“Plant-based” vs “vegan”: Burger King highlights the difference in food diet labels

samfloy~18 January 2020 /Philosophies

This week we’re looking at the interesting distinction between people who are “vegan” and those who identify as having a “plant-based diet”.

At first glance, the two are synonymous, but once you scratch the surface a little, some fundamental differences emerge.

What does it mean to be “vegan”?

People I know who have recently begun a diet of not eating animal products have almost always slightly galled at being labeled a vegan.

To me at least, there’s an association of some sort of political agenda when someone is called a vegan. Or at least, that the welfare of animals is the highest priority in the reasons for choosing such a lifestyle (amongst, say, health benefits, environmental reasons).

As such, I believe, vegans would never wear products made of leather.

To be called a vegan can often conjure stereotypes of being a gaunt protester with dreadlocks campaigning to save the squirrels.

“Plant-based” somehow seems more vogue

Assuming that the negative associations of being called a “vegan” were a barrier to people adopting an animal-free diet, the movement had an image problem.

This seems to have been overcome with the terminology “plant-based” which essentially promotes the same food choices, but instead hones in on what people eat.

Popularity in such an approach includes documentaries such as The Game Changers (elite athletes adopting a plant-based diet) and Cowspiracy (environmental costs of producing meat).

When plant-based ≠ vegan

Burger King caused some controversy when their new “Rebel Whopper” (made completely of plants) was deemed unsuitable for vegetarians or vegans.

Whilst the burger itself was meat-free, it is cooked in the same fryer as meat burgers.

Some vegan customers are outraged, though BK responded by saying they were focused on people trying to reduce their meat consumption, rather than those following the vegan diet.

A proliferation of labels

This begins to highlight the myriad ways in which people can describe their “reduced animal products diet”.

For example: Vegetarian, Lacto-vegetarian, Ovo-vegetarian, Semi-Vegetarian, Flexitarian / Flexan, Part-time Vegetarian / Vegan, Pescetarian, Pollotarian, Vegan, Plant-based Vegan, Raw Vegan, Raw Till 4, High Carb Low Fat Vegan, The Starch Solution Vegan, Fruitarian, Paleo Vegan / Pegan, Gluten free Vegan, Low FODMAP Vegan, Freegan, Mono-islands *

I’d personally refer to myself as a “default vegetarian“.

The difficulty seems to be using a catch-all term to describe people who may have slightly differing motives/ ways in which they eat.

When something like “vegan” is used, it can miss the mark on some of the nuances that other people may believe it means and end up alienating those who don’t fully subscribe.

Anyway, if anyone has any thoughts on how to talk about the topic so to as avoiding conflicts of understanding, I’d be interested to hear!

* I can’t help feeling this would be better represented in some sort of Venn diagram of different food groups


In other news…

I got some good advice on how to appreciate art this week. In our Danish class, we visited a museum, and I was chatting with one of my classmates who was engrossed in a Grecian sculpture.

She said whether I, too, could appreciate the art piece to which I said a lot of it probably passes me by.

That’s understandable, she said and gave me some tips to appreciate “classical art” were:

Artwork from long ago (that is still around today) was static and therefore to tell the story, the artist had to leave clues in the minutia of how it is put together.

For example, in the facial expressions of the people featured, or the clothes they’re wearing, or the other objects in the piece.

Looking out for this requires zooming in on the detail, and then out again on the “big picture”, and asking yourself what the artist was trying to say with their limited toolkit, and gets you into the piece rather than just “Oh, that’s just another statue/ battle/ countryside”.

I’ll give this approach a go on my next museum trip…


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