The word vegan refers to a food or material free from any animal products: no meat, milk, eggs, honey, wool, goose down, or leather. Animal-derived byproducts, from whey to lard to gelatin, are likewise off the table. Vegans typically also go out of their way to avoid cosmetics that are tested on animals.
A vegan lifestyle carries at least three benefits: it avoids animal mistreatment and slaughter, may offer certain health advantages, and is also likely to reduce your environmental footprint.
The word Vegan was coined in 1944 in Great Britain by Donald Watson. Here’s Watson from that year, in the first issue of The Vegan News, proposing that his readers embrace the word, or come up with a better one, as the basis for a new social movement.
We should all consider carefully what our Group, and our magazine, and ourselves, shall be called. ‘Non-dairy’ has become established as a generally understood colloquialism, but like ‘non-lacto’ it is too negative. Moreover it does not imply that we are opposed to the use of eggs as food. We need a name that suggests what we do eat, and if possible one that conveys the idea that even with all animal foods taboo, Nature still offers us a bewildering assortment from which to choose. ‘Vegetarian’ and ‘Fruitarian’ are already associated with societies that allow the ‘fruits’ (!) of cows and fowls, therefore it seems we must make a new and appropriate word. As this first issue of our periodical had to be named, I have used the title “The Vegan News”. Should we adopt this, our diet will soon become known as a VEGAN diet, and we should aspire to the rank of VEGANS. Members’ suggestions will be welcomed. The virtue of having a short title is best known to those of us who, as secretaries of vegetarian societies have to type or write the word vegetarian thousands of times a year!
If you want to read how veganism went from an obscure concept to a global force, check out A Vegan History: 1944-2010.