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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The logo of the world's first Vegan Society, registered in 1944
The logo of the world's first Vegan Society, registered in 1944

Veganism (also known as strict vegetarianism or pure vegetarianism) is a philosophy and lifestyle that avoids using animals and animal products for food, clothing and other purposes. In practice, a vegan (an adherent of veganism) commits to the abstention from consumption or use of animal products, including meat, fish, and poultry, animal gelatin, honey, eggs and dairy products, as well as articles made of silk, fur, wool, bone, leather, feathers, pearls, nacre, coral, sponges and other materials of animal origin. Most vegans also avoid products that have been tested on animals. People become vegans for a variety of reasons, including ethical concerns for animal rights or the environment, as well as more personal reasons such as perceived health benefits and spiritual or religious concerns.[1][2]

A 2002 Time/CNN poll, found that 4% of American adults consider themselves vegetarians, and 5% of self-described vegetarians consider themselves vegans.[1] This suggests that 0.2% of American adults are vegans. Also in 2002, the UK Food Standards Agency reported that 5% of respondents self-identified as vegetarian or vegan. Though 29% of that 5% said they avoided "all animal products" only 5% reported avoiding dairy.[2] Based on these figures, approximately 0.25% of the UK population follow a vegan diet. The Times estimates there are 250,000 vegans in Britain.[3]


The word vegan, usually pronounced [ˈviːgən], was originally derived from "vegetarian" in 1944 when Elsie Shrigley and Donald Watson, frustrated that the term "vegetarianism" had come to include the eating of dairy products, founded the UK Vegan Society. They combined the first three and last two letters of vegetarian to form "vegan", which they saw as "the beginning and end of vegetarian".[4] The British Vegan Society defines veganism as:

A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude — as far as is possible and practical — 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 humans, animals and the environment. [In dietary terms the society defines Veganism as] The practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.

—Vegan Society[5]

Other vegan societies use similar definitions.[6][7][8]

The term "animal product" in a vegan context refers to material derived from non-human animals for human use or consumption. Human breast milk for example is acceptable when voluntarily used for human babies, but by comparison when a human being drinks a cow's milk, it is regarded as the consumption of an "animal product". Animal products include meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, dairy products, fur, leather, wool, pearls, and nacre (mother of pearl), among other things. By-products include gelatin, lanolin, rennet, and whey. Items derived from insects include items such as silk, honey, beeswax, shellac and cochineal.

Some vegans avoid cane sugar that has been filtered with bone char and will not drink beer or wine clarified with albumen, animal blood, or isinglass, because though these are not present in the final product, they are still used in the process. However, the group Vegan Outreach argues that the rejection of these items because of the process by which they were obtained misses the point of veganism[9]. Vegans also avoid alcohol that contains or is "smoothened" using animal glycerine. Some also avoid food cooked with equipment that has been used to cook non-vegan foods. Vegans also avoid toothpaste with calcium extracted from animal bones, if they are aware of it. Similarly, soap with ingredients which may have been extracted from animal fat (e.g. stearic acid) is avoided.

Most vegans refrain from supporting industries that use animals directly or indirectly, such as circuses and zoos, and will not use products that are tested on animals.

As a strict form of vegetarianism, veganism may be difficult to follow. Evaluating products as vegan or not requires knowledge of food ingredients and production methods which may not be common to the general population. Furthermore, the near ubiquity of non-vegan ingredients in vitamins, supplements, prescription medicine, toiletries and cosmetics can make fully avoiding animal products nearly impossible as these items are not consistently labelled with their ingredients.[10][11][12] The extra effort required to replace non-vegan ingredients in traditional recipes, the inadequacy of some vegan substitutes, and the difficulty in eating out at restaurants also contribute to the perception that the diet to which vegans adhere is difficult.



See also: Ethics of eating meat
Sows (female pigs) in a factory farm.  Opposition to factory farming is one of the most common ethical reasons given for veganism.
Sows (female pigs) in a factory farm. Opposition to factory farming is one of the most common ethical reasons given for veganism.[13]

Vegans generally oppose the violence and cruelty involved in the meat, dairy, non-vegan cosmetics, clothing, and other industries.[14] (See draize test, LD50, animal testing, vivisection, and factory farming)

Some utilitarian philosophers, such as Jeremy Bentham and Peter Singer, argue that the suffering of sentient animals is relevant to ethical decisions, though they do not rely on the concept of rights and believe that non-human animals only have an interest in not suffering. Others like Gary L. Francione, believe that all sentient beings have an interest in both not suffering and continuing to live. A common argument is that animals have the ability to feel pleasure so killing them is wrong, because it destroys any hope of future pleasure. He claims that it is therefore unethical to treat them as property or a means to an end (see animal rights). Although these theories draw similar conclusions, they are not wholly compatible with one another.


A fruit stall in Barcelona.  All unshellaced fruits are vegan.
A fruit stall in Barcelona. All unshellaced fruits are vegan.

Studies have strongly correlated a plant based diet with better health benefits than an omnivorous diet.[15][16][17] Vegans note additional health benefits are gained by not consuming artificial substances such as growth hormones and antibiotics, which are often given to farmed animals.[18][19][20][21]

The American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada state that "well-planned vegan and other types of vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including during pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence."[22]

Vegan diets tend toward several nutritional benefits, including lower levels of saturated fat, no cholesterol, and higher levels of carbohydrates, fiber, magnesium, potassium, folate, antioxidant vitamins C and E and phytochemicals.[citation needed]

Vegetarians have been reported to have lower body mass indices than nonvegetarians, although there was no significant difference in blood pressure rates.[23] The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine says that one small scale study has observed that a vegan diet can reduce blood cholesterol in people with, and significantly reduce the complications of Type 2 diabetes.[24]

There are a number of vegan athletes. Vegan athletes compete in a variety of sports, such as powerlifting, bodybuilding, martial arts, long distance running, and many others.[25][26] Multiple Olympic gold medallist Carl Lewis has stated that he became vegan in 1990 and felt that his "best year of track competition" was when he ate a vegan diet.[27]

Some studies have found benefits associated with diets rich in whole plant foods, and risks associated with diets rich in animal-based foods. One of the researchers from the 1990 epidemiological study, "The China Study", said "Even small increases in the consumption of animal-based foods was associated with increased disease risk."[15][16] Studies in Japan found that increased consumption of some animal products coincided with a decrease in risk for some forms of cerebrovascular disease and stroke mortality.[28]

There are also claims that industry livestock feeding practices pose health threats to human consumers. According to Dr. Michael Greger [2] in a January 2004 lecture at MIT (which was the basis for Whistleblower, a 2006 documentary film by Jeff Bellamar) each year more than one million tons of animal excrement are fed back to farm animals raised for human consumption to lower the feed costs. He also says that up to 10% of blood from killed animals is mixed into some cattle feed, and up to 30% of some poultry feed is made up of the blood. Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad cow disease, is believed to be caused by cows being fed with contaminated meat and bone meal, a high-protein substance obtained from the remnants of butchered animals, including cows and sheep. In most parts of the developed world, such remnants are no longer allowed in feed for ruminant animals, and the World Health Organization recommends a complete ban on ruminant-ro-ruminant feeding, but the practice persists in a few countries[3].

Resources and the environment

Main article: Environmental vegetarianism

People who adopt a vegan diet to reduce resource consumption or ecological footprint extend the idea of environmental vegetarianism to all animal products. The fundamental rationale is that each additional trophic level in a food chain passes on only a fraction of the energy it consumes, so a diet that consists of plant products rather than animal products will generally use significantly less of all resources, and indirectly cause less environmental damage.

A study by Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin, assistant professors of geophysics at the University of Chicago, compares the CO2 production resulting from various human diets. They find that a person switching from the typical American diet to a vegan diet would, on average, reduce CO2 production significantly more than switching to a hybrid vehicle. They go on to recommend a vegan diet for this reason, as well as the potentially adverse health effects of dietary animal fats and proteins.[29] They go on to support their claims by referencing various studies linking animal fats to cardiovascular diseases and animal proteins to cancer.

Vegan cuisine

For recipes and further information see the Wikibooks Cookbook article on Vegan Cuisine.

The cuisines of most nations contain dishes that are suitable for a vegan diet, as are specific traditional ingredients such as tofu, tempeh and the wheat product seitan in Asian diets. Many recipes that traditionally contain animal products can be adapted by substituting vegan ingredients, e.g. nut, grain or soy milk used to replace cow's milk; eggs replaced by substitutes such as products made from potato starch. Additionally, artificial "meat" products ("analogs" or "mock meats") made from non-animal derived ingredients such as soya or gluten, including imitation sausages, ground beef, burgers, and chicken nuggets are widely available.

Similar diets and lifestyles

There are several diets similar to veganism, though there are significant differences, including raw veganism and fruitarianism. There are also numerous religious groups that regularly or occasionally practice a similar diet, including Jainism, some sects of Buddhism, Hinduism, and some Christian churches, particularly the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Vegan nutrition

Main article: Vegan nutrition

The American Dietetic Association says that a properly planned vegan diet presents no significant nutritional problems.[22] Vegans are potentially at risk for being deficient in several nutrients, such as vitamin B12, vitamin A, iron and iodine. These deficiencies can have potentially serious consequences, including anemia, pernicious anemia, cretinism and hyperthyroidism.[citation needed] Vitamin supplementation is highly recommended for vegans.[30]

Criticism and controversy

Ethical criticism

Steven Davis, professor of animal science at Oregon State University, argues that the number of wild animals killed in crop production is greater than those killed in ruminant-pasture production. Whenever a tractor goes through a field to plow, disc, cultivate, apply fertilizer and/or pesticide, and harvest, animals are killed. [31] Davis gives a small sampling of field animals in the U. S. that are threatened by intensive crop production, such as: opossum, rock dove, house sparrow, European starling, black rat, Norway rat, house mouse, Chukar, grey partridge, ring-necked pheasant, wild turkey, cottontail rabbit, gray-tailed vole, and numerous species of amphibians. In one small example, an alfalfa harvest caused a 50% decline in the gray-tailed vole population. According to Davis, if all of the cropland in the U. S. were used to produce crops for a vegan diet, it is estimated that around 1.8 billion animals would be killed annually. [32]

Gaverick Matheny, a Ph.D. candidate in agricultural economics at the University of Maryland, claims that Davis' reasoning contains several major flaws, including distorting the notion of "harm" to animals, and miscalculating the number of animal deaths based upon areas of land rather than per consumer. Matheny claims that vegetarianism actually kills less animals, promotes better treatment of animals, and allows more animals to exist. [33] Other critics have questioned the validity of the ethical claims put forward by vegans, stating that "the belief that all life is sacred can lead to absurdities such as allowing mosquitoes to spread malaria, or vipers to run loose on one's premises."[34]

Health concerns

The American Dietetic Association says that a well-planned vegan diet is appropriate in all stages of life, but "individual assessment of dietary intakes of vegetarians is required."[22]

Specific vitamins

Vegans should be particularly concerned with adequate intake of vitamins like Vitamin D and Vitamin B12. However, adequate amounts of vitamin D may be obtained by spending 15 to 30 minutes every few days in the sunlight.[35] Vegans are at a higher risk of vitamin A deficiency because in its true form (also called retinol) it is found only in animal foods such as fish oils and liver. This form is readily absorbed by the body. Plants do not contain vitamin A, but rather provitamin A and despite consumption of such provitamin A rich foods there might be vitamin deficiencies because of the consumption of insufficient amount of fat together with carotene-rich vegetables, and dietary deficiencies in iron and zinc.[36]

Vitamin B12, a bacterial product, cannot be reliably found in plant foods. While it may take one to five years to exhaust some individual's reserves of vitamin B12, serious health consequences are a very real risk[37] and many people do not have such reserves.[4] Additionally, mild B12 deficiency (elevated homocysteine levels) can develop even with such reserves.[5] In a recent laboratory study, 60% of the strict vegan participants' B12 and iron levels were compromised, as compared with the lacto- or lacto-ovo-vegetarian participants (who were able to acquire vitamin B12 from these animal sources).[38] In addition, lower counts of lymphocytes (the white blood cells responsible for immune system responses) and platelets (responsible for blood coagulation) and alterations in the iron metabolism and transport, were demonstrated.

Another B12 study was conducted in rural Africa, partially backed by the U.S. based National Cattlemen's Beef Association, which demonstrated a dramatic improvement in the health of individuals who had, prior to the study, been on diets completely lacking in animal products. The study concluded that the added nutrients, especially vitamin B12 contained in the meat and milk improved the health of the children in the study.[39] The author of the study, Professor Lindsay Allen of the United States Agricultural Research Service, declared: "There's absolutely no question that it's unethical for parents to bring up their children as strict vegans, unless those who practiced them were well-informed about how to add back the missing nutrients through supplements or fortified foods."[39][40][41] However, the British Dietetic Association contended that the findings of the study were not applicable to vegan children in the developed world. They note that B12, reliably found only in animal products, is now included in many fortified foods generally available. Noting that the impoverished children in the study had diets deficient in zinc, B12 and iron, they concluded, "There is no evidence that our vegan and vegetarian children in this country suffer impaired development". They did note, however, that young children, pregnant and nursing women are vulnerable as vegans, urging parents to review their children's diets to be sure that they have a well-balanced diet.[42]

Parental concerns

Vegan mothers who do not obtain adequate vitamin B12 in their diet while breastfeeding can cause severe and permanent neurological damage to their infants.[43] The US Food and Drug Administration in its report states that vegetarian women of childbearing age have an increased chance of menstrual irregularities, and that vegetarians run the risk of not consuming enough micronutrients like copper, iron and zinc in their diet.[44]

One study noted the importance of early recognition of significant maternal vitamin B12 deficiency during pregnancy and lactation in vegetarians is emphasized so that appropriate supplementation can be given and irreversible neurologic damage in the infant prevented.[45]

A study has shown that boys born to mothers who consume relatively large amounts of soya products (such as Tofu and Soy Milk) and vegetables containing pesticide residue were more likely to suffer from a specific genital defect, called hypospadias. Naturally occurring chemicals called phytoestrogens, found in soya products, are implicated as one cause.[46] Another study also observed that a maternal vegetarian diet in pregnancy had a fivefold higher risk of producing infants with hypospadias.[47]

The American Dietetic Association found that vegetarian diets may be more common among adolescents with eating disorders than in the general adolescent population, and that professionals should be aware of adolescents who limit food choices and exhibit symptoms of eating disorders. The ADA indicates that the evidence suggests that the adoption of a vegetarian diet does not lead to eating disorders, but "vegetarian diets may be selected to camouflage an existing eating disorder".[22] Other studies and statements by counselors and dietitians support this conclusion.[48][49][50]


  • C. de Haan et al. Livestock and the Environment: Finding a Balance FAO, USAID, World Bank, 1998. Provides evidence of environmental damage caused by animal farming, mainly factory farming.
  • Keeton, W.T. et al. Biological Science, 5th Ed., Publishers: W. W. Norton & Company, New York and London., ISBN 0-393-96223-7 (hardback)
  • Langley, G. Vegan Nutrition: a survey of research, The Vegan Society 1988, ISBN 0-907337-15-5
  • Marcus,Erik. (2000) Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating
  • Moore Lappe, F. Diet for a Small Planet. Ballantine Books, 1985.
  • Moore Lappe, F. & Lappe, A. Hope's Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet. Jeremy P. Tarcher Publishing, 2003.
  • Saunders, Kerrie (2003) The Vegan Diet As Chronic Disease Prevention: Evidence Supporting the New Four Food Groups
  • Smil, V. Rationalizing Animal Food Production, in Feeding the World: A Challenge for the 21st Century, MIT Press, London, 2000. This provides evidence for the amount of grain required to raise livestock.
  • Stepaniak, Joanne. (2000) The Vegan Sourcebook
  • Torres, B. and Torres, J. Vegan Freak: Being Vegan in a Non-Vegan World. Tofu Hound Press. 2005. ISBN 0-9770804-1-2 (paperback).
  • Walsh, S. Plant Based Nutrition and Health, The Vegan Society 2003, ISBN 0-907337-26-0 (paperback), ISBN 0-907337-27-9 (hardback).
  • "Non-vegan prescriptions?" by Jo Stepianak, Grassroots Veganism, retrieved October 26, 2005
  • "Anger over 'pig' secret of prescribed drug by Martin Shipman, The Western Mail, December 27, 2002, retrieved October 26, 2005
  • FAQ, Vegan Resource Group, retrieved October 26, 2005
  • Campbell, Colen T. and Campbell, Thommas M. The China Study, page 179, Benbella, 2005, ISBN 1-932100-38-5


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  2. ^ a b Types and quantities of food consumed: Vegetarian/vegan (PDF). National Diet & Nutrition Survey: Adults aged 19 to 64, Volume 1 2002 11, 23. Food Standards Agency. Retrieved on 2006-10-30.
  3. ^ Donald Watson. Times Online. Times Newspapers Ltd. (2005-11-16). Retrieved on 2006-09-15.
  4. ^ Vegetarians in Paradise interview with Donald Watson. Vegetarians in Paradise Web Magazine. Vegetarians in Paradise (2004-08-11). Retrieved on 2006-10-31.
  5. ^ MEMORANDUM OF ASSOCIATION OF THE VEGAN SOCIETY. About Us. Vegan Society (1979-11-20). Retrieved on 2006-09-15.
  6. ^ What is Vegan?. American Vegan Society. Retrieved on 2006-09-15.
  7. ^ Introduction to Veganism. The Vegan Society of New Zealand. Retrieved on 2006-10-30.
  8. ^ About Vegana. The Danish Vegan Society. Retrieved on 2006-10-30.
  9. ^ Is refined sugar vegan? Vegan Outreach FAQ.
  10. ^ IVU FAQ: Ingredients. International Vegetarian Union FAQ. International Vegetarian Union. Retrieved on 2006-10-30.
  11. ^ IVU FAQ: Ingredients 1: Gelatine. International Vegetarian Union FAQ. International Vegetarian Union. Retrieved on 2006-10-30.
  12. ^ Is Gelatin Hiding in Your Food? Bone Up on Some Hidden Sources. Vegetarians in Paradise Web Magazine. Vegetarians in Paradise. Retrieved on 2006-10-30.
  13. ^ Factory Farms. Why Vegan. Vegan Outreach. Retrieved on 2006-09-15.
  14. ^ Cruelty to Animals: Mechanized Madness. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Retrieved on 2006-09-15.
  15. ^ a b Segelken, Roger (2001-06-28). China Study II: Switch to Western diet may bring Western-type diseases. Cornell Chronicle. Retrieved on 2006-09-15.
  16. ^ a b China-Cornell-Oxford Project On Nutrition, Environment and Health at Cornell University. Division of Nutritional Sciences. Cornell University. Retrieved on 2006-09-15.
  17. ^ Henry, Susan O.. Milk: Is it Really Our Best Source for Calcium?. Americal Fitness Professionals & Associates. Retrieved on 2006-09-15.
  18. ^ Bovine Growth Hormone. Retrieved on 2006-09-15.
  19. ^ Cohen, Robert. 52 good reasons to abandon milk and dairy! (TXT). NOTmilk. Retrieved on 2006-09-15.
  20. ^ How To Win An Argument With a Meat-Eater. VegSource Interactive, Inc.. Retrieved on 2006-09-15.
  21. ^ Kradjian, Robert. THE MILK LETTER : A MESSAGE TO MY PATIENTS. Americal Fitness Professionals & Associates. Retrieved on 2006-09-15.
  22. ^ a b c d (June 2003) "Position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada: Vegetarian diets". Journal of the American Dietetic Association 103 (6): 748-765. DOI:10.1053/jada.2003.50142. Retrieved on 2006-09-15.
  23. ^ Jon Abrahamson, Stacy Teigen, Kale Proksch. "Vegetarian Diet vs. A Traditional Diet in Regards to Blood Pressure and Body Mass Index" (PDF). University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Retrieved on 2006-09-15.
  24. ^ Nicholson, Andrew (2005-02-15). Diabetes: Can a Vegan Diet Reverse Diabetes?. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Retrieved on 2006-09-15.
  25. ^ OrganicAthlete's Pro-Activist Team. Retrieved on 2006-10-30.
  26. ^ Vegetarian and Vegan Famous Athletes. Retrieved on 2006-10-30.
  27. ^ Lewis, Carl. Carl Lewis on Being Vegan. Introduction to Very Vegetarian, by Jannequin Bennett. Retrieved on 2006-10-30.
  28. ^ Possible protective effect of milk, meat and fish for cerebrovascular disease mortality in Japan.. Japan Epidemiological Association (1999-08-09). Retrieved on 2006-09-15.
  29. ^ Meat-Eaters Aiding Global Warming?: New Research Suggests What You Eat as Important as What You Drive (PDF) 15-18. Retrieved on 2006-10-30.
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  32. ^ Davis S.L. (2003) "The least harm principle may require that humans consume a diet containing large herbivores, not a vegan diet". Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics. (16)4. pp. 387-394.
  33. ^ Gaverick Matheny (2003). "Least harm: a defense of vegetarianism from Steven Davis’s omnivorous proposal". Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 16: 505-511. DOI:10.1023/A:1026354906892.
  34. ^ Why I Am Not a Vegetarian By Dr. William T. Jarvis
  35. ^ Campbell, Colen T. and Campbell, Thommas M. The China Study, page 179, Benbella, 2005, ISBN 1-932100-38-5
  36. ^ Robert I-San Lin. Nutritional Requirements of Vegetarians. Retrieved on 2006-10-31.
  37. ^ Vitamin B12 (cobalamin). Merck Manual Home Edition. Retrieved on 2006-10-30.
  38. ^ Obeid R, Geisel J, Schorr H, Hubner U, Herrmann W. (2002). "The impact of vegetarianism on some haematological parameters". Eur J Haematol. 69 (5-6): 275-9. PMID 12460231.
  39. ^ a b Michelle Roberts. "Children 'harmed' by vegan diets", BBC, 21 February 2005.
  40. ^ Danielsen, Christian. "UCD professor's comments on vegan diet hotly debated", California Aggie, 2005-03-02. Retrieved on 2006-10-30.
  41. ^ Former Beatle Paul McCartney Calls GL-CRSP Nutrition Study 'Rubbish' (PDF). Ruminations Newsletter (Spring 2005). Retrieved on 2006-10-31.
  42. ^ Left, Sarah (2005-02-21). Raising children as vegans 'unethical', says professor. Guardian Unlimited. Guardian Newspapers Limited. Retrieved on 2006-10-31.
  43. ^ Kuhne T, Bubl R, Baumgartner R (1991). "Maternal vegan diet causing a serious infantile neurological disorder due to vitamin B12 deficiency". Eur J Pediatr 150 (3): 205-8. PMID 2044594.
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  45. ^ Weiss R, Fogelman Y, Bennett M (2004). "Severe vitamin B12 deficiency in an infant associated with a maternal deficiency and a strict vegetarian diet". J Pediatr Hematol Oncol 26 (4): 270-1. PMID 15087959.
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  50. ^ Davis, Brenda. (2002). Becoming Vegan: The Complete Guide to Adopting a Healthy Plant-Based Diet. p.224. ISBN 1-57067-103-6

See also

  • List of vegans
  • Raw veganism
  • Vegetarianism
  • Fruitarianism
  • Raw food diet
  • Freeganism
  • Animal rights
  • Farm Sanctuary
  • China Study

External links

Wikibooks Cookbook has more about this subject:
Vegan cuisine
Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:
  • Vegan Action
  • American Vegan Society
  • Vegan Society (UK)
  • Vegan Society of Australia
  • Vegan Outreach, creators of the popular "Why Vegan?" pamphlet
  • Movement for Compassionate Living (the Vegan Way)
  • American Dietetic Association position on vegetarian diet
  • The Vegan Society (UK) webpages on nutrition
  • Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
  • The Vegetarian and Vegan Foundation
  • People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
  •, reasons to become vegan
  • Farm Sanctuary
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