What Is a Vegan?

Sprouts in a salad
(Image credit: <a href='http://www.shutterstock.com/pic.mhtml?id=116619406&src=id'>Shutterstock</a>)

A vegan is someone who abstains from eating and using animal products.

The primary motivation behind veganism is to reduce harm to all living creatures. It is "compassion in action," according to the American Vegan Society.

But what do vegans eat? In terms of diet, vegans differ from vegetarians in that they not only don't eat meat, but also don't consume anything derived from animals, including eggs, dairy, honey and marshmallows, which contain gelatin, a protein obtained from animal byproducts.

Vegans also stay away from food items that were processed using animal products. For example, vegans often avoid white sugar because some refineries use bone char (incinerated animal bones) as a filter to whiten cane sugar.

In addition to maintaining a plant-based diet, vegans abstain from purchasing or wearing various clothing items made with leather, wool, fur or silk. Upholstery, bedding and other household items using these materials are also avoided.

Vegans are usually careful about not using various products — including soaps, cosmetics, toiletries and cleaning solutions — that were tested on animals or have animal-related ingredients, such as lard, beeswax and lanolin (a waxy substance in sheep's wool).

People who follow the vegan diet but do not abstain from using animal products are sometimes known as dietary vegans or strict vegetarians.

Follow Joseph Castro on Twitter. Follow us @livescience, Facebook & Google+.

Live Science Contributor
Joseph Bennington-Castro is a Hawaii-based contributing writer for Live Science and Space.com. He holds a master's degree in science journalism from New York University, and a bachelor's degree in physics from the University of Hawaii. His work covers all areas of science, from the quirky mating behaviors of different animals, to the drug and alcohol habits of ancient cultures, to new advances in solar cell technology. On a more personal note, Joseph has had a near-obsession with video games for as long as he can remember, and is probably playing a game at this very moment.