Veganism should be the heart of plant-based

The misuse of this veganism term can be misleading and in many cases, completely incorrect By Sean O’Callaghan

I saw something on Instagram recently that fired up my vegan indignation (not that difficult to do!) and inspired me to share some thoughts with you.

Now there is the possibility that I am overreacting, but I don’t think I am in this case.

A new Italian restaurant based in West London grabbed my attention with their social media declarations of being a plant-based restaurant, even going as far as to use #plantbased under most of their Instagram photos.

You might be thinking I’ve not got much to moan about here but how would you feel if I also told you the restaurant serves meat and dairy, often using #plantbased under photos of dishes containing meat and dairy? Hopefully you are now on my side!

The restaurant makes the argument that because plants are the basis of most of their dishes, they are perfectly within their rights to use the term ‘plant-based’ to describe their menu.

Over the past five years or so, the term ‘plant-based’ has gained widespread popularity and is understood by mainstream society in the UK and many parts of the world to mean food that is suitable for vegans. If someone sees the term ‘plant-based’ on a product, they instantly know it is free of any ingredients derived from animals.

Plant-based means made from plants. So simple.

This simplicity makes it even more infuriating that there are businesses out there using the term to now describe non-vegan food. We had it all agreed between us and now they wanna mess it up when it has always been such a straightforward term.

I don’t think we vegan consumers were completely happy with plant based being used interchangeably with vegan on menus and in supermarkets when it started popping up, but it was a compromise we were willing to embrace as big business gave us more and more of what we wanted and needed.

Products labeled ‘plant-based’ flooded into shops due to the undeniable and overwhelming demand from vegan and vegan-curious consumers, however many companies weren’t keen on using the term ‘vegan’ for fear of alienating the non-vegans and the staunchly anti-vegan consumers that regularly shopped or dined with them.

Our early concerns of ‘plant-based’ as a descriptor being misused made a lot of us cautious, but we played along and hoped for the best.

“Plant-based means made from plants. So simple”

The world also welcomed terms such as flexitarian and meat-reducer to describe consumers who sometimes shopped for vegan products. A lot of greenwashing of language was done to protect the feelings of non-vegans as more and more vegan products reached our shelves.

These terms could be slightly irksome to vegans but they only ever described the shopping habits of nonvegan consumers. Flexitarian and meat reducer were never terms that meant ‘vegan’, unlike the term ‘plant-based’ which had been clearly established to mean just that.

Now, it appears we have to be protective on how, when, and where plant-based is used. We need to hold businesses accountable when they try to alter the language of veganism.

We helped create the understanding of plant-based and we get to say how it is used. Plant-based has become ubiquitous with veganism. It is not an interchangeable or flexible term.

Plant-based means no animal or animal-derived ingredients have been purposively added to a product or menu item. It does not mean mostly veggies with just a bit of meat or dairy.

We did our part and played nicely when big business wanted to join our vegan party (and take our vegan money!). Now, it’s the turn of non-vegan businesses to do their part and respect the term plant based for what it has become.

Keep your eyes peeled for any misuses of this term and don’t be afraid of stepping on a few toes by speaking up when you see it happening. We’ve had the vegan police keeping things in check for years, now it’s time for the plant based police to spring into action!


The lifestyle magazine written by vegans for vegans.