The Complementary Missions of the Vegan and the Whole Food Plant-Based Movements

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about how vegans and those living a whole food, plant-based lifestyle fit together. I'm thinking about this for a couple of different reasons. One, as a club officer in a whole food, plant-based oriented club, I'm concerned about some of the confusion and misunderstandings that I see. And secondly, I've been thinking about it because of some of the statements that I've heard from people who identify themselves first and foremost as vegans. And what concerns me there is a philosophy that says eating whole food, plant-based is a subset of being vegan and wfpb doesn't have the same level of moral consciousness as being an ethical vegan does.

Like many non-vegans I know, that attitude rubs me the wrong way. It doesn't change the fact that I hold the same values as ethical vegans do. I am opposed to animal cruelty. I live that in my every day life, not just in terms of food, but also in the consumer products that I buy and the causes I support or don't support. I think most of us who are whole food, plant-based believe in vegan ethics and try to live a vegan lifestyle, whether we identify ourselves with the more strident vegans or not. We can actually live out a vegan lifestyle without ever calling ourselves vegans.

And I say that because in many ways, I would like to get away from the word vegan, but not get away from the values expressed by it, because I think it is misleading to those of us trying to eat a whole food, plant-based diet. It can lead us to think vegan when we go into a restaurant for example and that can lead us to order a vegan cheeseburger or other vegan dish that is full of chemicals, salt, oils, etc. In other words, while it can lead us to not eat animal products, it can also lead us to eat foods that really aren't whole food, plant-based or good for us. And that's contrary to our goals.

I always suggest thinking whole plant-based foods instead of vegan foods. And one way I like to look at it is when I go into a restaurant I have in my head Dr. Fuhrman's acronym G-Bombs, which stands for greens, beans, onions, mushrooms, berries and seeds. I look for dishes that have all those components in them or as many of them as I can get. And then if I have to, I tell them to leave out the meat and the cheese (and the oil). If there's nothing specific on the menu, then I look to see how many of those ingredients are used in other dishes, and then if they're all there, or mostly there, I ask the chef to make something focused on those ingredients.

Thinking G-Bombs instead of vegan really helps in getting the right foods when eating out. But that's not the purpose of this blog post. In fact, I recently wrote on doing that before. This blog post is about the conclusion I came to about the complementary missions of the vegan and the whole food, plant-based movement. And the missions, when stated this way, are very complementary and put each on equal footing. It doesn't make one a subset of the other and it doesn't make one less equal from a moral standpoint than the other.

So, what are those complementary missions? They are (and these words are mine; they are not official explanations from any overarching organization):

  • Being vegan is about being compassionate and kind toward the animal population that we share the earth with
  • Being whole food, plant-based is about being compassionate and kind toward the human population 
Of course some vegans will say that those who are whole food, plant-based are only concerned about themselves, but I don't believe that's true. I believe most of us want to see others become whole food, plant-based as well. We know that it will save our loved ones from a decade or more of decline and ill health in their last years. We know that it will help our loved ones to live better and more fulfilling lives. So, at a minimum, most of us promote this lifestyle to our loved ones when we can.

But we go further too. We promote it to those we interact with in restaurants. We promote it to people around us. I know several people who converted to a whole food, plant-based lifestyle as a direct result of talking with me and seeing the results that I achieved. And people who come to this then also become more conscious of their impacts from food choices on the animals and on the environment too.

So, anyway you slice it, the whole food plant-based movement is on equal footing with the vegan movement. One is about the animals and one is about humans. In other words, the two together cover the entire animal population of the world. Our missions are truly complementary.

J Lanning Smith
Twice the Man, Half the Weight
February 28, 2019