Merriam-Webster Dictionary has finally decided to add the terms ‘plant-based’ and “oat milk” to its famous American dictionary, in its latest incorporation of over 300 new terms. But under their definition, it is clear that plant-based and vegan are not synonymous.

The dictionary does not define ‘veganism’ (the Vegan society, which created the word, has an official definition for it) but for some time it has defined ‘vegan’ as a noun meaning  “a strict vegetarian who consumes no food (such as meat, eggs, or dairy products) that comes from animals; or one who abstains from using animal products (such as leather)”. It also says that it can be used as an adjective, as for “vegan dessert”, for instance. However, it has now incorporated the term ‘plant-based’ only as an adjective, meaning “made or derived from plants; or “consisting primarily or entirely of food (such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, oils, and beans) derived from plants.”

This means that the dictionary does not consider both terms synonymous. According to it, a person can be a vegan, but not a ‘plant-based’ (as only the former is a noun), and plant-based food can contain meat (as it uses the term “primary” as opposed to only “entirely”), while vegan food would not have any animal product. In other words, according to the dictionary, the sentence “this vegan only eats in vegan restaurants” and “this plant-based only eats in plant-based restaurants” mean different things. It says that the first instance of ‘plant-based’ is recorded in 1960, while the first instance of vegan was much earlier (1944). The dictionary also now defines ‘oat milk’ as “a liquid made from ground oats and water that is usually fortified (as with calcium and vitamins) and used as a milk substitute.”  The reference to being fortified it’s a bit strange, as there is plenty of oat milk that is not fortified. It almost looks like it is trying to imply that oat milk is not natural. 

Jordi Casamitjana
“Originally from Catalonia, but resident in the UK for several decades, Jordi is a vegan zoologist and author, who has been involved in different aspects of animal protection for many years. In addition to scientific research, he has worked mostly as an undercover investigator, animal welfare consultant, and animal protection campaigner. He has been an ethical vegan since 2002, and in 2020 he secured the legal protection of all ethical vegans in Great Britain from discrimination in a landmark employment tribunal case that was discussed all over the world. He is also the author of the book, ‘Ethical Vegan: a personal and political journey to change the world’.