The zoologist Jordi Casamitjana explains the different meanings of the term “animal” in the context of veganism, and in all its dimensions

I am a zoologist.

Therefore, I should know what an animal is, as zoology is the discipline within biology that studies animals. But whether scientists have agreed about what it means is less important than what others think it means because the word “animal” is commonly used by everyone else everywhere in the world. 

This is not trivial. Sometimes, how people interpret this word is a matter of life and death. You may be publicly executed by being deemed “an animal”. Or forced to work, kept captive, or even killed and eaten. There may be several legal definitions of what an animal is. There may be several cultural definitions, colloquial definitions, and even scientific definitions. 

For vegans, though, knowing what an animal is would be quite crucial — essential, I would say. This is because it is the keyword in the official definition of veganism of the Vegan Society (which coined the term ‘vegan’): “Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude — as far as is possible and practicable — 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 animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”

If we don’t agree on what an animal is, how can we, vegans, seek to avoid all forms of animal exploitation, and dispense all products derived wholly or partly from animals? You may be vegan yourself and think you know for certain what an animal is. You may have been vegan for decades and be sure you know how all vegans interpret what the word “animal” means in the above definition. Well, I would not be that sure. In fact, there are many different interpretations of the word, many of which fit within the definition of veganism because they are approached from the five different dimensions that veganism has. The term “animal” may take slightly different connotations if you are a vegan who entered what I call the “vegan mansion” through the gateway of animal rights, the gateway of the environment, the gateway of health, the gateway of social justice, or the gateway of spirituality.  

Perhaps it may be worth looking at these equally valid interpretations of “animal” within veganism.

The English Mess with the Word “Animal”

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When I first emigrated to the UK and learnt English (I am originally from Catalonia) I was perplexed about how people in the street used the term “animal”. I assumed that everyone would use it meaning the scientific definition, as in Catalonia this is how we all did.

However, I encountered sentences such as these: “During hot summer weather, it is important to have plenty of water for animals and birds to drink and bathe in”, or “There are many animals and insects around the world which use toxins, both for defence and for predation.” I could not believe my eyes and ears. Birds and insects are animals, so these sentences sounded as wrong as the sentence “humans and women are not allowed in the nature reserve” or “humans and Europeans had never reached these islands.”  Surely that was a problem of poor education, right?  

But then, I checked the Cambridge dictionary, and I found this definition: “animal: something that lives and moves but is not a human, bird, fish, or insect.” What? A fish is not an animal, but a dolphin is? A bird is not an animal, but a snake is? An insect is not an animal, but a spider is? A human is not an animal, but a chimp is? That did not make sense to me, as in all the languages I spoke all of these are animals.  

It seems that some English speakers use the term animal, colloquially, to mean vertebrate (mammals, birds, reptilians, amphibians, and fishes), and others to mean mammal, and it is precisely this semantic mess that has forced legislators to add specific definitions of “animal” in the laws they create. For instance, in the UK Animal Welfare Act 2006, section 1(1) says, “In this Act, except subsections (4) and (5), ‘animal’ means a vertebrate other than man,” but in the UK Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022, section 5(1) says, “In this Act ‘animal’ means (a) any vertebrate other than Homo sapiens, (b) any cephalopod mollusc, and (c) any decapod crustacean.”

I looked again at the Cambridge dictionary, and there was another definition after that one: “animal: anything that lives and moves, including people, birds, etc.” How can that be? According to that particular dictionary, a bird is both an animal and a non-animal. It does not make sense, right? So, if we consider the first definition alone, can a vegan then eat eggs, chicken, honey, and salmon? Of course not. In the definition of veganism “animal” means what the second definition of the Cambridge dictionary says, not the first, as is the second that matches the definitions in other languages — while the first is only used by some English-speaking people — and it’s the closest to the scientific definition. 

The proof of this is that the Vegan Society, since the very beginning, stated that consuming honey is incompatible with veganism (and if bees are considered animals, so should fishes and birds). On its website we read the following: “Honey is made by bees for bees, and their health can be sacrificed when it is harvested by humans. Importantly, harvesting honey does not correlate with The Vegan Society’s definition of veganism, which seeks to exclude not just cruelty, but exploitation.”

The Animal in Animal Rights Veganism

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How would ethical vegans who entered veganism via the animal rights gateway interpret the term “animal”? Most of us (as I am one of them) interpret it following the current scientific definition, not a colloquial or cultural one. The biological definition of animal is: “Animals are multicellular, eukaryotic organisms in the biological kingdom Animalia which, with few exceptions, consume organic material, breathe oxygen, are able to move, can reproduce sexually, and go through an ontogenetic stage in which their body consists of a hollow sphere of cells, the blastula, during embryonic development.”

In this scientific definition there may be a few unfamiliar words to some people, so let me re-write it with a more palatable format: “Animals are living organisms, composed of many complex cells, who belong to the group we call ‘kingdom Animalia’, and who, with few exceptions, consume organic material for energy rather than get energy and matter from light, breathe in oxygen rather than CO2, can willingly move, can reproduce sexually with other organisms of a different sex, and develop from embryos that look like a hollow sphere.”  So, if you breathe in CO2 and synthesise biological matter from the light of the sun, you are not an animal but perhaps you are a plant. If you consume organic matter and breathe oxygen but do not move or grow from embryos that do not look like hollow spheres, you are not an animal, but perhaps you are a fungus. If you breathe oxygen and consume organic matter but your body only consists of one cell, you are not an animal, but you may be a protozoan. 

I know, it sounds complicated, but from all these conditions, there is one that is the most useful: belonging to the biological kingdom Animalia. This is the most practical part of the definition as biologists have created a very specific classification system for living beings and have assigned to each organism a label (a scientific name) that allows them to place her/him/they in a specific group. One of these groups is the Kingdom Animalia (aka Animal kingdom), so if an organism has been classified as belonging to a species of that kingdom, then that organism is an animal. Looking at it in this way, it’s very simple, and as all mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians, fishes, insects, arachnids, myriapods, crustaceans, molluscs, worms, corals, jellyfishes, sea urchins, and even humans belong to that kingdom, they are all animals. 

But, for an animal rights vegan, does the term “animal” and “sentient being” mean the same? Practically yes, but not entirely from a theoretical point of view. A sentient being (as opposed to a non-sentient living being like a tree or a non-sentient non-living being like a fictional character) is an organism that has senses to perceive the environment, a nervous system that allows translating these perceptions into positive, negative, or neutral experiences, and can move accordingly (getting away from negative situations or closer to positive ones).  

On planet Earth, almost as a coincidence, all sentient beings who have been discovered belong to the kingdom Animalia, and this is why, in practice, both terms could be considered synonymous — but that is only so far, and that is only on Earth. Any sentient being on other planets (which are bound to exist somewhere considering there are around 100 billion estimated planets in our galaxy, and there are about 125 billion galaxies in the observable universe) would not belong to the kingdom Animalia even if the rest of the scientific definition still stands. This is because the classification biologists used is based on phylogeny (the relationship between all the organisms on Earth that have descended from a common ancestor), so all members of the kingdom Animalia descended from a common ancestor that, through evolution, diversified into all the 7 million animal species that our planet holds, but those sentient beings in other planets would have evolved independently. 

Additionally, any sentient being we may create in the future in the form of computers or robots that end up fulfilling the definition of sentience would not be animals either as they would not have evolved biologically from other animals. If you are a fan of Star Wars, think about this: although Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, C-3PO, R2-D2, Princess Leia, and Chewbacca are portrayed as sentient beings, if they actually existed none of them would be animals as in the story they are not descendants from Earth. But if Luke, Leia and Han had been descendants from Earth (as they look totally human), they would be animals, but Chewbacca and the droids would not. 

However, although all sentient beings on Earth are animals, not all animals are sentient beings. There is a small ancient group that is not because it does not have a nervous system or can move. No, I am not talking about Bivalves (mussels and oysters) because these can indeed move (at least in the larva stage or opening and closing their shells) and they do have senses and a nervous system (although it is scattered through the body, it still counts). I am talking about the group called Porifera, the aquatic sponges (or just sponges). They are very primitive organisms (also known as Parazoa, which in Greek means “almost animal”) from which the rest of the animals evolved. And that “rest of the animals” are labelled Eumetazoa. Therefore, technically, the sentient beings on Earth are all those organisms belonging to the group Eumetazoa, but as this group represents the immense majority of animals (99.92% of the species), saying that all animals are sentient is sufficiently correct — and this is one of the four basic principles of veganism, together with all animal exploitation causes harm, we should avoid speciesism, and we should not harm any sentient being.   

Are then animal rights vegans allowed to consume or exploit sponges? I don’t think so, because the definition of veganism does not use the term “sentient being”, but “animal”, so most ethical vegans will not exploit biological sponges (they can use synthetic ones, of course) even if they are not sentient, to be consistent with the definition and prevent some vegans to begin exploiting some animals who, for some reason, they have decided they are not sentient enough for them (as the so-called ostrovegans who consume oysters and mussels as they claim they are not sentient — although, as I said, they are). 

However, many ethical vegans “for the animals” consider that the term “animal” in the definition of veganism does not include humans. They say that the sentence “for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment” in the definition shows that they are different. Some of these may sometimes be critical to other vegans who campaign for the environment or against the exploitation of marginalised humans, and they use slogans such as “veganism is only about animals.” I am not one of them. For me, the separation between humans and the rest of animals is as meaningless as the separation between mammals and the rest of animals, or vertebrates and the rest of animals. They are cultural or idiosyncratic separations not based on universal principles or the true nature of living beings. For me, the scientific definition is the one that counts, as this is truly transcultural and based on evidence. 

However, I understand why many animal rights vegans make this separation, as they see veganism as a “response” to the abuse and exploitation humans inflict on other animals. They see humans as the abusers and the rest of the animals as their victims. Indeed, the philosophy of animal rights —with which the philosophy of veganism intersects — is centred on the only animals who have no universal legal “rights” yet, and this means all animals except humans. 

Having said that, many animal rights people do consider humans are animals, and this is why they use terms such as “non-human animal” to replace the term “animal” in most of the contexts the word is used — I use it too. I think the definition of veganism should be corrected so the sentence mentioned above should read “for the benefit of non-human animals, humans and the environment.”    

I believe ethical vegans for animal rights should avoid exploiting any member of the animal kingdom, from sponges to humans, because all these are animals based on the current scientific definition of the term “animal”, which is the one I think we should rely on. After all, veganism is a global inclusive philosophy no longer attached to any ethnic group, religion, culture, society, or language.

The Animal in Eco-veganism

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For those ethical vegans who entered veganism through the environment gateway, the term “animal” in the definition of veganism may mean something more than for animal rights vegans who are stuck in the hall of the gateway they chose and haven’t explored all the other rooms of the “vegan mansion” yet. Eco-vegans care about the environment, and the environment is not only composed of animals but also other living beings (plants, fungi, algae, bacteria, etc.) and non-living entities (rivers, mountains, oceans, air, etc.). Therefore, for an eco-vegan, not hurting and destroying a non-sentient being (a non-animal) is something they may also try to do.

They may expand the definition of veganism by interpreting “animal” as meaning “living entity” (any living being, any ecosystem, and the biosphere). In addition to being an animal rights vegan, I am also an eco-vegan, so I am happy to interpret the definition of veganism in this way. This does not mean that I want the actual definition to change, but what I want is to follow it in its entirety as the ethical vegan I am (I use the term “ethical vegan” meaning someone who follows the definition of veganism to the full, as opposed to a “dietary vegan” who only follows one part of it), and then expand my circle of respect and compassion beyond the animal kingdom to all living beings and natural systems as the environmentalist that I also am. 

The intersection between veganism and environmentalism is what creates eco-vegans, who, if they apply it properly, would behave in such a way that they do not compromise one philosophy over the other. The overlapping of both philosophies reinforces each other, and for me, a person who embraces them both is more coherent that a person who only embraces one.   

Eco-vegans may still use the scientific definition of animal that includes all members of the animal kingdom, and then use another accepted definition of environmentalism to cover the rest of the inhabitants of planet Earth. Alternatively, they could create their combined definition of eco-veganism, such as: “Eco-veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude — as far as is possible and practicable — all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals, all forms of harm to any living being, all unnatural degradation of natural ecosystems, and all anthropogenic threats to the Earth’s biosphere; by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free and planet-friendly ‘green’ sustainable alternatives for the benefit of non-human animals, humans, the environment, and planet Earth.”

The Animal in Health Veganism

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Some vegans are not ethical vegans because they have not chosen veganism for ethical reasons, but for personal reasons aimed to only benefit themselves, not anybody else. Some of them are called “health vegans”, as improving their health was the reason they started using the diet vegans use. However, once they have entered the “vegan mansion” through this gateway, they may eventually end up embracing all the other dimensions of veganism. But, unfortunately, some do not want to progress further, and in that case, they probably fit better the adjective “plant-based” that the adjective “vegan”.  

Those health vegans who will eventually become fully vegans may have a different interpretation of the word “animal” when they first encounter the definition of veganism and considered whether they should follow it to the full. Having so far only adopted the philosophy partially (only regarding diet), their understanding of the concept of animal may also be partial. They might look at animals — subconsciously perhaps — only as sources of food, not as living organisms. They might think that there are two types of food, animal food and non-animal food, and one has different nutritional properties than the other so consuming one may have different health effects. They might see animal food as high in cholesterol, hormones, saturated fats, antibiotics, toxins, and heavy metals, and they might see non-animal foods as rich in fibre, antioxidants, phytonutrients, and vitamins — and therefore they might conclude this is much healthier. 

Hopefully, if they keep learning, they may start to understand why plant-based food is healthier for humans. Part of it is because they will learn that they themselves are indeed animals closer to chimps and monkeys (primates), and therefore their biological adaptations are towards eating fruits (frugivore animals) rather than eating animal flesh (carnivore animals) as lions or wolves. Therefore, health vegans may start seeing animals as organisms when they look at their own bodies and their own physiology and realise that it is the physiology of a type of animal (a frugivore African primate that evolved two million years ago to digest starches found in grains and roots).

The other connection they will discover between the animal as food and the animal as an organism will come when they realise that the hormones, antibiotics, and toxins they would put in their bodies if they consumed animals do not come from the animals themselves, but from the way they have been exploited. They will learn about antibiotics pumped into factory-farmed pigs, about mercury poisoning by eating fishes from polluted waters, about the hormones given to cows who produce milk, etc, etc. They will start connecting the wrongs of animal food, with the wrongs of animal exploitation, and this, hopefully, will lead them to understand the true meaning of the definition of veganism, end explore the other dimensions of the philosophy.  

The Animal in Spiritual Veganism  

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Historically, the first vegans who entered the “vegan mansion” did it from the spiritual gateway. The Vegan Society was a civil organisation that created the word “vegan” when it was formed in 1944, but vegans already existed even when the Vegetarian Society was created back in 1847 (when we can say vegetarianism became secularised). Before that, most vegans — and there have been vegans for millennia even if they did not use that word — tended to adopt the philosophy by following the doctrine of particular religions, cults, or spiritual communities.

I often say that veganism, as we know it today, is the secular manifestation of ahimsa (the ancient Sanskrit word meaning “do no harm” or “non-violence”), which has been a tenet of many millenarian religions such as Jainism, Hinduism and Buddhism. These religions also tried, to some degree or other, to exclude forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for several purposes, which at the time they were created often mean advocating for vegetarianism. 

Therefore, for these, and for any non-religious group that is based on spirituality (such as “New Age” groups), their interpretation of the word “animal” may be quite different than for the rest of us. Each of the metaphysics and cosmology associated with each of these groups may have a different interpretation of what humans and animals are. 

For religions that believe in the concept of “soul”, the issue would be whether they believe only humans possess souls. Some may say that the difference between animals and humans is that the former do not possess souls, so they may not accept the scientific definition of “animal”, as they may not accept many other — if not all — scientific definitions. But many religions — such as the three Dharmic religions mentioned above — believe in reincarnation or rebirth, so they believe humans may end up being reborn as other animals. Some believe that non-human animals have souls too, and the same soul may inhabit the body of a human or that of a non-human animal in different lives. Even the original Pythagoreans from ancient Greece (for centuries the term Pythagorean was synonymous with vegetarian) believed in the transmigration of souls and therefore they did not consume meat or eggs. 

Of all the religions still in existence, perhaps Jainism (which started more than four thousand years ago in the ancient kingdom of Magadha, in today’s northern India) is the one that takes ahimsa more seriously. Jains extend the concept of ahimsa beyond humans to all animals, plants, micro-organisms and all beings having life or life potential. For Jains, mammals, birds and fish are all five-sensed beings, invertebrates have two or three senses and plants only have one sense. Jains try to avoid hurting all living beings, but the more senses they believe they have, the more important it is for them to prevent their suffering (in this regard, their interpretation of “animal” may be closer to that of eco-vegans). For them, all life is sacred and everything has a right to live fearlessly to its maximum potential. All Jains are Lacto-vegetarian but an increasing number of Jains are vegan now. 

In Buddhism (which also originated in Magadha), all animals have always been regarded as sentient beings. In the case of the Mahayana school of Buddhism (found in China, Japan, Mongolia, Korea and other Oriental countries) animals possess Buddha Nature and therefore potential for enlightenment. Their doctrine of rebirth says that any human could be reborn as a non-human animal, and any animal could be reborn as a human. Under Buddhism, one could not make a hard distinction between moral rules applicable to animals and those applicable to humans. In consequence, for a Buddhist vegan, the term “animal” in the definition of veganism may be interpreted as how it is defined scientifically, as the scientific definition does not make any distinction either. 

The Animal in Social Justice Veganism

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Vegans who enter veganism via the social justice gateway have a very interesting interpretation of the term “animal”. This type of vegans see the problems animals suffer as just another cause of the oppression that “supremacist people” inflict on others, and they often consider both animal oppression and human oppression important issues to campaign against. For them, fighting for the rights of marginalised groups of humans and fighting for the rights of non-human animals are fights that intersect, and therefore, it is consistent to fight them together.

These vegans are often called Intersectional Vegans (and I subscribe to their approach too), but as there have been concerns about whether this term might have been misappropriated from some types of feminism (in particular, issues of discrimination against Black women), some do not use this term anymore — I recently started using the term Overlappinality instead of Intersectionality, as I also consider myself a social justice vegan. 

One of those social justice vegans who moved beyond the intersectional model is Aph Ko, the American writer, decolonial theorist, vegan activist, and digital media producer. She is the author of the excellent 2019 book “Racism as Zoological Witchcraft: A Guide to Getting Out”, and the creator of the website Black Vegans Rock. She has looked deeply into the definition of “animal” and “human” from a social justice perspective, and I think she has come up with a very illuminating approach.  This is what she wrote in her 2019 book:

“‘Animal’ doesn’t just mean ‘cat’ or ‘squirrel” or ‘cow’. ‘Animal’ is a label. It’s a social construct the dominant class created to mark certain bodies as disposable without even a second thought. ‘Animal’ as a term does not exist on its own… it’s relational. It only makes sense in relation to the white human. Those who deem themselves the superior humans decide who falls within the category of animal by using their own group’s traits as the standard measurement. ‘Animal’ is a signifier that is always convenient and changing, and any group the dominant class deems unworthy is immediately branded with this label.”

I agree. The term “animal” is often used as an insult or a degrading term referring to some humans because its common social meaning is not in alignment with its biological meaning — this explains why we found so many people not using the scientific definition that does not differentiate between humans and the rest of animals. 

We can also see this in misogyny and the oppression of women. Carol J. Adams is an intersectional vegan who has written extensively about this. In her influential 1990 book “The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory” she talks about “animalised women and sexualised animals,” and how both women and non-human animals are oppressed through a cycle of objectification, fragmentation, and consumption. Both are treated — and often portrayed in advertising — as “pieces of meat” for men to consume, because they are broadly classified into the same category in colonial patriarchal supremacist societies, which like to divide everything between US (the ones in power, the ones “superior”) and THEM (the ones that can be exploited, the ones “inferior”).  

For supremacists who consider the human species (Homo sapiens) as superior to other animals, they like to make a distinction between humans and the rest of animals because they consider the former superior. For supremacists who consider the race “white” as superior to other races, they like to make a distinction between what they think humans are (white people) and the rest who they consider inferior animals (including humans from other races) who can be dominated and exploited. For supremacists who consider the gender “male” as superior to other genders, they like to make a distinction between what they think humans are (men) and the rest who they consider animals (including women) who can be dominated and exploited. For supremacist who consider their nation as superior to other countries, they like to make a distinction between what they think humans are (Britons, Frenchmen, Germans, Spaniards, Americans, Westerners, Europeans, etc.) and the rest that they consider uncivilised “animals” (including natives from colonised countries in the Global South) who can be dominated and exploited. And all these supremacists are not something from the distant past but are very much part of the modern world — there are people still alive today who were living when their country was still a colony of a European empire, and when only white men were allowed to vote in the United States.  

This binary division between us and them, between the dominant and the dominated, between the conqueror and the conquered, between the “superior” and the “inferior”, is an integral part of colonialism, patriarchy, and supremacism. But it is also an integral part of speciesism, and as veganism is an anti-speciesist philosophy, this social interpretation of what “animal” truly means when commonly used by people is compatible with veganism. Being speciesist means discriminating against “the other”, the one who is not one of “us”. Whether that “other” is someone belonging to another race (as in racism) or another species, the problem is the same. 

Speciesism is not just limited to discrimination based on biological species, as species are just one of the many types of categories biologists label organisms with. Sub-species are classified into species, species into genera, genera into families, families into orders, orders into classes, classes into phyla, and phyla into kingdoms (such as the Animal Kingdom). The discrimination pescatarians show against the three Classes of fish still in existence (Agnatha, Chondrichthyes, and Osteichthyes) is a form of speciesism based on biological Class, not biological species. If speciesism is the same regardless of which biological categorisation is based on, it continues being the same if the categorisation goes beyond scientific classification into other types, such as cultural (gender, religion, marital status, etc.) or physical (sex, sexual orientation, disability, age, etc.).     

When you accept this interpretation of the concept of “animal” meaning “the other”, the definition of veganism still makes sense:  “Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude —as far as is possible and practicable — all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, others for food, clothing or any other purpose.” This is how I interpret it. 

Veganising Away from the Old Binary View

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We still see this binary Human-Animal approach in people who claim to be “animal lovers”, vegetarians, plant-based people, and even vegans. We often see them dividing non-human animals into two groups, the ones they consider “closer” to humans so they should be treated better (almost as humans), and the ones they consider farthest, so they can be exploited as the animals they are. They separate “pets” and horses from sheep and cows; they separate mammals from fishes; they separate vertebrates from invertebrates. We see people dressing dogs and cats as humans, making them do tricks so they look like humans, talking about their intelligence comparing it to that of humans, and using all this to justify why they do not kill or eat these. Even people who call themselves vegans do that, if they still exploit horses by riding them, exploit wild animals by supporting zoos, exploit sheeps by wearing wool, exploit bees by eating honey, or treat animals as “pets” — none of such exploitation is needed for survival so it is likely to be caused by a supremacist/speciecist view. 

They anthropomorphise some animals to remove them from the animal group and add them to the human group, so they can still exploit the rest. They still see the word “animal” as meaning “non-human” (or “non-westerner”, or “non-white”, or “non-civilised”, etc.) even if they may not publicly admit it, as this may have been engraved in their mind after years of racist, patriarchal, supremacist, and colonial indoctrination. They still see US and THEM. They still see “animal” meaning “the other”. 

That is what combining speciesism and supremacy for millennia does. It divides us. It makes us discriminate and be prejudicial. It makes us exploit and be oppressors. It spreads and normalises what we call carnism — the term coined by Dr Melanie Joy in 2001 and popularised in her 2009 book “Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows — which is the invisible belief system that conditions people to treat certain non-human animals differently. To eat some and play with others; to kill some and rear others; to love some and despite others. Our societies have been so entrenched in speciesism and supremacy for so long that even vegans need to spend their entire life cleansing themselves from relics of carnism they still carry.  

While we, vegans, are being gradually veganised — a process that never ends — we not only should explore all the five dimensions of veganism, regardless of which gateway we used first to enter the philosophy (and which one is our favourite), but we should also try to understand how other people interpret the terms we use. 

When we do that with the term “animal”, and we understand why people use it as they do, we may be able to grasp the underlying problem that explains why vegans remain a minority in any country in the world — despite this philosophy has been around for millennia and is the most ethically sound. And that problem is that we are still living in racist societies, we are still living under colonial principles, and we are still been dominated by supremacist ideas. We will never get to the vegan world if we do not address this problem. 

We can move away from this damaging space, though. Whether ethical vegans use the biological, social, ecological, physiological or spiritual definition of “animal”, they all are trying to live following the ancient principle of ahimsa. By just stating “do no harm” without specifying to whom, by just saying “non-violence” without specifying when and where, this simple universal concept may be our best antidote towards carnism, supremacy, speciesism, and the dangerous binary view. It may become the most effective decolonising and liberating tool at our disposal. It may be our best hope. 

I am a zoologist, so I know what an animal is. I am also an ethical vegan, so I know what ahimsa means. Therefore, I know what veganism should be.

Veganism is trying not to harm anyone. 

“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’.