When you first go vegan, you may see a lot of terms online that you don’t understand. If you have vegan friends, you might not understand half of what they’re saying to each other. This guide should help you find your way.
A Glossary of Vegan Terms
First, I’ll just list an alphabetical glossary of vegan terms, vegan vocabulary, vegan slang, and other vegan lingo. Then I’ll include a section at the bottom of this article with links for more resources if you want to dive into a specific area of vegan terminology.
There are many different sides to veganism, such as healthy eating, ethics, environmentalism, cooking, and more. So there can be a lot of different terms for you to learn when becoming vegan.
That said, you don’t really need to know all of these terms—you’ll find your way, with or without them. But if you want to prepare yourself to know all the vegan lingo, I’ll give you even more resources to dive into at the bottom of the post.
Abolitionist vegan. A vegan who believes in achieving a fully vegan world. Abolitionists tend to be more complete in their criticism of all animal uses than other, more casual vegans. Abolitionists are usually more strict about their own consumption of animal products, as well as criticizing other vegans who continue to engage with animal use in any form.
Animal by-products. Animal by-products are smaller ingredients derived from animals other than meat, dairy, and eggs. Most vegans try to avoid at least some animal by-products, such as gelatin (see below, made from boiled animal skins and stuff). But vegans are split about whether to try to avoid all animal products. It is likely impossible to actually avoid them all. Sometimes these are called minutiae.
Animal welfare. That belief that animals deserve to be treated humanely, but not necessarily that they have any rights beyond that (in terms of autonomy, agency, etc). Also, any activism that focuses on decreasing animal suffering. Animal welfare activism is usually based on a philosophy of utilitarianism. This is distinct from animal rights based on other beliefs such as the sanctity of life or not using animals without their consent. Read more in my guide about vegan ethics.
Aquafaba. The thick liquid in a can of chickpeas or other beans/legumes. Often used in recipes, sometimes as an egg replacement.
Bivalvegan. A vegan who eats bivalves such as oysters and mussels. See also “ostrovegan” (below) for more explanation.
Buddha bowl. A bowl of usually rice and beans and other vegetables. This is commonly offered as a vegan option in restaurants. But take notice: Buddha Bowls are not always vegan. They just often tend to be.
Carbitarian. Slang, usually derisive, for someone who goes vegetarian and replaces the meat in their diet with carbs, especially unhealthy ones.
Carnism. Carnism can be viewed as a subset of speciesism (see below). Carnism is the ideology that supports meat-eating. Anything that we learned growing up that teaches us that cows, pigs, chickens, and other “farm animals” are meant to be eaten—that’s carnism. why would we consider dogs and cats to be pets, but consider pigs to be food? Because carnism taught us that. Vegans oppose carnism and seek to make it less normalized.
Carob powder. An alternative to cocoa powder often used in health recipes. Compared to cocoa powder, it looks similar but has a distinct taste and does not contain caffeine.
Casein. A protein that comes from dairy. Most vegans try not to consume casein. Occasionally, you will find lactose-free dairy products that, although they do not contain lactose, still contain casein and therefore are not vegan.
Cheegan. A cheating vegan. Someone who is usually/mostly vegan but cheats on their diet by sometimes eating animal products.
Cochineal (carminic acid). This ingredient, used as a red dye, is produced from crushed up insects. It is one of the more disgusting but less known non-vegan ingredients. It’s sometimes used as the dye in red velvet cake.
Concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO). An industrial livestock operation, part of factory farming (see below). These can either be massive outdoor feedlots or massive windowless sheds containing thousands of animals. CAFOs are a key part of what people find objectionable about the factory farming of animals, from both an environmental and animal welfare standpoint.
Cruelty-free. Usually, this refers to products that were not tested on animals.
Daiya. One of the most popular brands of vegan cheese currently sold. The Diaya brand also sells vegan pizzas, vegan cheesecakes, and some other vegan alternatives to dairy products.
Deontological arguments (for veganism). This describes any ethical argument for veganism that says that eating animals is wrong, not due to the consequences of it, but because of that action being wrong in and of itself. Might be viewed as the opposite to utilitarian arguments for veganism, which are based on the consequences of using animals.
Earthlings. A term that includes all individuals from Earth. Basically, it’s a synonym for animals. But usually, people mean “non-human animals” when they just say “animals.” So the term “Earthlings” more clearly includes both non-human and human animals in the same category. It is used to emphasize how closely related we are to non-human animals and how much we have in common with them. There is also a popular vegan documentary called Earthlings.
Ethical vegan. Someone who is vegan for ethical reasons rather than just health reasons. Usually, this refers to someone who cares a lot about animal welfare or animal rights. See my article about vegan ethics for more.
Euthanasia. This term refers to a so-called “good death.” When referring to the many ways animals are killed, “euthanasia” is sometimes used as a euphemism instead of saying that the animal was murdered by humans. For example, cats and dogs that are not adopted at many shelters will be euthanized.
Factory farming. This is the method of farming that is common in modern production farms. On animal farms, this includes huge sheds with thousands of animals, often kept in tiny cages and abused in many ways. Vegans generally oppose all animal farming, but factory farming is the most clearly disgusting and abominable kind. Much of society is in agreement with vegans that factory farming needs to be reformed or abolished, for environmental, human rights, and animal welfare reasons. See also CAFO (above).
Faux fur. Fake fur. Vegans will sometimes wear faux fur, especially in places like around the edges of a hood on a winter coat. It looks like fur, but it did not require an animal to die.
Faux leather. Any fake leather. See also “pleather” (below).
Flax. Short for flax seeds, also known as linseed. Flax seeds are one of the healthiest foods you can add to your diet. They contain omega-3 fats, lignans, and fiber. Flax seeds are not specific to a vegan diet, but many of the healthier vegan diets make prominent use of flax seeds. Often they are ground up and can be added to baked goods, sprinkled on oatmeal or cereal, and so forth.
Flegg. When you use ground flaxseed, stirred up with water, as a replacement for eggs in baking. The word is a combination of “flax” and “egg.”
Flexitarian. Someone who is mostly vegetarian but sometimes eats meat.
Freegan. Someone who does not buy animal products but will consume animal products if they are dumpster-dived or given as a gift, etc. The idea here is that you’re still removing your financial support from animal agriculture and other industries that exploit animals, and so there is no need for purity in your personal diet/consumption.
Fruitarian. A raw vegan diet centered on fruits. Usually, fruitarians still do eat raw vegetables, as well, but the focus is on fruits. The majority of calories come from fruit. Many fruitarians do not eat nuts, even if they are raw, because of the macronutrient balance (see my guide to high-carb low-fat vegan diets for more on that).
Gelatin. A gelling agent made by boiling the bones, skin, and joints of cows, pigs, and other animals. Gelatin is not considered vegan or even vegetarian. It is found in Jello and also in some products where frosting is made to stick onto another surface (e.g., Pop Tarts and Frosted Mini-Wheats).
Hardline vegan. This is a term usually used somewhat judgmentally. it describes vegans who are very strict about avoiding all animal products and sometimes policing what other people do while calling themselves vegans.
Health vegan. Someone who is vegan solely for health reasons. That is, they aren’t doing it for ethical reasons such as animal rights. See also plant-based (below).
High-carb low-fat vegan diet (HCLF). A vegan diet that focuses primarily on carbohydrates as the main calorie sources. Usually, the focus is on starches, fruit, or both. Usually, the macronutrient ratio is intended to be around 80/80/10, meaning 80% of calories from carbohydrates, 10% of calories from protein, and 10% of calories from fat. See my full guide to HCLF vegan diets for more information).
Hummus. A dip for vegetables, chips, crackers, and more. Hummus is made from ground chickpeas and tahini. Many vegans love hummus and use it all the time.
Impossible Burger (or Impossible Whopper). This is a specific product that you may have heard a lot about. It’s a vegan burger (see “mock meat” below) that tastes a lot like real meat due to the synthetically made heme iron in it. (Heme iron is the type of iron found in animal blood and meat.)
Intersectional vegan (or pro-intersectional vegan). A vegan who supports intersectional anti-oppression politics. These vegans are usually outspoken activists on feminist issues, anti-racist issues, and more human rights struggles, in addition to being vegan. Read more about intersectional veganism in my post on vegan ethics.
Isinglass. A sort of gelatin (see above) that is taken from fish. Sometimes used in alcohol. See Barnivore for full lists of which alcohol products are vegan.
Jackfruit. A gigantic piece of fruit that actually has a similar stringy texture to pulled pork. Jackfruit is used in quite a few mock meat recipes for this reason.
Lacto-ovo vegetarian. Someone who doesn’t eat meat but still eats dairy products and eggs.
Lanolin. A wax that is secreted by wool-producing animals such as sheep. This is not a vegan ingredient, so most vegans try to avoid it.
Legumes. The category of food that includes beans, peas, and lentils. These are a major source of protein and fiber in the vegan diet. They often replace meat in a plate of vegan food.
Level-5 vegan. This “term” is just a joke about how vegans are so strict and some vegans are more strict than others. No serious vegans refer to themselves as level-5 vegans. It’s just a joke.
Living Foods. This means the same thing as “raw foods.” It includes raw vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, etc. These raw plant foods have not been broken down by cooking yet, so they are “alive.” They still contain enzymes that would be broken down during cooking.
Locavore. Someone who seeks as much as possible to only consume foods produced in their local area. For vegans, this would entail a focus on eating fruits and vegetables that were grown locally. It may also entail growing some of your own food or canning and freezing local foods to consume through the winter. The idea is reducing your environmental impact from having foods shipped across the country/world.
McDougall diet. A plant-based diet formulated by Dr. John McDougall several decades ago. This is a starch-based diet (see below). The emphasis is on rice, corn, potatoes, pasta, cereal, beans, and other starches. This is a diet promoted for weight loss, disease prevention, and other health reasons, not for ethical reasons. Therefore, it shares a lot in common with other vegan diets but is not exactly the same.
Mock meat. Any of the vegan alternatives to meat products. Often, these are soy-based or wheat protein-based. They include vegan hot dogs, vegan burgers, vegan sausages, and more.
New welfarist. This is a term used by Gary Francione and other abolitionists vegans to describe activists who believe in making reforms to factory farms along the way to a vegan world. For example, a new welfarist may support campaigns to get larger cages for egg-laying chickens, while also saying that a vegan diet is the best way to fight factory farming. Usually I have only seen the term “new welfarist” being used in a critical or judgmental way.
Nooch. Short for nutritional yeast (see below).
Nutritarian diet. A plant-based diet formulated by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. this diet emphasizes vegetables, fruits, and beans as the most nutrient-dense categories of food. Dr. Fuhrman defines health in food as nutrients per calorie. This diet differs from other healthy vegan diets in that it does not emphasize a macronutrient ratio. It doesn’t limit high-fat foods such as nuts. It’s simply focused on getting a lot of micronutrients per calorie ingested.
Nutritional yeast. This is a sort of condiment used by vegans and others who are interested in health foods. It comes as yellow flakes which are fortified with a lot of B vitamins. It has a cheesy, nutty flavor. Sometimes called “nooch.” Many vegans love it and put it on everything.
Omega-3 and Omega-6. These are essential fatty acids that your body needs. Much of society consumes too many omega-6 fats and not enough omega-3 fats. Vegans can have an even further imbalance in this direction because of not consuming fish or fish oil, which are common sources of omega-3 fats. Vegans can get some Omega-3s from flax, chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, and various vegetables. However, it’s often recommended that vegans also take a DHA/EPA supplement (the most bioavailable form of omega-3s). Vegan DHA/EPA supplements are usually sourced from algae.
Ostrovegan. A vegan who eats bivalves such as oysters and mussels. Ostrovegans support this decision by pointing to the fact that bivalves likely do not feel pain. (Bivalves lack a central nervous system and brain.) See also “bivalvegan.”
Ovo-vegetarian. Someone who is vegetarian but still eat eggs. See the similar term lacto-ovo-vegetarian (above) for someone who eats eggs and dairy products while abstaining from meat.
Pareve. This is a Jewish term which refers to any food that does not contain meat or dairy. So you will see this label on many vegan foods.
Pegan. A hybrid of a vegan diet and a paleo diet. Many people might see the paleo diet and the vegan diet as polar opposites due to the paleo diet’s typical focus on meat. But the vegan diet and paleo diet can overlap in a lot of places, particularly in the consumption of fresh vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
Pescatarian. Someone who is vegetarian except for fish. Meaning they do not eat red meat or poultry, but they still eat fish.
Plant-based. Any food or any way of eating that is focused on plant foods, not animal foods. Usually, this is a synonym to “vegan,” but sometimes it is specifically used because it doesn’t carry the same ethical connotations as “vegan.” For example, if you’re “vegan for health reasons,” you may just decide to call yourself “plant-based” instead. Sometimes “plant-based” is also used to refer to meals and diets which are mostly vegan but not entirely. (Such diets are still based on plant foods despite including occasional animal foods.)
Pleather. Fake leather. The word comes from the combination of “plastic” and “leather.” See also faux leather (above).
Pregan. I’ve seen this word used a few different ways, but I don’t think it is a common term. One usage is simply to refer to your own life before you were vegan. Another use is to refer to non-vegan items that you got back before you went vegan but which you have kept, such as some leather boots or a wool blanket. (Some vegans choose to get rid of their leather when they go vegan. Other vegans choose to keep the leather they already have.)
Quinoa. A grain that many vegans eat in certain dishes. The grains are circular rather than elongated like they are in rice. Quinoa is loved by many for its higher protein content and texture.
Raw vegan. A vegan who doesn’t consume cooked food. Often, the diet is fruitarian, emphasizing fruit as the main calorie source. Usually, greens and other raw vegetables are supplementary. Smoothies and salads are common. Most raw vegans are okay with food that is warmed below 118 degrees Fahrenheit because the enzymes are not killed at that low of a temperature.
Reducetarian. Someone who has committed to reduce their meat intake without fully going vegetarian.
Rennet. An enzyme commonly used in the production of cheese, which is taken from the stomach of slaughtered baby calves. Vegans try to avoid rennet. Along with casein, it is one of the reasons why lactose-free cheeses are not necessarily vegan.
Seagan. A vegan diet but with the addition of seafood.
Seitan. This is a vegan protein source made from wheat. It is commonly used as the main ingredient in mock meats. If you’re a soy-free vegan especially—and so, not eating tofu or tempeh—you may eat a lot of seitan.
Soysage. A soy-based alternative to sausage.
Speciesism. The ideology that is opposite can veganism. Speciesism is a parallel term to racism, sexism, and other -isms. It means discriminating against an individual and their interests due to their species. Vegans aspire to be anti-speciesist. Being anti-speciesist still allows you to acknowledge that different animals of different species have different needs. But we should take the needs of all species seriously, not ignoring their pain because of their species. See also “carnism” (above).
Starch-based diet. A diet that centers starches such as rice, corn, potatoes, pasta, and beans. Usually, this refers to a vegan diet, although that is not always the case. Popularized by Dr. John McDougall. See also McDougall Diet (above).
Tallow. A hard substance made from animal fat. Can be found in soap and other products. Ideally, vegans avoid this ingredient by buying vegan soap.
Tempeh. This is a vegan protein source usually made from soy, but it can be made from various ingredients. It’s fermented soy. It can be flavored many different ways, similarly to how tofu can. It is probably the most protein-rich ingredient you can add to your vegan diet.
Textured vegetable protein (TVP). TVP is made from soy flour and is commonly used as an alternative to ground beef. Actually, the most common use of TVP that I can think of is to make vegan sloppy joes.
Tofurky. A plant-based alternative to turkey made from soy, seitan, or other non-animal sources.
Utilitarianism. The ethical philosophy advocated by Peter Singer in his classic book Animal Liberation. Utilitarianism states that an action is bad if it causes more suffering than pleasure. In this view, eating animals is not necessarily and always wrong, but it is wrong in our current society where animal consumption is leading to much more suffering (to animals) than pleasure (to humans).
Veg*n. This spelling, with an asterisk, refers to either vegans or vegetarians, not specifying which one. See also “veg” (below).
Veg. Usually, this refers to anything vegetarian, vegan, or just generally related to that subculture. People sometimes say “Go veg!” without specifying whether they mean vegetarian or vegan. Usually, it’s just meant as a general push in that direction.
Vegan straight edge. Straight edge was and is a subculture in hardcore music that expanded to embrace a vegan diet for ethical reasons. People who are straight edge have committed not to drink alcohol, do drugs, or smoke cigarettes (and many also commit not to have promiscuous sex). Not all straight edge people are vegan, but many are. See also“XVX” (below).
Veganaise. Vegan mayonnaise. A replacement for mayo in a vegan diet.
Vegangelist. I actually only heard this term recently. It refers to a vegan who is an “evangelical” about veganism. It’s a vegan who wants to spread the vegan message far and wide.
Veganic. Vegan and organic farming. This refers to the fact that most organic farming involves the use of animal products in some way. Veganic farming does not use animal waste as fertilizer. It also does not use chemical pesticides. Many vegans believe that veganic farming is the future of ethical and sustainable agriculture. See my article “Should Vegans Eat Organic as a Rule?“
Veganize. To make a recipe or meal into a vegan version. Veganizing a recipe requires you to replace the meat, dairy, and eggs with plant-based foods instead.
Veganuary. The promotional push each January to get many new people to try a vegan diet.
Vegetarian. Any person who does not eat meat or any food that does not contain meat. See also “lacto-ovo vegetarian” (above) and “ovo-vegetarian” (above).
Vitamin B12. Of all the essential vitamins and nutrients, vitamin B12 may be the most common deficiency among vegans. For this reason, it is recommended that all vegans take a vitamin B12 supplement. However, our bodies naturally recycle their B12 stores, so you are not likely to run into B12 deficiency early in your vegan experience. It’s more of a concern for long-term vegans.
Welfarist. An approach to animal activism that emphasizes the humane treatment of animals rather than the abolition of non-human animal use by humans. See also animal welfare (above) and new welfarist (above).
Whole food plant-based (WFPB) diet. This is the most common term used to describe a vegan diet focused exclusively on unrefined, whole foods. As with other plant-based diets, this term connotes less ethical judgments compared to the term “vegan.” So they don’t mean the same thing exactly. Some doctors promote a whole food plant-based diet, for example, who do not necessarily value animal rights. And some vegans eat a diet containing more processed food, so they do not eat a whole food plant-based diet. That said, many people who eat a whole food plant-based diet are vegan. And many of the health benefits of “veganism” are most applicable to those eating a whole food plant-based diet.
Whole starch low-fat diet (WSLF). This is a specific version of a high-carb low-fat diet (above). The emphasis is on eating whole, unrefined starches, such as grains and potatoes. The low-fat nature of this diet also means that avocados, nuts, and oils are not emphasized.
XVX. A symbol for straight edge veganism (which has its own listing above). (Normal straight-edge is often symbolized as “sXe” or “XXX.”)
Resources for More Vegan Terminology
If you’re looking to get an ever deeper fix of vegan lingo, check out some of these resources:
• A big list animal products and byproducts found in food, clothing, and household goods. Some of these are very uncommon terms, so I don’t think it pays to memorize them all. But if you want to really know your stuff, you can dive in!
• My article all about vegan ethics. I dive deeper into the different philosophical and ethical perspectives on veganism and expand on some of the vegan terms listed on this page.
• My ultimate guide to HCLF vegan diets. This post covers a few specific types of “high-carb” vegan diets and so expands on several of the vegan terms on this page.
Two More Recommendations for Your Vegan Journey
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2. This is the best vegan starter kit I know of. It’s a bundle of 9 beautiful e-books that help you transition to a healthy plant-based diet—the right way. The advice is spot-on, and it has print-outs and checklists that make it easy to implement. Read my full review of Nutriciously here.