Louise Palmer-Masterton is the founder of Stem and Glory, two plant-based restaurants in London and Cambridge. Here, she gives us the lowdown on the differences between and the meaning behind veganism and a plant-based diet.
Because our new tagline is ‘Gloriously Plant-based’ I get asked quite frequently if that means I have abandoned veganism. I find that rather curious, as for me the two things mean the same. In fact, if you really want to get down to the nitty gritty, the truth is, Stem and Glory is all about wholefood plant-based ingredients, ethically sourced, low carbon, circular, compassionate and cruelty free. So, is that vegan or plant-based? And what is the difference anyway?
In 1944, the term vegan was first coined by Donald Watson and friends, although it wasn’t until the 80s that veganism was clearly defined as follows:
“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 humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”
Interestingly, in the US Dr T. Colin Campbell coined the term ‘plant-based’ around the same time following research at the National Institutes of Health which showed the therapeutic impact of a low-fat, high-fibre, vegetable-based diet on cancer. He was seeking a term that described this diet without invoking ethical considerations. The term was further defined by Campbell by adding ‘whole-food’ to plant-based to draw the distinction that it is specifically a whole-food plant-based diet that has health benefits.
In other words, veganism is about the abstention from animal products, not necessarily with reference to healthy foods, whereas whole-food plant-based is very much focused around the health benefits of following the diet.
So, it looks like vegans in this case do have the ethical high ground, but from that perspective, it looks like I, and Stem and Glory, are neither vegan or wholefood plant-based, but rather vegan and wholefood plant-based.
Through the 80s and 90s as people’s consciousness started to shift. Mad cow, and other animal borne diseases played their part in a growing awareness of poor farming methods. And as well as these perceived health risks, people started to question the ethics of eating meat.
Once we turned the corner into the noughties, the term plant-based began to break into the mainstream, but it was as we moved into the ‘Teenies’ that the movement, and the term, suddenly started to gain traction. Is it a bad thing for the vegan movement that the term plant-based was popularised? I would like to suggest that the term plant-based has contributed significantly to the rise in popularity of veganism, and that they share responsibility for the rise of interest in the vegan movement with regard to animal welfare and health.
There is another huge factor in the growth of both movements, and that’s the environment. Back when I became vegan, it was for the animals. But back then, in the same way that health was not a key driver for those adopting a vegan lifestyle, the environment also wasn’t mentioned. Climate change wasn’t a thing, and it was for pure ethical reasons that people became vegan. But now, the environmental arguments have become increasingly compelling to the point that they can no longer be ignored. Most people I know now actively try to eat fewer animal products. But are these people eating more vegan food or more wholefood plant-based food? And is one better for the environment?
I had a friend that questioned my veganism many years ago. He held up a processed vegan product and said to me ‘this doesn’t contain animals, but it does contain humans’. He made a good point. The life blood of humans goes into processing and manufacturing, and processing is wasted energy. The more you process a food product, the more energy you use.
So, on this point, and this point alone, a wholefood plant-based diet is definitely better for the environment and health than a vegan diet containing processed foods.
When I was a young vegan it was quite hard to find vegan fashion, for example non-leather shoes. When you could find them, products were made from plastic derived materials, and were definitely not good for the environment. Fast forward to today, there is an explosion of not only vegan fashion and products, but specifically sustainable plant-based products. It is clear that just being vegan doesn’t make a product environmentally sound. There has to be a deeper dive into production beyond simply avoiding animal-derived ingredients.
Sustainable fashion is rapidly growing, with all kinds of materials, such as banana stems and pineapple leaves being used to create a wide variety of fashion and home products from sustainable fabric to biodegradable faux leather. But is sustainable fashion vegan? No, often it’s not. Many sustainable fashion houses still use products such as wool and silk. Many use ‘eco-wool’ and ‘eco-silk’ which are animal products supposedly done more ‘ethically’, but the truth is, unless they explicitly state they are vegan wool or vegan silk, they will still be made of animal products, and neither vegan nor truly sustainable.
For now, I am going to stick with being both wholefood plant-based and vegan, but I do think we will see wholefood plant-based and veganism converging in the coming years. So please, wholefood plant-based and vegan people, make your peace with each other. You have both made a huge contribution to the growth in the movement towards living in a more compassionate and sustainable world.
Louise Palmer-Masterton is founder of multiple award-winning restaurants Stem and Glory; hip and trendy but accessible wholefood plant-based restaurants, serving delicious gourmet vegan food from locally sourced ingredients. Stem and Glory also offers a range of ready meals and recipe kits available for delivery across the UK.
All imagery used in this article credit: Stem and Glory