The word 'veganism' is derived from the abbreviation 'vegan' which simply means vegetarian. Veganism is in fact nothing but consistently implemented vegetarianism. In this case people not only refrain from using products of animals that have been killed, but also from products for which animals have been used, such as dairy products, wool and honey. In our society it is, from a practical point of view, not yet possible to live a completely vegetarian lifestyle, and therefore it is also impossible to live a completely vegan lifestyle. The reason is that animal products may have been used in items you would not expect. For example, animal parts are sometimes used in dyes and the development of regular photographs uses gelatin, made from the bones of slaughtered cows. So vegans are, in actual practice, not people who do not use animals products at all, but people who strive to use as few as possible. A vegan at least refrains from the use of such products as meat, fish, chicken, seafood, dairy and leather.
Vegans, like vegetarians, can have a variety of reasons for their lifestyle. In most cases animal ethics is the most important reason. Even outside of factory farming animals are, after an either long or short period of service, usually conveyed to the slaughterhouse. Moreover, young male animals who don't produce dairy are either immediately killed or fattened up for a short period of time and then slaughtered. For that reason the production of animal foodstuffs and clothing using animal products causes almost by definition much suffering for animals. There are exceptions, namely products made from animals that have been kept by vegetarians. But structural use of animals always leads to a certain degree of exploitation of those animals. Veganism in most cases means that you radically and consistently renounce this exploitation.
In addition to this most significant reason, it is possible that vegans primarily choose this way of life because they are of the opinion that it is very healthy to completely abstain from animal products. If you put it this absolutely, it is in fact incorrect, because it has by now been shown that a diet which consists completely of vegetable foods contains too little vitamin B12. Only when supplemented with tablets and such containing concentrated dosages of vitamin B12 of vegetable origin, can a vegan diet be healthier than the average diet. Better alternatives for this are to be expected in the future. A sensible vegan will in any case take his or her need for vitamin B12 into account. There is, for that matter, certainly B12 in the vegetable kingdom, but it is too difficult to consume in non-concentrated from.
In addition some vegans believe their way of life is important because the production of vegetable food is much less expensive and takes up much less space than the production of meat and dairy. They link this directly to world hunger. Much more food could be produced for human consumption if everyone adopted a vegan lifestyle.
Then there are a number of vegans that stress that cattle breeding always goes hand in hand with much environmental pollution and logging. By living a completely vegetarian lifestyle much environmental pollution can be prevented.
To conclude, a small group of vegans believes that veganism leads to a form of spiritual purity. One would no longer be influenced by animal urges and emotions to which meat-eaters and vegetarians are exposed through their food. They have in mind dark desires, aggressive tendencies and feelings of fear and pain.
Some vegans believe animal ethics less important than one or several of the other reasons. Many ethical vegans (i.e. vegans motivated by a concept of animal rights) believe that other motives are not at all important or even cast doubt on their value. They are, for example, not necessarily convinced that veganism is healthier than vegetarianism.
No uniform movement
From a culinary point of view there is great diversity among vegans. In this respect they probably match the rest of the population. Some vegans, for example, believe that a healthy diet is the most important factor, even at the expense of the flavor of their meals. Quite a few vegans want to combine healthy and tasty food as much as possible. And many others, like most meat eaters, are of the opinion that food does not always have to be healthy, but it should always taste good. A vegan lifestyle does not mean you can no longer enjoy a myriad of delicacies. There are comprehensive vegan cookbooks and for a wide variety of delectable dishes, among which even sausages, ice cream or cheese, there are tasty vegetable alternatives today.
Vegans may also differ largely in their political convictions. Some may feel affinity for (ultra) right-winged movements, shadowy or otherwise. They experience society as degenerate and impure and wish to return to a 'natural' primordial state, with, for example, as few immigrants as possible. For some, veganism is not only a way of life, but a complete ideology.
They consider veganism a key to many other issues such as health and politics. Most, however, link veganism primarily or exclusively with the position of animals in human society.
Other vegans will be quite apolitically and yet others (probably most) feel affinity with radical left-winged, libertarian-socialist and anarchist groups. They associate advocating for equal rights for all people with animal rights and are, for example, opposed to sexism and racism. They find the same lack of freedom and inequality in power and refuse to conform to this. They advocate basic rights for as many individuals as possible (human and animal).
Vegans are clearly no uniform group. They can differ in both motivation and political orientation. Similar differences can be seen concerning the fight for animal rights. The great majority of vegans believe that this fight against speciesism (discrimination on the grounds of species) should be fought solely with legal means. Only a minority has lost all confidence in a legal battle and resort to illegal activities. Almost always this does not concern violence against people, but only against material.
A typical vegan?
The members of extremist groups such as The Justice Department are probably in most cases vegans, even though it is of course difficult to ascertain (due to the secret and illegal nature) if this is true for all 'members'. It is a fact that there are vegans among them because a consistent fight for animal rights implicates that no matter how, you try to live a vegan lifestyle yourself. These individuals can by no means be considered 'typical' vegans. The typical vegan supports human rights and rejects such violence.
Those vegans who do commit atrocities in the name of animal rights are by no means typical vegans. Not their veganism (their consistently applied animal ethics) but their lack of respect for human rights and the fear their acts instill in people make them terrorists.
Maybe their attitude is partly due to a lack of historical perspective. The struggles for the abolition of slavery, for human rights, for civil rights, for women's rights, for children's rights and the rights of sexual minorities has taken a very long time and is in many ways still incomplete. The recognition of animal rights can be expected to take at least as much time. It is much better to be glad about small steps in the right direction than to expect a world-wide abolition of all use of animals within a short period of time.
Every emancipatory movement needs an inspired vanguard. Ethical vegans are the pioneers of the animal rights movement who try to put into practice its ideals as consistently as possible in their lives. Vegans need to understand that it may take centuries before their lead will be followed on a massive scale. What is inspiring about this long-term perspective is that somebody needs to make a start. Lao Tse said, 'A journey of 1.000 miles begins with the first step'. Most vegans today not only do not cause any unnecessary suffering to animals, but they are a shining example for how all people might one day become where it concerns these matters.