As with any lifestyle choice, there are varying degrees by which vegans live their philosophy. The question "what is a vegan" isn't as easy to answer, therefore, as it might seem. In the purest sense vegans refrain from eating animals, animal by-products, or using any products on which quality or developmental testing involving animals has been conducted. Some vegans, however, limit the restrictions of their lifestyle to consumption only and not to product use.
The word "vegan" was crafted from the original "vegetarianism" by adherents to the philosophy who objected to those members who claimed to follow the lifestyle but sanctioned the consumption of dairy products. Consequently the objecting group re-labeled themselves. The abbreviated, and by some standards more pure term, vegan, has been in use since approximately 1944.
In addition to their objection to animal testing, vegans do not support the captivity of animals in zoos or their use for entertainment purposes in venues like a circus. The question "who is a vegan" is almost as difficult to answer as "what is a vegan" because the reasons individuals cite for their decision to adopt the lifestyle vary widely. Some are animal rights activists while others will discuss religious, ethical, or spiritual reasons for their choice.
The lifestyle choice means that unique dietary challenges are presented to the vegan. Protein is an important element of the human diet and for the vegan, protein must come from unusual sources. Vegans are quick to point out that plant-based proteins offer the same benefit as those that are animal based. To a vegan, protein may mean the consumption of such items as beans and whole grains, fruits, and a variety of nuts and seeds. Tofu and tempeh also present an alternative vegan protein. For those who take the time to study and to learn the elements of a proper diet for a vegan, protein deficiency should not be an issue.
For full adherents to the lifestyle, however, vegan protein sources are not the only conundrum. For a true vegan, cosmetics must also meet the strictures of their chosen lifestyle. Vegan cosmetics must have been produced under circumstances free of animal testing, must not contain animal by-products, and must not in any way be associated with harm to or misuse of an animal.
This cruelty-free provision once made it extremely difficult for vegans to procure the every day products associated with human hygiene but the rise of the Internet has brought boutique sources of such products within reach of vegans living in any part of the world. Given the extent to which the individual vegan practices his or her lifestyle and the degree to which they plan their purchases in advance, the availability of vegan approved products online has made the vegan way of life much more accessible.
No matter why an individual chooses to adopt the vegan lifestyle or the extent to which they carry that lifestyle into their daily diet, personally hygiene, wardrobe, and household furnishings, vegans face challenges in actively living their philosophy. They have, however, increasingly made incursions into the popular perception of product testing and to the use of chemicals like insecticides that make their way into the world food supply. As a result, more people have been touched by the vegan way of life than they, themselves, realize.