Two lifestyles can free us from the shackles of consumerism: Minimalism and veganism. Brought together, they provide a compelling solution to the modern-day slavery of always wanting more. Through mindful choices, we can reconnect with a conscious, meaningful way of life.
I’m not the first person to draw a connection between minimalism and veganism. But I am fascinated when it comes to the intersection between these two philosophies.
When we take it back to basics, it all starts with mindfulness or the process of becoming aware. As soon as we regain consciousness from our unquestioned, habit-driven lives, we put a spotlight on the things we mindlessly consume and ask some difficult questions.
Minimalism and veganism go hand in hand as lifestyle choices that grow out of this budding consciousness.
My intentional journey began with a strong individual desire to live more meaningfully. Seemingly small acts like decluttering my overflowing kitchen cupboards or committing to a minimalist capsule wardrobe organically grew into something much larger.
I went on to question all sorts of things in my life – the information I consumed, the things I was putting in and on my body, even my romantic relationships and the friends I was choosing to spend my time with. Through this selective process, I came to realise that the possessions I owned were simply a symptom of the root issue.
This was more about personal accountability and reconnecting with my values.
When you sincerely start to look after yourself, your home, and your time like someone you care about, you can’t help but ask bigger questions about the world you live in and the impact you have on it. Minimalism and veganism are interconnected because they both involve a conscious desire to build a better world as an individual and at large.
Help! Do You Have to Be Both Vegan & Minimalist?
I’ll be honest with you. I felt compelled to write this article after recently watching the above clip featuring Dr Paul Saladino on The Minimalists podcast.
Their documentary series on Netflix was one of the first things that really piqued my interest in minimalism, and I’m generally a fan of whatever they have to say. So I found this episode displayed a shocking lack of empathy and understanding where veganism is concerned.
Without going off on too much of a tangent, suffice it to say that the bro science in this video is backed up by zero scientific evidence. Latest research all points to the vegan diet being one of the healthiest in the world (the only genuine lacking nutrient being B12). At best, this video is misinformative. At worst, it promotes a diet which will have long-term negative health consequences, sustainability issues for the planet, and takes no heed whatsoever of the sentient, voiceless victims.
In short, I think that this highlights the thrust of the issue when you pose a dichotomy between minimalism and veganism. As a life philosophy which considers a better, shared way of living and the interconnectedness of all things, minimalism and veganism are heavily intertwined.
There is no minimalist rule book, but can you truly say you experience satisfaction from eating animal products born out of suffering? Can you buy cheap clothes without consideration of garment workers or the devastation of the world’s rivers? Can you purchase makeup products without considering whether they’re cruelty-free?
At their heart, minimalism and veganism share the same underlying values because they open our eyes to moral questions that are out of sight, out of mind. They’re two sides of the same coin.
The Challenges Vegans & Minimalists Both Face
If minimalism and veganism have ideals in common, then it’s also wise before pursuing them to understand the shared challenges they also pose. The good news is that any lessons learnt are very much transferable. For example, I started by exploring minimalism, but the mindset I needed to adopt had me much better prepared for transitioning to veganism and sticking with it.
Both philosophies are counter-cultural because they go against the grain of what you’ve been taught by your parents, teachers, well-meaning adults, and society at large.
When eating meat is normalised and even celebrated on a cultural level, especially when it comes to special occasions like Christmas and Easter, veganism is the counter-cultural choice. Similarly, when success is outwardly measured by the size of the house your own, the model of car you drive, or whether or not you own the latest iPhone, it’s going to be challenging to move away from this known blueprint.
Veganism and minimalism take courage. You must question inherited wisdom and look to your own moral compass for strength and guidance, which isn’t always easy when you’ve traditionally relied on the opinion of others.
Don’t ever underestimate the power of marketing! When you’re bombarded 24/7 with advertising, you internalise all sorts of messages you don’t even realise.
From believing the hype that the next ‘miracle’ beauty product really will make you feel beautiful, to consoling yourself about supporting the dairy industry by buying ‘happy, free range’ eggs, advertisers know how to manipulate your feelings so that you feel good about yourself when making a purchase.
Minimalist and vegan lifestyles attempt to strip away the stories you’re being sold so that you can make better-informed buying decisions.
Forgo instant gratification
Finally, and not to be dismissed in a hurry, is the fact that veganism and minimalism are a crash course in self-discipline. When you’ve been living your life one short-term dopamine hit to the next – a fast fashion haul here, a Dominos pizza there – it can feel like an addict going cold turkey when it comes to forgoing the pleasure of instant gratification.
Whether it’s craving the taste of cheese (oh believe me, I know) or ignoring that last chance 10% off sale email (wow, you’re missing out on some unbelievable deals there)… It’s tough. Of course, short-term pleasure is long-term pain when a nagging unfulfillment gnaws away at you. But it doesn’t feel like that in the moment.
Be prepared for difficult days, and make sure to get very clear on your why. You’ll need to revisit this often. But I promise, alignment with your values will be more than worth it in the long term.
5 Shared Ideals of Minimalism & Veganism
Now that we’ve considered the shared challenges, let’s take a look at the crossover between a minimalist and vegan lifestyle. There are plenty of parallels that can be drawn between these two distinct philosophies, moving beyond the ‘pure aestheticism’ some may associate with minimalism and getting to the underlying core of these lifestyle choices.
1. Improve personal wellbeing
More often than not, an intentional journey starts from a selfish point of view. And before you panic about this, I’m not judging in any way here – in fact, this is exactly how my own journey towards intentional living began.
A desire for self-improvement led me to minimalism and veganism. I wanted to simplify my life and make better use of my time, but I was also interested in how I could eat more healthily. Through books like Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Dr Michael Greger’s How Not to Die, I discovered that these were philosophies that promised an antidote to the short-term gratification of poor daily habits and choices. Crucially, I started to focus on small but significant changes in my own life.
Both lifestyle choices promise health benefits, mentally and physically. Even with no consideration for anyone beyond yourself at this point, this is a useful start.
2. Ethical considerations
However, once you start to make more conscious decisions that affect your own life, it’s amazing how quickly you realise that this is just the tip of the iceberg. Veganism and minimalism, aside from the personal benefits, have ripple effects that encourage a kinder, more compassionate world.
Both philosophies aim to minimise suffering. This is most obvious with vegans who choose to opt out of a culture that treats animals with extreme cruelty, but arguably there is an ethical component to both.
When you delve into simple living and sustainability, minimalism is as much an ethical choice too. For example, by choosing not to support the fast fashion industry, you also choose not to support a system which exploits vulnerable garment workers in some of the poorest parts of the world. It’s about refusing to treat other animals, humans, or the natural world, simply as commodities or a ‘means to an end’ for your own pleasure, whether that be through food, fashion, beauty, or household items.
When you are presented with a perfectly packaged item on a shop shelf, you don’t stop to think about the hidden cost. Minimalism and veganism are the moral compasses that bring the things you’d rather brush under the carpet to the forefront. They highlight how your silent complicity has a direct impact on others less fortunate than yourself, encouraging you to make decisions for the greater good. And in doing so, challenging large-scale systems of exploitation.
3. Sustainability of our planet
Minimising consumption also has environmental benefits. It puts less stress on the planet by reducing waste, pollution, and our contribution towards landfill.
However, what I didn’t know before educating myself about veganism, was that animal agriculture is one of the leading contributors towards climate change outside of the transport industry.
As David Attenborough so arrestingly put it:
We must change our diet… Half of fertile land on Earth is now farmland, 70 percent of birds are domestic, majority chickens. There’s little left for the world. We have completely destroyed it.
Even minimalism took on a whole new significance for me after watching some eye-opening fast fashion documentaries. I had no idea about the devastating environmental consequences of seemingly innocent fashion hauls.
For example, did you know that 20% of the world’s wastewater is from the textile industry? Or that fashion is responsible for 10% of annual global carbon emissions, which is more than the aviation and shipping industries combined?
To practice minimalism and veganism is to tackle big questions when it comes to the long-term health of our planet, and take individual accountability for the changes we can make in our own lives.
4. Getting back to basics
A small amount of ingredients. Light on the palate and stomach. Easy to prepare, with a minimum of fuss.
Both veganism and minimalism are ultimately about stripping things back to basics, reducing decision fatigue, and simplifying our daily choices so that we can live healthy and fulfilling lives.
A vegan diet predominantly based around plant-based whole foods is actually incredibly simple. Much like beauty products that list hundreds of ingredients, many of them unregulated and toxic, food also requires a minimal approach. You come to realise that you don’t need to purchase overly-refined products where you can’t pronounce half the ingredients. Real food is minimally processed; simple, healthy, delicious, and natural.
A minimal life can be likened to ditching fast food for real food. When you cut through the marketing hype and think about the things which truly bring you joy, your outlook changes. It’s about shared experiences with loved ones over things. A walk on the beach. A home-cooked meal with your nearest and dearest. Practising gratitude every day.
5. Power of the individual
Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.
It’s a ridiculously simple yet powerful thought. When it feels like there’s no point even trying because what difference can you make as just one individual, well… maybe you can’t change the whole world. But you can do something.
You can make a start by changing the only thing that is within your control: your own behaviour.
Minimalism and veganism necessarily challenge industries and institutions through activism and education, but possibly the most important lesson they can teach us is our purchasing power as consumers. You can absolutely vote with your wallet and be an active creator in the kind of world you want to live in. Grassroots change can feel painstakingly slow, but it also demands innovation that big brands find difficult to ignore.
By purchasing less and putting more thought into the things you do choose to buy, you can support innovative food companies and ethical clothing brands that encapsulate the kind of world you want your children to grow up in.
An Intentional Life Is One of Mindful Consumption
I don’t want to be prescriptive here. We all have our own journeys to make, and everyone will be different. But if you care about the sustainability and ethics of your personal choices – which is arguably at the heart of both the vegan and minimalist lifestyle – then it’s hard to commit to one without consideration of the other.
Veganism and minimalism have their issues, but remember that trying and being actively engaged is more important than perfectionism. As Voltaire reminds us:
The best is the enemy of the good.
At the very least, I hope this post gives you some food for thought. Oh, and I should say, thank you to The Minimalists and Dr Paul Saladino for inspiring this discussion. Consuming ethically and compassionately has all the personal benefits that intentional living brings in the long term, as well as contributing to a healthier, kinder, and more responsible world.
Pin this for later