Language is fascinating and complicated. Just as terms like “plant-based” and “vegan” are becoming widespread, their definitions seem to be shifting and expanding. In the case of the animal-free dairy in Brave Robot’s ice cream—made by a company called Perfect Day—the process involves fermenting microorganisms to create the same components found in dairy, but doing so with no animal inputs. If a food is biologically identical to dairy—meaning people with whey allergies will want to avoid it—but it’s made without animals . . . is it vegan?
It doesn’t seem as though there’s a simple answer to this. For a long time, what made something “vegan” or, interchangeably, “plant-based,” was simply not containing any animal products—no milk, meat, eggs, or other animal derivatives.
All of this is even further muddled by the fact that not all cell-based meat is free from animal inputs. Many are made with fetal bovine serum, typically collected during the slaughter of pregnant cows. If even one animal has to die for it to be produced, can we really consider a product vegan? In my opinion, no. But it does certainly reduce, though not eliminate, animal suffering. Needless to say, it’s a complicated topic.