Lost in translation

Lost in translation

Vegan Society of Canada News
April 23rd 2021

The French word “végétalien” is not equivalent to vegan. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon to have misleading, confusing or outright incorrect translations on food labels.

The word “végétalien” in French is defined by Larousse broadly as something related to “végétalisme“, which is a diet excluding any foods of animal origin. In contrast, a vegan is something in relation to veganism which is not only concerned about our diet. The word “vegan” or “végan(e)” is already accepted in French, so this word requires no translation. On the other hand, there is no one word that correctly translates “végétalien” into English, but we recommend businesses use “100% plant-based”, “plant-based” or “animal-free”. Unless we create a new word like “plantarian” to denote the dietary aspect alone, these English words seem to be the best alternatives.

We are unsure how and when this practice started, but it appears that this was done without knowing what the French word “végétalien” actually meant, and businesses simply followed the trend. In all cases, we recommend businesses do not use “vegan” without being certified.

The government of Canada continues to force their incorrect definition of vegan on us, instead of working with the vegan community as they have with other designations. We had hoped to be able to resolve this issue amicably with our government, but so far they have ignored our requests and we have received no sign that they are willing to cooperate. The self-imposed deadline we had given the CFIA and our government to make this change is approaching, and we intend to proceed with lawsuits if they do not comply.

We encourage businesses, especially those who will be exporting their products outside of Canada, not to wait for the Canadian government; simply use “100% plant-based”, “plant-based” or “animal-free” as appropriate or get vegan certified by a vegan organization. We invite businesses to contact us for details.

Individuals interested in these issues, please consider volunteering with us.

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