I've been thinking about what happens to the word "Vegan" in a world with lab grown meat and dairy. I think it's an unfortunate historical quirk that people concerned with the suffering of non-human animals came to identify so strongly with "eating plants", because it's really about not doing harm with your food choices, and the plants are just incidental. Of course not everyone who identifies as Vegan does it for ethical reasons, and it's here that things start getting muddled.
There's already a slate of qualifiers on the Vegan label to help parse it's meaning in different contexts; health Vegan, raw Vegan, straight-edge Vegan, ethical Vegan (this is me), bivalve Vegan (also me), and a bunch more. My argument here is that we should drop all these qualifiers (maybe retain the simple "ethical Vegan"), and simply push the word away from "eating only plants" to mean "not causing suffering with food choices".
This isn't just an obsession with semantics on my part. Most of the animal activist community is heavily identified with the Vegan label, and this will be a problem moving forward if Vegan remains synonymous with "plant based diet". How will Vegan Outreach explain in a pamphlet on being Vegan that it's OK (and encouraged!) to eat lab grown meats and dairy? Rather than add a new layer of qualifiers to the term, I think that it's time to purposefully evolve it so that it remains relevant and useful.
My pitch is to drop all qualifiers (except maybe "ethical" if you're really pushed), and just use Vegan to describe a cruelty-free diet, whatever that diet looks like in the future.
Above I say things like "push the word away from 'eating only plants' to mean 'not causing suffering with food choices'". I'm definitely not arguing that Vegan (which is really a lifestyle) refer only to diet. Right now the word has so many different meanings (and qualifiers) that it's difficult to talk with precision about it. My general argument is to move it from "plant based diet" --> "ethical diet", "avoiding animal products" --> "being concerned about the ethical impact of your lifestyle", etc.
Most animal orgs already use Vegan in this way most of the time, although lab grown meats and dairy are really going to force the issue in a way that hasn't happened before. I think there's an opportunity here for (ethical) Vegans to head off this development and actively take ownership of the term, drop all the qualifiers, and clarify the messaging around what being Vegan is really about. It's not about eating plants or not wearing leather shoes, it's about adopting an ethically consistent lifestyle, so if you want to eat a lab grown burger go for it!