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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Vegan? Vegetarian? What's the dif?

It has become easier than ever to not eat meat.  There are more options at restaurants, grocery stores stock more selections, and there are a zillion cookbooks on the vegan/vegetarian diet.  As more and more news is published on the treatment of farm animals and the quality of animal products there is no better time to reconsider what you eat.  A diet without meat is not only greener, but healthier for you and definitely the animals you would otherwise consume.  

A confusion seems to exist about the differences in vegan and vegetarian diets. Either term refers to someone who chooses a plant-based diet, for the most part. There are several categories:

A vegan (pronounced "vee-gun") will not eat any products that come from fowl, seafood, fish or animals, including dairy, eggs, or honey. This diet subsists of fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts, and seeds.

A lacto-vegetarian will eat dairy products.

An ovo-vegetarian will not eat dairy products but will eat eggs.

A lacto-ovo vegetarian will eat dairy products and eggs.

Any of the three above may eat honey.  Any cheese consumed would have to be made with vegetable rennet (as opposed to animal rennet which is extracted from the stomachs of unweaned calves during the production of veal.)>

A fruitarian will only eat produce from plants, the harvesting of which will not kill the plant. Hence an orange or a banana would be eaten, but not a radish, which would destroy the plant.

A pescetarian will additionally eat seafood and/or fish. Those on a macrobiotic diet are included in this category.

A semi-vegetarian will not eat red meat, but will eat fowl, seafood, fish, dairy, eggs, and honey.

A flexitarian eats mostly a plant-based diet but will occasionally eat red meat, fowl, seafood, or fish.

The last three categories are often considered "pseudo-vegetarians".

Additionally, most vegetarians will eschew wearing or using products from animals, such as leather, fur, wool, silk, lanolin, feathers, bone, ivory, shell, etc., or any products tested on animals. 

The important thing to understand is that vegans/vegetarians do not eat the flesh of any critter including broths - beef, chicken, pork, or fish. Just because the meat isn't visible, don't assume that it is okay to serve such a dish to a vegetarian. The same goes for lard or other animal-based cooking fats.

There seems to be an ugly, IMHO, trend among some vegans who are starting to rail against vegetarians for eating any animal products, as the harvesting of these products harm the animals they come from.  Their righteous anger surprises as “do no harm”, to my mind at least, means acting kindly to all creatures, including humans.  This angry posturing also goes against the "peace and love" vibes that not eating meat are supposed to induce.  First of all, a major change in one’s eating lifestyle will be more successfully accomplished in baby steps.  It’s hard for anyone to make any change cold turkey and sustain it.  So rather than informing vegetarians that their commitment isn’t enough, vegetarians should be encouraged for taking that step.  

Secondly these vegans assume that it is impossible to consume any animal products without harming the animals.  I, myself, have bees.  In exchange for some of their honey, I offer them a sheltered hive, fresh water, plants they particularly like planted specifically for them, and protection.  There is a certain beauty to this relationship, which I think the bees agree with, or else they would fly off.  Likewise I get eggs from a friend who keeps chickens who are loose in her yard, produce infertile eggs since there are no roosters, and who are pets which climb in her lap and follow her around.  They lead a life far superior to being kept in a filthy and too small a cage with their beaks cut.

Whatever your dietary choices are, a blessing for the meal you are about to consume, and the entities that provided it, is a nice touch.



  1. Your reverence for all creatures great and small is admirable. This post gives me a lot to think about--and makes me envy your bees.

  2. Thanks, Nancy! Bees are very easy to keep, and great friends!