Yeah, we know it’s 2020 and there seems to be a never-ending amount of information on being vegan and vegetarian. Now more than ever diet has become a political statement rather than a mere trend. It is important to stay up to date on the various minutiae and nuances that separate one diet from the next.
You’d be surprised how many people still ask the question “Is vegan and vegetarian the same thing?” or ‘“Is vegan opposite of vegetarian?”(Just think about all the times you’ve had to explain your dietary needs to grandma or grandpa.) Thankfully, it is all relatively simple.
And even though vegan and vegetarian eating are both more popular than ever, there’s still plenty of misinformation about each. Of course, there is a wealth of good information out there but sometimes it can be hard to find.
So maybe you’re a vegan or vegetarian looking for an article to send to your grandma. That way they know exactly what to feed you at the next family dinner. Or maybe you’re someone who’s interested in adopting a meat-free diet, but not sure which one to choose. Maybe you are just looking for some new meals to cook to spice up your stagnant and boring diet.
In this blog, we’re going to look at the difference between vegetarian and vegan.
Definitions of a Vegan vs. a Vegetarian
Vegan and vegetarian – they’re pretty much the same thing, right? Well, yes and no. While both of these diets don’t involve consuming meat, there are some major differences between the two you need to be aware of.
It’s always a good idea to go back to the basics. There is no point in getting lost in all the detail right at the beginning. So to start, let’s get our definitions of vegans vs. vegetarians straight.
According to the Vegetarian Society, a vegetarian is someone who does not include the following in their diet:
- Fish (including shellfish)
- Any by-products of animal slaughter
In other words, a vegetarian will not consume any food product that may have caused harm to an animal. Of course, people become vegetarians for a number of reasons but limiting animal cruelty through mass meat production is often one of the key issues.
On the other hand, vegans go one step further than most vegetarians.
According to the Vegan Society, veganism is defined as a lifestyle that involves the exclusion of all forms of cruelty and exploitation of animals. This goes beyond the vegetarian lifestyle.
The vegan diet is a whole new level of strict. Food that is in any way related to animals (natural or not) is completely avoided. So, you can forget buying clothes that have been made from lambswool or purchasing medicines and cosmetics that have been mixed with animal byproducts.
This means that vegans subscribe to a plant-based diet, and they also avoid all non-food items derived from animals.
For someone who has been eating a meat-based diet their whole life, it can be quite difficult to make such a dramatic change. On the other hand, some people have grown up vegan and these measures that seem strict would be standard practice.
For some people, the choice will be about ethical and environmental concerns. For others, they may be concerned with how a meat-based diet is affecting their health. It is an interesting area to learn about so let’s dive in.
The distinctions in the definitions of a vegan vs. a vegetarian may seem subtle at first, but once we get into the nitty-gritty details, you’ll see that the two practices have some major differences.
Vegan vs. Vegetarian: 4 Major Differences Between the Two
If you think about it, all vegans are vegetarian… but not all vegetarians are vegan. Does that make sense?
Well if not, don’t sweat it.
Once we go through the key differences between being vegan and vegetarian, you’ll see exactly what we mean. You’ll be able to tell exactly what someone is talking about when they say they are vegan or an ovo vegetarian and you’ll be able to decide what kind of diet you want to adopt.
1. Got Milk? Not if You’re Vegan.
So, does vegan mean dairy free? Here’s the simple rule of thumb: if it comes from an animal, don’t offer it to a vegan.
Vegans are very strict when it comes to consuming any animal byproducts. Even if the food doesn’t cause the animal any harm, it still doesn’t fly for vegans. It is all about becoming free from any animal-based products. Vegans believe that animals do not have to be eaten or exploited to sustain human life.
So in addition to a meat-free diet, that means no dairy products, eggs, or even honey (after all it comes from hard-working bees!). This can result in some awkward conversations over dinner and it can be inconvenient if you are going out to a restaurant for dinner. You may have to ask the waiter a few questions before chowing down on your meal.
Vegan eating also dictates that they steer clear of animal-derived ingredients like gelatin, whey, pepsin, lactose, casein, and other similar items. This means you have to avoid many popular snacks and treats. It also means you have to be aware and quite selective when you go grocery shopping. In fact, some vegans will even avoid certain forms of Vitamin D3 because it’s sometimes made from an animal product, like sheep’s wools.
2. …But Vegetarians Have Milk (Probably)
Now, you may know some vegetarians in your life that may avoid some of the same things that vegans do. But generally speaking, a vegetarian isn’t going to avoid animal products to the same extent that a vegan will.
For example, many vegetarians will consume dairy products, eggs, honey, etc. because they don’t inherently cause harm to the animal. In this way, a vegetarian diet is less strict than your standard vegan diet. They allow themselves a bit more room to breathe.
That being said, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) states that the majority of farm animals raised in the U.S. are subject to the inhumane conditions of industrial farming – which most people would agree constitutes harm to animals.
As such, many vegetarians will look for certain labels when they shop to ensure that they are consuming ethically-produced animal byproducts. Unless you keep yourself regularly informed it can be difficult to know whether the food you are consuming is ethically produced. It is an issue that faces people who follow vegan and vegetarian diets as well as meat-based diets.
But though many vegetarians will consume animal-derived products, there are a few different types of vegetarians:
- Lacto-Ovo Vegetarians: This type of vegetarians do not eat any animal flesh, but do consume egg and dairy products. This is perhaps the type of vegetarianism you’re most familiar with. They probably won’t refer to themselves as Lacto-Ovo vegetarians because it is a mouthful. Nevertheless, it is helpful to know the different variations of vegetarianism.
- Lacto Vegetarians: Those who eat dairy products, but stay away from meat and eggs
- Ovo Vegetarians: Those who eat eggs, but avoid all other animal products.
Veganism is also a type of vegetarianism, but it’s at the farthest, strictest end of the spectrum. So you see, all vegans are vegetarian, but not all vegetarians are vegan.
It is important to understand the Ovo vegetarian definition and the meaning behind the other dietary variations so that you can choose a diet that suits you and your concerns. By understanding the differences it will be easier to see why people align themselves with different causes.
3. Veganism is a Lifestyle
Another key difference between vegans and vegetarians is the extent to which they avoid animal products in their lives. There are lifestyle changes that vegans make which would seem strange or inconvenient to vegetarians.
I myself am not too much of a meat fan, The idea of animal slaughtering doesn’t sit right with me and well, I don’t particularly like eggs, but could I go as far as committing to a vegan lifestyle? Honestly…I don’t know if I’d have the motivation to go the whole way. One thing’s for sure; it takes some serious willpower and determination to live life as a vegan.
There are not many societies around the world where veganism is the dominant diet. So it can be difficult to completely adhere to the diet without making your life a struggle. For some vegans, the struggle is more than worth it. But it is important to acknowledge how challenging it can be.
Vegetarians mainly limit the consumption of animal products in their diet, but not necessarily in other parts of their lives- so it’s definitely the easiest of the two.
Vegans, on the other hand, aim to avoid the exploitation of animals for any purpose.
- buying cruelty-free cosmetics,
- avoiding leather goods or fur clothing,
- not visiting zoos or going to horse races for entertainment,
- and the list goes on.
However, Vegan Society does not recommend that you avoid medication even if it was tested on animals or contains animal ingredients (especially if there are no suitable alternatives). It is very difficult to live without at some point being tainted by a product that was unethically produced. But vegans aim to limit the amount of suffering that goes into sustaining them.
If this seems extreme to you, understand that veganism is centered around compassion. Vegans strongly believe that animals have a right to be free from human use and possible abuse, whether it’s for science, fashion, beauty, entertainment, or food. And when you think about it, it would be a much better world if everyone had the same attitude.
The problem is that attitudes and whole industries are entrenched in a certain way of life. Most vegans would argue that in an advanced society there is no need to exploit animals and cause unnecessary suffering. Changing the way you eat is an easy way to make a small change that may ripple out into something bigger.
This compassion also extends to our planet, as many vegans believe the avoidance of animal products has the largest positive impact on the environment. You may never have considered this factor, but livestock farming has detrimental impacts on the amount of pollution and waste produced, as well as promoting the misery of animals by the way in which they’re raised in captivity and later, slaughtered.
The monumental size of intensive animal farming can sometimes be hard to comprehend. In the next year alone, over 50 billion animals will be raised and slaughtered for food. Now, if that’s not a statement to make you stop and think about whether to turn vegan, I don’t know what will…
4. There Are Different Types of Vegans
Even though veganism is more of a lifestyle than just a diet, there are still a few different types of vegans. As with any diet, it comes down to personal preference but there are several philosophies and ideas with which vegans may be aligned. Here are a few terms you may hear thrown around:
- Ethical/Environmental Vegans: Ethical vegans are perhaps the most faithful to the movement, as they cut out all animal exploitation from their lifestyle. They practice vegan eating but also aim to end the exploitation of animals for ethical and environmental reasons. Their choices are based on cutting out animal products completely from their lifestyle (the clothes they wear, hobbies, or personal care products that have been tested on animals).
- Plant-Based Vegans: People who describe themselves as plant-based vegans often adopt this diet for personal health reasons – not ethical ones. This is becoming increasingly popular. They avoid processed foods (because there are still plenty of unhealthy foods that are vegan) and stick to stuff that grows in the ground. However, keep in mind that not all plant-based diets are vegan.
- Raw Vegans: Just like it sounds, these vegans do not eat any cooked or heated foods for health or spiritual reasons, but may still agree with the ethical reasons for being vegan. This way of eating is more niche than the other two for obvious reasons. It is not what one would call practical. Nevertheless, like the other vegan diets, it has become a way of life that it is more and more visible in modern society.
Making the Switch to Veganism or Vegetarianism
If you’re currently on a meat-based diet, it can be nerve-wracking to make the transition to veganism or vegetarianism. After all, it’s probably completely different from any other diet you may have tried before.
The transition can be dramatic so it is best to stay informed throughout. You may want to make a change for ethical, spiritual, environmental or health reasons. Whatever the motivation, it is vital that you know how to begin the transition.
So, where do you even start?
The tips below should allow you to get the ball rolling quickly in order to make the switch:
1. Change your favorite dishes
Sticking to a new diet means you have to enjoy the foods you’re eating. So, if you’re a little hesitant about the idea, transform your favorite dishes. Instead of using animal-based products, research plant-based alternatives. Chances are the ingredients you’re adding to your meals will have a vegan or vegetarian alternative.
2. Try it twice
Okay, so you may have hated trying the plant-based alternative first time around – but don’t give up. Your taste buds need time to adjust so don’t throw the towel in too soon. Try it again a few days or weeks down the line and see how you feel. You could also try another product and see how it compares taste-wise or try cooking it differently.
3. Try easy recipes
If you love to cook, you’ll have a field day trying new vegan and vegetarian recipes. You can either purchase a new cookbook that’ll become your kitchen bible, or have a browse online to see which recipes tickle your fancy.
4. Seek Out Vegan Restaurants
It is important to be able to enjoy the vegan lifestyle. This means you need to find some good vegan restaurants in your area. It should be easy if you live in a major city but often if you live in more rural areas it can be difficult to find good restaurants that have plant-based menus.
If you are ever in Dallas we recommend a great vegan Vietnamese restaurant called D’Vegan. Finding several restaurants that serve vegan meals is great especially if there is a variation in cuisine. It will make your transition easier and may teach you how to make vegan meals that taste great.
What About the Pescatarians?
Alongside vegans and vegetarians, pescatarians have also gained in numbers in recent years. Increasingly, it has become a diet for people concerned about sustainability, animal welfare, and the environment. However, there have also been accusations of hypocrisy and cruelty towards people who choose to become pescatarian instead of vegan.
A pescatarian is a person who does not eat meat but does eat fish. There are a number of reasons to become a pescatarian, many of which overlap with veganism and vegetarianism. “Most pescetarians are ovo-lacto vegetarians who eat seafood along with dairy products and eggs.”(wiki) If you fancy following a pescatarian diet why not try some quality fish at Ambos Seafood.
Now that you know the difference between vegan and vegetarian and pescatarian you can begin to design a diet plan that suits your health goals and your ethical/environmental concerns.
Whether you choose to go completely plant-based or decide to incorporate some fish into your diet it is important to stay informed. Let’s have a look at why you might choose a vegan diet over a vegetarian one.
Why Choose Vegan and Not Vegetarian?
The health benefits of following vegan and vegetarian eating are similar.
For example, if you follow an appropriately planned vegan or vegetarian diet that follows recommended nutrition guidelines (i.e. don’t just eat Oreos), you could potentially reduce your risk for chronic illnesses like type 2 diabetes or cancer.
So then why go vegan and not vegetarian if the health benefits are similar?
Well, going vegan is a more holistic approach than vegetarianism. It has benefits beyond individual health. It incorporates ethical compassion for both animals and the environment. Veganism also avoids supporting all industries that exploit animals in every shape or form.
Now don’t get us wrong – it isn’t easy transitioning to either lifestyle. In fact, making the change should be a gradual process, which is why many people slowly start practicing vegetarian eating before moving onto vegan eating and living.
But both veganism and vegetarianism are very doable – especially nowadays thanks to a multitude of vegan and vegetarian cookbooks, guides on making the change, and easily-sourced products that adhere to vegan standards.
While we have covered a few of the main issues concerning veganism and vegetarianism you may still have questions. Like what is a pesco-pollo vegetarian? Is living a vegan lifestyle more expensive than being a vegetarian or a meat-eater? These are valid questions that will have to be addressed on another day.
Thankfully there is plenty of information available for any wannabe vegans or vegetarians. You should not have much trouble finding meal plans to learn from, books to read and restaurants to frequent.
So if you’re thinking of making the switch to being vegan or vegetarian, don’t be nervous! It’s a rewarding decision and we’re here to help you through the transition. There is lots of fun to be had experimenting with funky vegan diets and eating out at new restaurants. It is a lifestyle change that can be truly rewarding!
Are you vegan or vegetarian? What are your reasons for being either?
Share your experiences in the comments below!