The Difference Between Vegan and Vegetarian

What’s the difference between vegan, vegetarian, flexitarian and fruita-what?!

Picture an “eating” line where a person is standing on one far end is called an ‘omnivore’ (someone who eats anything). The further you move away from the “eat anything” point along that line, the more things you are eliminating from your diet.

Now, what you choose to eat could be limited for a large variety of reasons. The reason for someone’s diet choices is a different question, although it’s difficult to fully separate the voluntary action of eating from the conscious reasoned choice of what to eat.

Our question is “What are the differences between vegetarianism and veganism?” and not “Why are there differences?”, so let’s stick to the first one for the time being.

On the ‘omni-’ (Latin for ‘all’) ‘-vore’ (Latin word for ‘to eat’) [omnivore] end of the line, anything is game. (Pun intended, sorry.)

Take one step down the road, and maybe cow meat will disappear from your diet, be it because you are Hindu and cows are holy animals, or because you are an American who opposes CAFOs, or because you believe the whole world should be vegan to save the planet from climate change, or a combination thereof or some other motive altogether.

Regardless of the “why”, if we continue along the “how” continuum of eating, other meats tend to disappear from the menu.

Vegetarianism is the section of the spectrum where people don’t eat foods whose production require the death of animals. Usually, this means meat, hence the veggie burger, a plant product, instead of the (beef) hamburger.

Believe it or not, what counts as meat or “a product resulting from the death of an animal” depends on who you ask. Some people count fish; others don’t. Would you count eating insects as meat? A culinary taboo in some cultures, this source of protein is becoming more important in other parts of the world. If you are willing or compelled to make exceptions, usually those get tacked onto the name of your food lifestyle, for example:

Pescatarian: Vegetarian who also eats fish (‘pesca-’ is’ a Latin root for ‘fish’)

Ovo-vegetarian: Vegetarian who also eats eggs (but not other dairy products) (‘ovo-’ is Latin for ‘egg’)

Lacto-vegetarian: Vegetarian who eats dairy products in general, e.g. milk, yogurt, etc. (‘lacto-’ is a Latin root for ‘milk/dairy’)

“Wait!” you say, “I get why eggs might be an issue, because those are technically birds very early in the making. But, does a cow/sheep/goat/etc. have to die to give milk? Why would there be a difference between someone who doesn’t eat meat and someone who drinks milk?”

That question verges onto “why” territory. One could argue that taking milk from an animal is ostensibly taking the food produced for its offspring, and therefore potentially harming that baby animal, or even preventing it from living at all. This definition would move a “vegetarian” further down the line from “omnivore” and much closer to “vegan”.

Vegan: a person who does not eat products derived from animals at all. Beyond meat, that includes milk, eggs, gelatin, caviar... Vegans wouldn’t just choose a veggie burger. They would also avoid a cheeseburger, cream sauces, veggies cooked in meat-based broth… you get the idea, right? If you have some doubts about what to eat or not. Here you can find some vegan appetizers to start with this healthy lifestyle.

Veganism, is not, in fact, the furthest point on this end of the spectrum. Recall that vegetarianism is defined as “not eating things that result in the deaths of animals”, not “only eating vegetables at the exclusion of any other edible nutrition.” There is also the:

Fruitarian: the practice of eating strictly fruit, and perhaps botanically related nuts and seeds.

You may have noticed that meats tend to be much more taboo or controversial than plants, but this end of the spectrum questions vegetables too.

Whether vegan, vegetarian, something in-between or difference, these choices have a significant effect on the planet. It has been argued that everyone should reduce their meat consumption because of its connections with soil exhaustion, deforestation and the worsening water crisis. That’s why a new idea has been introduced in response to climate change, the:

Flexitarian: someone who eats a minimal amount of meat and prefers plant-based foods.

Whatever you decide to eat, the nutrition you put into your body is part of a complete lifestyle. It is implicit in all sorts of choices you make when you step away from the table too, from the clothes you wear to your décor, cosmetics and cleaning products, energy choices, transportation, leisure, and much more.

So, choose wisely, choose health, choose happiness, vegan, vegetarian or otherwise.