Vegetarian and vegan diets continue to gain popularity in the United States and abroad with people reducing their consumption of animal products at an increasing rate. To address this trend, many stores and restaurants now offer more vegetarian and vegan products. You likely know someone who follows a vegan or vegetarian diet, and you may even consider trying vegetarianism or veganism yourself.
Sometimes people use the terms “vegan” and “vegetarian” interchangeably. While many similarities do exist between the two diets and lifestyles, they are not the same. Read on to learn more about the key differences between being vegetarian and vegan.
What Is a Vegetarian Diet?
Generally, a vegetarian diet refers to a diet free from meat or animal flesh, including beef, pork, poultry, and seafood. Most people who follow a vegetarian diet avoid animal flesh, but still consume products that come from animals like milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, eggs, and honey.
Currently, most people who turn to vegetarianism or veganism do so for one of three main reasons: animal welfare, environmental preservation, or personal health benefits. Throughout history, however, many religions had an association with vegetarianism, such as Jainism, Seventh Day Adventist Christianity, and some branches of Hinduism, Buddhism, Bahaism, and Sikhism.
People often divide vegetarian diets into the following sub-categories:
- Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian: This is a vegetarian who avoids animal flesh, but consumes eggs, milk, and other dairy products. It’s the default assumption of what someone means when they say “vegetarian.”
- Lacto-Vegetarian: This is a vegetarian who avoids animal flesh and eggs, but consumes milk and other dairy products.
- Ovo-Vegetarian: This is a vegetarian who avoids animal flesh, milk, and dairy products, but consumes eggs.
- Pesco-Vegetarian or Pescatarian: While not a true vegetarian, this is someone who avoids animal flesh except for fish and other seafood.
- Strict Vegetarian: This is a person who doesn’t consume any animal flesh or animal products, including meat, seafood, eggs, milk, or other dairy items. It’s a term used in many medical and scholarly articles to denote a vegetarian who’s also vegan.
What Is a Vegan Diet?
A vegan diet, or a strict vegetarian diet, omits all animal meat or flesh as well as any products that come from animals. That means most vegans don’t eat beef, pork, poultry, seafood, milk, dairy, butter, yogurt, eggs, or honey.
Many vegan advocacy and outreach organizations work to educate people about veganism and to increase the visibility of veganism in modern society. Examples of these organizations include People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the North American Vegetarian Society (NAVS), The Vegan Society, Mercy for Animals, and Vegan Outreach.
What’s Involved in a Vegetarian or Vegan Lifestyle?
When people call themselves vegetarian or vegan, that usually only refers to their eating and food choices. However, some vegetarians and vegans — particularly those motivated by ethics related to animal welfare — try to extend their dietary restrictions to all areas of their lives.
Someone living a fully vegetarian lifestyle would not only avoid animal meat and flesh in their meals, but also avoid it in other aspects of life. For example, they wouldn’t drive a car with a leather interior or wear a fur coat in winter. Similarly, someone living a fully vegan lifestyle also would avoid leather and fur as well as animal products like beeswax candles and clothing made of wool, silk, or mohair.
How Do You Become a Vegetarian or Vegan?
Adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet can follow a variety of paths. Some people choose to make the switch immediately by changing their diet and lifestyle overnight. Others prefer to ease into this new approach. Becoming a vegetarian or vegan slowly often proves easier and, therefore, may provide a more sustainable change you can stick to over time.
The abundance of online resources makes transitioning to vegetarianism or veganism easier than ever. Some people start their transition with “meatless Mondays,” a global movement that encourages people to eat vegetarian one day a week. Others dive in with “Veganuary,” an annual event during which people go vegan for the month of January (and perhaps beyond).
In addition, the HappyCow website and app can help you find vegetarian and vegan restaurant options while PETA’s “Beauty Without Bunnies” searchable database allows you to determine if a brand tests its products on animals. There’s even a site to help you find a place to get vegan tattoos.
You also can find a plethora of free vegan starter kits online, such as:
These kits include a set of resources related to becoming vegan. If you instead want to become a vegetarian, you can easily use a vegan starter kit for tips on making the transition and simply continue to eat eggs and dairy products.
Regardless of whether you want to go vegetarian or vegan — temporarily or forever — you can rely on a wide variety of resources and communities to help you along your journey.