Many people do not fully understand the differences between vegan and vegetarian diets. The difference between plant-based diets and diets that include animal products has been causing confusion. Vegans insist that they are different, which they are and often prefer to make a clear distinction between vegans and vegetarians, so here it goes.
Vegetarian diets typically refer to an ovo-lacto vegetarian diet, which means a diet that excludes animal meat and fish but allows dairy products and eggs.
Vegans do not consume any animal products, such as dairy, eggs, and honey, or products that use animals in the production process (think of animal testing for cosmetics). So this does not only exclude food, but you would also never catch a dedicated vegan wearing a woolly sweater.
Another way of describing is, is to say that while vegetarians don’t eat anything that comes from a slaughterhouse or a fishing net. Thus not consuming anything that directly kills animals. Vegans refrain from consuming anything that involves animal suffering or the indirect killing of animals. The natural life span of a hen is 10 to 20 years, while in egg production a hen’s life is reduced to maybe 24 months.
The difference between vegans and vegetarians is actually relatively straightforward. It becomes tricky and perhaps confusing when we start to talk about all the varieties that are in between. And then we are not even starting on the varieties of vegans.
The term “strict vegetarian” is sometimes used to describe someone who does not eat animal products. But consumes them in other parts of his or her life, for example, by wearing leather shoes. You can also describe this as having a plant-based diet. But just adopting a plant-based diet does not make you a vegan by everyone’s standard.
Those who allow dairy products in their diet are lactose-vegetarians or lacto-vegetarian; they do not eat meat, fish, and eggs, but do not eat dairy products such as milk and cheese. Anyone who eats eggs but does not eat milk, cheese and/or other dairy-derived foods is considered an ovo-vegetarian.
Then there are also the pescetarians, those who follow this diet avoid all meats but do eat fish and other types of seafood. Pescatarians do not meet the definition of vegetarianism.
But why is it important to know the difference anyway? If we speak in terms of diet only, within each, you will have to adjust what you eat in such a way that you will still meet all your daily macro-and micronutrient needs. Further, each diet will have a different impact on the environment, with the vegan having the smallest environmental footprint of all. Even though this assumption is debated by some. In the future, I would love to dig a bit deeper and devote a post to this topic, as you can imagine I don’t agree and would love to proof my right.
However, veganism goes far beyond the mere consumption of food and extends into all aspects of vegan life. Some vegans choose even to exclude pets from their household because it goes against their vegan beliefs.
Vegans often have a worse reputation than vegetarians, even though both get their fair share of backlash in the form of resentment. Vegans probably more so because they sometimes ooze an air of morally superiority and elitism for some. Obviously, I agree that we vegans are on the right side of the moral debate, I do understand the sentiment of some. We are not always the most welcoming bunch.
I do wish that in a utopian future world, everyone is vegan and advocate for this. However, I would add the caveat that for a big part of the world population that simply is not an option yet. For some people, the milk of the community cow might be what saves their baby or for others living with animals is an integral part of their culture. But, for us, folk living in a place with easy access the vegan options and the economic room in our budget to choose these options, I see minimal arguments not to adopt a vegan lifestyle. Potential particular individual cases excluded.
Besides, veganism can be quite restrictive for some and going cold turkey from careless omnivore to die-hard vegan might not be the right route for everyone. So, if vegetarianism or pescetarianism is your transition phase to a vegan lifestyle, all the power to you. Some of us just need a bit more time to adopt new habits and wean off the French cheese and Italian prosciutto. As long as we all get there in time to avoid the impending environmental doomsday.