Eating more plants is pretty much a no-brainer: research shows that people who stick to plant-based diets have lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels, helps reduce the risk of chronic disease and supports weight loss. Many choose the diet for ethical reasons, such as animal rights, while others wish to protect the environment. The livestock industry increases greenhouse gas emissions, contributes to climate change and requires large amounts of water, energy and other natural resources.
But when it comes to dedicating yourself to a specific plant-based diet, how do you know which variety is best for you? What exactly is the difference between veganism and vegetarianism? They do seem pretty similar.
What remains a mystery to many is the myriad of labels attributed to people who do not eat meat, and what means what. Here, we try to explain the differences between these labels, so you can see into which category you fit.
By far the largest variance is in those who label themselves vegetarian – it really just depends on who you ask, as diets can be as individual as a person’s taste in music. A vegetarian diet is probably the easiest way to make the switch to eating more plants and vegetables, but it’s important to note that there are varying levels of vegetarianism. Traditionally, vegetarians don’t eat meat sources like chicken or beef, and sometimes don’t eat items that are made from animal parts (such as bone stock used in soups) either. Some vegetarians eat both eggs and dairy, some one or the other, and some add in some fish from time to time, too. These people may still consider themselves vegetarian – it really just depends on the person you ask.
But largely, the main categories of vegetarianism are:
Lacto-ovo-vegetarian: no meat, fish or poultry, but allows eggs and dairy products
Lacto-vegetarian: no meat, fish, poultry and eggs, but allows dairy products
Ovo-vegetarian: no meat, fish, poultry and dairy products, but allows eggs
Pescetarian: no meat and poultry, but allows fish and, depending on the individual, sometimes eggs and dairy products
Flexitarian: a mostly vegetarian diet but allows for the occasional meat, fish and poultry meal
Vegan: an entirely plant-based diet, with no meat, poultry, fish, eggs or dairy products, or any other animal-derived products, such as honey.
But, of course, veganism goes way beyond diet. It is currently defined by the Vegan Society as “a way of living that attempts to exclude…all forms of animal exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals” – this includes exploitation for food or any other purpose, such as household cleaning products, clothing or make-up.
Vegetarians and vegans are therefore pretty similar in their reasoning for avoiding animal products. The largest difference is the degree to which they consider animal products acceptable. In general, vegetarians tend to be opposed to killing animals for food, but consider it acceptable to consume animal by-products, such as milk and eggs, as long as the animals are kept in adequate conditions. On the other hand, vegans believe that animals have a right to be free from human use, be it for food, clothing, science or entertainment.
So now that we know the main differences between veganism and vegetarianism, in our next blog we will look at the health implications of both. Stay tuned!