The Difference Between a Vegan and a Vegetarian

A vegan is a kind of vegetarian, but not all vegetarians are vegans

Vegetarian and vegan questionnaire
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Vegans are vegetarians, but vegetarians are not necessarily vegans. If that seems a bit confusing, it is. Many people are confused about the difference between these two ways of eating.

Though most of us don't like being labeled, the labels "vegetarian" and "vegan" can actually be helpful because they allow like-minded people to find one another.

What Is a Vegetarian?

A vegetarian is someone who doesn't eat meat.

If they don't eat meat for health reasons, they are referred to as a nutritional vegetarian. Those who avoid meat in deference to the environment or the animals are called ethical vegetarians. A vegetarian diet is sometimes called a meatless or meat-free diet.

Vegetarians do not eat animal flesh, period. While some people may use the terms "pesco-vegetarian" to refer to someone who still eats fish, or "pollo-vegetarian" to refer to someone who eats still chicken, in fact, fish and chicken eaters are not vegetarians. Similarly, someone who chooses to eat vegetarian some of the time, but eats meat at other times is not a vegetarian. 

Anyone who doesn't eat meat is considered vegetarian, which makes vegetarians a large and inclusive group. Included in the larger group of vegetarians are vegans, lacto-vegetarians, ovo-vegetarians, and lacto-ovo vegetarians. 

What Is a Vegan?

Vegans are vegetarians who do not consume animal products, including meat, fish, fowl, eggs, dairy, or gelatin.

Many vegans also avoid honey.  Instead of meat and animal products, vegans stick to eating grains, beans, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and seeds. While the diet may seem severely restricted compared to the standard American diet, vegan options are surprisingly wide-ranging. A look at vegan gourmet foods should convince just about anyone that a vegan diet can be delicious and filling.

Any recipe calling for meat can be made vegan with the use of seitan, tofu, portobello mushrooms, and other vegetable-based foods with a "meaty" texture.

Diet, Lifestyle, and Philosophy

Veganism is more than a diet.

While the word "vegan" may refer to a cookie or a restaurant and mean only that there are no animal products present, the word has come to mean something different when referring to a person. A person who is vegan is generally understood to be someone who abstains from animal products for animal rights reasons. A vegan may also be concerned about the environment and their own health, but the main reason for their veganism is their belief in animal rights. Veganism is a lifestyle and a philosophy that recognizes that animals have a right to be free of human use and exploitation. Veganism is an ethical stance.

Because veganism is about recognizing the rights of animals, it's not just about food. Vegans also avoid silk, wool, leather, and suede in their clothing. Vegans also boycott companies that test products on animals and do not buy cosmetics or personal care products that contain lanolin, carmine, honey, or other animal products. Zoos, rodeos, greyhound and horse racing, and circuses with animals are also out, because of the oppression of the animals.

There are some people who follow a diet free (or almost free) of animal products for health reasons, including former U.S. President Bill Clinton. In these cases, the person is usually said to be following a plant-based diet. Some also use the term "strict vegetarian" to describe someone who does not eat animal products but may use animal products in other parts of their life, but this term is problematic because it implies that lacto-ovo vegetarians are not "strict" vegetarians.

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Lin, Doris. "The Difference Between a Vegan and a Vegetarian." ThoughtCo, Mar. 8, 2018, Lin, Doris. (2018, March 8). The Difference Between a Vegan and a Vegetarian. Retrieved from Lin, Doris. "The Difference Between a Vegan and a Vegetarian." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 18, 2018).