The debate is all over media. Well, social media, at least. Many people are choosing to become vegan or vegetarian, or some blend of vegan, vegetarian or omnivore. But what do all these terms mean? And what’s the difference between vegan and vegetarian?

Vegetarianism has been around for a while now, but the veganism trend is just starting to grow momentum. And, yes, you’re not alone if your head is spinning — these diets and lifestyles can be a little confusing and a little tough to keep track of.

I’m here to help you make sense of it all. Read on to learn more about the difference between vegan and vegetarian (as well as what it means to be somewhere in between).

Let me start by saying this: Vegans often get categorized as vegetarians, but that’s not really the case. The terms have specific meanings, and they can’t be used interchangeably. It’s kind of like the difference between the words “continuous” and “continual.” People love to use them interchangeably, but they do not mean the same thing. (Continuous is when something that happens and never stops, while continual is when something happens over and over but with breaks in between — just in case you were wondering.)


What is Veganism?

Vegans don’t eat any animal products. That means no meat, no dairy, no eggs. Vegans also don’t buy anything that’s made from animals, which means no leather and no products that contain gelatin. This has opened up a whole new market for non-food vegan products, like vegan sneakers. I even fell in love with a vegan cross body bag reviewed by my colleague Hailey Flynn.

Staunch vegans also stay away from honey, beeswax, food coloring or other additives made from beetles. I say “staunch” because there’s somewhat of a debate in the vegan community about these products, especially honey.

This is where things can get a little cloudy and confusing. Some people who identify as vegans do eat honey and do eat items that contain food coloring. Perhaps they feel the “staunch” diet is too restrictive, but I’ll leave it up to you to decide where the line is drawn.

Vegans avoid products that have been tested on animals, too. So, as you can see, veganism is much more a lifestyle than a diet. Many eat this way for the health benefits, but I would guess that most lead a vegan lifestyle out of compassion toward our planet’s living creatures, human or otherwise.

In short, veganism is:

  • A diet free of all foods that come from animals or have animal derivatives.
  • A lifestyle free from animal products or products tested on animals.


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What is Vegetarianism?

The main idea of vegetarianism is the absence of meat. That said, in some vegetarian diets, some meats are allowed. This is really confusing, I know, but let me explain.

There are several different types of vegetarians (and they don’t all get along). I like to think of it as three main types of vegetarian, plus a couple of other categories that are less prominent. Here they are:

The main types of vegetarians:

  • Lacto Vegetarians: These vegetarians follow a diet that excludes all types of meat, fish included. They don’t eat eggs, but they do eat dairy products: milk, yogurt, ice cream, etc.
  • Ovo Vegetarians: These vegetarians don’t eat any type of meat, fish included. And they also avoid dairy. But, they do eat eggs and products made from eggs.
  • Lacto-Ovo Vegetarians: As you may have guessed, these vegetarians don’t eat any meat, fish included, but they do eat both egg and dairy products. This is a popular type of vegetarianism, because technically no animals are killed in the marking of egg and dairy products — though you can easily find explanations of how egg and dairy manufacturing is cruel to animals.

The two other types of vegetarians:

  • Pollotarians: Pollotarians cut out all kinds of meat except for poultry. This means no beef, pork, lamb, fish or other types of seafood, as well as no exotic meat (bison, venison, etc.). They do eat meat from birds: turkey, chicken, duck and others.
  • Pescetarians: This diet is a lot like the pollotarian diet — just swap fish and birds. Pescetarians do eat fish while they do not eat turkey, chicken, duck, etc.


Why Do People Choose These Diets/Lifestyles?

I’ve already touched on animal cruelty as a reason for going vegan or vegetarian. There are also tons of health benefits in choosing these diets/lifestyles. But there’s one other reason that not many people think about: the environment.

Believe it or not, farming animals leaves a huge carbon footprint. Animals emit a huge amount of methane gas, especially cows. Yes, you read right, the “gas emissions” of cows are one of the biggest causes of global warming. Because of the demand for meat, forests are also being cut down to make farmlands. And it takes a lot of water to raise animals and keep them hydrated.

I went vegan for a blend of reasons, but I can’t say enough about the health benefits, both documented and researched benefits as well as the general way in which I feel better. The health benefits of a healthy plant-based diet can’t be denied. There are plenty of instances of plant-based diets reversing illnesses and chronic disease, and the Atlantic captured many of these instances in a 2012 story.

Want to know more about the health benefits of going vegan or vegetarian? Read more here.


Ways to Take a First Step

Not ready to take the plunge? A lot of people want to eat less meat and consume fewer animal products. But the idea of going cold turkey (no pun intended) is a little frightening. So, instead, take a first step.

Try a few meat-free days a week, and start replacing meat-heavy meals with vegan or vegetarian alternatives. And, as mentioned, hit up for recipe ideas. You can even start with one vegan lunch a week — and I think you’ll love the food and be surprised at how little you miss meat.

Here’s a look at a couple of first-step style diets you might try before going full vegan or vegetarian:

  • Flexitarians: This is basically when you eat a mostly plant-based diet, but you will eat meat in some instances, like perhaps a special occasion or some sort or when it would be incredibly inconvenient or rude not to eat meat.
  • Chegans: This is like being a flexitarian but for those interested in the vegan lifestyle. A chegan would eat a mostly plant-based diet, as well as shop for vegan good whenever possible — like the shoes or purse mentioned above.

Hey, I know what pure vegetarians and vegans are thinking: Flexitarians and chegans are stains on the movement. And I understand that. But, for the sake of full disclosure, I wanted to share what some people do in order to get used to the idea of drastically changing how they eat. Who knows? A few months as a flexitarian or chegan may lead to full vegetarianism or veganism in the future.


Final Thoughts on the Difference Between Vegan and Vegetarian

Whew! That’s a lot of info. But, now you’ll never have to worry when you find yourself in conversation with a vegan or vegetarian. You know how they choose to live, and you understand the many reasons why they may have chosen their diet or lifestyle.

Believe me when I say: I once thought these diets and lifestyles were a little “out there,” something for free spirits and activists. But, when you get into it, these diets and lifestyles are incredibly practical and highly beneficial.

Are you living the vegan or vegetarian lifestyles? Have you considered them? Let us know in the comments section below, or you can always send a direct message using our contact form.