Vegetarian vs Vegan

» Posted by on Sep 21, 2011 in Environment, Ethics, Health, Vegetarian Definition, Vegetarian Types, Vegetarian vs. Vegan | 3 comments

Vegetarian vs Vegan

There’s a long-standing debate in the meatless community about being vegetarian vs vegan.  What’s the right answer?

Before we answer the vegetarian vs vegan question, let’s make sure we all know the difference.

A vegetarian is someone who does not eat any meat.  This includes not consuming any beef, poultry, lamb, fish, or anything else that had a heart and a face and was alive.  A vegetarian DOES generally eat dairy, eggs, honey, and other products that are PRODUCED by animals, but that animal did not have to sacrifice its life in order to provide a person with food.

By the way, some people say, “I’m vegetarian, but I eat fish.”  That’s not a vegetarian — that’s a pescetarian, and that’s the subject of an entirely different article.

Now, a vegan also doesn’t eat any meat, but they don’t eat anything produced by an animal.  So, no dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt, etc.), no eggs, and for the staunch, die-hard vegans, no honey either.

You might be asking, “What does a vegan eat?”  Well, it’s pretty much everything else — grains, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits, beans, soy, etc.  There are thousands of vegans in the world, and many of them live very healthy, happy lives.

Okay…back to the vegetarian vs vegan debate.  There are different angles on this, as with anything.

Vegetarian vs Vegan: Health

This is actually a little tricky.  Research has shown that any animal protein can exacerbate the negative effects you’ll encounter by eating any protein from an animal, and this includes eating dairy or eggs.  However, some people argue that dairy and eggs, in moderation, contribute to healthy lifestyle and added protein and vitamins.

Some people go totally vegan, eat  a balanced diet, and then suffer ill health and switch back.  I’ve heard that some blood types actually dictate whether or not you can cut animal protein out of your diet, but I don’t have the research to back that up at the moment.  It’s a consideration.

Personally, I combine the two — there are some meals I’ll eat with no animal protein included whatsoever, and then I’ll go splurge on a 3-cheese omelet.  It’s what works right for me, and I would encourage you to talk to both vegetarians AND vegans, then listen to your own body and figure out what’s best for you.

Vegetarian vs Vegan: Ethics

This is even trickier; you can make the argument that, as a vegetarian, you’re saving the lives of thousands of animals.  And you are.  That’s a great thing.

But it can also be argued that the mainstream dairy and egg industries mistreat their animals, pumping them full of antibiotics, and stuff them into cages and pens that are far too small and lead to debilitating diseases.  Some people would say that by eating eggs and dairy, you’re supporting that.

Personally, I work to strike a balance.  There ARE conscientious dairy and egg farmers out there who go out of their way to make sure their animals are treated well, giving them room to move around and lead relatively normal lives, and are fed properly — no hormones, and good balanced diets.

The products these farmers produce are generally more expensive, and you might have to do a little research to find them, but stores like Whole Foods and even some mainstream grocers are stocking better quality and ethically-produced eggs and dairy.  They typically mention this on the packaging, showing that they don’t use “RBGH” (recombinant bovine growth hormone) and allow their animals to roost and nest.

By the way, “cage free” and “free range” may not mean anything — those animals might still be stuck in space that are overcrowded and suffering from disease, even though they’re not in cages.  Look for the eggs and dairy products that make it REALLY obvious that they’re produced by conscientious farmers.

What I would urge you to do, when exploring the vegetarian vs vegan debate, is to do a little research, both from health and ethical standpoints.  Find out what works for you, and follow that route.  It might take a little extra time and effort, but in the end, your body, and thousands of animals, will thank you for it.


  1. What about the fact that most cheese is not even vegetarian? Cheese is often made with rennet or rennin, which is used to coagulate the dairy product. This fact might be helpful to people who want to continue to eat cheese :)

    • Great point, Sue. This is true for a lot of the smaller cheese (and higher quality) producers out there. My experience has been that with the larger producers, they use microbial or vegetable enzymes. But you’re right — it’s best to know what you’re eating, and ask first.

  2. Here’s another great resource for finding out what cheese are/are not vegetarian:

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