Vegans, vegetarians, and other people who avoid some or all animal products use many approaches. Use this guide to help you decode the terms people use to describe what they eat. There are many variations within these broad terms, including practitioners who strive to eat the kindest or healthiest version of the diets they follow.
What is vegan?
Vegans avoid all animal-based products for ethical and moral reasons. They don’t eat meat, fish, dairy, eggs, or honey. Many vegans don’t eat white sugar processed with bone char and some avoid dyes and other additives that come from insects. Vegans also avoid leather, wool, silk, bone, feathers, and other products that come from animals. Animals are not ours to use for food, entertainment, work, or experimentation.
I’m an easy-going vegan who gradually transitioned to fully vegan lifestyle. I still eat a small piece of whatever birthday cake is offered but hope my own is dairy- and egg-free. If someone says a dish is vegan when I’m eating out, I don’t grill them about possible traces of milk or honey. As my understanding grew, I stopped buying leather, then silk and feathers, and then wool. For the most part, I wore or used what I had until it wore out because of the environmental impact of creating new products. My garden pond supports frogs who moved their on their own, but not fish that I purchased and imprisioned.
What is a plant-based diet?
Plant-based diets are about health. This diet avoids all animal products except perhaps honey. But followers may not think twice about wearing leather shoes, sleeping on a feather pillow, or watching a horse race. A popular subset is the Whole Foods Plant Based (WHPB) diet, which avoids processed foods and added sugar or oils.
What is vegetarian?
Vegetarians eat eggs and dairy products such as milk, cheese, and butter as well as plants. They don’t eat food that directly requires killing the animal, such as meat, lard, chicken, and fish. They probably eat honey.
Why isn’t vegetarian enough?
Unfortunately, raising chickens and cows for eggs and dairy does result in killing nearly all the young males at birth or very early ages. Cows and goats only give milk after a pregnancy and their milk is only available if it denied to their children. Cows wail for days after their calves are taken from them. The male calves may be raised for short time in extreme confinement before being killed and sold as veal. The chickens and cows are also killed quite young, as soon as they are past their most productive years.
I had a hard time coming to grips with this during my two decades as a vegetarian.
Also, using animals as a sentient food-processor is inefficient, taking grain away from hungry people and leading to more destruction of the rain forest. Cows produce a lot of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, which adds fuel to the climate catastrophe.
What is pescetarian?
Pescetarians eat water animals (fish and shellfish) but not land animals, plus eggs, dairy products, honey, and plants. The term comes from piscatus, a Latin verb meaning “to fish.” Fish are sentient beings with complex behaviors.
If you have a medical condition that requires you to eat animals, you may want to choose oysters, which have the least developed nervous systems of the animals mentioned here.
- The Vegan Society on the definition and history of the term vegan
- A Vegan Diet has 30% of the Environmental Impact of a High-Meat Diet
- Avoiding Meat and Dairy is the ‘Single Biggest Way’ to Reduce Your Impact on the Earth
- Thich Nhat Hanh on Why Vegan and Not Vegetarian
- The China Study
- What a Fish Knows
- Why Honey Isn’t Vegan
- An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the World Around Us