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Vegetarians, Vegans, a little help with definitions?

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Initial post: Jan 22, 2010 12:21:10 PM PST
Mac says:
[posted simultaneously in the vegetarian forums]

After 25 yrs. as a vegetarian, I thought I was pretty clear on all my definitions and such, but something struck me the other day that made me stop and think. If a lacto-ovo vegetarian removes the lacto-ovo element from his or her diet (eating vegan fare only) but is not following any other vegan lifestyle practices, then what "category" does the person fall under? I've heard a few people refer to themselves as "strict vegetarian" over the years. Would that be the proper term?

My stepdaughter recently switched to a completely vegan diet after watching the documentary Food Inc. She calls herself a vegan now, but it occurred to me that she probably hasn't made a similar switch in other aspects of her life, such as apparel and cosmetics, etc.

I brought this up among my compadres in the cooking community. But understandably, none of the omnivores want to touch it, for fear of being lambasted by anyone vegan or vegetarian. (Don't blame them - the cooking forums folks get a little unruly sometimes!)

I welcome your thoughts but also hope everyone will keep their comments respectful. Thanks!

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 23, 2010 10:51:49 AM PST
I don't have answers, but look forward to reading some! Very interesting question! Hi Mac!

Posted on Jan 24, 2010 6:28:46 AM PST
longfellow says:
Well thought out question. All I can offer is an opinion, as a vegetarian of 35+ years.

Back when I started, and probably for you as well, these distinctions weren't even part of the conversation -- and I had LOTS of trouble eating in restaurants!

So let's work backwards: we'll all agree that a vegan definitely eschews ALL animal products, and that does indeed extend to clothing, fabrics, etc., incl. honey and leather -- though I know at least one who is ok with wool since the shearing of the animal makes them more comfortable and generally doesn't cause pain. Other vegans say that's a no-no as well.

In my experience, the vegetarian community is less self-defining when it comes to wearables, cosmetics -- anything external. Vegetarianism seems to be more about food consumption; veganism more about overall lifestyle.

The lacto-ovo, pesce, and other variants on vegetarianism are fairly recent distinctions, I think created by and for people wanting some status but not 'pure' about their choices. So a lacto-ovo gets credit for no meat but can still enjoy pizza and birthday cake; back in the day, you either were or you weren't---this sub-category didn't exist, to my recollection. Folks using the term 'strict vegetarianism' are usually questioned as to what that means, though your definition sounds right: no lacto-ovo or any other animal product consumed, though they are free to waffle on the externals, unlike vegans. So your daughter is "eating a vegan diet" more than following a full vegan lifestyle. Or maybe she is just a 'strict' vegetarian...

But we're not talking universally here about most of these terms: that 'strict' distinction isn't made by everyone. I know regular vegetarians who avoid dairy/eggs but don't describe themselves as other than vegetarian. I know some raw food folks who ARE in fact vegetarian or vegan but use NEITHER term.

I don't know. I think I've just re-stated your questions, basically. But that's my take.

Posted on Jan 25, 2010 8:43:00 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 25, 2010 11:41:59 AM PST
Mac says:
In most ways, I realize the labels don't matter. It was mostly as a matter of curiosity that the question occurred to me. When my stepdaughter switched to a vegan diet, I had already been progressively removing dairy from my own diet - it's made us allies, of a sort! Partially though, I worry about her calling herself vegan in the presence of other vegans, especially if she happens to be wearing leather shoes or a silk blouse at the time.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 25, 2010 11:09:47 AM PST
longfellow says:
That's a decent concern. What does she say about that??

Abd BTW, I'm impressed you have a vegetarian/vegan household! Considering how children regularly make an opposite (or defiant) choice to the one made by their seem to have beaten the odds.

Point of fact: just saw the Boss' daughter enjoying a fast food cheeseburger and fries. He raised her on a NO dairy, NO white flour, NO fried food diet.......LOL!

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 25, 2010 11:41:04 AM PST
Mac says:
Alas, my stepdaughter was already in high school by the time I came into the picture, so we never shared the same household. She was an omnivore until making the sudden switch to a vegan diet recently. She's very health conscious - I believe that was her primary motivation.

My son is 5. I'm not raising him vegetarian as I tend to feel he should make that choice. It's interesting though. He's only just beginning to make the connection to the fact that the meat on his plate was once a live animal. He's told me that this upsets him and that he wishes he didn't eat animals. I told him he doesn't have to and I'd be happy to give him more animal free options. I don't want to push the issue. But I'll just let his wishes guide me.

Posted on Jan 26, 2010 5:20:12 AM PST
Shannon says:
Personally I find it impossibly hard to be a real vegan since it takes so much research to find out what you can and can't have, so although I have decided to follow a vegan diet I call my self a vegetarian.. Just a plain vegetarian. The other names are to give credit to those who are in the process of conversion or just cutting out some meat, which still helps. I have only been a vegetarian for around 5 years so I suppose the lingo was more prominent when I became one.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 26, 2010 7:03:46 AM PST
Mac says:
I have to agree with that Shannon. My diet is mostly vegan now, but I'm continually surprised by random animal ingredients in things. A bag of Sunkist Almond Accents I bought contained anchovy, for example. And I was startled to discover that my beloved Quorn "turkey" roast contains egg whites! As for the non-diet stuff, I can handle the basics easily - no fur (eeeww, anyway!) no leather, wool, silk. But when you're a harried working mom, it's not always easy to have the presence of mind to inspect the label of every item that lands in your shopping cart. I figure that as long as I'm doing my best, it's probably better than most!

Posted on Jan 26, 2010 4:09:42 PM PST
L. Harvey says:
If your stepdaughter is concerned with diet only, then I would say that "strict vegetarian" is an accurate label. If she's doing things by steps -- first changing her diet, then researching cosmetics items, for instance, or gradually letting go of her leather shoes or wool sweaters -- then I would say that she is "transitioning to veganism."

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 26, 2010 4:14:27 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 26, 2010 4:14:49 PM PST
I agree, Mac. You sound like you have a great attitude!

I wonder about something regarding lifestyle vegetarianism/veganism. Now, I have a leather skirt I bought in 2002. It's still in great condition. Since then, I've become a vegetarian, and wouldn't buy a leather skirt now. However, I question not wearing it. To me, that seems very wasteful and disrespectful to the animal used to create it, just to be able to "call myself" something. As far as I'm concerned, what's done is done, and it is more respectful to the animal to continue wearing the skirt, than it would be to donate it (possibly prompting someone to get into buying leather stuff), or to put it away/throw it out (then it's just pure waste of the animal).

Any thoughts on this? For the record, it's not a "sexy" skirt, just a modest skirt that is appropriate for the workplace.

Posted on Jan 26, 2010 6:28:18 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 26, 2010 6:29:05 PM PST
Mac says:
That's a really great point, Panthor! Although one to which I have no great answer. I doubt there really is an answer. You're right though - it's a d*mned if you do, d*mned if you don't thing. Wear it, and you're branded an animal hater. Throw it away and you're wasteful. Here's my thought. If you love the skirt and don't give a hoot what anyone thinks about it, keep it and wear it. If you're so conflicted that looking at it stresses you out, then donate it to Dress for Success, an organization that helps suit up disadvantaged women in workplace-appropriate attire so that they can find decent jobs. We're not talking about giving it to someone who's going to go out and buy more leather - just a woman who needs a job that pays enough to feed her kids. If it's suitable for a job interview, then DFS would be happy to take it. If you're interested ...

I have a wool coat, btw. It's seen better days, but I wasn't about to heave it for a principle. I may replace it next year, and then I'll explore my animal-free options.

@ L.Harvey - I tend to agree. She's exposing herself to a lot of vegan reading material right now, and I gave her Vegan Freak: Being Vegan in a Non-Vegan World (Tofu Hound Press) for Christmas. I sense that the more she learns, the more she'll start making different choices.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 4, 2010 3:22:53 PM PST
denilea says:
It's interesting that you feel your 5 year old should "choose" vegetarianism, when you are a longtime vegetarian! Is there something that makes you question whether it's healthy for a growing child, or do you just to keep it easy and mainstream for him?
I would feel exactly the opposite-as the parent, he follows your lead until he's old enough to decide for himself.

Posted on Feb 4, 2010 7:32:10 PM PST
Mac says:
It's actually neither of those things. Vegetarianism was something that I chose for myself, for my own reasons. I believe he should have the opportunity to make his own choices as well. It wasn't imposed upon me, so it was never a sacrifice. Also, If I make meat forbidden to him, I suspect it would only make him want it more, as many kids are at least a bit rebellious by nature. Perhaps I would be a die-hard omnivore now if my parents had kept me away from meat - who knows?

And it's also important not to underestimate the impact of the "mainstream" element you mention, or to oversimplify it as a matter of "hard" or "easy". When we were being super-diligent about sending healthful snacks for him, the daycare teachers began telling us he was having meltdowns and behavior issues at lunchtime. None of us put 2 and 2 together initially, but eventually the teachers realized it was because all the other kids were getting things like bags of Doritos or oreos and such. We started sending occasional "treats" because he was feeling so left out of something. At that age, we decided it was better to bend a bit than to traumatize him (and his teachers). It worked, and everybody got to eat in peace again.

In the end, the difference, for him, is the he will have had exposure to a vegetarian lifestyle his entire life (I had never met a single vegetarian until I was 14). And over the next few years, I think he'll ask me more questions about why I don't eat meat and I'll answer him. Right now, we're still navigating the delicate territory of the fact that bacon doesn't *come from* a pig, it is a pig - at age-appropriate levels.

All of that said, perhaps if my husband was a vegetarian, it would be different. But because he's not, there are things like deli meats, bacon and hotdogs in our house all the time. His father eats them and so he does as well. He gets a bit of both sides, really. He also eats plenty of meat substitute products from Boca, Morningstar Farms and Quorn. We are currently experimenting with (un)turkey deli slices. He hated the Lightlife slices (they were just awful) but I think he'll like the Tofurky. And if he does, fantastic. And if he doesn't, I see if there's another option available. Since he's becoming sensitive to the plight of animals, I intend to expose him to as many non-animal protein sources as I can.

Bottom line, I guess ... he may be 5, but I think he still deserves to have his choices respected. That doesn't mean he can choose to eat pizza 3X a day (he wishes!) but as long as his diet is reasonably healthful overall, I'm very OK with that.

Posted on Feb 5, 2010 4:24:21 PM PST
Case Adams says:
Thank you Mac for raising this question. I have enjoyed reading everyone's comments. My input, as a "lacto-vegetarian" for 34 years, is that the division lies within the morality issue. There are "moral vegetarians" and there are "health vegetarians," in my view. This brings the question down to "why." Yes, research has shown that a vegetarian diet is a healthier diet. But the essential element for many vegetarians is whether there is a respect for animals and fish as living beings. This recognition leads to the notion of whether we see any distinction between our pets (be they dogs, cats, fish or birds) and those living beings that meat producers trap into cages and slaughter. If a vegetarian sees a distinction between their dog or cat and the cow in the slaughterhouse, then this person is likely a "health vegetarian." If they maintain their vegetarianism, at least partially, to help protect our fellow creatures, then I would suggest the person is a "moral vegetarian."

Taking this to the next step, a "moral vegetarian" could well be a "vegan"--who refrains from any animal or insect product. Or not. A "moral vegetarian" might be comfortable drinking organic milk, for example, because milking does not necessarily harm or kill the cow. Honey is also given by bees without necessarily their harm. Vegans would refrain from both of these, but a "moral vegetarian" might not. This seems to be the most applicable criteria to use to distinguish between vegans and vegetarians, and vegetarian types, in my view at least.

Posted on Feb 5, 2010 10:41:15 PM PST
Ann C. Miner says:
If you don't refer to yourself as a vegan when you are ordering food, you're a hell of a lot less likely to get the vegan food you want. "I eat a vegan diet, and limit my use of other animal products" is one way of describing it. I have canvas, nylon, and rubber shoes, mainly, but I have two leather belts that I've had forever, and I knit with wool. (I'm not convinced that sheep are treated worse than the average global textile worker...) Is it a perfectly "pure" lifestyle? No. Is it better for me, the animals, and the environment than other options? Yes. Am I making excuses? Yes. Do I own them? Yes, I do.

It's all a continuum. You make your choices.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 5, 2010 11:34:59 PM PST
Susanna says:

Personally, I can no longer stand the feel and the smell of leather. This may happen to you and solve your dilema. I threw all my leather shoes into the trash; if I had it to do over again, I probably would donate them to Goodwill.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 1, 2010 1:05:25 PM PST
That sounds marvelously reasonable and well put! He's lucky to not be raised in a "Meat makes you healthy!" house, and can choose for himself. I hated the idea of eating animals when I was little, but you had to eat what was on your plate. While I don't support giving kids junk just because they want it (as in pizza 3x a day, not treats, I think you handled his snack situation fabulously), I don't agree with traumatizing kids because of what we perceive as "normal." I could have definitely done without meat at every dinner when I was a kid. Ugh.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 1, 2010 1:07:25 PM PST
Thanks. It hasn't happened so far, but could very well down the line.

Posted on Mar 1, 2010 1:25:42 PM PST
Mac says:
An odd little postscript to the discussion. My stepdaughter recently became pregnant. She developed a sudden aversion to tofu and her first major craving happened to be for chicken fingers! I have no doubt that she'll resume the vegan diet after the baby's born, but for now it's probably less stressful to just follow her instincts. Chicken fingers aside, she's a very healthy eater.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 1, 2010 3:40:55 PM PST
Like Phoebe on "Friends!"

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 1, 2010 8:11:32 PM PST
Mac says:
LoL - I thought of that too. That was a big fear of mine when I got pregnant. But my only major craving was frozen yogurt.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 2, 2010 6:37:51 AM PST
Haha, nice :-D

Posted on Mar 10, 2010 5:40:54 AM PST
A. Carr says:
After reading Vegan Freak, it seems you can't really call yourself a vegan unless you have a very strong animal liberation purpose for being vegan, if you don't you are a complete vegetarian. I have been a vegan for only 3 months but it is surprising easy even though I am on a meal plan and in the military. I have only made a few mistakes due to the fact I wasn't sure (some beans had some sort of meat base to it). I figure not if it has any cholesterol in it then it has an animal product in it. Then all I have to do is ask about honey and since that is expensive nothing really has that in there. I have read a lot of good books and watched some great videos on factory farming and veganism and I feel confident about my decision, I just have to stop being lazy and cook some more which I will used the weekends to do. I even had a great cheeseless pizza from Pizza Hut.

Posted on Mar 11, 2010 11:03:00 AM PST
Ken D. says:
I've always heard people who follow a vegan diet, but still wear leather, etc. refer to themselves as "dietary vegans." That makes sense to me. I'm just a regular, run-of-the-mill vegan.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 11, 2010 3:50:54 PM PST
A. Carr says:
Some people are really fanatical about it.
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Discussion in:  Vegan forum
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Initial post:  Jan 22, 2010
Latest post:  Mar 11, 2010

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