Most humans were raised to be omnivores, getting their energy from both plants and animals. But for reasons of diet, lifestyle choices, or the desire to not harm other animals, many choose to go on diets that are almost or completely animal-free.
Veganism is a lifestyle choice where people (known as vegans) choose not to eat meat and animal products as well as choosing not to use non-food items that used animals to create them (e.g. leather shoes, wool sweaters, makeup from companies that practice animal testing).
Vegetarians, on the other hand, is simply a diet where people limit the amount of meat and animal products they eat. However, that limit can vary between vegetarians. You might be asking: can vegetarians eat dairy or eggs or fish? Some claim they do to an extent, so here are the different types of vegetarians and what they can or cannot eat.
What Are Vegetarians?
In its most general definition, vegetarians are people who do not eat meat or by-products that came from killing an animal. This means that they won’t eat things like meat, animal broth (because broth often requires boiling meat and bones), or gelatin (because gelatin is made from animal products taken from a slaughtered animal).
This is where it gets tricky. Some vegetarians choose not to eat all types of meat or animal product (regardless if the animal died), but they’re not vegan because they use non-food items made from animals. Other vegetarians, however, may choose to eat animal products if an animal wasn’t killed to produce it.
For example, milking a cow properly won’t kill it, so some vegetarians aren’t against consuming dairy products like cheese and yogurt. Unfertilized chicken eggs do not have life, so they aren’t killing a baby chick by eating eggs. Harvesting honey doesn’t require killing bees, so some vegetarians are OK with eating honey.
Other vegetarians, however, may have a different limit of what counts as vegetarian and what doesn’t. Some vegetarians are OK with eating dairy, but they aren’t OK with eating eggs – and vice versa. Some vegetarians can even choose to eat fish, depending on what their limits are.
Types of Vegetarian Diets
Some vegans insist that a vegan diet is the only true vegetarian diet. However, many vegetarians claim that there are different variations of a vegetarian diet, which is why a person can still be a vegetarian without having to avoid eggs and milk.
Can Vegetarians Eat Dairy?
Yes, but vegetarians who eats dairy but not eggs are called lacto-vegetarians. Lacto-vegetarians consume dairy products made from milk that came from an animal, such as cheese, butter, cream, and more. They are also not against eating foods with dairy ingredients like ice cream and pizza.
This form of vegetarianism is popular in Eastern religions like Jainism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism since these religions believe in non-violence. And since milk can be produced from animals without having to slaughter them, it does not go against their religious beliefs.
Can Vegetarians Eat Eggs?
Yes, but vegetarians who eat eggs but do not drink milk are called ovo-vegetarians. Some vegetarians choose to eat eggs but not milk because of the industrial practices in milk production. Many believe that milk factories keep cows pregnant in order for a cow to constantly produce milk. Others believe that taking an animal’s milk denies her offspring their own mother’s milk, which is cruel to young animals.
Can Vegetarians Eat Dairy and Eggs?
Yes, vegetarians that eat both eggs and dairy are called ovo-lacto vegetarians. These are the most common types of vegetarians. Since producing dairy and eggs does not kill the animal it came from, they can consume these products and foods that have these as an ingredient.
Can Vegetarians Eat Fish?
Some people claim to be vegetarians but still eat fish. This is called a pescetarian diet. However, this is arguably not a vegetarian diet.
Some groups of pescetarians and people who claim to be vegetarian but also eat poultry argue that they are still vegetarian because their definition of meat is limited to red meat. However, the act of eating poultry or fish involves killing animals, so these cannot be considered vegetarian diets.
What Is a Flexitarian?
You might have heard of the term “flexitarian” and wondering how it related to vegetarianism. A flexitarian diet is one where a person eats mostly fruits, vegetables, nuts, and other plant-based foods, but doesn’t completely cut out meat and animal products from their diet.
Since flexitarians can sometimes eat meat and meat products, they’re technically NOT vegetarians or vegans. Even if you eat meat once every month and then a totally plant-based diet for the rest of the month, this is not a vegetarian lifestyle as you still sometimes get your energy from animal meat.
Still, it’s a good diet practice for those who are omnivores trying to transition into vegetarianism. Going cold turkey on meat and animal products can make the meat cravings irresistible and you could relapse into vegetarianism. Instead, try slowly weaning from meat by cutting it out of your diet until you can resist the urge to return to a meat-inclusive diet.
Vegetarianism vs. Veganism
People often confuse vegetarianism with veganism. While both terms overlap in the sense that people choose to stay away from meat, there are many differences between the two.
Vegetarianism is generally a diet choice, while veganism can be expanded into a way of life. Vegetarians do not eat meat and by-products that required animal slaughter, but that does not stop vegetarians from eating and using animal products that didn’t involve killing an animal. And because vegetarianism is limited to diet, vegetarians won’t mind wearing materials like wool, feathers, and fur regardless of whether or not an animal was killed for it.
Veganism, on the other hand, is a lifestyle that involves the total rejection of anything made from animals. Like vegetarians, vegans do not eat meat or anything that is made from animal slaughter, but they will also refuse dairy and eggs even if, biologically, a cow or chicken did not die to produce this.
Contrary to popular belief though, this is not limited to healthy fruits and vegetables, as it’s possible for vegans to find vegan-friendly junk food like Skittles and certain types of potato chips. They also take it a step further and refuse to use animal products in their lifestyle. This means refusing to wear leather shoes or buying bags made from snake or crocodile skin.
If you’re looking to switch to a vegan lifestyle, it may be best to transition slowly to curb your cravings by the time you fully transition. If you’re an omnivore, consider switching to a flexitarian diet until you’ve become a vegetarian and have cut out meat eventually. From there, it can be easier to get rid of animal products from your diet until you’ve reached a totally plant-based vegan diet.
Why Be a Vegetarian?
People can choose to be vegetarians for many reasons. One is because some people choose to respect animal life by not eating meat. Organizations like PETA urge people to stop eating meat and animal products as they believe animals should not have to be slaughtered for our enjoyment.
In many religions, followers choose to go vegetarian in an attempt to avoid the violence of slaughtering animals, which they consider sacred. Another reason is for health reasons because their bodies require less protein and other nutrients found in meat and more of the nutrients in other food sources.
Other reasons to go vegetarian include political and cultural beliefs, economics (meat is generally more expensive than vegetables), or simply a personal preference for a meat-free diet.
As long as you are healthy and gaining all the nutrients you need to function, vegetarianism is a good diet option.