Understanding different types of vegetarianism
Confused about different veggie diets? Paula has the answers.
By Paula Carnogoy (Only Cookware)
What is a vegetarian? On the surface, that sounds like an easy question. A vegetarian is someone who doesn't eat meat. But where exactly do you draw the line? Is fish or other seafood considered to be meat? What about eggs and dairy products? These and similar questions can lead to some confusion over what exactly constitutes a vegetarian diet.
Broadly speaking, the following are the most common terms applied to vegetarians:
Most people who describe themselves simply as vegetarian will refuse to eat any kind of animal flesh, including red and white meat, fish and seafood, and products derived from the bodies of animals such as gelatin. As a rule of thumb, if an animal had to die in order for the item to be produced, it is off the menu for vegetarians. On that basis, eggs and dairy products are acceptable.
This term is sometimes used for people who don't swear off eating meat altogether, but they do avoid certain types of animal products. For example, they might only eat white meat like poultry, seafood or fish, while avoiding beef, pork and other red meats. Or a semi-vegetarian might restrict their meat consumption to rare occasions.
Some "real" vegetarians are scornful of the term semi-vegetarian, on the basis that you are either vegetarian or you are not. Others will argue that any attempt to reduce meat consumption should be applauded, and will encourage a semi-vegetarian diet among those who aren't ready to go the whole way.
Ovo-lacto vegetarians are people who don't eat any kind of meat or fish, but who do consume eggs and dairy products, including cheese, butter and milk. Some vegetarians restrict themselves to only one part of this category: ovo-vegetarians eat eggs but no dairy products, whereas lacto-vegetarians do the opposite.
Vegans don't eat any animal products whatsoever. Even such items as honey, which is produced by bees, are off the table. Vegans are sometimes called "strict vegetarians", but that term is somewhat misleading as it can also be applied to any vegetarian who is particularly conscientious in keeping to their chosen diet.
Some vegetarians will take their dietary principles a step farther and eat only raw foods. The idea is that many of the important vitamins and nutrients in food are destroyed in the cooking process. People following a raw-food diet (sometimes called a living-food diet) believe that eating uncooked fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds is healthier and better for the environment.
Fruitarians eat only raw fruit and seeds. Unlike followers of a raw-food diet, they don't even eat vegetables, in the belief that the cultivation of vegetables contributes to the destruction of the environment through agriculture.
Why do people choose a vegetarian diet?
There are many reasons why people choose to avoid meat in their diets. They include:
- Moral or ethical concerns. Many vegetarians are simply uncomfortable with the thought that an animal had to suffer and die to provide their meal. Others go vegetarian in protest against the way that animals are raised for food. This is why some people who are vegetarian for ethical reasons also avoid foods that don't kill the animals, like milk and honey, because they fear that the big business surrounding the production of those products hurts the animals.
- Religious reasons. Some religions, such as Buddhism and Hinduism, encourage their followers to avoid eating animal products. The primary reasons why some religions promote vegetarianism is to follow an ideal of non-violence, to animals and humans alike, and to encourage spiritualism and clear thinking.
- Health issues. Many people turn to vegetarianism because they consider it to be healthier than a meat-based diet. Others (less commonly) are advised by their doctors to avoid meat and meat products.
Please note: Neither Veg World nor its contributors are qualified to give medical or nutritional advice. If in doubt, always consult a suitably-qualified professional.