The difference between a vegan and a vegetarian is that a vegan eliminates all animal products from his or her diet, including dairy. Those following a vegan lifestyle generally do not wear leather and avoid products made from animals such as wool, silk and down. Vegans’ tremendous humanity for animals is an abiding, overriding conviction in their lives.
Vegetarians do not eat meat, fish or poultry, but might eat eggs, or dairy products such as cheese, yogurt or milk. Vegetarians are not as predictable in their beliefs, as there are many reasons to become vegetarian that don’t necessarily include altruism as a primary motive. For example, many vegetarians have eliminated meat for the sake of their health. In fact, there are a great many people lumped into the category of vegetarian. Lacto-vegetarians will eat dairy, but not eggs. Ovo-vegetarians will eat eggs, but not dairy. Lacto-ovo vegetarians will eat eggs and dairy products. The reasons for these choices are varied and based on individual beliefs. In some cases they are based on moral choices, and in others on dietary needs or simple preference.
A vegan, on the other hand, is self-committed to upholding a personal standard of living where animals are concerned. The vegan will often go beyond eliminating meat, dairy and animal products, to become an activist for animal rights. Generally, the vegan point of view is that animals are not here to be exploited by man, and that commercialization of animals necessarily involves a fundamental, inhumane component and lack of respect for basic life. Unfortunately, cruel methods are often cheaper methods, and animals raised for meat or dairy products by commercial interests are commonly and routinely kept in abusive conditions and slaughtered inhumanely in the interest of a competitive marketplace.
There are also humanitarian issues associated with being vegetarian and vegan. It has been proven that if land used for grazing cattle was instead used to raise crops, world hunger could be easily eliminated. Pound for pound, cattle consume far more protein in grains than they deliver in meat. Additionally, many third world countries raise cattle in order to export the meat to wealthy nations, while their own masses starve, unable to afford meat.
However, health might be the most common reason for becoming a vegetarian or vegan. While personal beliefs about animals differ and world hunger remains a remote reality to most people in industrialized nations, people do respond readily to the idea of personal benefit.
To this end, international, independent studies conducted by the world’s leading health organizations have provided far-reaching and conclusive research. Beginning in the early 80s and continuing through the late 90s, studies found that a vegetarian diet is far healthier than one which includes meat. This conclusion is backed by redundant, real-life measurable, statistical results. The organizations (and studies) include the British Medical Association (BMA), The China Study, The World Health Organization (WHO), the Oxford Study, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), and the American Dietetic Association. The basic finding is that eliminating meat reduces the chances of contracting many types of chronic diseases and some types of cancer. While a vegetarian diet has since been deemed the healthiest diet of all, the closer one moves towards a vegan diet, the greater the benefits. Many companies that provide health insurance now offer discounts to vegetarians and vegans.
If interested in starting down the road to a vegetarian or vegan diet, one needn’t go cold turkey, so to speak. By looking for vegan and vegetarian products in the grocery store and trying different products each week, over time you will develop a list of vegetarian foods you enjoy. As this list grows and your tastes change, you will appreciate the healthier feeling of eating vegetarian. The process of switching your diet and improving your health can be a gradual and natural one.