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What’s a Vegan Diet?

What’s a Vegan Diet?

When I was 13, I decided to give up poultry and red meat. Although I knew it was because I’d just as soon take a bite out of my own arm, my mom (in a chidingly loving way) claimed it was because I was lazy and didn’t like to chew. (Explain salt water taffy and caramels then, ha, I protested!) Everyone called me a vegetarian, but that confused me because I still ate fish and eggs–and those weren’t vegetables. Vegan, vegetarian, lacto-ovo, raw foodist, fruitarian–what’s it all mean? Is a vegetarian a vegan? Is a vegan a vegetarian?

I decided to get to the meat of the matter with the granddaddy of vegetarian groups, The Vegetarian Society, a British organization founded in 1847 to advance the vegetarian movement. According to the society’s definition, a vegetarian is someone “living on a diet of grains, pulses (for non-British readers, that would be legumes–not heart rates), nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruits with or without the use of dairy products and eggs. A vegetarian does not eat any meat, poultry, game, fish, shellfish or crustacea, or slaughter by-products.”

Within the broader category there are a number of sub-classifications.

Lacto-ovo-vegetarian: Eats both dairy products and eggs. This is the most common type of vegetarian diet.

Lacto-vegetarian: Eats dairy products but not eggs.

Raw Foodist: Eats 75 percent of their food not heated above 116F degrees. Often vegan, but not always.

Fruitarian: Eats only raw fruit, including raw nuts and seeds.

Vegan. Does not eat dairy products, eggs, or any other animal product.

So in a nutshell, a vegetarian diet excludes flesh, but includes other animal products: A vegan diet is one that excludes all animal products. And I have to say that I have met very few vegans who stop with what they put in their mouths. Most people who adhere to a vegan diet are committed to a vegan lifestyle. This means they do not use anything made with animal products: Down, silk, honey, wool, leather, fur, as well as any products tested on animals.

One of the first arguments against a vegan diet is one of nutrition–many people assume the body can only get enough protein, calcium and other minerals through the consumption of animal products. But with a little consideration and a bit of knowledge, nutritional needs can be met without eating meat. Protein requirements can be met with nuts, seeds, legumes, grains, cereals, and soy products. Leafy greens, nuts and seeds, dried fruits and bread provide high amounts of calcium. Iron can be found in leafy greens, wholemeal bread, molasses, dried fruits (especially apricots and figs), lentils and legumes.

People gravitate to veganism for various reasons; but its popularity stems from three main reasons–number one being love and respect for animals. Animals raised on factory farms endure horrific living conditions, and most vegans believe that even animals raised with “free-range” and “organic” classifications still suffer. Another reason that people follow a vegan diet has to do with environmental concerns. Take this fact, for example: The world’s cattle alone consume a quantity of food equal to the caloric needs of 8.7 billion people–more than the entire human population on Earth. If we stop feeding all our land’s output to farmed animals, there will be more food for humans to eat. Lastly, some people become vegan for health reasons.

For all of these reasons, veganism is a strong movement and continues to increase in popularity. With increased awareness about the environment and animal welfare, it looks like it is a movement poised for continued growth. If you are interested in reading more about transitioning to a vegan diet, visit Vegan Action or Go Veg.

Interested in some of Care2′s most popular vegan recipes? Try:
A Vegan Burger to Love
Vegan Thumbprint Cookies
10 Favorite Vegan Recipes

Read more: Eating for Health, Food, , , , ,

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.

197 comments

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5:51PM PST on Nov 8, 2013

Thanks for the info. I thought I was a Vegan but i do snack on chunks of cheese - daily and many times in each day. I slice up the Cabot Cheese, Seriously Sharp New York cheese Also snack on walnuts. I thought I was doing good until reading this. I'm on a restrictive budget (only have my Social Security) so I need to keep to a very strict food budget. I shop at Walmart and the same cheese at Pubix is a whole dollar more per 8oz brick. That $1.00 for 8 bricks that I save each month is enough to feed my cat for a whole month. So for me, that's a LOT!

I'm also reliant on transportation provided by a network of volunteers for a social service in my Florida county of Brevard. So I try to be considerate of the volunteers and not take up too much of their time (and gas - they don't get compensated for that).

I'm doing my best to keep myself healthy during my life's winter season. But I also need to keep my expenses within a budget. So while I find this article very informative, I guess I'll need to keep doing what I'm doing until I can add a local farmer's market to my travel schedule.

3:45AM PDT on Oct 11, 2013

thank you for sharing

8:50AM PDT on Oct 3, 2013

Well said, Latoya!! Although I applaud anyone who is vegetarian, I strongly urge you to do your research on the dairy industry. The cruelty inflicted upon the cows and calves is unimaginable. Cows are constantly kept pregnant only to cry and bellow for days when their babies, one after another, are viciously dragged away and either starved (for veal) or beaten to death. The dairy industry and veal industry are one in the same...Watch one video of this and see how you feel. Mercy for Animals is a great site for more info and they regularly go undercover at farms and slaughterhouses.

Plus, why do we wean our children off of our milk only to then drink another species' milk??!! There are plenty of alternatives and Earth Balance products are great! Nature's Gate and Trader Joe personal products (shampoo, face soap,etc) are all cruelty-free, meaning no animal testing and no animal products used and not too pricey!!

8:22AM PDT on Oct 3, 2013

I don't eat meat or chicken - but I do eat fish every now and then. I also eat diary products and will not give up my milk and butter.

6:54PM PDT on Sep 26, 2013

I'm vegan for the most part. Once in a while I will eat a bit of seafood or a little chicken. No milk or any other by-products.
My problem is finding a decent alternative to butter or margarine. Any suggestions?

6:06AM PDT on Sep 24, 2013

The cruelty of animals in food production brings me to the brink of insanity! The thought of how these animals are butchered while still alive and aware, just makes me ashamed to be human!
WE ALL MUST BECOME VEGETARIAN NOW!

7:18PM PDT on Jul 24, 2013

I'm almost Vegan---gotta quit butter+ice-cream. Great post--thanks.

3:07AM PDT on May 14, 2013

Thank you :)

11:35PM PDT on May 9, 2013

Thanks but not for me

1:50AM PDT on May 9, 2013

Very interesting, thanks.
I thought different countries have different views on what exactly is a vegetarian. When I was in Italy, people there told me the vegetarians there eat fish too.
I eat (a little bit) fish too, but I consider myself a vegetarian.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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