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

221 comments

Marna T.
Marna T.about a month ago

Hi Melisa. Its really an amazing post and I also keep posting some amazing stuff on my blog. hope you may want to visit my blog: http://www.thinwithin.com/blog/

Jacqueline Schmidt
Jacqueline Schmidt2 months ago

@ Nathaniel W.: And you copied my comment word-for-word because . . . . . ?

Jacqueline Schmidt
Jacqueline Schmidt2 months ago

Always makes me laugh when I see people who aren\'t even vegan claim to be environmentalists. We\'v got more on that here http://veggieathletic.com/veganism-saves-planet-facts-figures/

Nathaniel W.
Nathaniel W.2 months ago

Always makes me laugh when I see people who aren't even vegan claim to be environmentalists. We'v got more on that here http://veggieathletic.com/veganism-saves-planet-facts-figures/

Karolina S.
Karolina S.5 months ago

Teresa W. I have no idea what you are trying to do here... and why? Are you a troll? I live in Poland (and have for 36 years). I am vegetarian transitioning into vegan (i.e. I buy vegan only but do try vegetarian dishes if offered for free). Some of my friends are vegan, most are vegetarian. We have delicious native fruits and vegetables in Poland! Why are you telling people the opposite? We have great apples, pears, carrots, plums, potatoes, berries, cucumbers, cherries, pumpkins, beets, kale, mushrooms, cabbages, broccoli, you name it. Anything that will grow in a moderate climate like the Polish one - even grapes. The norms for pesticide content and other chemicals in foods are stricter here than those in the US. There are organic shops in bigger cities, vegan restaurants are opening everywhere. There are numerous farmers' markets. We also have excellent, cheap buckwheat, nuts, flax seed oil, sourdough breads and diverse non-GMO soy products. The thing that lacks here is good quality vegan cheese (i.e. it's expensive). Your post stirred my blood so much that I had to write this. BTW, the oldest Polish recipes are largely plant-based. Meat was once mainly for the rich and was normally used as a condiment.

Tammy Andrews
Tammy Andrews6 months ago

Join vegancensus.com Vegans and vegetarians unite

Antony M.
Antony M.6 months ago

ty

Helga Ganguly
Helga Ganguly6 months ago

Theresa W. My mother was born in Silesia.It was in Germany then but is in Poland now so she spoke Polish and German and French and Hungarian and Russian and other languages.Her mother was the Mistress of a foreign language school.She married a Hungarian and I know what you mean-butter was a vegetable. Our son came home from a trip to Austria and Hungary and even though it was summer,there is very little in cultivated fruits and vegetables. I remember Plum dumplings and apricot dumplings for dessert and Apful Strudel and the dumplings were made of flour and potato and we had cabbage salad,Kohlrabi,carrots,cucumbers,tomatoes, lentils, vinegar in lots of things to counter the sweet, palascinten with apples, mushroom soups,live dumplings,navy bean soup,eating a lot of lecso, which is green peppers sautéed with onions and tomatoes.and served as a sauce over food or rice . We survived.

Dorothy M.
Dorothy M.8 months ago

Wow! What a relief to read the joyful, truthful comments posted here about veganism -- for the animals, for our own health! Please check out and post on the Care2 article that talks about bacon lovers meeting a piglet for the first time. The anti-vegan hatred being posted there is outrageous (same three people, over and over).

Jo S.
Jo S.10 months ago

Thank you Melissa.