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What’s The Difference Between Vegan and Vegetarian?

Both eat plant-based foods, but that doesn't mean they're exactly the same. We talked to experts to find out the key differences between the two diets.
What’s The Difference Between Vegan and Vegetarian?

For some, the pivotal distinction between someone who leads a vegan lifestyle compared with someone who leads a vegetarian one is quite obvious. But for others, the difference may be a bit patchy—and that’s OK! To clear up the confusion, we spoke with two experts on the subject, Marie-Josée Richer, co-founder and R&D manager of the health food company PRANA, and Miyoko Schinner, founder of vegan cheese company Miyoko’s. Both women identify as vegan advocates.

There actually may be a reason why people are confused about the difference between vegan and vegetarian, and that may have to do the origin of the word vegetarian.

“The original word for vegetarian—coined in England in the early 19th century—did in fact mean vegan. That is, no animal products at all,” Miyoko explains. “Veganism is about respect for all living beings and letting them live their lives as they see fit, rather than as serving us. This means animals are not forced into milk production or raised and used for wool and leather. It is about compassion for all species.”

How would you define someone who identifies as vegetarian?

“A vegetarian avoids flesh from animals, but may eat eggs and dairy products,” Miyoko says.

Can you name and explain the different types of vegetarians?

“An ovo-lacto vegetarian (or lacto-ovo vegetarian) is a non-meat eater (vegetarian) who consumes some animal products such as eggs and animal dairy products. Unlike pescatarians, they do not consume fish or other seafood,” says Miyoko. “A lacto-vegetarian consumes animal dairy products but no eggs, whereas an ovo-vegetarian consumes eggs but not animal dairy. A pescatarian typically consumes eggs, animal dairy, and fish, but no animal meat.”

Miyoko also says that the terms “reducetarian” and “flexitarian” are now entering the vegetarian scene.

“Reducetarians actively reduce the amount of animal products consumed in their overall diet, seeking vegan options to their favorite animal products, whereas flexitarians are comfortable opting for animal products or their vegan counterparts,” says Miyoko.

How would you define someone who identifies as vegan?

“Veganism is both an ideology and an eating methodology. According to the Vegan Society, veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose,” says Miyoko.

Is vegetarianism considered a stepping stone to veganism?

“Switching to a vegan diet is not something you have to do overnight,” says Richer. “If your objective is to have a vegan lifestyle, starting with a vegetarian diet is definitely a good move. Other people are perfectly capable of adopting a vegan diet quickly, sometimes because they have some sort of ‘enlightening’—an experience that makes them realize they don’t want to consume animal products anymore.”

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