“What’s the difference between a vegetarian and a vegan?” If you're new to the world of plant-based diets, this is likely the first question you ask. Every diet—meatless or not—changes by the individual, so there’s no quick answer. A simple starting point, however, is that all vegans are vegetarian but not all vegetarians are vegan. For some people, vegetarian is a stepping stone to veganism (such was the case for actress Natalie Portman, for instance). For others (like Olivia Wilde), the vegan lifestyle proves to be too restrictive and is ultimately modified into a more flexible vegetarian diet. Everyone’s story is different, and unfortunately, not everyone agrees on the specifics of what makes them a vegetarian or vegan. Read on to learn more about vegetarianism versus veganism.
Paul McCartney has promoted the vegetarian lifestyle for decades. Celebrities like Denzel Washington, Alec Baldwin, and Sarah Silverman have also proudly proclaimed their meat-free lifestyles. But what makes them vegetarian?
“Vegetarianism” is a basic term for someone who doesn’t consume animal flesh. Some enjoy dairy and eggs, while others eschew one or both of those food groups entirely. Basically, a vegetarian is that friend who orders a black bean burger for dinner and vanilla ice cream for dessert. No animals were slaughtered in the making of their meal, but there may have been some milking or egg harvesting going on.
It gets a bit more complicated when you factor in other subpopulations like pescatarians: people who eat fish but no other meat. A pescatarian commonly adheres to these dietary restrictions for health reasons, as opposed to ethical reasons, although there are certainly pescatarians who adopt the diet based on ethical standings.
Veganism is a bit more cut and dry: no meat, no dairy, no eggs, no fish—nothing derived from a sentient creature. Vegans get their protein from soy, vegetables, and other sources. There’s not much wiggle room here, although there has been some confusion regarding the vegan lifestyle versus the vegan diet.
The “vegan lifestyle” is an ethical movement rejecting all animal-based products that may have resulted from harm or death. In other words, toss out the leather, the fur, and even any cosmetics that may have been tested on animals.
The “vegan diet,” on the other hand, is exactly what it sounds like: toss out the animal-based foods, but hold on to those stylish leather boots. Even Ariana Grande has taken some heat from fans for declaring herself a vegan while still appearing in (what looks like) authentic leather and fur on stage and in her videos.
So there you have it. Whether you’re considering a healthier or more compassionate lifestyle or you’re just curious about what sets these distinct groups of people apart, you should have a better understanding of what each label entails.
Next up, see what happened when one of our editors went vegan for a week.