Vegan Vs. Vegetarian Diets: Is There a Difference?

Pizza restaurant

Think of one of the most basic foods you eat every day. Now, imagine if you discovered a group of people who never ate that specific food. You’d likely be shocked and confused, and perhaps a bit curious and offended as well. When approached with the idea of a vegan or vegetarian diet, omnivores have a similar experience. Animal products are so entrenched in the Western diet, and to some, it may seem unfathomable that people choose to go without a food group so commonly eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. To make matters more complex, there are subcategories within this diet. There are flexitarians, pescatarians, vegetarians, and vegans, but what is the difference, and why do people choose these lifestyles?

One of the most prevalent concepts is vegan versus vegetarian. Neither diets include meat, so what’s the difference? Vegetarians refrain from consuming all meat, which includes chicken and fish. But the diet does include eggs, milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, and even honey.

Vegans, on the other hand, do not consume any animals products. In addition to meat, this includes all dairy and egg products. So, even if an animal was not killed to make the product, if it comes from any part of an animal, the product is not considered vegan. Due to the “extremity” of the vegan diet in juxtaposition to the norm, many people go vegetarian prior to adopting the vegan diet. But why give up all animal products in the first place, if an animal is not slaughtered? There are countless reasons, and each individual has their own motivations, but here are just seven of the prevailing reasons why vegetarians go vegan.

7 Reasons Why Vegetarians Go Vegan

1. Cows in the Dairy Industry Are Still Sent to Slaughter

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Both male and female cows are slaughtered well before the end of their natural lifespans in the dairy industry. In the UK alone, 95,000 male calves born to dairy cows were killed almost immediately, as it is expensive to raise a cow that has no use to the dairy farmer. In the US, hundreds of thousands of male calves are sold into the veal industry, where they are also killed at a young age. Further, female dairy cows are typically sent to slaughter around age five, when they are considered “spent” and can no longer produce milk at a cost-efficient rate. The average lifespan of a cow in a natural environment is 25 years. Many vegetarians are appalled to learn that their seemingly harmless ice cream is a byproduct of the slaughter industry, but there is a way to align one’s simple pleasures with one’s ethics. Both vegan and dairy brands are producing quality pints of vegan, cruelty-free ice cream, and they are available in most supermarkets. From McConnell’s to Snow Monkey, there is a plant-based option to suit any sweet tooth.

2. Over Half the World’s Population Is Lactose-Intolerant


According to the Genetics Home Reference website, a subsidiary resource of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, approximately 65 percent of the world’s adult human population is lactose intolerant, meaning they have trouble digesting the lactose found in all dairy products. Those who are lactose intolerant have reduced levels of the enzyme lactase, which functions to break down lactose. People experience lactose intolerance symptoms in varying degrees, from occasional bloating to crippling abdominal pains. However, by cutting dairy products out of their diet, many find relief from their daily gastrointestinal discomforts. With all of the incredible plant-based milks, cheeses, and ice creams on the market, one can still enjoy the foods they love without worrying about the consequences a half hour later.

3. Free-Range Does Not Mean Cage-Free


Many consumers choose cage-free or free-range eggs, assuming that the hens live the majority of their lives outdoors, engaging in natural behaviors and living a generally happy life. However, the USDA’s definition of free-range is extremely vague, allowing for egg producers to undermine the concept to save on costs. Free-range chickens must be granted access to the outdoors every day, but for an undetermined amount of time. Therefore, free-range chickens can still be confined to overcrowded warehouses and cages if they are allowed outdoors for even a few minutes each day. Those concerned about the welfare of animals may wish to reconsider their choice to buy organic or free-range eggs and switch to a vegan alternative, such as Follow Your Heart’s VeganEgg. Seasoned tofu also works wonders as a scrambled egg alternative.

4. The Egg Industry Does Not Care for Male Chicks


In the egg industry, male chicks are treated as a byproduct, as only hens are biologically capable of laying eggs. Over 260 million male chickens are born into the US egg industry each year, and they are all routinely slaughtered, according to Humane Facts. Culling is the most common practice of disposing of male chicks, in which batches of living chicks are sent through a grinder. Those who have chosen the vegetarian lifestyle for ethical reasons often go vegan when they become aware of this fact, as the egg industry still contributes to the mass slaughter of animals.

5. Egg and Dairy Products Are High in Cholesterol


According to previous USDA dietary guidelines, people should limit the amount of cholesterol they consume to under 300 milligrams per day. However, one would exceed this limit just by eating two plain eggs. Add cheese to the equation, and one could easily skyrocket past the recommended daily amount (one cup of cheddar cheese has 131 mg of cholesterol, according to the USDA Food Composition Database). High levels of cholesterol can contribute to heart disease and stroke, which are two of the leading causes of death in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vegetarians often fall into a diet heavy in eggs and cheese in lieu of meat products, placing themselves at a severe health risk, despite their meat-free meals. To lower and maintain a healthy level of cholesterol, vegetarians can easily implement vegan swaps such as replacing eggs with tofu scramble, or the latest plant-based product, JUST Egg, which is slowly rolling out to select restaurants around the world.

6. The Dairy Industry Has a Major Impact on Climate Change

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There are 270 million dairy cows in the world, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Their excrement and burps lead to greenhouse gas emissions, which increases the rate of climate change. In fact, the manure of 2,500 dairy cows equates to the waste of 411,000 people in a city, based on research by “Cowspiracy.” Further, the combined meat and dairy industries take up one-third of the world’s fresh water. Instead of taking shorter showers, vegetarians can drastically reduce their carbon footprint by going vegan and refusing to contribute to the environment-polluting practices of the dairy industry.

7. The Egg and Dairy Industries Infringe on Natural Habitats and Wildlife

red fox

In order to preserve the land necessary to raise livestock, in addition to protecting said livestock from predators, millions of wildlife animals are killed by the USDA. In the past decade, an estimated 36 million animals, including bears, coyotes, foxes, prairie dogs, wolves, and other species were exterminated to make room for animals raised for food, which includes dairy cows and egg-laying hens. The animal agriculture industry does not only affect the animals under the direct care of the farmers, but the entire surrounding ecosystem. Vegetarians who switch to a vegan diet can help defer the obliteration of endangered wildlife species simply by swapping in delicious vegan alternatives for their typical milk, cheese, and egg purchases.