What's the Difference: Vegan vs Vegetarian
There is that great scene in “My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding” where Aunt Voula can’t comprehend the concept of a vegetarian:
 
Aunt Voula: What do you mean he don’t eat no meat?

(The entire room stops in shock)

Aunt Voula: Oh, that’s okay. I make lamb.
 

Even though vegetarianism has been around forever, people still fail to understand the true definition of the word. The umbrella category covering all of the forms of being vegetarian is vast, with many sub categories - but “vegan” is not one of them. Many people have no idea what either term actually entails with some people thinking that vegan is a shortened word or synonym for vegetarian. So let’s unpack the differences of a vegetarian diet and a vegan lifestyle for all the Aunt Voulas out there.
 

What Do Vegetarians Eat?
 
A vegetarian diet excludes eating the body parts of an animal including cow, pig, chicken, sea animals, shellfish, crustacean, mollusks and insects. Essentially, you are reducing the amount of animal suffering in your diet. Also, you are not eating products derived from slaughtered animals whether wild, farmed or domestic. However, not all vegetarians exclude dairy and eggs and tofu is often used as a replacement for meat-based products. Many individuals choose to be vegetarian for religious, health, ethical or environmental reasons. Some of the sub categories of vegetarianism include:
 
  • Pescetarian: Avoids meat but eats fish
  • Pollo-Vegetarian: Avoids meat and fish but eats poultry, dairy, and eggs
  • Lacto-Vegetarians: Avoids eggs but consumes dairy products
  • Ovo-Vegetarians: Avoids dairy but eats eggs
  • Lacto-Ovo Vegetarians: Consumes both eggs and dairy
  • Demi-Vegetarian: Avoids meat but eats fish, eggs, vegetarian cheese and milk-based products
  • Flexitarian (Semi-Vegetarian): Slowly cuts back on meat
 
 
A Vegan Lifestyle Choice
 
First off, being a vegan is not a form of vegetarianism. Vegans do not eat any animal flesh and they do not eat eggs or dairy at all. What makes this a lifestyle choice is that it extends to eliminating all animal products from every aspect of their lives. A vegan will not use any products that have been tested on animals, including cosmetics. They will not wear any clothing made from animals like leather jackets, shoes or belts, woolen sweaters or fur coats. They will not sleep under down comforters, eat products containing gelatin, or ingest medicine capsules. A vegan leaves all animals alone to live their lives. 

 
Veganism and Animal Rights
 
Vegans view vegetarianism as a stop gap on the way to veganism. Vegans believe that the dairy industry is the cruelest aspect of the meat industry. Calves are taken away from the mothers immediately at birth and the extraction of the milk from the mother is continuous torture. In the case of eggs, hens are subjected to years of confinement laying eggs, deprived of a life outside and then when they are too old their necks are snapped to provide meat. The Vegan lifestyle is much more centered around animal rights versus a health or diet choice. Their belief system is centered around animals not being on earth for the exploitation or commercialization by man. Vegans believe animals must be treated humanely and there should be a basic respect for all life.
 

A Cautionary Tale
 
Just because a product is labeled "Vegetarian" or "Vegan Safe", doesn’t mean it doesn’t have animal products in them. You have to look for either the Vegetarian Society trademark or the Vegan Society trademark. If the product doesn’t have the trademark, then you will have to analyze the ingredients or do further research.
 

The Vital Dietary Benefits of Both
 
Plant based diets result in a wide range of health benefits. Your heart and cardiovascular systems will function optimally, your brain will fire on all cylinders, and you will live longer. You will also eradicate food allergens and there is a lower risk of contracting cancer. Haven’t you noticed how your vegan or vegetarian friends never seem to get chronically ill and have energy in spades? They also tend to have a very positive outlook on life and display robust health. And let's not forget the environmental impact of both the vegetarian diet and the vegan lifestyle...as meat-free lifestyles reduce carbon emissions. So perhaps it's time to eliminate Aunt Voula’s SAD (Standard American Diet) choice in favor of a more life enhancing one.