An introduction to Vegetarianism and Veganism
Vegetarian and vegan diets are being adopted by more and more people, who for a variety of reasons wish to stop eating meat, fish, poultry and other animal products such as eggs, honey, milk and cheese. Many people believe that this is not a passing trend and that it in future years our eating habits will continue to move further away from animal products and become more plant based.
What does the term vegetarian mean?
Vegetarian is a term that is used to describe a diet that does not include meat products of any kind. Although some people believe otherwise, vegetarians do not eat fish. The correct term to describe a diet free from meat but that still allows fish is pescetarian. A term often used by people who follow a vegetarian diet is “if it has a face, I do not eat it”.
A vegetarian diet can take several forms depending on if the person also excludes eggs and milk from their diet. These are:
- Ovo-lacto vegetarian – diet consists of plant based foods, eggs, milk and dairy products.
- Ovo-vegetarian – diet consists of plant based foods and eggs but no diary products.
- Lacto-vegetarian – diet consists of plant based foods, milk and dairy products but no eggs.
Different people will have different reasons for which they chose to adopt including animal welfare issues or their own healthy concerns. In additions to these groupings some people may choose to avoid other animal products such as honey while continuing to eat others. Although the term vegetarian applies only to diet some vegetarians opt to avoid non-food animal products such as leather as well. Generally this is because of ethical, moral or religious reasons rather than for health.
What does the term vegan mean?
The vegan diet is sometimes also known as ‘strict vegetarian’ as it excludes all meat, eggs, milk and any food made from them and honey. Any food that contains animal by-products such as fats, rennet (taken from animal stomach and used in producing cheese) and isinglass (obtained from fish swim bladders and used to clarify some wines and beers) are also excluded from a vegan diet. Animal bone char is sometimes used to bleach sugar so many forms are also not considered to be vegan as animal products are used in its production. As with vegetarianism, some vegans extend their beliefs to not using animal products or by-products for any reason and so also do not use wool, leather, suede or household items and products such as cleaners that contain animal based ingredients.
Within the category of plant based diets there are several sub-categories such as fruitarianism which is generally regarded as including only foods that would fall naturally from a plant. Some people chose to exclude grains from their diet as well or avoid eating seeds as they contain future plants. In some cases fruitarians also eat legumes and pluses. Another diet within veganism that is also gaining in popularity is the raw food diet. Within this dietary approach raw food is defined as any food that is naturally raw or has not been heated over a certain temperature during any processing. Acceptable temperature varies from 40 °C (104 °F) to 46 °C (115 °F) and followers of the diet believe that heating food above this diminishes the foods nutrients and can lessen how helpful the food is to the human body and even make it harmful. Although predominantly vegan raw food diets can also be vegetarian or even include meat and fish.
The term semi-vegetarian or demi-vegetarian is sometimes used to describe someone who does not eat red meat or who eats very little meat at all. This is sometimes part of the process people take to becoming vegetarian but calling it vegetarian is inaccurate and misleading. This can feed inaccurate beliefs about what is eaten on a vegetarian diet and also misinforms others who may continue to believe that it is ok to serve fish and even poultry to vegetarians.
Reasons for becoming vegetarian or vegan.
There are a number of reasons that people choose to stop eating or using animal products. Many people feel that is morally wrong to kill animals purely for human to eat or feel that the methods and practices used in breeding, farming, slaughtering animals for food and other uses are unnecessarily cruel. Many religions such as Jainism, Hinduism, Rastifari, Islam and Judaism have requirements or preferences for followers of the religion to abstain from eating certain meats or to eat none at all so people may become vegetarian to fit in with these.
Increasingly people are choosing a plant based diet in order to increase or maintain their health and fitness. Research has shown that a well-balanced meat free diet has many health benefits. Some meats can be high in saturated fats and harmful cholesterol as well as possessing a risk of illness and diseases such as BSE being passed on to humans. Modern farmed fish may have been genetically modified or treated with medications that may present a risk to human well-being and even sea caught fish is no longer as healthy as in the past due to the pollution of the seas. On average vegetarians and vegans have a better height to weight ratio and are less likely to be obese so the risk of many health problems including heart disease, cancers, diabetes and varicose veins.
A diet free from animal products is also is more economic. Raising animals takes up a lot of space and can be expensive when all the costs are taken into account compared to the amount of meat that is gained from each animal. Countryside and other natural areas maybe destroyed in order to provide grazing gland for animals or they may be kept in cramped and unsanitary conditions, further adding to the health risks of consuming animal products. These facts can also contribute to a person’s wish to become vegetarian or vegan and not play a part in such practices.
Problems with becoming meat free.
Although it is often the case that many things that people think will be a problem turn out not to be, there can still be problems in adopting a meat free diet. Many people worry that choosing to not eat meat or animal products will leave them with very limited meal options or mean they can only eat complicated and time consuming or expensive foods. Today there is a huge range of recipe books, blogs and websites that cater to vegetarian and vegan recipes of all kinds, from quick and easy meals for after work and busy weekends to beautifully presented and elaborate foods for dinner parties and celebrations.
Living without meat and animal products does not need to be any more expensive than eating an omnivorous diet and will depend entirely on what you buy and whether lots of ready-made or pre-packaged products are used. Cooking healthy planet based meals can be a very economical way to eat when preparing food from scratch using basic ingredients such as vegetables, herbs and spices. Health food shops and increasing supermarkets stock a range of suitable foods from ready meals and alternatives including meat free sausages, chicken, mince and burgers to dairy free cheeses and milks. Many also have soya products such as cream, yoghurts and ice cream that are free from animal derived ingredients. Although this can be more expensive that meat containing versions often becoming vegan or vegetarian encourages people to be more creative in their cooking and eating habits which in turn then means they rely less on these types of foods. Supermarkets also often have a list of what of their own products are suitable for vegans and vegetarians even if they aren’t marketed as being meat free. This can be a big help in knowing which foods to eat, particularly for those that want to avoid all animal derivatives and not just meat.
Being the only non-meat eater in a family can present problems or may be met with resistance, especially for children and young people. Parents may not understand or agree with their child’s wish to change their diet and may worry that by redistricting what they eat they are risking their health. There are books and online resources that cater for single vegetarians in a family and there are many meals that can easily be made to suit both sides or that can be made animal free by substituting a few ingredients for others. It also presents an opportunity for older children and teenagers to get involved in preparing and cooking foods to help out and to encourage them to try new foods and learn more about what they are eating and nutrition as well as for parents to feel reassured that food can be just as nutritious even with no meat.
Other people’s attitudes can vary when it comes to their views on vegetarianism and veganism. They may admire you for standing by your beliefs, encourage you and wish you all the best while other people may not understand or believe that not eating meat can make any real difference to health or be helpful to animals. Not everyone is aware of the health benefits of eating less meat or believes that meat can be unhealthy but you can if you wish provide them with correct information and help others in the process as it is often inaccurate information being passed on that can make life harder for vegetarians and vegans: for example the idea that vegetarians still eat fish or that you will be unable to obtain enough calcium without drinking milk.
Whatever your views and reasons for choosing to no longer eat meat or use animal products it can be a rewarding and positive change in life. Not only may you achieve greater health, lose weight and avoid various diseases but you may be encouraged to become more experimental in your cooking and eating habits and try foods you never have or hadn’t considered before. In the case of vegan and especially raw foods there are many new things to be learnt about how many foods can be used that although seem unusual and unlikely a first create delicious meals, snacks and treats – nuts can be used to make cheese or avocado makes a tasty chocolate pudding, for example providing that a diet without meats and animal products can be as varied and interesting as eating meat and maybe even more so.
© 2013 Claire