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What's the Difference Between a Vegan and a Vegetarian Diet?

Updated on October 15, 2010

When I was about five years old, I asked my mom if I could be a vegetarian. Now, how I knew what a vegetarian was at that age beats me, but apparently I knew what it was. But, anyway... My mom told me no because I would only be eating fruits and vegetables, and my response was something along the lines of 'So.' And of course I received the typical 'no' in return.

Then when I was in 8th grade or so, I decided that I wasn't going to eat cows. At this point, I figure that they assumed it was a phase, and let me do it. I cut out most cow products, and after a year or so realized that my favorite me was cow and that if I'm cutting out hamburgers and other beef, I had to stop eating pogogee. I have been cow-free for about 7 years.

Around the time that I stopped eating pogogee, my cousin, who loves pigs, decided to attempt to stop eating pork, but she couldn't do it. I told her not to worry, and I'd take her slack.

So, anyway, this long drawn out story, and I'm still not a vegetarian, much less a vegan, but I am what some consider a semi-vegetarian, where I only eat chicken, turkey, and fish.

But, the confusion lies with the difference between what is a vegetarian and a vegan. Most people just assume all vegetarians are vegans and vegans are vegetarians, but there is actually a difference between the two. Check it out below.

What is a vegetarian

A vegetarian is one who just excludes meats from his, or her diet. There are different extremes and variences to vegetarianism, but for the most part a vegetarian does not eat meat, fish, or poultry, which includes any slughter by-products, shellfish, sea animals, or game.

Some of the vegetarian variences include exluding eggs, dairy products, and honey.

Types of vegetarians can include: 

  • Semi-vegetarian is basically one in which the person does not eat meat but may include fish and/or poultry in their diet.
  • Lacto-vegetarianian is one in which the person eats dairy products but not eggs or any ther meat. 
  • Lacto-ovo-vegetarianian is one in which the person eats both eggs and dairy products, but no other meats.  

There are even other dietary practices associated with vegetarianism that can include fruit and nut only diets and raw vegetable and nut diets. 

What is a vegan?

Veganism is the more extreme of the vegetarian lifestyle. Basically, those who are vegans to do not include any food, clothing, soaps, or any other products that have animal products or animal by-products in them or used in making. They don't consume or use any of these products.

Below, you'll find a list of common animal products and animal byproducts. 

Most people who are vegans are so because of the ethical concern of animal rights, as well as the environment, human health, spiritual rites, or other reasons. But, most of the time the reason is animal rights and the practices involved in factory farming and anmal testing.


Flickr Image by cobalt123
Flickr Image by cobalt123
Flickr Image by Aaron Landry
Flickr Image by Aaron Landry

Animal Products

The actual term "animal product" refers to any product that comes from animals for human use.

Common animal products include:

  • Dairy Products 
  • Fur
  • Honey
  • Leather 
  • Meat, Poultry, Seafood, Eggs
  • Silk
  • Wool

Common animal by-products include:

  • Casein
  • Beeswax
  • Gelatin
  • Isinglass
  • Lanolin
  • Rennet
  • Shellac
  • Whey

Animal products and by-products are used in countless products, and if you check the ingredients, you're probably not going to find 'This product contains cow,' but you'll find the by-product listed on the label. If you saw on the ingredients label of your favorite toothpaste, 'Contains animal product,' would you purchase it again? Probably not, but by listing gelatin and you'd probably never know.

As for animals products such as honey and silk, you will find some vegans who actually use the products as well as other insect products. 


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    • Chuck Bluestein profile image

      Chuck Bluestein 4 years ago from Morristown, AZ, USA

      Actually vegan refers to the vegan diet and it only pertains to what they eat. But then vegan Nazis said other things about being vegan like not wearing leather and nobody wants to argue with a Nazi.

      It is like Kramer on Seinfeld. He was in an AIDS walk and did not want to wear a pink ribbon. So others in the walk beat him up. So people who want to avoid vegan Nazis call it a plant-based diet that is followed by Bill Clinton, Iron Mike Tyson, Roseanne Barr and Dr. Oz.

    • profile image

      Christina Sims 7 years ago

      Yes, us humans are not meant to eat meat..Leave the meat

      to Lions and tigers..their teeth, claws, and digestive

      systems are suited for meat..raw meat..

      Let us humans get back to eating a human appropriate diet..the vegetarian diet..the diet Adam and Eve enjoyed.

    • profile image

      jackie m thomas 8 years ago

      i am a vegetarian now.. in 6 grade i tried to be one but i was not eating right so then i had to start eating meat again sadly but 3 years later i tried again and now i know how to eat right as a vegetarian and i have been on for 3 months and 22 days now AND AM PROUD OF IT!!!!

    • profile image

      Omnivore 8 years ago

      Thanks for clearing that up. WOW how anyone can deny the natural order of things is beyond me. It seems to me that the majority of the vegetarians and vegans that I have ever had the misfortune to gaze upon look gaunt, hollow, pail and just plain unhealthy. While claiming to feel great, yet not able to keep up with me, a 20year 2 pack a day smoker. If that’s feeling great as a vegan, I think I’ll stay “feeling bad” as a meat eating and now a non smoker. BTW that is another lie. I don’t feel any different for having given up smoking except that I still want another cig! My wife on the other hand…

    • theherbivorehippi profile image

      theherbivorehippi 8 years ago from Holly, MI

      Great Hub! I am a Vegan and I will say you can never understand just how healthy and amazing your body feels from the inside out when you eliminate such food from your diet and how good your heart just feels to know the products you surround yourself with are animal friendly. People think its a "hard" lifestyle but once you're used to it comes naturally.

    • profile image

      Mo 8 years ago

      I'm like you; when I was 12, I decided I wouldn't eat beef anymore. Other than one or two times where someone served me a beef burger instead of a turkey burger (more than one bite would make me quite ill) I haven't had beef for over fifteen years.

      Shortly after that I gave up all meat except chicken and turkey. Then, about two years ago I went fully veg and I'm sort of a vegan-leaning vegetarian. I only eat vegetarian cheese and most of my dairy and eggs come from a local farmer's market, the rest coming from Whole Foods. I've given up dairy butter and I almost never eat cheese when dining out. I've always been allergic to most animal fibres, so giving up animal-based clothing wasn't necessary, but before I moved back to WA, being veg was hard. CA is NOT very veg friendly if you don't live in just the right areas.

      I'll stop babbling and just say, if you so choose, I wish you luck in transitioning from pescatarian to vegetarian! :)

    • profile image

      animal lover 9 years ago

      im very young but still on my way off becoming a vegtarian i want to become a vegetarian because animals deserves the same respect as us

    • Happy 1 profile image

      Happy 1 9 years ago from Hawaii

      Now I understand the difference, thank you !

    • mistyhorizon2003 profile image

      Cindy Lawson 9 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

      I did try to become a vegetarian, but found I was mostly living off salad and cheese, which was not ideal for someone as skinny as I was and I needed much more in terms of calories to maintain even my low weight. I really found it hard to judge what to eat or not eat, as even such things as Wocestershire Sauce contained anchovies, and cochineal had crushed up bugs in it. After about three months I gave up and went back to a standard mixed diet, although I try to buy free range types of meat wherever possible..