Neither vegans nor vegetarians eat meat. However, while vegetarians tend to consume dairy products and eggs, a vegan avoids all animal products, including eggs and dairy, and often inedible animal-based products, such as leather, wool, and silk. Vegetarianism is usually a diet, while veganism is a lifestyle. Vegetarians often choose their diet based on its reported health benefits or for religious or political reasons. In general, vegans have much stronger political beliefs regarding their diet, with some believing animals should be protected under many of the same laws that humans are.

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Vegan versus Vegetarian comparison chart
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Introduction Veganism is a philosophy and compassionate lifestyle whose adherents seek to exclude the use of animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose. Vegans endeavor not to use or consume animal products of any kind. Vegetarianism is the practice of a diet that excludes meat (including game and slaughter by-products; fish, shellfish and other sea animals; and poultry). There are several variants of the diet, some of which also exclude eggs.
Diet Vegans do not consume meat, eggs, milk, honey or any food that is derived from animals. Do not eat meat or fish. Some do consume dairy and some vegetarians consume eggs. Lacto-vegetarian: eating dairy products. Ovo-vegetarian: eating eggs. Do not eat gelatin or other animal by products.
Products Do not use any animal derived products, e.g. fur, leather, wool, etc. Do not condone the use of animal testing. While vegetarians do not eat meat, most vegetarians do not mind using other animal-derived products, e.g. fur, leather, or wool.

What Vegans and Vegetarians Eat

Most vegetarians do not eat meat, fish, or poultry, but they tend to consume dairy products (especially vegetarians in India) and eggs. Many vegetarians also do not eat products that contain gelatin or other animal-based products. Lacto-vegetarians consume dairy products, but not eggs; ovo-vegetarians eat eggs, but not dairy products; and lacto-ovo-vegetarians eat eggs as well as dairy products. There is also pescetarianism, a vegetarian-like diet that avoids meat and poultry but does include fish.

The vegan diet tends to be much stricter than most vegetarians' diets. Meat, fish, poultry, dairy, eggs, and all other animal-based products, like honey, are entirely avoided. Moreover, any food or other (sometimes inedible) product that makes use of animals is avoided. This often extends to clothing, medicines, and anything else in which animals or animal products are used. For example, a vegan would not use leather shoes or belts, cosmetics that have been tested on animals, down comforters, gelatin medicine capsules, woolen sweaters, or fur coats.

Fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts are staples of both the vegan and vegetarian diets. Sometimes tofu is used as a replacement for meat-based products.

Reasons for Veganism vs Vegetarianism

"There is no meaningful distinction between eating flesh and eating dairy or other animal products. Animals exploited in the dairy industry live longer than those used for meat, but they are treated worse during their lives, and they end up in the same slaughterhouse after which we consume their flesh anyway. There is probably more suffering in a glass of milk or an ice cream cone than there is in a steak." —Gary L. Francione, vegan American legal scholar and animal rights advocate, in Veganism: The Fundamental Principle of the Abolitionist Movement

While some vegans may cite nutritional concerns or food allergies as the primary reason for adhering to their diet (dietary vegans), most adopt a vegan lifestyle for moral and political reasons (ethical vegans). The vegan point of view tends to be that animals are not here to be exploited by man, and that commercialization of animals involves a fundamental, inhumane component and lack of respect for basic life.

There are many reasons one might be vegetarian. A prominent reason is for health concerns, as the vegetarian diet is often high in fiber while also being and low in sugar and saturated fats. Similarly, some adopt vegetarianism due to growing concerns about food safety when it comes to meat. Moral and/or political reasons are also common; for example, some have embraced vegetarianism (and veganism) for environmental reasons.[1] Some religions, like Hinduism and Jainism, prescribe or encourage vegetarianism. Others, like some Christian sects, practice abstinence from animal products during Lent.

Health Benefits of Vegan and Vegetarian Diets

In general, most studies show vegans and vegetarians are as healthy, if not healthier than, their meat-eating counterparts. Veganism, in particular, is very good at eliminating common food allergens, such as shellfish and dairy. A plant-based diet is high in complex carbs from whole grains and root vegetables, such as potatoes and carrots, parsnips, rutabaga, etc.

There is ongoing study of the advantages and disadvantages of the vegan and vegetarian diets. Many studies have found cardiovascular benefits to both diets, and some suggest there is a lower risk of cancer among vegans and vegetarians.

An extensive study published in June 2013 shows that vegetarians live longer than meat eaters and are 19% less likely to die from heart disease. The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, a Journal of the American Medical Association, was covered by the Wall Street Journal. Other key findings from the study include:

A rebuttal of the media reports of this study argues that correlation does not imply causation, and that the longer life span of vegetarians found in the study could also be attributed to the fact that the vegetarian group tended to exercise more, be married, consume less alcohol, and smoke less compared with the meat-eating group.

Overall, determining whether these diets directly affect long-term health outcomes is difficult. The different types of vegetarians are rarely studied against each other, for instance, and vegans and vegetarians often tend to be more affluent or health-conscious, both of which positively affect long-term outcomes.

Risks of a Vegan Diet

A notable downside to the vegan diet is that vegans often need to take B12 supplements — and sometimes (depending upon how thoughtful you are to craft a well-balanced diet) other dietary supplements, such as amino acids, iron or vitamin D — as their diet tends to lack these essential nutritional components.[2] There is also a risk that a meatless diet does not contain enough protein, which is especially concerning for growing children.

Environmental Impact

There are varying results of studies on the environmental impact of diets. While no two studies arrive on the exact same conclusions, it is widely accepted that cutting down on meats and moving to a more plant-based diet would be more environmentally-friendly.

A 2014 study found that moving to a meat-free lifestyle would help reduce carbon emissions.

70 percent of agricultural emissions are related to cattle for two reasons: a lot of land has to be cleared for grass-fed animals, and because less than four percent of what animals eat goes into meat and milk production. The rest is released as methane, a high-potent greenhouse gas

However, this does not mean that a vegan diet is necessarily the most environmentally friendly. Another study in 2016 analyzed the carrying capacity of ten diet scenarios, i.e., how much land would be required to feed 1 person under a particular dietary regime.

Carrying capacity for different kinds of diets, as analyzed in this study finds that a dairy-free vegetarian diet can feed the most people. Results summarized by Chase Purdy.
Carrying capacity for different kinds of diets, as analyzed in this study finds that a dairy-free vegetarian diet can feed the most people. Results summarized by Chase Purdy.

The study found that while a vegan diet is significantly more efficient than our current diet, it's not the most efficient diet there can be. That's because not all land is suitable for agricultural use. If grazing land can be used for cattle, and a certain portion of human nutritional needs are fulfilled by dairy, then a significant number of people can be fed.


A 2008 study by Vegetarian Times found that 7.3 million people, or 3.2% of the U.S. population, is vegetarian; even more are partly vegetarian, eating meat only on occasion. A majority of vegetarians are female (59% of women vs. 41% of men), and most are younger (42% are in the 18-34 demographic).

A 2012 Gallup poll found the number of American vegans and vegetarians to be even higher than what Vegetarian Times found, with 5% of the population identifying as vegetarian and 2% identifying as vegan. Most vegans and vegetarians in this poll were found to be female, single, liberal, and older — in contrast to what Vegetarian Times found.

In 2010, the UK's National Center for Social Research released data from a 2008 social attitudes survey. They found vegetarians and vegans were much more likely to have higher incomes. They also found non-whites were more likely to be vegetarian or vegan than whites, and often for religious reasons.

Famous Vegetarians and Vegans

Many well-known celebrities, activists and politicians, artists, and sports figures adhere to vegan or vegetarian diets. Famous vegans include singers Carrie Underwood and Erykah Badu, Olympic sprinter Carl Lewis, actor and musician Jared Leto, and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez. Among vegetarians, there is Coldplay singer Chris Martin, comedian Ellen DeGeneres, Indian independence leader Mohandas Gandhi, and actors Natalie Portman and Peter Dinklage.


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