Vegan vs Vegetarian

So, what is the main difference between vegans vs vegetarians?

Vegetarians do not eat animal flesh or “anything with a face.”

Vegans take it a step further and do not eat any animal-based products at all; including eggs, dairy and honey.

That’s the simple answer. But the dietary variations between the two diets are not the only things that distinguish vegan vs vegetarian.

Vegans and vegetarians approach their lifestyles from differing ethical and practical frameworks. These other pointers may help you distinguish subtle differences between vegans and vegetarians.

Vegetarian: Vegetarians may simply be focused on their diet and may or may not be concerned with the welfare of animals.

Vegan: Animal welfare and the promotion of cruelty-free consumption is a guiding motivator for vegans, affecting their lifestyle decisions and their purchasing choices.

Vegetarian: Vegetarianism can be approached as being a broad and more inclusive spectrum. It’s a diet through which beginners and the uninitiated can dip their toes into, at a rate which they are comfortable with.

Vegan: Veganism is more strict and focused. Vegans take a wholesale approach: generally avoiding any product that compromises the well-being of animals such as makeup tested on animals or feather down based duvets and home products.

You might see a vegetarian wearing leather boots. But a vegan? Probably not!

Although it is rarer, some people follow vegan diets but do not consider themselves super passionate about animal rights.

Vegans who are less motivated by animal rights often describe themselves as adhering to a plant-based diet. Following a plant-based diet can entail eating the same way as a vegan, without the political and social connotations.

Vegan vs Vegetarian – Lifestyle vs Diet

While both vegetarians and vegans avoid meat products, these two diets have very distinct guiding principles, and their adherents demonstrate different levels of commitment to animal welfare.

Vegetarianism is, in its most distilled form, a diet.

It is a choice of what to eat and what to avoid based on many considerations. It might be to minimize the mistreatment of animals or for other considerations like the environment or nutrition.

Veganism is a more holistic approach; an entire lifestyle.

The vegan cause does not stop at diet; it takes into consideration the mistreatment of animals in every industry. Avoiding the consumption of animal byproducts in every shape and form defines vegans as a consumer and member of society.

The decision to become a vegan is not merely a nutritional decision; it is an ethical one.

Vegan vs Vegetarian Diet

So, what exactly does a vegan vs a vegetarian diet look like? Let’s dive a little further into what each diet entails and why.

Vegans abstain from all animal products.

Vegans abstain from all animal products. They do eat any dairy products or eggs, and most vegans avoid honey as they believe it entails the mistreatment of bees.

It has been said that vegetarians have the capability of saving 100 animals just through their diet choices. 100? That is not enough for vegans, who want to ensure that not only are there no animals being killed for their meat, but that no animals are suffering to produce foodstuffs like milk and eggs.

Vegetarians generally consume animal by-products like eggs and dairy and do not necessarily feel ethically inclined to cut these items from their diets. The general vegetarian perspective is that if it does not involve the death of an animal then it’s okay to consume.

Vegans avoid any by-product that involves the torture or mistreatment of animals. Vegans argue that keeping animals caged to produce dairy products and eggs is an infringement on their rights as sentient beings.

Unlike vegetarians, vegans believe that if the production of a food item involves compromising an animal’s rights and freedoms than it should not be consumed.

Some vegetarians believe that killing animals is wrong, but do not necessarily extend their condemnation to the concept of animals being contained against their will.

Vegans are committed to the belief that animals should be extended the same rights as humans. This involves the freedom of choice and the right to a life free of pain and suffering.

Vegetarianism is a spectrum.

Vegetarians are traditionally those who avoid all meat-based food items, be it a steak or an oyster. But the dictionary definition is quite fluid and ambiguous in reality; with many individuals of varying intentions and levels of dedication defining themselves as vegetarians

While veganism is quite strict in its principles and practices, many people with varying levels of commitment can consider themselves vegetarian. While true vegetarians abstain from meat products, there are many branches and labels within vegetarianism that many choose to identify themselves by.

For instance, pescatarians, who consume fish, are not pure vegetarians by the dictionary definition but many still consider themselves to fall under the rubric of vegetarianism.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the vegetarians you might encounter:

Lacto-ovo vegetarians: they consume dairy products and eggs

Lacto-vegetarians: they consume cheese and milk but not eggs

Ovo-vegetarians: they consume eggs but no other dairy product

Pescatarians: they consume seafood, either regularly or occasionally, but not land animals.

Under the rubric of true vegetarianism, pescatarians do not truly count as they do consume animal flesh. There have been studies in recent years that fish display many traits common to land animals like emotions and response to pain. But for our purposes, this is a common variant you will find, and many pescatarians do indeed consider themselves vegetarians.

Flexitarians: the ‘sometimes’ vegetarian who may be easing into the diet or who prefers to eat meat-free a few days a week for ethical or health-related reasons.

Vegetarianism is certainly not a one size fits all approach to diet! While veganism is generally strict with what can and cannot be consumed vegetarianism can be adapted to an individual’s preferences and comfort levels.

Vegetarianism is a diverse diet that allows for the incorporation of animal by-products to varying degrees. It can be a less intimidating way of beginning a meat-free journey for people interested in benefiting from a more plant-heavy diet.

Meatless Monday’s and ‘flexitarianism’ have become more prevalent in the past few years as people become fascinated by the topic of animal cruelty and learn more about the health benefits of a plant-based diet but are not fully committed to the idea of completely cutting out meat.

The flexibility with which people approach vegetarianism does not mean that its foundational beliefs or core tenets are hypocritical or incompatible. Rather, people are able to approach the diet at different stages along the spectrum and make it their own.  

Vegan vs Vegetarian Lifestyle

Vegetarianism can merely impact food choices.

Veganism impacts all consumption choices.

This is not to suggest that vegetarians do not avoid products tested on animals or that they promote wearing fur, but rather that it is not necessarily foundational to their lifestyle.

A cruelty-free perspective guides a vegan’s choices as a consumer and as a member of society. Veganism often entails activism. It need not be aggressive or vocal, but many of the vegans you will meet have fascinating, and passion filled stories about their decision.

Vegetarians lives may revolve less around activism and may be merely nutritional.

Vegans avoid products made using animal cruelty.

Veganism is a holistic approach because it affects an individual’s attitude and how they conduct their entire life.

Vegans are not merely dedicated to avoiding the consumption of animal products but are also passionate about avoiding wearing fur, leather, and often wools and feather down. They seek out beauty and skincare products that were not designed using animal testing.

Vegans will also avoid entertainment that involves the exploitation of animals such as rodeos or bullfighting. They will avoid zoos and aquariums where animals are being caged against their natural instincts.

As we mentioned, they abstain from wearing animal byproducts or using skin products that were tested on animals. They also take care to buy home decor, furniture, and accessories that are vegan. Because this lifestyle is gaining more adherents, you can now find vegan soaps, shampoos, and candles on shelves alongside more conventionally designed products.

Vegans seek out cruelty-free medicines and pharmaceuticals that do not contain animal byproducts. This can be a more challenging task as many drugs must be tested on animals before they can be considered safe for human use. Many vegans will display a bit of leniency when it comes to this particular topic because at present alternatives do not always exist.

Compassion for animals is the primary driver behind Veganism.

farm animals - vegan vs vegetarian

Veganism is generally an approach to life that puts a heavy emphasis on animal rights and on living a life that does as little harm as possible to all sentient beings.

Vegans firmly believe that animal lives have the same value as human lives and that killing them is wrong. They believe that commercializing the death of animals is an inherent misjudgment in our modern agricultural model. Veganism is generally more ethically and morally driven than vegetarianism. This is not a sweeping statement, but it does point to a core difference between the two.

Vegetarianism is not necessarily driven by the consideration of animal welfare. In almost all cases, veganism is irrevocably founded on the promotion and passion for animal welfare.

The vegan lifestyle is gaining more traction in our current time. While it is generally kept from the public eye, the treatment of animals across many sectors of the food industry have been illuminated recently in wonderful documentaries like Forks over Knives, Vegucated, and What the Health.

These films uncover many of the conditions that egg and dairy producing animals lived under that the general public do not realize. These films argue that we are intentionally misled as it is in the best interest of the companies producing these products to have people believe that animals are being treated humanely in the production of these items.

One can become a vegetarian for non-ethics related reasons.

Moral concerns and considerations of harming animals is generally a factor in both diets. The difference is that for vegetarians there are other motivating factors, but for vegans, it is nearly always the most significant driving factor.

Vegetarians come in many stripes and are driven by a variety of beliefs and motivations.

Ethical vegetarians avoid meat because they are personally passionate about animal rights and want to minimize the suffering of animals that has become such a hallmark of the factory farm system.

Nutritional vegetarians are more motivated by the health benefits of a plant-based diet and may exhibit little concern for animal rights.

Social and Political vegetarians are motivated by concerns like food security, genetically modified foods, human rights, improving food equity, and producing food for third world countries. They choose the diet because of its social implications.

Environmental vegetarians are preoccupied with the harmful effects of meat consumption on biodiversity, the world’s oceans, and the destruction of the rainforest.

None of these perspectives are necessarily right or wrong, but rather illustrate how diverse the concept of vegetarianism truly is.

Similarities of Vegan vs Vegetarian

So now that we’ve looked at the main differences between vegan vs vegetarian, let’s look at how they are similar. We’ll also look at some of the reasons vegans and vegetarians choose to change their diet and lifestyle.

Let’s start with the key similarity, neither vegans nor vegetarians eat meat.

That’s the most significant similarity between the two diets, that neither eats meat. Both vegetarians and vegans believe that avoiding eating animal products is one of the most ethical and healthy ways to live and eat.

Why avoid meat?

Many vegans and vegetarians point to health statistics when asked about why they adhere to a diet free of meat.

Meat products have been linked to cardiovascular disease (the biggest killer of men and women in North America), diabetes, clogged arteries, and osteoporosis.

A vegan and vegetarian plant-based diet has been proven to not only manage but reduce the impacts of a fat and dairy heavy diet.

Subjects who have had heart attacks or who have been diagnosed as having a high risk of cardiovascular disease have shown reduced symptoms, and in some cases the elimination of built-up damage, upon adopting a plant-based diet.

Studies that have researched the longest living communities in the world all note their low meat and dairy consumption and their emphasis on vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats like nuts.

Many vegans and vegetarians also believe that many of the world’s ills, like world hunger, could be solved if more people adopted their meat-free diet.

Meat products are extremely energy intensive to create. Some figures estimate that the production of a single burger involves over 600 gallons of water! This water could be used for human consumption or to create a more significant quantity of consumable calories in the forms of wheat and rice.

The UN released a report that proclaimed that many of the adverse effects of climate change which causes famine and drought in more impoverished regions of the world could be reversed if every human were to adopt a plant-based diet.

Even if meat consumption was cut in half today the effects would be measurable. Some non-meat eating experts advocate limiting meat consumption to two-three meals a day. This would be a drastic reduction, as many Americans eat a meat-based meal up to 20 times a week!

If vegans and vegetarians don’t eat meat, what exactly do they eat?

Vegan vegetarian meal

Contrary to popular belief vegans and vegetarians eat more than spinach and carrots!

They eat lots, actually! Both vegetarians and vegans adhere to a plant-based diet which is rich in nutrient-packed and delicious foods. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and soy products are all versatile and health-promoting foods that form the foundation of the vegan or vegetarian diet.

Many modern nutritionists who advocate a plant-based diet argue that meat and dairy should be occasional treats if consumed at all. This is a different approach to food in the western world, and thus a common reaction to a vegan or vegetarian diet is confusion. But with a little creativity, and shifting to a new paradigm of thinking about food, it is actually a delightful and easy way to eat.

Instead of meat being the cornerstone of a hearty meal we can replace it with a healthy leafy green like kale, or a rich vegetable based curry with squash and cauliflower. Kidney beans, lentils, and chickpeas are filled with iron and protein and are incredibly versatile. Tofu is also a popular meat supplement that absorbs flavor in an exciting and unique way.

Aren’t vegans and vegetarians missing out on essential nutrients and vitamins?

Vegans and vegetarians may need to be more organized in terms of ensuring their diet provides them with vitamins like B12 and omega-3’s.

However, a common misconception about both diets is that they encourage protein deficiency. Did you know that cases of protein deficiency are one the least observed health problems in the developed world? Protein can be found in a wide variety of plant-based foods like walnuts, tofu, and legumes!

Vegans and vegetarians who maintain a plant-based diet (meaning they don’t just eat chips or vegetarian snack foods) will have little concern about maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Is it difficult to avoid eating all animal products?

Vegetarians and vegans alike must be more mindful of nutrition labels, as animal products and meat derivatives are hidden in many of our grocery store staples!

Gelatin, from horses, is found in gummy candy, marshmallows, and even yogurts. Refried beans can contain beef byproducts such as lard, for flavor. Orange juice can be fortified with seafood based Omega-3. Many soups are made with an animal-based stock and even vegetarian options at your favorite restaurants are cooked in oil that may include animal fat.

Adherents to both diets must be mindful of the choices they make when dining out or buying groceries. They must educate themselves on hidden instances of animal products in innocuous-seeming foods.

The ranks of the meatless are growing

Roughly 5% of Americans identify themselves as vegetarians, and about 2% identify themselves as vegans. These numbers may seem small, but the ranks are ever growing, with veganism, in particular, becoming a more mainstream lifestyle.

A Vegan Society study found that the number of vegans in Britain has risen by 360 percent in ten years. 360 percent! This can likely be chocked up to awareness of the nutritional benefits of the diet, and the ease of which transitioning to veganism has become with new products like vegan cheese and dessert lines available for lower and lower costs!


We hope you have learned about some of the core differences between vegans and vegetarians. While veganism is often considered to be a branch of vegetarianism we believe that it is quite distinct and should be approached as a diet and lifestyle in its own right.

The key takeaway is that vegetarianism can merely be a diet while veganism is generally an entire outlook on life based on compassion towards animals and the promotion of cruelty-free products in all industries.


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