Updated: Sep 27, 2018
By David Hewitt
To be vegetarian or to be vegan? That is the question.
And after a shabby attempt at invoking Shakespeare, it’s still a good quandary to consider as it is one that is not always fully understood by the larger public.
From a basic starting point, vegetarians and vegans share some common, broad perceptions of the world and why they choose what they do, or don’t, put into their bodies by way of food.
The two most common reasons are as follows (there are others such as for the environment or religion, but those can keep for another day.)
First, an aversion to and rejection of animal cruelty and exploitation. It is difficult to justify yourself as an “animal lover” if three times a week you eat their roasted bodies and then check out Spanish cable TV to catch the latest bullfight. This is a zero-sum game – you either don’t want animals to suffer, or you don’t mind “some” animals suffering and being used as mere commodities to satisfy your carnivorous wants.
Second, is for health reasons. Evidence continues to grow about the harmful effects that meat consumption has, awash with saturated fat and cholesterol, on human health. Diseases like diabetes, cancer and heart disease are predominant in the Western world and, surprise-surprise, meat consumption in the West is king. Yet one of the biggest preventative health measures one can take is eliminating meat from diet.
So, all’s good on the vegetarian or vegan fronts yes? Well, maybe it’s not quite that clear cut. Let’s look at vegetarianism and veganism with a view to a little more detail and specific distinction.
A vegetarian may be defined as:
“A person who does not eat meat: someone whose diet consists wholly of vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, and sometimes eggs or dairy products.” Source
A vegan may be defined as someone who seeks…
“…a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.” Source
The key difference between the two quotes is the vegetarian use of dairy and eggs – animal by-products. From a vegan perspective, that is unacceptable as they are extensions of animal exploitation. Vegans eschew all animal by-products, such as leather, honey and silk. Vegetarians may often not apply such restrictions while still abstaining from meat.
The egg and dairy industries are far from renowned for their standards and cruelty-averse practices. Egg producing chickens are often kept in fetid, cramped conditions, never seeing the light of day, living miserable existences. Their lives are horrifically short and when no longer needed, they are callously disposed of.
Like-wise dairy production. As a vegan, I have lost count of the number of times that I have heard “But what’s wrong with cheese? Nothing died?” Commercial dairy farms are no better than the egg production industries. It never ceases to amaze me how female dairy cows are thought of as somehow being perpetual milk machines. If your mother lactated for 7 years solid, you’d be contacting both the doctor and your local news channel.
Dairy cows have to endure forcible impregnation, so as to stay in a permanent state of lactation. When done, when spent, like chickens, off they go to the casual human inflicted oblivion of slaughtered destruction.
On top of that, ever thought about what happens to the calves that are born to the dairy cow? Nothing dies right? Sadly, tragically wrong. Cows by the million perish because of a large swathe of humanity’s addiction to dairy. See our blog Milk is Murder
That parallel reaches back to egg production too. Ever stopped to reflect on what the egg industry does to male chicks that are unable to lay eggs? Nothing dies right? More tragedy. See our blog Eggs, Nothing Dies Right?
From another angle, to those that say what is wrong with egg and dairy as nothing died (when actually a LOT of innocent creatures died, contrary that myth?) For the same reason that we avoid and denounce poverty inducing, inherently cruel, clothing sweat-shops. Your t-shirt was made by someone who works 18 hours a day, 7 days a week for pennies, but hey – nobody died, right? This a moral circle that simply cannot be squared.
Health wise, while vegetarianism is for sure the healthier option when compared to a meat-based diet, it could be better. Egg and dairy products are increasingly being shown to be detrimental to not only waist size, but overall health in general.
Therein lies the fundamental distinction between vegetarianism and veganism. Vegetarians reject meat as they don’t see animals as commodities. Vegans reject meat AND all animal related by-products as they don’t see animals as commodities AND neither as sweat-shop style commodity providers.
For the avoidance of doubt, let me be clear though. Relative to a meat-based, omnivorous diet, vegetarianism is a less cruel, more healthy way of life. That needs be highlighted. Vegetarians have acknowledged that they both care as to the plight of animals and also care as to the health risks posed by a meat-based diet.
However, in stepping up to veganism, vegetarians can have a full realisation of their commitment to cruelty-free and healthy living in an even more comprehensive fashion.
Just some (vegan) food for thought.