For a little over a year now I have been following a plant based diet. Many would label me a vegan while others would say I’m a vegetarian. All I know is I don’t eat meat or seafood and I do my best to avoid animal products. I am successful 90% of the time and the other 10% of the time I may consume some dairy products or eggs if baked into a pastry or if I have pizza.
Many people believe they know the difference between a vegan and a vegetarian but based on conversations I have had most aren’t clear on the specifics. Usually when I am at a social gathering and people find out I don’t eat meat I get some questions and often hear someone mention how they’ve considered becoming a vegan… who only eats chicken or fish. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work like that.
What’s the Difference Between a Vegan and Vegetarian?
Vegans are hard core. For many being vegan is a lifestyle choice that not only impacts what you eat but what you wear. The main thing about vegans is they do not consume ANY animal products. That means no dairy, eggs, meat, gelatin, or honey. For some vegans their lifestyle is based on compassion for animals and the environment rather than health benefits. This is why many also refrain from wearing leather, suede, wool, and definitely fur.
Vegetarians are more flexible in that they do consume some animal products such as dairy, eggs, gelatin, and/or honey. They simply avoid eating animal flesh. Some vegetarians may still wear leather, suede, wool, and believe it or not, fur. Being a vegetarian for most people is simply a dietary change made for health benefits rather than ethical reasons.
What is a Pescatarian?
Now, because we love to label and categorize everything, there is a name for those individuals who choose to follow a vegetarian diet but eats seafood. These individuals are called Pescatarians. Again, they will avoid eating the flesh of other animals but will consume sea creatures.
Is it Right For You?
One thing we must agree on is that our standard American diet is not doing the vast majority of us any good. Especially in the African American community. The CDC reports that “about 2 out of every 5 African Americans has high blood pressure and less than half of them have it under control.” More and more people are presenting with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes due to poor diet and younger ages. The great thing is that these health issues are easily prevented and treated with minor lifestyle choices.
There are various health benefits to eating a whole food plant based diet. Several studies suggest that a whole food, plant based diet can reverse many lifestyle diseases such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and even cancer. One great resource for studies and recipes is the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
Many people may frown their faces and say “what’s the point? Just eat whatever you want in moderation and you’re all good!” Still others will say animals are “sacrificial lambs” and are meant for us to eat. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and should always do what they know works best for themselves. For some going vegan or vegetarian will not agree with their bodies. Each person has to determine what’s best for them through trial and error.
My decision to go plant based was in part due to frustration. Recalls on meat products every few months were getting too common and I hated worrying about what I was feeding my family. Secondly, after watching documentaries such as Vegucated, Food Inc., Forks Over Knives, Hungry for Change and Earthlings I could not look at meat the same way. The factory farming practices I saw on these films were so horrid I no longer found meat appealing. I strongly recommend watching these documentaries to anyone interested in knowing where their food comes from and the impact of diet on their health. Most are available on Netflix, Amazon, or even YouTube. Just be warned that some of these films contain material that is difficult to watch.
How Does One Become Vegan/Vegetarian?
I won’t lie and say that going plant based is easy for everyone because it’s not. However, it is definitely a LOT easier now than it was 5 years ago. There are many vegan/vegetarian alternatives to meat, milk, and cheese at chain grocery stores.
With the creation of Pinterest there is now a one stop resource online to find really good vegan/ vegetarian recipes. All you have to do is search for vegetarian recipes and you can spend all day pinning OR you can check out my vegan/vegetarian recipe board on Pinterest! Some other online resources on how to go vegan/vegetarian include:
There are also really good cookbooks to help you that you can find on Amazon or any book store such as:
For a lot of people going all in will not work. My suggestion is to lean into it by doing one or all of the following:
- Start off with a Meatless Monday where you don’t consume any meat on Mondays.
- Take it a little further by limiting your meat to one meal a day on all other days.
- Phase out a meat group each week. Start with cutting out red meat this week, pork the next week, chicken the next, etc.
- Edge out the meat by increasing the amount of vegetables you consume and reducing the serving size of your meat. Ideally half of your plate should contain vegetables, a quarter of the plate lean meat or protein and the other quarter your starch (like rice, bread, or potatoes).
What you want to avoid is packing your diet with a bunch of processed foods or junk to replace the meat or animal products. So whenever possible go for the least processed options. If going straight veggies is too much at first, adding those mock meats is okay every once in a while. The goal is to change your mind set and get used to incorporating beans, legumes, fruits and vegetables as your go to. Always think that you want your food to be as close to its natural form as possible and you want to “eat the rainbow” (no we aren’t talking about Skittles!).
Ultimately the goal is to live a long healthy life. Whether you do it by becoming a vegan, vegetarian, or by simply eating more fruits and vegetables my hope is that you try making one small positive change to get closer to that goal.
Hopefully this helped clarify the differences between vegans, vegetarians, and pescatarians and provided you with some resources to experiment with. If you have any questions or suggestions for me drop them in the comments below. Also let me know if you guys would be interested in Meatless Monday post where I would share a vegan or vegetarian recipe you can prepare every week.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links which simply means if you were to purchase something from Amazon by clicking the link above, I would receive some compensation.