Vegan vs. vegetarian, what is the difference? These terms are often grouped together as if they shared the same meaning. While both share a few commonalities which separate them from the rest of the omnivorous world, they are indeed different and should not be used interchangeably.
The Basics: Vegan vs. Vegetarian Diets
Vegetarian is a term for people who abstain from consuming animal flesh, including red and white meat, poultry and fish. It is often used more loosely than the word vegan, and is an umbrella term for various subcategories of vegetarianism. According to Merriam-Webster, vegetarian was coined sometime around 1839 although we know people have followed vegetarian diets throughout history.
Vegan refers to a more conscientious and ardent form of vegetarianism. In addition to everything that vegetarians refrain from, a vegan diet is also free from any animal by-products including milk, eggs, honey, gelatin and other derivatives. Traditionally, vegans also avoid wearing any animal products such as leather, wool and down. Vegan was first used in 1944 by Donald Watson of Britain’s Vegan Society, who made it very clear that the proper pronunciation is “veegan not veejan.”
Labels Are Not Important
If you are phasing out the consumption of animal products, it doesn’t matter whether you fit precisely within the dietary nomenclature at a given point. Simply continue on your path without worrying about the titles. Vegan vs. vegetarian? The words are not nearly as important as your actions.
For anyone who is here to learn about the diets and lifestyles of others, keep in mind that individuals may have slight deviations to the traditional definitions. When you are cooking for a vegan or vegetarian, it is better to assume they follow the stricter form of an animal-free lifestyle, unless stated otherwise. Still not really sure what they eat? Just ask them!