Monday, May 26, 2008

What is a vegetarian?

As a vegan, I know that labels can be very confusing. It seems some people want to define themselves by labels, JUST to "have" the label, and that's a bad thing.
At other times, however, it's a good thing. A label on something can clarify what it is, what it does. (What's in this filing cabinet? What's in this jar? Is this Kosher? Does it have wheat?)

So, today, we will have a little clarification.

There has been a lot of confusion, much of it perpetuated by people who claim they are vegetarian.
Many people seem to think that "vegetarian" means you don't eat cows. Well, this is true, but it means a lot of other things as well.

Vegetarians do not eat any animals, whether they are fish, chickens/turkeys/other birds, pigs, cats, dogs, monkeys, jungle cougars, elephants, lobsters, crabs, shrimp, cows, clams, or any other creature.

When people say they are vegetarian, but then eat animals, it sets a bad example for a few reasons:

1. The person who is not claiming to be a vegetarian is now confused as to what IS or IS NOT acceptable for a vegetarian to eat. The next time they encounter someone who is vegetarian, they may offer them something with meat in it, thinking it's okay. This is especially true at restaurants.

2. People who know what a vegetarian is will now not take that person seriously, and it hurts the movement, if the person is in animal activism.

3. It is simply not a true statement. Red is not blue, and vegetarians do not eat ANY animals, even for "health" reasons.

This clarification is not to bash people on their way to vegetarianism, or even full omnivores who sometimes skip meat for a meal. It's not because I care so much about the label of "vegetarian" as much as the misuse of it.

Every meatless meal counts. Every step to lessen or eliminate animal suffering and the toll meat takes on this planet is effective, and should be recognized.
I know it's not realistic for every person on this planet to be vegetarian or vegan. If everyone just lessened their meat intake, it would have a big effect!


Invictus said...

Yes, yes, yes!

romina said...

I could go on for hours about how much labels bug me. I hate using them, but they are necessary when defining what you eat if you are a veg*n.

What irks me most is "I'm a vegetarian... but".

You're either a lacto-ovo vegetarian, lacto-vegetarian, ovo-vegetarian or a vegan.

I hate it when people assume that vegetarians eat poultry or fish, because they are somehow not animals? Ridiculous! They confuse everyone and make it hard, especially for those of us who are vegan.

Someone needs to make a huge news story and broadcast it around the world to help people understand. If you eat animals, you are not a vegetarian. And if you eat honey, you are NOT a vegan.

Marissa said...

I am a pescetarian, however in restaurants I often say I am vegetarian because it makes things easier for the wait staff. It has nothing to do with not understanding what "vegetarian" means. It just makes things less complicated when trying to get a meal without the danger of getting something I DON'T eat on my plate.

PamelaCooks said...


Thanks for visiting my blogI hope you enjoy some of the recipes. I really need to get to posting more food again.

I understand that saying you are vegetarian to avoid pesky ingredients is easier, and I am sure you do know what vegetarian means, but if you say you are vegetarian and order fish, that sets a bad and confusing example (whether or not you do this wasn't clear by your post).
It's really frustrating to go out somewhere, say you are vegetarian, then have people offer fish as an acceptable item. There really needs to be a whole overhaul of the concept but it seems like that's a long way away.

In any case, thank you for stopping by and you are welcome to come back any time. Hopefully I will have more pictures and food up by then!

Marissa said...

Pamela, I never say I am a vegetarian and then order fish. I might say I am a vegetarian at a restaurant (because I rarely eat fish), but only so I can get good veg recommendations. Sometimes when I am with my mother, she will say "we're vegetarians but we eat fish" and I get frustrated with her. She doesn't see it is a problem, and in the big picture I don't either. I understand what you are talking about, but usually those who think vegetarians eat animal flesh also think that meat stock is ok too because there is no "meat". THAT is what I am more concerned with.

I am also concerned with the growing number of people who seem to think that by being a vegetarian or a vegan it makes you a better person than omnivores. There is a lot of judgment out there. People need to tend their own gardens.

PamelaCooks said...


"I am also concerned with the growing number of people who seem to think that by being a vegetarian or a vegan it makes you a better person than omnivores. There is a lot of judgment out there. People need to tend their own gardens."

It's a shame if that's what you gathered that from this post. It's just a clarification of what "vegetarian" really means. I didn't even get into what "vegan" means. Your, my, or anyone else's feelings on what makes a person "better" than someone else has nothing to do with what it means to be a vegetarian.

Marissa said...

Pamela, that isn't what I gathered by your original posting, sorry for the misunderstanding there. I have come across many who are like this though, and it is both elitist and self righteous. I still feel that is just better to pay attention to your own plate and not the plates of others.

I do understand your frustration, I really do. I have family who think that a can of "pork and beans" is vegetarian because THEY did not add any meat.

PamelaCooks said...

Have you not ever met a self-righteous omnivore? They are always looking at "other plates". I am not sure if you understand (depending on the area one lives in) how much harassment veg*ns get, anywhere they go. You may understand, as a pescetarian. I don't know your situation.

Maybe you just encountered an unapologetic vegetarian. People are constantly making a snide remark, rudely try to defend animal/meat-eating when we don't ask them to, when we are just trying to enjoy a lunch break at work, etc. We shouldn't have to apologize or feel sorry for being veg*n, and society makes it appear that we should.

There are self-righteous, mean, arrogant, self-centered people of all groups, vegetarians included, but we shouldn't pretend that omnivores aren't included.

Catalina said...

I <3 Pamela. And on the self-righteous omnivore note, I encounter it every day. I talk to people about food at work and when they ask what I cook I just tell them what other people use the ingredients for. It was really hurtful to hear people belittle my choices to my face. Especially since I love cooking so much.

Marissa said...

Oh I definitely have, however mostly with omnivores who have had exeperiences with self righteous vegans and vegetairans in the past. The omnivores usually shut up when I say i don't care if they eat all meat or not, I am not trying to convince anyone that their diet is unethical. I just do what is right for me. Generally, omnivores do not have a problem with that. Preachy vegans and vegetarians usually will still try to battle me. I grew up in Texas, I stopped eating meat (aside from seafood) when i was 8. I have been like this for 20 years, and the ones who give me the most problems are the vegans and vegetarians who think they are ethically better than me. I used to get chased around the table with hamburgers by beef eating children and get made fun of since I was the only one not eating meat. As an adult though, the V's give me the most difficulty, especially the recent converts. One of my dear friends is a vegan, from birth...and she never preached to anyone about diet. She knew what it was like to be judged, and she rose above it.

Matthew said...

If "lacto-ovo vegetarians" are acceptable, then "beef-ovo vegetarians" or "poultry-lacto vegetarians" should also be acceptable.

Animal products are all the same. What is meat? It's cells from an animal's body. What is dairy? Cells from an animal's body.

Both were TAKEN from the animal. Both result in death. The dairy industry is worse than the beef industry, if we're talking ethics.

If you're okay with eggs/dairy/fish, then you should be okay with dog/cat/human. Bon apetit!

PamelaCooks said...

Oh no! I think I accidentally deleted a comment. I'm sorry!
It involved feeding cats vegan, etc. The question was asking what I feed my cat.

To answer, personally- I do not fed my cat a vegetarian diet. For some people it works. For me personally, I have not found enough evidence that it is healthy without supplementation, and have heard too many negative stories, heard too many stories and personal experiences of cats actually dying.
It is something I struggle with but ultimately, if you are going to have an almost strictly carnivorous animal as a companion, then feed them as ethically as you can. If it works for you, that's awesome and I fully support you. For us, it doesn't and I hope those within the veg*n community won't judge me on that. I feed Natural Balance, which doesn't do animal testing.

My dogs are 99% vegan (sometimes they share a tad bit of cheese from dad's plate) but LOVE veggies, legumes, etc and are healthy boys. I have no problem whatsoever with them being veg. They are HAPPY, rescued animals and I love them and wouldn't jeopardize their health.

If there is a vegetarian cat food that I find that is proven to be healthy and 100% complete for cats, you can bed I'd switch overnight!

Sorry that's so long! It's just a really hard thing to reconcile.

Marissa said...

Vegetarian can include eggs and dairy. Vegan cannot...that is why there are different definitions.

eating eggs does not result in the killing of a chicken any more than a menstrual period results in the killing of a baby.

cassafrass said...

Thanks for the response. The post wasn't deleted, just under a different entry ;)

I definitely agree - Natural Balance, eh? I will have to check into it. I'm living in a pretty small town currently and just purchase the food with the best looking ingredients from the grocery. But I should do more research, thanks for the inspirations ~ Cameron's(my beast of a cat) been with me longer than I've been vegan and it wouldn't seem fair to risk his life on an uncertain diet.

PamelaCooks said...


I try my best to not censor comments so I allow all of them. I haven't had to not publish any yet! While there is bound to be some conflict or disagreement, I feel everyone who has commented (including you) has been respectful enough.

Regarding eggs-
Vegans don't not eat eggs because they are "baby" chickens, your analogy is correct. An unfertilzed chicken egg is the same an an unfertilized human egg- essentially (biologically speaking) it's menstrual waste. The egg itself wouldn't have been a chicken even if allowed to incubate. (This is under the assumption that there are no roosters around!)

The point of not eating eggs for ethical reasons is mostly for the hens. Chickens are some of the most abused animals on the planet. They have basically no treatment standards, short of what the Egg Producers (United Egg Producers? I forget) give them, and that's a self-made label so we can guess how legitimate that is.

There's so much suffering that goes into one factory farmed egg.

Here's some more egg info:

Marissa said...

Pamela, I appreciate that and I am trying to be respectful here as well. I know sometimes my tone does not come off well online though, so if that is a problem please do let me know.

I know all about factory farming. That is why I only buy eggs from a local farm to me where I know the chickens are well cared for. The problem I have is that there is an assumption that those who are not vegan are not making ethical choices. I promise you that my eggs are killing less animals than a vegan who buys produce from a grocery store.

PamelaCooks said...


Hi again. I know lots of times text doesn't read as polite as is it intended to be read. There's no tone and I think that makes some people read it (anything, not just this discussion) and become a bit defensive.

No one said that if you aren't vegan, you aren't making ethical choices. The whole point of the post was to clarify what vegetarian means. There are so many items at restaurants, recipes, etc that are confusing and the post was just clarifying that. "Vegetarian" and "Vegan" should have strict guidelines (like "kosher") when it comes to restaurants and whatnot.

You don't have to be vegan. You don't have to be vegetarian. Heck, I'd be THRILLED if my dad ate meat 5 days a week instead of 7.

I believe you can order Natural Balance online if your pet supply doesn't carry it.
My boys like a nice breakfast of cooked chickpeas, lentils, or other legume, mixed with some flax and nutritional yeast. I free feed the Natural Balance.

Marissa said...

Pamela- I completely agree when it comes to restaurants (and even home cooked dinner parties) completely agree. vegetarian should mean no meat products, and vegan should mean no animal products. Completely agree.

I do disagree however when people get miffed by me saying I am vegetarian (as a way to make sure no meat products are in my food) and then correcting me because I do include fish in my diet. if I say I am vegetarian in a restaurant, I do it to simplify things, not to make an ethical stand, ans I just get sick of people correcting me. It just doesn't matter. When someone says vegetarian, assume they don't eat any flesh.

Amanda said...

Well said! I will have to remember to email this someone's way when they don't get it.

BTW, this is Amanda, Jaime's friend. I hope you, Scott and your animal friends are all doing well. I just discovered the awesomeness that is google reader this week and am now following your blog. :D I should be able to keep up with all your great updates now.