Introduction to vegan life

Mar 4th, 2009 | By | Category: Columns

Tessa Eldridge


What is a vegetarian? What is a vegan? And what are the rules of these lifestyles?

I have been involved in the plant-based dietary lifestyle of vegetarianism for almost five years. Three of those have been as a vegetarian and I am almost at the two year mark for being vegan. I commonly get asked those questions and the best way to answer it is by using a lot of generalizations.

A search for the definitions of these two terms shows that vegetarian defines a person who does not consume meat, fish, or poultry with the exception of eggs and dairy products on a plant-based diet. However, a vegan is a person who excludes meat, fish poultry, eggs, dairy, and honey on a plant based diet. On the other hand, some vegans do eat honey, some vegetarians do eat fish or poultry or both. On the other side of things, some individuals of both groups go the extra mile to exclude the less noticeable animal by-products like vitamins from animal sources, whey, rennin, rennet, isinglass, milk protein, chicken or beef stock, lard, buttermilk, butter, carmine, cochineal, glycerin, glycerol, gelatin, fish oil, casein and many more.

These exceptions to the rule are why an answer can only be generalized. Although it is best to stick to that rule for the sake of sanity and avoidance of social blunders, the question remains why some people follow this lifestyle more strictly than others.

Reasons vary from views on ethics (morals, religion, and philosophy), the environment, economy, politics, society, health and taste. All these reasons can reflect on why certain individuals in the same group can have such differing views on what is and what is not acceptable to consume.

When it comes down to it, vegetarianism does not have a set of strict rules like a religion and the culture certainly does not have an “ordained” vegetarian police, although some individuals do self-appoint themselves into that role of police officer by wanting to keep the culture true to its original principals and meaning. The culture is based on the individual perspective of what following a plant-based diet or lifestyle means to them. So in general, if the average omnivore is still confused, it is best to be friendly to the vegetarian and vegan and ask what they will or will not eat rather than just assume. After all, as the Roman poet Lucretius once said, “what is food to one, is to others bitter poison.”

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