Vegan and vegetarian – why they are not similar

1013974_407459766056297_898097802_nI’ve written on this subject before but it definitely bears repeating. I used to eat a vegetarian diet and although I eventually became vegan, eating that vegetarian diet was not ‘part of my journey’, or ‘a step in the right direction’, or ‘raising my awareness’ because my awareness was utterly dead in the water, wallowing quietly in the misplaced confidence that the donations I sent in return for the horrific images in the mail were helping to ‘stop cruelty‘.

No, being vegetarian did not lead me to veganism and I’d still have been vegetarian to this day were it not for Facebook. I became vegan because I stumbled across information that taught me that because I sincerely cared about animals, I logically had no choice but to be vegan. It’s as straightforward as that. Vegan education was what it took.

The light bulb moment

The decision to become vegan is a light bulb moment of clarity in which we realise that every area of our life up to that point has been built on using, on taking, on destroying, on harming and killing. In that moment and in the time of grief and horror which follows it, we realise that – as if such wanton horror was not enough – the majority of those whom we’ve been oppressing are helpless, innocent, vulnerable, trusting and like us in every relevant way. Becoming vegan is simply making the decision to stop hurting them for our self-indulgence. We harm or we don’t. It’s a binary thing.

(Please note as always I must stress that this post specifically excludes any temporary changes we make in our lives during the period when we have decided to become vegan and are going through a phase of transition. During this period, each of us finds our own way to incorporate the practical aspects of veganism into our lives, a process that depends on our individual circumstances but is generally of limited duration.)


When we see the words vegetarian and vegan conflated (combined as if they were closely related or a single concept) they should make us pause and consider. Veganism is an ethical stance and vegetarianism is a dietary restriction. So what….? Well, ethical stances and dietary restrictions are not necessarily related – even superficially – and this is never more true than when vegetarianism and veganism are mentioned in the same breath or the same sentence, despite the letters that they share.

Now I know that at this point, many may be firing up their keyboards angrily to inform me in no uncertain terms  that for them personally, being vegetarian somehow led them to become vegan. All I can say is, ‘Good’. However their experience is not the norm and I have read far too many posts, too many justifications and yes, sadly, too much vitriol from those who have been told that vegetarianism is somehow ‘helping animals’ by ‘reducing suffering’ and are determined to defend it to the death. Literally, to the death, the death of billions of helpless and vulnerable individuals.

At this point I want to stress, very sincerely, that I am not condemning those who – I choose to hope – comprise the majority of the vegetarian population. I, too, used to be vegetarian and a very honest and ethical vegetarian I believed myself to be. The plight of animals tormented me. I was a supporter of every single issue and petition I could find and I genuinely – for some completely-inexplicable-to-me-now reason – thought that milk and milk ‘products’, eggs, honey, wearing wool, leather, feathers, either did not cause the death of the rightful owners, or alternatively were obtained as by-products of a process that was a ‘necessary evil’.

Walking on the wild side

I suppose that on reflection I still bought in to the myth that consuming the dead flesh of other beings was necessary for optimum health but that as a vegetarian I was ‘walking on the wild side’, finding alternatives that somehow kept body and soul together although I totally believed the hype that this was a rather radical and far-from-optimal choice.

Sadly this completely incorrect view is still perpetuated by many who should know better – and I unfortunately must include within that number, many health professionals whose professional development seems not to include updating their knowledge with the recommendations of health authorities across the globe. Be that as it may, the billions of sentient individuals, millions of whom face death each day for our deluded fantasies of necessity and entitlement are the focus of my message, and they will remain my focus until my dying breath.

A walk down the mortuary aisle


Debeaking infant chicks destined to an existence of confinement as egg layers.

There are some who term themselves ‘vegetarian’ whose diet is strictly plant-based. However, the definition of the word provided by the ‘Vegetarian Society’ is – unfortunately – the standard which the majority of suppliers of ‘vegetarian’ food seem to follow. This is particularly true of supermarket chill or freezer cabinets where packaging will frequently announce that ‘free range’ eggs have been used, or ‘organic’ milk. Going by the definition above, even as a consumer of milk products and eggs, one is clearly entitled to call oneself vegetarian even though milk and egg products are very obviously not vegetables.

The other phrase within the definition that I’d like to draw attention to, is ‘by-products of slaughter’. As a ‘vegetarian’ I was not even aware that this definition would have excluded from my diet all my favourite gummy sweets, jellies, desserts and many other products containing gelatin. Perhaps I was unusual, but I rather suspect that this restriction is not recognised by the majority of those who choose to call themselves vegetarian.

However many substances such as eggs, milk, honey, wool and feathers – to name a few – are not technically ‘by-products of slaughter’ in that their legitimate owner is not dead when the substances are taken from them although for some their agony in the process of our ‘harvesting’ these substances is so great that I would not be surprised if they wished for death.

Satisfying consumer demand for these ‘products’, however, is the direct cause of billions of innocent creatures being brought into the world to be confined and used throughout their miserable existences. Their bleak and pitiful lives will end in the horror of the slaughterhouse once their commercial viability wanes. The entire production of eggs and milk in particular is predicated on the unspeakably brutal manipulation of the reproductive processes of helpless individuals. These defenceless innocents are mostly female but the reproductive systems of a large number of males are mercilessly used too.

Natural and necessary

From the cradle, at first via our parents and then as inquiring adults, we are fed nonsense in the media about the dietary necessity of milk products and eggs and how ‘natural’ it is. Once we realise the truth, it is hard to conceive of a more unnatural concept than that which underpins the dairy and egg industries. Adverts pimping dairy and egg products proliferate in every branch of the media. The scale of the falsehoods is utterly staggering. We see over-the-top and mendacious depictions of happy cartoon cows, bearing not even a trace of the reality about their repeated violation and forced pregnancies (9 months, like human pregnancies). We hear no mention of the traumatised mothers and terrified, lonely babies sobbing for each other as they are separated soon after birth, the infants bound for slaughter as veal or slavery to replace their worn out, pumped out mothers.

It’s hard to believe

As a former nonvegan, I appreciate that the previous paragraph would have made me uncomfortable. I would be beginning to take refuge in the frequently repeated  defence that goes, ‘Everyone is doing it and if it was as bad as this crazy woman says, it would be against the law’. Because you see we all think that. We all want to be assured that we’re not making bad things happen to the helpless and vulnerable. We all cling to the belief that there are laws protecting animals. We all cling determinedly to the assurances of the big ‘animal organisations’ that they’re ‘doing something’ to stop ‘cruelty’ with those donations you so kindly sent them. But they missed something out, they forgot to tell us the whole story.

They missed out the part that would have told us that the ‘cruelty’ is part of the whole concept of farming living mothers, living fathers, living children. They should have mentioned that these gentle beings are sentient, living, feeling, aware and desperate to protect their children and each other; that there is no way to take and kill their children so we can hook them up to milk pumping machines, there is no way to hack open their throats and let them bleed to death so they can be skinned, dismembered and their body parts sold ‘in a nice way‘.

Masking the violence, comforting the concerned

In essence, I contend that the definition of vegetarianism simply reaffirms and legitimises the speciesism that allows consumers to continue to perpetuate unspeakable harm and suffering upon chickens, other egg ‘providers’, cows, sheep and goats. It deliberately disregards the violence that is the backbone of any industry that commodifies sentient beings as human resources. It is particularly upsetting that these products are being sold to many who try so hard to be ethical consumers and who carefully avoid consuming the flesh of the dead.

And that is the crux of this outrage. Since I became vegan, I have met numerous others who used to be vegetarian, the vast majority sincerely believing that they were doing a good thing, but who became vegan as soon as they were told the truth behind the horrors that their vegetarian diet was continuing to cause to billions. Almost without exception, every vegan wishes that they had never heard of ‘vegetarianism’ and they definitely wish they had never participated in it.

I have no doubt that there will be many who are waiting for the end of this post so that they may comment to repeat the myth that being vegetarian is ‘a step in the right direction’. I’ve heard that one so often and it’s simply not true. The following section first appears in a previous post about vegetarianism and it illustrates why this diet of morally inconsistent restrictions is not helping anyone, least of all those who are waiting in line in the slaughterhouse, whose throats are about to be hacked open and for whom tomorrow will not come.

The victims of vegetarianism

The following is not an exhaustive list. Even assuming that all food-related ‘by-products of slaughter’ like gelatin and isinglass are avoided, vegetarianism, by its very definition, does not protect:

  1. All mammals brought into existence, confined and used for milk /cheese/ yoghurt/ ice cream/ butter production. Specifically;
  2. Any bird brought into existence and raised for egg production. Specifically;
    • Their parents, confined in breeding facilities, producing vast quantities of fertilised eggs that are stored and incubated in drawers in hatcheries;
    • Male chicks – a different variety from chicks raised for their flesh – approximately 7.4 billion of whom are killed annually on hatching by suffocation, gassing or maceration. Macerators are machines that turn live chicks into a bloody sludge which is subsequently used for such products as fertiliser and pet food;
    • Female chicks who are de-beaked and confined, their reproductive systems manipulated to produce approximately 20 times the number of eggs their bodies are designed to bear until such time as their production declines and they cease to be commercially viable, whereupon they are slaughtered for cheap ‘meat’ (approximately 7.4  billion hens annually);
    • Birds used for egg production include chickens, ducks, quail, guinea fowl, pheasants, rhea, ostrich and geese.
  3. Any individual used for their skin and/or body coverings both in the domestic and import markets. This category includes leather, hide, fleece/wool, silk and fur. Specifically;
    • All individuals stripped of their skin to supply leather. By no means a by-product of the flesh consumption industries, but rather a lucrative sideline or in some cases the main event, these include cows, pigs, calves, sheep, dogs, cats, goats, alligators, kangaroos, horses, ostriches, buffalo, oxen, yak, deer, snakes, emus and even many species of fish;
    • All individuals brought into the world to be used for their wool.  Sheep in particular have been selectively bred to over-produce wool while being exploited in every other way with the slaughterhouse being their only escape. Alpacas, llamas, camels and goats are also victims of this trade;
    • All individuals brought into the world to be used for their feathers and down. Feathers are frequently plucked from the living bodies of our victims. Birds used in this way include chickens, geese, swans, ducks, ostrich, emus and others;
    • All individuals used in the fur trade. Species used in this way include ox, rabbit, mink, muskrat, beaver, wolves, stoat (ermine), otter, sable, seals, cats, dogs, coyotes, foxes, chinchilla, bears, possum and others;
    • It includes silk worms boiled alive for their cocoons;
    • It includes rabbit angora, which is essentially fine fur plucked from the agonised and screaming bodies of living rabbits;
    • It includes cashmere, mohair and goat angora, shorn, combed or plucked from goats kept in controlled confinement until slaughter becomes the most viable commercial option;
    • It includes bristles for brushes – frequently taken from pigs, badgers, mink, goats, horses or even squirrels;
    • It includes skins, termed ‘slink’ skins, of unborn infants, cut from their mothers’ wombs during slaughter.  It should be noted that many dairy cows and also many sheep are pregnant – sometimes in the late stages of pregnancy – when taken to the slaughterhouse. Although statistics are hard to come by, it is accepted that the unborn infant may endure a lengthy and painful death either within the body of their mother while she is being beheaded and dismembered, or having been cut from her womb to be skinned or discarded as waste. Karakul, also termed Persian lamb is a type of lambskin most highly prized if the rightful owner was still an unborn foetus but still valued provided the infant owner was less than three days old.
  4. All individuals used for testing and vivisection by the chemical, drug and research markets. Although there is a popular myth that this practice is carried out only for ‘medical reasons’, this is a complete fantasy and the number tortured in this way worldwide continues to increase year on year. The species of the victims include cows, sheep, pigs, mice, rats, dogs, cats, primates, rabbits, horses, fish, birds, hamsters, guinea pigs, even zebrafish, fruit flies, and worms.
  5. All individuals whose body parts or secretions are used as ingredients in drugs, chemicals, toiletries, cosmetics or other non-food ‘products’.
    • Substances include lanolinchitin, collagen, keratin, musk, cochineal, royal jelly, horse urine, and others. The list of species exploited for their bodies and secretions includes sheep, various insects, spiders, crustaceans, various hoofed, horned and other mammals, bees, horses, deer and others.
  6. All bees used to produce honey.
  7. All individuals confined in an establishment or otherwise used for human ‘entertainment’. These include zoos, circuses, safari and sea life parks as well as a wide range of racing, fighting and baiting ‘sports’. I can’t even start to list the species affected in this way. Probably all of them.

Now it’s up to the reader

So there we have it. If I had read this post 40 years ago, my life would have been a very different one. I sincerely hope that I would have chosen to become vegan instantly, but none of us can ever know for sure until the light bulb moment occurs. In the end, as I have often written, we must each face ourselves in the mirror and with our conscience as our guide, our judge and our harshest critic we must do what allows us to sleep at nights. I cannot know what is in the mind of any who read this essay but all I can say is that it comes from my heart. Following extensive reading and research it is as truthful and honest as I can make it.

I choose to hope that all of us value truth and honesty. So let’s forget vegetarianism and be vegan.

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41 Responses to Vegan and vegetarian – why they are not similar

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  4. Laura Rackham says:

    I’m sorry but I think you’ve got it wrong. Surely the largest influx of new vegans comes from the group of vegetarians already transitioning? By making this group feel shit about their efforts you are surely risk loosing all those potential vegans. I can guarantee this article wasn’t read by “meat eaters” looking to convert it was read by existing vegans who have congratulated themselves on their great choice or vegetarians looking to transition. Who are you to judge people the way you do? Give the facts along with encouragement as opposed to critism of their efforts! A change of tactics is needed if the intention of this article was to get more vegans onboard. Do some reading on the human mind and how it works. People don’t respond well to criticism.


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  17. Howard says:

    I’ve just signed up and will follow your blog; it’s interesting and inspiring.
    There’s one point that I’d suggest you consider featuring as I’ve not seen it debated much elsewhere in the movement (if not an elephant, it’s a pygmy hippo in the room):

    There are a lot of “animal lovers” out there, including many vegans who align themselves with zero-tolerance ‘abolitionism’, who regularly support an industry that *deliberately* and indiscriminately kills hundreds of thousands of birds each year, and is directly responsible for the deaths of many more. This is an industry that’s also a huge contributor to climate change and thereby habitat destruction.
    I’m talking about air transport. If you’re serious about ending unnecessary suffering of animals, don’t travel by ‘plane. I do wonder how certain high-profile evangelists of animal rights can justify jetting around the world in order to publicly lambast those who’ve bought a woollen hat from a charity shop to keep warm. In the internet age of communication, that’s surely quite unnecessary, if not hypocritical.


  18. Susan says:

    I found this article had to read although I did. It is this type of article that was such a turn off to me when I was vegetarian (I am now vegan and by all means being vegetarian was my stepping stool to vegan). I went vegetarian to reduce my harm to animals – there is no way to say not eating animals doesn’t do that. Yes, I drank the milk and ate the cheese (which actually makes me sick at this point to think about) but I became aware through the vegan/vegetarian community I could do more to help animals by going vegan. I had a hard time going vegan; having been vegetarian 15 years – giving up pizza seemed impossible. As I was involved in NYC with different farm related organizations like Farm Sanctuary, Woodstock Sanctuary or attending Vegan Drinks, I gotta tell you – people judging me and preaching at me about the information you listed above did nothing but make me feel rotten. I tuned out the information because I felt bullied that I had to give up dairy or else I didn’t really care about animals. It’s a similar viewpoint to what you wrote. What did turn me vegan 6 years ago was a good friend who was vegan – she had flawless skin, great body, intelligent, sweet and always taking me to a unique vegan restaurant. She never gave me facts or judgement – she gave me an example. I saw how easy being vegan was for her and after we went on a trip to Turks and Caicos together, I came home and was proudly vegan. What worked (and I believe works for most people) is a positive example, no judgement and guidance “Oh, you are craving pizza? Let’s go to Two Boots for their vegan slice” or “Hey, check out my new shoes, they are non leather, they are on sale if you are interested.” I never hear someone say “I don’t want to harm animals and you telling me I am will make me go vegan.” It’s more like “Hey, here are 10 options for cheese that is plant based – give it a try.” Real solutions instead of judgmental rhetoric. I apologize if this is a rant but your article is information most vegans know and I fear will only serve to turn vegetarians off…it would have done that to me.


    • Whilst I am glad you are now vegan, the fact is that veganism actually IS a decision not to harm animals – that’s the definition as defined by Donald Watson who originally coined the word. Veganism is not about us, our menus, our appearance or our convenience at all – it’s about our billions of unnecessary victims. It’s always about them.

      You say ‘I went vegetarian to reduce my harm to animals – there is no way to say not eating animals doesn’t do that.’ In saying that, it seems you have missed the whole point of my essay and I’m truly unable to state the facts any more clearly. May I refer you again to the section entitled ‘The victims of vegetarianism’?

      I’m glad you read my post but disappointed you felt it was ‘judgemental rhetoric’. I consider it to be informative. Thank you for your comment. Best wishes.

      Liked by 5 people

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  20. annipoppen says:

    This is incredible, thank you so much for writing it! Would it be ok if I share part of it on my blog (which recently upgraded from yoga class reviews and vegan product reviews… to almost 90% vegan topics with the occasional yoga review) with a link to your full article, please?

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Dave says:

    Your claim that vegetarianism is not a stepping stone to veganism is contrary to my own experience and that of all my vegan acquaintances. While you make an excellent observation in differentiating the diet from the ideology, this does not mean that the two are independent either culturally, psychologically or practically. The harsh truth of animal exploitation is, as you say, extremely difficult to swallow. In my experience it was so confronting that I shunned and ignored the relevant and available information for most of my life – in light of this information, my consumption behaviors were simply too abhorrent to face. And then I changed to a vegetarian diet for purely environmental reasons (replacing all meat with plants while not increasing dairy consumption), and within weeks I began to access animal welfare literature. In reflection, I believe that I was only (psychologically) open to such information at that time because I had (incidentally) reduced my exploitation of animals and my behaviors were therefore closer aligned with the arguments being made. Animal welfare literature quickly progressed to animal rights literature and veganism. For me this was a rapid yet necessary process of behavioural and psychological adaptation. I say “necessary”, because I can think of no other reason why I became open to animal rights arguments at this time despite rejecting them off-hand for my whole life up to that point. Most meat eaters are un-receptive to vegan advocacy as it demands too great a shift from their entrenched carnist worldviews. The behavioral/attitudinal inconsistencies faced by vegetarians are lesser – surmountable – which explains why most vegans are cultivated through this path. The good news is that externally imposed vegetarianism (e.g. meatless Mondays) is also likely to reduce individuals’ dissonance and render them more open to ethical arguments.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much for your comments. I am always delighted to meet a fellow vegan. The point of my essay is that adopting vegetarianism in the belief that one is reducing or eliminating the harming of animals – as many people do – is a mistake that very many good and decent people make. In this, as in all my writing, I seek to share the information that would have prevented many of my own mistakes, enabled me to live consistent with my perception of myself, and saved me many years of complacency and wasted time.

      You say that your becoming vegetarian made you more receptive to ethical arguments and I would not dispute that. I think it’s true that once any of us stops consuming the violence, terror and pain of others – whatever our reason for doing so – it is bound to have an impact on our outlook. I’m sure it would be hard to quantify but certainly in my own experience, the longer I am vegan, the more attuned I become to every living thing.

      The point my essay makes is not that most vegans are cultivated through being vegetarian, but rather that vast numbers of us end up in that huge ideological dead end and go no further, unaware of the horror we are causing and – more to the point – complacent that we have made an ethical step when in fact for most, the level of harm we are causing is undiminished or even increased. I note that you mention not increasing your dairy consumption which is a recognition of this point. I was not so aware – or restrained. You are absolutely correct in your comment about vegetarian behavioural/attitudinal inconsistencies being easier to overcome because many have taken the step for ethical reasons. Here I seek to provide the information I lacked when I was in that same position and allow others to experience their ‘light bulb moment’.

      And that is why clear and consistent advocacy is required and my own experience is that most people are receptive to any idea that makes complete sense. So instead of suggesting that they reduce, cut down, restrict consumption of some species and fetshise others, we have a responsibility to speak for all living beings. It’s so simple and so sensible. Every type of harm stems from the speciesist idea that others are ours to destroy. The way to reject that idea is to be vegan. As always, how people choose to implement this discovery is up to them but the beauty of the concept lies in its simplicity and in its clarity. Best wishes.

      Liked by 4 people

  22. Shannon says:

    Yes, vegetarian may be part of the journey, but vegan certainly is the destination. Well-written piece. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  23. douglasjack says:

    I’m Vegetarian 43 years, vegan 27 years, 80% raw 16 years. I learned vegetarianism culturally by living among 45,000 Dukobour & other pacifist vegetarians in Canada’s British-Columbia West-Kootenay valleys. I learned by observing friends & neighbours as we worked & played together. I was observing energy, gentleness, vitality, health, taste, sharing of tasks generosity in both giving & receiving as well as a consistency about the importance of life on every level of being. I learned veganism from committed vegan friends but believe we can be more effective in cultural organization.
    Society is over fixated upon the importance of language communication of concepts as well as responsibility of the individual, when most decisions & information transfer comes through context, group-dynamics & relationships. Veganism is consistent & dynamic but most often marketed as information. If we want people to join us in veganism, then we have to organize as welcoming ‘communities’ (Latin ‘com’ = ‘together’ + ‘munus’ = ‘gift-or-service’) who can valorize the talents, gifts & services of everyone who we meet so as to bring folks into our life-creation circles.
    Our problem is the extractive exploitive linear colonial methods, left & right, cooperatives & companies through which we try to organize our livelihood. Humanity’s worldwide ‘indigenous’ (L ‘self-generating’) represent the holistic integrated mutual-aid origin of both left & right fragments which can lead us to a balance future.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Toni says:

    Wow, just wow! Best post for and about being vegan! I’ve been vegan for 2 years and (I know you’ve heard this before) my only regret is I didn’t do it sooner! You hit home with this!

    Liked by 3 people

  25. Eva Busschots says:

    Everyone should read this! Amazing post. I became vegan a year ago at the age of 16 and could not have made a better choice in my life.

    Liked by 3 people

  26. KIA says:

    On the transition journey. Hope is vegan by June of 16. My 50th birthday

    Liked by 3 people

  27. Stacey Ann says:

    Very thorough and detailed read. Thank you for this information.

    Liked by 2 people

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