When I tell people I am a vegetarian, sometimes they ask questions that let me know they aren’t quite sure what I mean by that. Most people know that vegetarians don’t eat meat, but sometimes people ask me if I eat chicken or seafood or other animal products. Not everyone realizes that there are actually different types of vegetarians.
Ovo-lacto vegetarians eat eggs and dairy products, but no beef, chicken, fish or other meats.
Lacto vegetarians eat dairy products but no eggs, beef, chicken, fish or other meats.
Vegans eat no animal products at all, including no eggs, dairy products or honey. Vegans, and sometimes other vegetarians, try not to use animal products for things other than food, too. For instance, they don’t wear leather shoes or belts and don’t wear fur coats. They might try to avoid using cosmetics and other products that have been tested on animals, too.
Pescatarians aren’t really vegetarians, in my opinion, but some consider themselves vegetarians so I won’t quibble over semantics here. They eat fish but no other animals. They usually also eat eggs and dairy products.
Vegetarians choose a meatless diet for a variety of reasons:
Some believe it’s healthier than eating meat.
Some believe it’s wrong to kill animals.
Some don’t agree with the way animals raised for food are treated (including the way laying hens and dairy cows are treated).
Some are concerned about the environment (raising meat for food is much harder on the environment/creates much more pollution than raising plants for food).
Some are concerned about world hunger (according to the Institute for Planetary Renewal, it takes 16 pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef, so many more people could eat if they ate the grain instead of the meat).
Some practice religions that encourage a vegetarian diet (like Seventh Day Adventists, Hindus, Buddhists and many pagans).
Some just don’t like meat.
Some probably have other reasons.
Perhaps the most important thing to understand is that all vegetarians are not the same. Some are much stricter about their diets than others, probably because they have different reasons for giving up meat or other animal products.
If you’re inviting a vegetarian over for dinner, it’s OK to ask specific questions about what they do and do not eat. They’ll appreciate your concern; it’s awkward when you show up at someone’s home for dinner and they are proud to offer you what they think is a great vegetarian meal and you have to tell them you can’t eat it.
Institute for Planetary Renewal. http://planetaryrenewal.org/ipr/vegetarian.html. Why Vegetarian?
Drexel University. http://www.pages.drexel.edu/~soa29/Religious%20Issues.htm. Vegetarianism and Religion.