Amsterdam, Berlin, London, Budapest… European capitals are getting filled with vegetarian and vegan restaurants that offer veggie burgers, soy meat and cheese analogues. All these products are usually noticeable thanks to this emblematic green leaf that the vegetarians and vegans’ eyes are well trained to spot.
But what does all this mean exactly? Unless you are familiar with the topic, it is very probable that you get lost in all these concepts. Healthy lifestyle, organic, vegetarian, vegan, fair trade, gluten-free… same stuff!? Not really.
Here is a short guide that will help you to distinguish vegetarian and vegan diets among these current trends.
Let’s first highlight the difference between plant-based, animal and meat products. This is the key to differentiate vegetarian and vegan diets. It is actually pretty simple, you will see…
– Meat products: Animal flesh, but also fat, blood… basically any edible part on an animal body. That includes fish, seafood and insects. Let’s not forget animal gelatin, gravy, broth and other meat stocks.
– Animal products: This includes meat products, but also other products from animal origin. That means milk-based (dairy) products, eggs, but also leather, wool, honey…
– Plant-based products: Anything that is not animal or derived from animals. This includes yeast and other mushrooms, algae, carrots, and so on :).
A vegetarian does not eat anything that contains meat. However, they still eat other animal products like milk or eggs. No juicy steak and no roasted chicken wings, but why not a nice four cheese pizza or a mushroom omelet?
A vegetarian can decide to reduce their consumption of other animal products, for the same (or different) reasons they stopped eating meat. They can also decide to stop completely eating some kind of products. Here are some subcategories:
Lacto-vegetarian: A vegetarian who decides to stop eating eggs
Ovo-vegetarian: A vegetarian who chooses to cut completely any milk-based products
Why being a vegetarian? This comes from a personal choice and can either answer an environmental concern (see our last article that compares carbon footprints of different diets), can be the expression of strong ethical values (opposition to industrial breeding, acting in favour of animal well-being, disgust towards eating animal flesh…), health reasons… and so on.
A vegan does not eat or buy ANY animal product. No meat, but also no cheese, eggs, or even wool, leather or honey. In a vegan’s plate you can find a lentil curry, a bean-based burger, or a soy meat bolognese.
Why being vegan? Same reasons than above, with stronger commitments and for stronger impacts. Veganism can also be linked with a bigger idea, which is antispeciecism (opposition to the hierarchy between humans and other animal species, that implies animal exploitation and suffering)
Of course, the reality is not so rigid! Very often, individuals have to negotiate between their personal values, opportunities, social context and possibilities. Some vegetarians eat animal gelatin or seafood, others will not mind eating animal products that are sustainably produced.
Have a vegetarian/vegan friend?
Don’t panic! You can still enjoy good food together. Here are some basic ideas to remember…
- “Vegetarian” or “vegan” doesn’t mean “eating nothing”, nor necessarily “eating healthy”!
If you have a vegetarian friend you want to invite for dinner, just cook something without animal flesh. If your friend is vegan, cook only plant-based products. It does not mean that you should serve one poor salad leaf with a few seeds!
- Food can be big, fat, regressive, AND vegan.
French fries are vegan if they are cooked with plant oil. Same for hummus that is currently the new king of aperitif, or baked beans if you are into traditional British breakfast. Let’s not forget couscous, pasta, potato salad, curry, and so on.
- There is plenty of vegetarian and vegan YUMMY dishes
You can have a look at the very easy recipes we already posted on this blog for some inspiration.
More and more restaurants are also vegetarian/vegan-friendly! You can have a look at the website and app “Happy cow”, that identifies vegetarian and vegan restaurants all around the world.