Vegetarians and vegans are usually lumped together as though they are synonymous terms, but are the differences greater than the similarities? What exactly separates the two? And is vegetarianism really a healthy, moral way of living? Let's take a look at the critical differences between these two ways of life and examine the true nature of vegetarianism.
The basic difference between vegans and vegetarians is that veganism means abstaining from all animal products, byproducts and methods of exploitation while vegetarianism simply means abstaining from meat while continuing to eat dairy, eggs, honey, and wear silk, down, and leather. While vegetarianism is usually portrayed as healthy and animal-friendly way of living, the dairy and egg industries are incredibly cruel, and the consumption of dairy products and eggs is linked to increased incidents of disease.
Let’s address health first and then move onto the moral aspects. Dairy and eggs are not only an extraordinarily unhealthy food choice but also a rather unnatural one. Try to think of another animal who, once weaned from breastfeeding, moves on to suckle from another species. It’s just not meant to be. (And if you do suckle directly from another animal, you may need guidance beyond my expertise.)
Aside from how unnatural it is, dairy consumption is linked to a slew of medical issues, including heart disease, obesity, clogged arteries, diabetes, osteoporosis, arthritis, a variety of cancers, and more. dairy is loaded with fat, cholesterol, and sugar, not to mention all the ingredients from our modern methods of dairy farming: antibiotics, growth hormones, and pus. Oh yes. I said pus. That white gooey stuff that oozes from infection sites. Rethinking the milk mustache?
Now morality-wise, dairy and eggs are, in many ways, more cruel than meat. One of the most cruel meat products is veal. What many people don’t realize is that the calves used for veal come from dairy cows and consuming dairy directly supports the veal industry. While filming the interview series for my channel, I had occasion to speak with Gary Yourofsky about the ethical implications of vegetarianism. Here are his thoughts on the matter:
“It is not an animal-friendly lifestyle when you support the dairy industry. In fact, if you asked me to rank cruelty of animals, and I don't like to because it's all unjust, the dairy industry is the worst industry on this planet. You have mother cows being raped every year to impregnate them, you have their babies being stolen every year…you have machines being hooked up to their udders, to their breasts three times a day to suck them dry. Then you send them to the slaughterhouse when they can't produce milk anymore.
So this is what vegetarians support–they support the oppression and enslavement of hens in the egg industry. Even if it is a cage-free free-range farm, when the hens stop laying enough eggs after 2-3 years, you don't get a free stay–you get sent off to the slaughterhouse. Vegetarians wear leather and silk and wool. They consume honey. I'm still trying to figure out how vegetarianism is considered an animal-friendly lifestyle, cause it's not.
Now, as I say all this, if you are using that as a stepping stone, I don't care how you get to vegan, just [do it] sooner rather than later. And I have to be fair: I went vegetarian for a year before I became vegan. But, I want to put this out there—like most vegetarians, I was not aware of the dairy and the egg industries. If I had known then what I know now and I wasn't going to become vegan all at once, I would've stopped eating dairy and eggs first. Then I would've taken meat out at the end.”
It's true that many of us use vegetarianism as a stepping-stone to veganism, but if the goal is to reduce the cruelty of our diet, or even increase our health, we’re really missing the mark. The basic takeaway here is that a vegetarian diet is still one composed of incredibly unhealthy animal byproducts and severe animal suffering. Dairy and eggs support the same torture, slaughter, and cruelty that the meat industry does, only the suffering of the animals involved is more prolonged than those raised for meat alone.
You can get more information about this topic in any of the videos listed in the resource section below. Please share this video and post around to help inform vegetarians and potential vegetarians. Many of us (including me) started out there because we didn’t know any better. The more awareness we spread, the more change we create.
Vegetarian-Related Videos for Kids:
Resources for the Adverse Health Effects of Dairy & Animal Products
Health Concerns About Dairy Products by Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
Article on Dairy by Dr. Michael Greger, MD with additional resources