Vegan Vs. Vegetarian – What’s the Difference [And is There Beef?]

Veganism is widely cited as a form of vegetarianism, which it is, but vegans generally don’t see it like that and prefer to distinguish clearly between the two.

But why?

Well, one reason is that a number of sub-category diets have emerged under the vegetarian umbrella that include eating meat and using animal by-products, something vegans are keen to disassociate themselves with.

There’s also the fact that most, not all, vegetarians eat eggs and dairy products, something vegans don’t do.

In fact, it can all get a little bit confusing; so let’s clear it up, once and for all.

Vegan Vs. Vegetarian

The defining line is pretty clear, yet often confused by companies selling food products, foodies and chefs.

Like vegans, vegetarians do not eat any animal flesh; no chicken, pig, cow, sea animals, nada.

In addition to not consuming any animal meat, a vegan doesn’t eat eggs, dairy products or any other product derived from an animal.

Vegetarians, on the other hand, tend to eat eggs and dairy products like milk and butter.

Vegans also avoid using products that have been tested on animals, like make-up and skin creams, or products made from animal skins such as leather belts and shoes. But vegetarians tend to be a bit more lenient when it comes to using products derived from animals.

When it comes to being a vegetarian, the definition isn’t always clear cut. You might meet a vegetarian who doesn’t eat dairy but eats eggs, or a vegetarian who doesn’t eat eggs or dairy but still wears a leather belt.

Veganism, however, is clearly defined: no eating animal flesh, no using products tested on animals or wearing products derived from animals. Vegans just leave animals alone and let them live their lives, period.

So There’s Only One Type of Vegan, Right?

Wrong. There’s only one way to be a vegan, but a couple of different variations of the diet. Sorry to complicate this, but nothing is ever simple, or at least so my mum says.

For starters, there’s the raw vegan; a person who combines the concepts of veganism and raw foodism, excluding all food and products of animal origin from their diet, as well as food cooked at a temperature above 48 °C (118 °F).

And then there’s the Paleo Vegan. Think the paleo diet minus the meat.

For those who don’t know, a paleo diet is based on the types of foods “presumed” to have been eaten by our Paleolithic ancestors, consisting mainly of meat, fish, vegetables and fruit, and excluding dairy or grain products and processed food.

So a paleo vegan is basically a vegan who doesn’t eat processed foods.

To most vegans, the paleo vegan diet sounds like a diet marketer’s dream (ching, ching), since 99% of vegans endeavour to eat high-quality, organic foods anyway, generally avoiding ready-meals, sugar-laden sweets, soda drinks, etc.

So isn’t a paleo vegan not just a very healthy vegan?


What About Other Types of Vegetarians

A fair few branches have sprouted from the vegetarian tree over the years (I’ve waited ages to use that pun), giving vegans even more of a reason to distance themselves from the all-encompassing term “vegetarian” and claim “vegan” as an exclusive category of their own.

Note that the majority of sub-categories of vegetarianism exist solely to define a type of diet, seeking to exclude or include certain foods based on a perception of what’s “healthy” for the individual.

The fact that certain categories still include meat, and all include some type of animal protein, doesn’t seem to be a consideration, and neither does animal welfare.

It’s fair to say that your typical vegetarian also gets annoyed with some of these offshoot branches.

Lacto Ovo Vegetarian:

A lacto ovo vegetarian diet excludes meat and fish but includes dairy products and eggs. This would be considered the standard vegetarian diet.

Lacto Vegetarian

This is also referred to as a lactarian. This type of diet includes vegetables and dairy products such as milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, ghee, cream, and kefir, but excludes eggs.


An ovo-vegetarian diet excludes meat, fish and dairy products but includes the consumption of eggs. Ovo vegetarians are also referred to as “eggetarians”.


A demi-vegetarian diet excludes meat but includes fish, eggs, vegetarian cheese and milk-based products.

Semi-Vegetarian (known as the flexitarian diet)

A semi-vegetarian is considered to be a person who is cutting back on his or her intake of meat, but still eats meat when they feel like it (yawn). There are two subcategories to this form of, dare I say it, vegetarianism, which it really isn’t!

– Pollo-Vegetarian

A pollo-vegetarian diet, known as pollotarianism, includes poultry, dairy and eggs but excludes fish or other mammal meat.

– Pesco-Vegetarian

A pesco-vegetarian follows a pescatarian diet, which includes eggs and dairy products, and the occasional consumption of chicken and fish, but excludes red meat.

Do Vegans Have Beef With Vegetarians?

By this I mean a grudge, not the flesh of a cow! I just used this slang to create a controversial, clickworthy title – clever, huh?

It’s not that vegans have a problem with vegetarians, but vegetarians may experience a vibe of disappointment emanating from the tofu of their vegan peers. This is borne out of frustration for not making the final step to veganism.

You see, vegans see going vegetarian as a stopgap on the pathway to veganism. Indeed, like myself, many vegans go vegetarian before making the full transition.

So vegans commend those who go vegetarian, but this does come with an expectation of serious intent to go vegan, and to do so as soon as possible.

So, if it has been two years since you went vegetarian, expect some tough love from your vegan friends.

Isn’t This Pressure Un-Vegan-Like?

Just because we love animals, eating fresh greens and hugs, doesn’t mean we can’t get moody! Seriously, no, it’s not unfair. And here’s why…

…Most vegetarians, not all, eat dairy, and or use products derived from animals. Vegans consider the dairy industry to be the cruelest sub-division of the meat farming industry.

Extracting milk requires continuous torture for cows (heifers), and then there’s the fact that calves are torn from their mother the minute they are born.

Male calves are either used as breeding bulls or sold for veal. The females are set aside for milk production, with substandard producers discarded and sent to market to be slaughtered for beef.

Either way, if you’ve ever heard the screams of a calf being forced from its mother, or dragged to slaughtered, you’ll understand why vegans aren’t comfortable with vegetarians who eat dairy products.

And then there’s eggs; click here for the full low down on that aspect of cruelty. But in a nutshell:

Male chicks are murdered in an industrial blender or gassed or electrocuted. Hens are subjected to the slavery of laying eggs and deprived a life in a natural environment, and those too old to lay are slaughtered for meat – usually by having their heads cut off or their spines snapped.

So, again, you can see why vegans aren’t comfortable with those who stay vegetarian for too long. For vegans, it’s as much more about animal rights than it is about health.

I think most vegans would agree that they’d happily sacrifice some of their own health to ensure animals were treated as Mother Nature intended – even though science has proven time and time again that a well-balanced vegan diet is the healthiest option.

So Are Vegetarian-Labelled Products Okay for Vegans to Eat?

The answer is no. Don’t think that because a food product is labelled “vegetarian safe” that it is “vegan safe’ too. Here’s the official FSA guidelines:

Vegetarian: The term ‘vegetarian’ should not be applied to foods that are, or are made from or with the aid of products derived from animals that have died, have been slaughtered, or animals that die as a result of being eaten.

Animals means farmed, wild or domestic animals, including for example, livestock poultry, game, fish, shellfish, crustacea, amphibians, tunicates, echinoderms, molluscs and insects.

Vegan: The term ‘vegan’ should not be applied to foods that are, or are made from or with the aid of animals or animal products (including products from living animals).

On the face of it these guidelines seem pretty clear, but beware. The terms ‘vegetarian’ and ‘vegan’ are used voluntarily by industry.

Unfortunately when a product states “suitable for vegetarians”, or “suitable for vegans”, it is only an interpretation of what that company thinks is vegetarian or vegan.

If you’re a vegan, make sure you look out for the Vegan Society trademark, and if you’re a vegetarian, make sure you look out for the Vegetarian Society trademark.

And if the food has neither, you will have to go by the ingredients, ring the manufacturer or do some research online.

vegan vs vegetarian

So there you have it, the difference between a vegan and a vegetarian.

If you’re a vegan, awesome!

If you’ve made the step to becoming a vegetarian, that’s awesome too, but I must ask, when are you planning on going vegan?