Vegans and vegetarians are both trying to make a difference, but vegans sacrifice more, and in turn, have a greater impact on environmental and animal justice. Do vegans view vegetarians as part of their movement, or as people who aren’t doing enough; people who are morally behind? Additionally, is the difference between a vegan and a vegetarian purely definitional, or are there social divides and discomfort between these two groups?
Vegans and vegetarians have significantly different lifestyles and these differences can sometimes clash and form conflict or judgment towards vegetarians by vegans. However, most vegans don’t see the point in such judgment and are nothing but encouraging to vegetarians.
When conflict does occur between vegans and vegetarians it divides a large group of people who care about making a difference and prioritizes reputations over making real lasting change. Plant-based advocates are beginning to recognize this problem and find ways to create a unified community of determined plant-eaters, regardless of their dietary labels.
What’s the Difference Between Vegans and Vegetarians
Someone who abstains from eating meat is classified as a vegetarian. There are countless diets and lifestyles that fall under the umbrella of vegetarianism. However, lacto-ovo vegetarians are the most common and it’s usually safe to assume that when someone identifies as a vegetarian it is this type. A lacto ovo vegetarian doesn’t eat any meat or fish; dairy and eggs are still a part of a lacto-ovo vegetarians diet.
Vegans are also vegetarians because they don’t eat meat or fish, but veganism is a stricter lifestyle than your typical lacto ovo vegetarian. Vegans don’t consume any animal products including dairy, eggs, and gelatin. Many vegans also refrain from purchasing clothing made with leather or fur.
Why Vegans Sometimes Judge Vegetarians
The amount of judgment vegans carry towards vegetarian and other non-vegan individuals vary from person to person and there are certainly vegans who have a negative mindset towards the egg and dairy consuming vegetarians.
Qualitative studies have shown patterns of vegans perceiving vegetarians as hypocritical. Vegetarians feel this tension as well. Psychologist Benoit Monin explains that vegetarians are more likely to feel judgment from vegans than meat consumers are.
“They agree that there is something wrong about raising animals for food, and now they’re faced with someone who’s putting their money where their mouth is, more than they do.” -Monin
Researchers attribute the cause of this increased hostility towards vegetarians by vegans to identity protection. Vegans may want to distinguish themselves from vegetarians for multiple reasons.
They might want to make it clear that they feel dairy is equivalently inhumane as meat or they may simply be sick of getting offered scrambled eggs because meat consumers get confused between the terms.
Not only does the vegan identity get confused with vegetarianism, but it can get diluted and misrepresented as an extreme when vegetarianism is far more common and appealing. This can frustrate vegans because it undermines the issues within the dairy and egg industries.
Vegan activist, Ed Winters, known as Earthling Ed explains that dairy cows and egg-laying hens experience the same slaughter process as meat-producing animals, but endure a long time of abuse and exploitation in his video Why aren’t vegans just vegetarian?
Essentially, Earthing Ed and other passionate vegans see the animal products that vegetarians consume as the most problematic yet ignored form of animal cruelty.
But, Most Vegans are Supportive of Vegetarians
Most vegans don’t have the stereotypical I’m morally superior and purer than everyone else mindset that the media portrays, and most vegans are happy to see vegetarians who are consuming fewer animal products, not judgemental of them.
Hyland Fisher, who has been vegan for over 11 years clarifies that while it’s common for vegans to distinguish themselves from vegetarians and encourage vegetarians to transition to veganism, it’s not common for vegans to diminish their efforts.
“Vegans do try to separate themselves, but we don’t look down on vegetarians. Vegan people have a religious verve, always encouraging people to go further with their faith.”
Jason Atkins, a reporter for SuperVegan.Com, echoes Fisher, saying that even die-hard vegans tend not to put down non-vegans, including vegetarians.
“I know people who are pretty militant about it,” he says, “but most of them would not condemn anyone for not being a vegan.”
Fisher explains that what can be perceived as hostility towards vegetarians, is just a push to consider going one step further. In other words, vegans don’t judge vegetarians but they will utilize a vegetarian’s genuine interest in animal, environmental, and health issues to advocate for veganism.
“Anyone who chooses not to eat meat should be applauded,” says Fisher, known to friends as “the vegan.” “But it’s perplexing to me that someone who chooses a vegetarian lifestyle wouldn’t go vegan.”
PETA, the world’s largest vegan advocacy organization will also target vegetarians in some of their articles. Their article Is Eating Cheese Even Worse Than Eating Meat? A Consideration for Vegetarians focuses on animal, health, and convenience-related reasons a vegetarian may choose not to go vegan and offers alternative information and resources to make the switch more convincing and easy.
Uniting Vegans and Vegetarians
Brian Kateman sees strong and uncomfortable divides between vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores, describing it as a “boxing match for moral superiority.”
Kateman calls this type of horizontal hostility counterproductive and thinks vegans, vegetarians, and flexitarians (anyone who limits their consumption of meat) should unite in their shared commitment of eating less meat, saying such unity would “terrify the meat industry.”
Dr. Stanley Sapon, a professor and vegetarian advocate also feels that divides between vegan and vegetarians limit the impact these communities can have, stating that hostility “would seriously diminish the power to effect social change that a single, large, unified organization can exert.”
Kateman goes on to offer the term “reducitarian,” one that can apply to vegans, vegetarians, flexitarians, and loyal meatless Monday participants. Reducitarianism is the practice of reducing one’s consumption of meat, red meat, poultry, and seafood.
Such a term would lessen the tension between vegans, vegetarians, and flexitarians because it would wipe away the fine dietary lines that divide groups.
For instance, Fisher expressed frustration towards fish consumers who label themselves as vegetarians. A more inclusive term would take away the confusion of different labels and debates on who can consider themselves a vegetarian or vegan. It takes away the whos holier scale.
“Reducitarian is a positive and inclusive term of moral worth to encourage ourselves and others to eat less meat; improving our health and the environment and making a lot of animals happy in the process.”