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Vegetarian or Vegan?

Lighten up, Guys!

[This article was first published in the March / April 1996 issue of Vegetarian Living]

Vegetarian or vegan?

Surely this question is paradoxical. Veganism is not opposed to vegetarianism, it is a form of vegetarianism. A large number of vegetarians--perhaps on the order of 20% or 30%--are vegans. Since they include many of the movement's well-known leaders, and there is a lot of unsettling scientific evidence about dairy products and eggs, and the factory farming of dairy cows and laying chickens is disturbing, the vegans often feel they occupy the moral high ground. Then again, there are a lot of people who are almost-vegan: some may cut back on dairy and eggs others put dairy creamer in their coffee, or keep their leather shoes, but maintain a vegan lifestyle in other respects.

At the 8th International Vegan Festival in San Diego last summer [1995], we were surprised to meet people from overseas and find out that people think of veganism and vegetarianism as two similar but opposed ideas--or even opposed movements. Tired of "compromising" with those who still have dairy products and eggs in their life, they want a purer movement coming out against all animal products. On the other hand, we also hear comments from the lacto-vegetarians about the "vegan elite"--that the vegans tend to form a little community all to themselves and look down on everyone else.

To these and all others who think of separating veganism from vegetarianism, we have formulated the following piece of advice: LIGHTEN UP, GUYS!

The vegans have plenty of good points. (We’re vegans ourselves.) Factory farming is a terrible system, inflicting pointless cruelty on farm animals; but it affects the dairy cows and laying hens just as much (or even more) as it does the animals destined to become me&. Beef, chicken, and fish all have too much protein, too much fat, too much cholesterol, and zero fiber, but so do dairy products and eggs. The same arguments which promote vegetarianism, by extension, also promote the elimination of dairy products and eggs.

Lacto- and lacto-ovo vegetarians should be supported in their dietary choices, too, because nearly all of these people were formerly meat-eaters and have already come a long, long way. A lot more animal and human lives are saved in moving from a meat-centered to a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet than are saved by moving from a lacto-ovo to vegan diet. And if lacto-vegetarianism takes off, the issue of cruelty to animals is bound to come more to public consciousness, and we would likely see a lot of legislation to help dairy cows and laying hens.

On the other hand, there are other directions the arguments for vegetarianism could be taken. Vegetarians argue that a vegetarian diet is kinder to the earth and healthier. Shouldn’t an agriculture which is kinder to the earth (and healthier, too) be organic? Shouldn’t we, therefore, buy products not sprayed with pesticides?

Vegetarians are a diverse bunch, and if you think we’re diverse now, it’s going to become even more diverse in the future. Organic farmers, environmentalists, animal rights activists, or those seeking spiritual enlightenment--they are all drawn to vegetarianism for one reason or another. Not everyone in our movement has to be an organic fanner, a vegan, an animal rights activist, or a meditator on the One (though we’ve certainly got plenty in each of those categories). We need an approach which is both principled and pragmatic. There is no need for us all to pretend that everyone in our movement is going to think alike, act alike, or talk alike; we have different religious beliefs, different political ideas, different interests, and even different diets. On the other hand, we are all united on one idea, the most important principle: that a vegetarian diet is absolutely essential to humankind’s role as stewards of all beings and resources on this precious planet.

--Keith Akers and Kate Lawrence


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