According to the most recent studies, there are now over half a million vegans in the UK. The poll conducted in 2016 saw a dramatic rise in numbers from ten years previously (when the number was around 150,000). When you add that to the total number of vegetarians in the UK at being around three million people you can begin to see how important the trend has become to the country and what impact it has on everyday life and how we shop, eat, and live as a society.
We no longer talk about vegetarianism and veganism in niche terms – it is very much mainstream, and throughout the UK you’ll find countless vegan and vegetarian restaurants, cafes, retail stores and supermarkets (as well as vegan and vegetarian-friendly versions of all of the above).
In simple terms, though, what is the difference between a vegetarian and vegan lifestyle?
Both vegans and vegetarians choose not to eat animals. This is for a wide variety of reasons; some for health reasons, others motivated by the environment, others from an ethical standpoint and the wellbeing and treatment of animals.
The broadest definition of a vegetarian is a person who does not eat the flesh of an animal or will not eat any food that has been produced or processed with the assistance of anything created from a living or dead animal. Vegetarians will live on a diet of grains, legumes, pulses, seeds, vegetables, fruit, algae, fungi, nuts, and other non-animal based foods. They may also incorporate dairy products into a diet. There are different sub-categories of vegetarian; including Lacto, who eat dairy products but not eggs, Ovo (who will eat eggs), and Lacto-Ovo who still eat both eggs and milk.
Pescatarians (who only eat fish) are not vegetarian but are often, wrongly, talked about in this arena due to the fact that they avoid all usual meat products except for seafood.
The main difference between veganism and vegetarianism is that veganism is more of a lifestyle and moral choice than a diet. For some vegans it is a defined philosophy to live by. Veganism is defined as a way to live where all forms of exploitation of animals, and cruelty to animals, is excluded wherever practicable and possible. This includes not only the flesh of an animal, but also dairy products and clothing. Vegans will also omit from day-to-day life any products that have been tested on animals, or those that contain animal by-products.
Anywhere that animal cruelty and exploitation is viewed, a vegan will take a stand in some way – so for instance a vegan would never commit to supporting a company that used animals for entertainment, such as a circus, or animals used in the film industry.
The Cruelty of Dairy and Egg Production
For many vegans moving even further along the spectrum away from vegetarianism came from a position of understanding how unethical and cruel the production process is for eggs and dairy products as a whole. For the production of milk, a cow must be pregnant (you wouldn’t believe how many people don’t realise this!), with most artificially impregnated and the calves removed from the mother at birth. In fact, many calves are killed at birth or just after, as they cannot produce milk so are seen to not hold any value. Within egg production, there is a reliance on the mass killing of animals. Males do not lay eggs, whilst females are kept in packed, stressful living conditions until they are no longer of use – both are sent to slaughter.
Although improvements have been made within the farming industry, this has been the reality for the vast majority of animals used to produce eggs, dairy, and meat for public consumption. It is for these reasons that many people decide to move to a vegan lifestyle, alongside other concerns such as for personal health.