Thursday, June 26, 2008

Vegetarians, Vegans, Flexitarians, & Others:

Vegetarians can eat fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and may or may not eat (non-meat) animal products, such as eggs, milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, and honey; vegetarians do not eat any meat, poultry, fish, or other animals. (The term vegetarian was coined at the first meeting of the Vegetarian Society in England in 1847. Contrary to a popular misconception, the word vegetarian was not chosen because a vegetarian diet includes vegetables as a major component; the term vegetarian is derived from the Latin word ‘vegetus’, which means lively or full of life.) This type of vegetarian is technically a lacto-ovo vegetarian, implying the inclusion of dairy and eggs.

Vegans—pronounced VEE-gun, with an emphasis on the first syllable of the long “e”, or ē, followed by a hard “g”, the word was coined by Donald Watson in 1944, when he formed the Vegan Society in England—go farther by only eating plant-derived foods, thereby avoiding all food (and often other products, such as leather, fur, feathers, silk, and even wool) that are derived from animals. The aim for vegans is to avoid all forms of exploitation of animals, whether for food or otherwise. (The word vegan was derived from the word vegetarian by taking the first three letters (veg-) and the last two letters (-an) to show, as Watson explained, that “veganism starts with vegetarianism and carries it through to its logical conclusion”.)

Accidental vegetarians or involuntary vegetarians are those who don’t eat animals because it is too expensive, not available, or for some other external reason that prevents them from doing so.

A macrobiotic diet consists mostly of whole grains, beans, sea and other vegetables, and certain other plant foods in balance; fruitarians (or fructarians) only eat the fruit of plants; rawists only eat raw food (or food not heated above 116 F / 46.7 C) and are often, but not always, vegan (anapsology takes raw even further); freegans only eat discarded or found food (freeganism is a combination of free and veganism); carnivores eat meat; and omnivores eat everything.

“Flexitarians” are mostly vegetarian, but occasionally eat animals, especially fish though also other animals; pescetarians are otherwise vegetarians who also eat fish. Some flexitarians only avoid “red” meat (i.e., meat from mammals, such as beef, pork, lamb, etc.), yet regularly eat poultry and/or fish. Flexitarians and pescatarians are sometimes referred to as semi-vegetarians. Flexitarians (coined in the early 1990s) are generally more concerned with their own health than with animals or the environment.

Perhaps a “flexegan” (or “vegetegan”) would be one who is vegetarian and mostly vegan, but not exclusively, or one who is vegetarian and also avoids certain (non-meat) animal products, but not others.

Vegetarianism has a long, rich history. It has been consciously practiced in and around India, based on ahimsa (non-violence), for at least thousands of years, as well as in and around China and elsewhere. In Europe, vegetarians were often called Pythagoreans, as Pythagoras and his followers abstained from eating meat about 2,500 years ago in ancient Greece.

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