Vegan vs Vegetarian vs Plant Based Diets: Differences, Similarities and Other Diets and Lifestyles that Seek to Reduce or Exclude Animal Products

Vegan vs Vegetarian vs Plant Based Diets, Flexitarian, Pescatarian, Plant Forward Diets, the Differences and Similarities

diet & exercise lifestyle on being vegan podcast Feb 24, 2023

Show Notes:

  • Our Why Vegan Series of podcast episodes (episodes 133-139)
  • Our online course The Roadmap, a vegan online course designed to help you with everything you need to know when going vegan or making more plant based choices

There are so many terms nowadays to talk about diets and lifestyles that seek to reduce or exclude animal products. We've got vegetarian diets, plant based diets, plant forward diets, flexitarian diets, pescatarian diets, vegan diets and more, and the common question most people have is what are the differences between each of these terms and ways of eating.

In today's post and episode we're going to cover all of them, what they mean in terms of what each kind of eater chooses to put on their plate, and why more of these terms keep popping up, as well as the focus on perfectionism we tend to attach to dietary labels and more.

I want to give you a brief rundown of all of these different terms to start and then get into a little bit of the nuance involved when it comes to plant-based diets, vegan diets and the deeper meaning behind veganism.


Vegetarian Diets · What do Vegetarians  Eat?

Usually when we talk about a vegetarian diet what people are referring to is lacto-ovo vegetarian.

Lacto-ovo vegetarians eat fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains and grain products, nuts, seeds, mushrooms, dairy and eggs, meaning they exclude the meat of all animals. They don't eat meat from cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, lambs or any other land animals, insects, or fish or other sea animals.

There's also a smaller subdivision here:

Lacto vegetarians include dairy in the diet but not eggs.

Ovo vegetarians include eggs but not dairy.

Vegan diets · What do Vegans Eat?

Vegans eat fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains and grain products, nuts, seeds, mushrooms, and products made from plant-based ingredients as opposed to animal-based ingredients. Vegans don't eat the meat of any animals (including fish and other sea animals), dairy, eggs, honey or other animal by-products.

Veganism also includes other ethical lifestyle choices which we'll get into below.


Pescatarian diets · What do Pescatarians Eat?

Pescatarians eat fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains and grain products, nuts, seeds, mushrooms, along with fish and other sea animals. They don't eat meat from cows, chickens, turkeys, pigs, lambs or any other land animals.

Some pescatarians avoid eating both eggs and dairy, while others include only eggs, and others only dairy.

Flexitarian Diets · What do Flexitarians Eat?

The term flexitarian usually refers to people who are eating mostly vegan or vegetarian diets but do include small amounts of meat or other animal products in the diet (including dairy and eggs).

Plant Based Diets · What do People who are Plant Based Eat?

This term is a bit tricky because not only is there not an official definition for this way of eating, but it's used in different ways to refer to a diet that is based on plants.

Originally, a plant based diet, a plant based meal, a plant based restaurant was used as a synonym to vegan (and with that came an exclusion of all animal products from the diet).

When I write our content for Brownble, when I film videos, when I teach our cooking classes or write any of our courses, I use these the terms vegan and plant based as synonyms. For many people
these are the same thing.

The term plant based has also been used when talking about a vegan diet when it comes to the dietary aspect (i.e. the food you eat), but not referring to some of the other lifestyle aspects of being vegan (more on this below). Essentially, someone who was making all of the vegan choices when it comes to their plate and their meals, but weren't so concerned about making animal friendly choices outside of meals in other lifestyle aspects like the products you buy, cosmetics, clothing, etc.


It also got a big push within a very particular niche among people who had decided to eat essentially a 100% vegan diet excluding all animal products, but were doing it mostly for health reasons, and not so much for environmental or ethical reasons such as animal rights. It became a very popular term among doctors
that are recommending a plant based diet to patients to heal or prevent certain chronic illnesses. 

Here it was also considered essentially a vegan diet, but also due to its use for health interventions, additional restrictions were attached to it as well. You've heard me talk a lot about the nuance behind this and why when going vegan, unless specified by your doctor and a necessary intervention for you, it might not be the best idea to add on additional restrictions.

In recent years however, the term plant based has been used to talk about a diet that is mostly vegan and
centered around plants but does still include some small amounts of animal products, sometimes by people who are easing their way into a vegan diet and sometimes by people who are simply making plants the focus but still including other non-vegan foods. In this definition, it would be very similar to what is referred to as a flexitarian diet.


A Newer Term: Plant Forward Diets · What do People Who are Plant-Forward Eat?

Recently I've been seeing the term plant forward instead of plant based to refer to some of these diets where small amounts of animal products are still included but the diet is mostly centered around plants.


Why so many Terms and Dietary Labels?

When it comes to our way of eating, as human beings we seem to love labels. We love to have a tidy box
where we put ourselves in. Where we know where the limits are, what that means to us, and as comfort in knowing that others will also know what that means. I think we're all very attracted to that and because we're all different, we all have different needs, and we all have different life circumstances, when we can't make
one of these fit, we make another term for it, but what they all have in common is that their ways of eating in which you're inching your way to a reduction or full elimination of animal products and in that way, we're all in this together and we're all doing the best we can. 

We're all pushing this movement forward in that we're acknowledging and realizing that there are
serious consequences to the way we purchase products, the food products we buy and the methods by which they are produced.

Anybody who uses any of these labels is trying to make better and better choices, for different reasons
as the central point, but we acknowledge that there is a need for change, especially when it comes to how animals are raised and killed in these industries.


For a lot of people there is also the need to find another name for it because we don't like to be caught making a "wrong choice", or a choice that goes against what we've previously said or what we had committed to.

Because we fear we won't be able to stick with something and are very afraid of being caught making a mistake or a choice that wasn't 100% aligned, we come up with newer terms that will make us feel we have a place.

Everyone has met a vegan, or on the opposite end of the spectrum, someone who is very much against veganism, who is nitpicking at every single choice you make and trying to find the place where you aren't doing it 100% right. I get it, those people are out there, but you don't have to let that guide your choices and that's something that sets us a bit apart at Brownble. We like to give you a different perspective on veganism that allows you to see that it's about so much more than just that individual choice. that individual meal, that one plate, that one dish, that one restaurant outing. 

I have been vegan for over 10 years and together with my husband Carlos who is an MD, we created this space at Brownble to not only teach you how to cook delicious vegan recipes that anyone can make, but bring you support in all areas when trying to make this choice.  It's not only for vegans, we have students who are all across the eating spectrum, and we have been on this mission and created Brownble and our courses, our online program, a podcast, and more, to guide you towards this wish, because for most of the people who come through our doors it's a legitimate wish. They want to try making a different choice to reduce or eliminate animal products and try to move into a kinder way eating that is gentler on the environment, respectful of animals and supportive of our fellow humans as well.



What is the definition of veganism? What does it mean to be vegan?

When you read this list of all of these ways of eating, veganism can feel like the most rigid and most extreme way of eating, and if you've ever met one of these very militant vegans you can definitely have that association with it. A vegan diet however is about much more than the perfection on your plate. Let's explore the definition of what veganism and eating a vegan diet mean as a starting point:

"Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals." - The Vegan Society

The Vegan Society also adds:

"There are many ways to embrace vegan living. Yet one thing all vegans have in common is a plant-based diet avoiding all animal foods such as meat (including fish, shellfish and insects), dairy, eggs and honey - as well as avoiding animal-derived materials, products tested on animals and places that use animals for entertainment." 

When we talk about veganism we are talking about so much more than the specifics of what happens on our plate. I always tell our students that if you can only start in one place or area the plate is where you're going to have such an incredible impact since we do it 3+ times a day, every day for years on end, but you can start wherever you can start, and that means so many different things for different people.

How you incorporate this into your life, the ways of transitioning into a vegan diet and lifestyle can vary so much from person to person, and it should. We're all so different, and one of the things I always try to focus on when I share this definition is that part where it states "as far as is practicable and possible".


Here's what veganism is NOT about

It's not about putting each and every choice as the end goal and the perfect place where we're going to get an A+ and a little laminated card that says "you made the perfect vegan choice", "you've made 365 perfect vegan choices this year". Veganism isn't about that at all.

It's a decision you make every day to do what you can to reduce this cruelty to and exploitation of animals
and of course for all the amazing benefits to the environment, to other humans (the humans that work in these industries and the toll that this has on them) as well as the sweet perks to our health.

It's important to understand that when it comes to veganism it's really about a step by step journey
that you renew each day.

I like to see it as a commitment to do our best, and that can mean different things depending on your circumstances, and we need to start getting used to that in the vegan movement. We need to start
seeing it as this commitment to do our very best to skip as much cruelty as we can, to help with the conservation of resources, to help animals as best we can, always through that kindness filter and that is a choice and a commitment that we renew every day, always taking into account that we live in a world that isn't fully vegan.

Veganism and Perfectionism

We also have to add to that the imperfection present in every choice we make as humans. There is no such thing as a 100% cruelty free agriculture system. That doesn't exist yet. at least not in the methods and the way things are today.


There is also no such thing as a 100% pure vegan, or a pure vegan choice. We're not there yet, and we need to start realizing that because there is imperfection in all of these areas, we are allowed to have imperfection in our choices on this path, and that it isn't about that specific single meal, item, preparation, recipe.

It doesn't mean that if we made a choice that wasn't 100% perfect, we can't do it or we've failed. It means it's a part of the process. It's about doing the best we can for animals today and no matter what happened today renewing that tomorrow and trying our best again from a clean and fresh start.

A Different Way of Seeing your Journey when Going Vegan

I like to see veganism as this kind of filter through which you are looking at your path, the world, your day, your meal, your purchasing choice when you're at a store, and each and every time you're in front of
a purchasing decision you try to make a choice that is aligned with those values and that kindness. Then
you renew it again and again no matter what happened the previous time.

I get where all of these words and styles of eating are coming from, where all of these terms are coming from. We don't want to get caught making a different choice, but when you see veganism from this lens
(and I think it's so important especially for vegans to start internalizing this), from a place of imperfection, from a place of "I'm doing the best I can every time and that sometimes means I'm not perfect", it's going to help the movement and help people who want to make this choice feel supported and not judged.

When you start seeing veganism from this angle, it releases you from that impression that it's going to be extremely difficult, restricted and hard. In some circumstances it can be when you add a ton
of additional restriction on top of it, it can be depending on how you're approaching it, but that's why we do what we do at Brownble. We want it to be as easy as it can be for you, as fun and as approachable
and also as connecting with your social circle as it can be, so that this doesn't have to mean you have to
break up with the life you had before.


It doesn't mean that by this I'm saying that you can go do whatever you want because veganism is imperfect by definition. I think we all know where we stand when we want to make a commitment like this or we're inching towards that. I think we're all about trying to make that kinder choice each time, but where I am coming from is I want us to have and incorporate a bit more flexibility in how we judge the moments in which we had to make a choice that was imperfect. That's where that sweet spot is in that we have that kindness towards ourselves as well.

When we remember that in this way, the word vegan is very different from all of these other words. I think you'll see that veganism doesn't have to be that tiny box you close yourself off in. It can actually be a very open journey, in which you are doing the best you can, in which you realize that it is about that filter through which you're looking at all of your choices, not only dietary choices, but you are also not concerned and not
worried about that purity and perfection on the plate because it's not about that one plate of food.

Why are so many people going vegan or plant based or choosing to eliminate animal products?

If you are new to any of these topics and you're wondering "why have all of these terms and eating labels appeared?", "why is it that these industries have such negative effects on the environment, on animals?", "what is the connection between animal products and our health?".

We have a full series of episodes called the Why Vegan series (episodes 133 to 139) of the Brownble podcast.

We have a dedicated episode for each aspect including health, animals, the environment, and one that is
very often overlooked when we talk about veganism and it's the effect that these industries have on
our fellow human beings (the people who work in these industries, the people in surrounding communities, the people impacted by the production of these products in their local communities). I also added an additional episode very personal to me, since the whole theme behind our podcast isn't only to give you support when it comes to your vegan journey but to also talk a little bit about your relationship with food and your body, so that has a space in the series as well.

Before I go today, since today's post and episode is all about those dietary labels, know that you are always welcome in this space. If you are a pescatarian, flexitarian, vegetarian, hardcore carnivore trying to support someone in your life who is making one of these choices, or you're just curious. If you are a mostly vegan
except when you go to your mother's house, or mostly vegan except when it's Thanksgiving, or vegan until 6, or if you choose to not use a label at all, no matter where you are on that spectrum of eating we are here to support you and give you not only delicious recipes but any other kind of support you may need.

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