If you need clarification, just ask

In this day and age of food allergies and intolerances, you’d think that being a vegetarian would be pretty straightforward.  Apparently, it’s still not.  I’ve been a vegetarian for 25 years now and I still get people who are completely confused by what it means or who make assumptions about what I eat or don’t eat.  Some of this is cultural, some of this is just dumb, and some of this is people who just aren’t thinking.

So, for those of you who are so inclined, I’ve written up a handy reference chart.  Keep it where you keep the lists you consult when you’re trying to figure out what to make for the kosher vegan with the nut allergy when he comes over to visit.  It’ll make life easier, I promise.

A useful list of vegetarian related definitions.

Meat– meat is red and white.  It moos, swims, flies, hops, baahs, and oinks.  If it is capable of motion on its own, it is meat.

Vegetarian– the standard definition of vegetarian in most American minds is the lacto-ovo vegetarian.  We eat no meat, but we eat dairy (drink milk, eat cheese and eggs.)  This is pretty much where I fall*, this is what I have been doing for 25 years, this is what most vegetarians do.  The reason we generally don’t call ourselves lacto-ovo vegetarians is 1) because most people don’t know what it means and 2) it sounds ridiculous.

Vegan– the standard definition is someone who consumes no animal products whatsoever.  This includes meat, milk, eggs, honey, rennet, and, most infamously, gelatin.  Vegans are basically fruit and veggies only.  They often, don’t wear leather, wool, or silk

Pescatarians– if you are a vegetarian who eats fish (shellfish or the swimming kind) you’re a pescatarian.  Not, as someone I once knew called them, “pissytarians.”  That’s something else entirely.  It would make everyone’s life easier if 1) pescatarians called themselves such and 2) omnivores didn’t just assume that all vegetarians eat fish.  We don’t.

Omnivores– If you fall into the category of , “Oh, I don’t eat red meat” then you’re not a vegetarian.  Just because you confine yourself to pigs, chickens, turkeys, lambs, bunnies, our piscine friends, and whoever else I missed doesn’t make you a vegetarian of any kind, if makes you a meat eater and an omnivore.

As for that * above, I personally fall a little between vegetarian and vegan.  I am extremely strict about not eating anything that was once capable of motility, I do drink milk and eat dairy, but I buy cheese without rennet and I don’t ever consume gelatin.  I also won’t pick pepperoni off of pizza or eat otherwise vegetarian food that was cooked with meat, served with utensils that have served meat, or prepared on a shared surface.  Part of this is being careful about cross contamination, part of this is that I’m sensitive to the lingering taste of meat on a serving spoon, and part of it is that I *really* don’t want to ingest that stuff.

So, the next time your niece comes over and announces she’s a vegetarian, going through the litany of what she will and won’t eat probably won’t be necessary.  It’s a pretty safe guess that she’s veggies and dairy only.  Or, you can really wow her and ask her if she’s a pescatarian.  Just please, for me, don’t try to serve her pork because, “it isn’t red.”


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