Conscientious and health-related diet choices are nothing new but there is still an abundance of confusion about what the names for types of diets mean. That confusion is even perpetuated by diners themselves. “I’m a vegetarian, so I’ll just get the fish.” “I’m vegan, so skip the bacon, but please give me some ranch dressing on the side.”
Then there are the restaurant staff members who also don't seem to understand. For example, it’s great to offer vegetable “fajitas” but really gross to find bits of meat on the platter. Chefs, please use separate cooking pans for vegans or at least use fresh ones. Dining out as a vegan in normal restaurants is already really hard as it is.
Below is a list of common dietary terms and what they mean. Not included are the plethora of commercial and doctor-created derivatives, like paleo, Atkins or the ketogenic diet.
Carnivore: A carnivore gets food from killing and eating other animals. A carnivore’s isn’t necessarily all meat, although it’s mostly meat. In the wild, animals get their greens from eating the stomachs of herbivores. Domestic dogs nibble on grass. By the way, vegans and vegetarians: choose to eat whatever you want, but a dog or cat is a carnivore. Forcing your conscientious diet on them is mostly frowned upon by veterinarians.
Flexitarian: Vegetarianism for the folks who can’t quite let go of burgers and bacon. A flexitarian eats primarily a plant-based diet, but will occasionally indulge in meat.
Herbivore: An animal that feeds strictly on plants. Vegans are not herbivores. The difference is a matter of choice. Vegans could eat meat but don’t. Herbivores, such as cattle, deer, elephants and goats, have no choice but to eat plants. Their digestive system is incapable of digesting meat.
Omnivore: That’s you, most of you humans. Omnivores eat both plants and animals, although the conveniences of modern life have divorced most of us from the realities of either process. There are several other omnivores in the animal kingdom, including ducks, rats, dolphins and our closest relatives, the great apes.
Pescatarian: A person who eschews all meat except fish and seafood. Crawdads and shrimp are up for debate since they’re actually crustaceans. Crustaceans belong to the arthropod family. (Guess what else does? Insects. So, if you eat shrimp, you ought to be willing to try sautéed and seasoned crickets, too.) The Mediterranean Diet is essentially pescatarianism.
Vegetarian (Beady Eyed): Beady Eyed Vegetarian is a fun label for people who claim to be “vegetarians” but still eat poultry and fish. If it has beady eyes, it must be okay to eat because it couldn't possible have feelings, right? RIGHT??
Does Not Eat Red Meat: The correct descriptor for Beady Eyed Vegetarians.
Vegetarian (Lacto-Ovo): This type of vegetarian will consume animal protein in the form of eggs, cheese and milk but does not eat meat. In other words, lacto-ovo vegetarians are willing to consume animal products but not the animals themselves. The main criticism of a lacto-ovo lifestyle is that it still benefits unethical food producers, such as egg producers who keep thousands of chickens caged in crowded, unsanitary conditions. Not everyone chooses a diet based on ethics, though. There are also derivatives: Lacto vegetarians will include milk products but not eggs in their diets, while Ovo Vegetarians are the opposite.
Vegetarian (Strict): A strict vegetarian consumes no animal products whatsoever. That includes meat, fish, shellfish, milk, butter, cheese, honey and eggs. With that said, it's a dietary choice, not a lifestyle choice, so vegetarians may be perfectly comfortable with other lifestyle choices, like wearing leather shoes or jackets.
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One common concern is how both vegans and strict vegetarians obtain nutrients most commonly derived from animal sources. Protein is easily obtained from sources like nuts, legumes and soy products such as soy milk and tofu. Calcium is readily found in many green vegetables, like broccoli, cabbage and collard greens. It’s trickier to get all nine essential amino acids. They’re called “essential” because the body cannot produce them and they have to come from food. However, with careful planning, it can be done.
Vegan: A vegan consumes no animal products whatsoever. That includes meat, fish, shellfish, milk, butter, cheese, honey and eggs. With only that in mind, there would seem to be no difference between “vegan” and “strict vegetarian.” However, the main difference is that being a vegan is as much a lifestyle choice as a dietary one. Vegans are driven more by conscientious factors, such as avoiding the need to kill animals for their benefit, and will even avoid shoes, bags or clothing that are made from animal skins. Even granulated sugar is a problem since it is often clarified with bone char.
Fruitarian: Would you believe there’s a type of diet even more restrictive than veganism? It’s fruitarianism, and there is disagreement on what exactly the diet is supposed to be, other than that it consists primarily of raw fruit. Some fruitarians eat nuts, seeds and legumes. Others do not, believing it is wrong to consume unborn plants. Either way, nutritionists warn that this diet is deficient in protein and certain vitamins. It should not be followed for long periods of time — and never by teenagers — or inflicted on children or pets.
People should eat as they wish but should at least be aware of what diet they are actually following. For restaurant industry professionals, it's important to be knowledgeable and respectful of these options, even if they can't be accommodated. And please don't advertise that you have vegan dishes on your menu if you mean vegetarian — the diner's disappointment will be huge.