A Letter To Vegetarians From a Vegan

A letter to vegetarians from a vegan

Dear vegetarians,

The difference between vegetarian and vegan may seem insignificant to you. Is there much of a difference?

Vegetarian, vegan—it doesn’t matter. We’re all doing our part to reduce the exploitation of animals.

I hear you—and I have a lot of respect for you.

There was a time where I thought vegetarianism was extreme.

Growing up, I only had one vegetarian friend and I thought he was missing out on things all the time.

But he stayed strong to his values. I never saw him fold. When we were flipping meat on the barbecue, he would bring his vegetarian patties.

He never wanted to cause an inconvenience. It was admirable.

Then in August 2014, seemingly at random, I became vegan. I literally went from eating a chicken kebab to being vegan.

I didn’t transition gradually—and I never considered being vegetarian before going all the way to veganism. Not to say that this is the right path to veganism as we all have different origin stories.

After making the connection between my consumption habits and the unnecessary exploitation of animals, my heart saw only one option—go vegan.

When I told my vegetarian friend I was vegan, he was proud of me. But even after being vegetarian for many years, he admittedly thought a vegan lifestyle was extreme. How ironic!

I found the interaction confusing. And then I thought the vegetarian movement was confusing.

I don’t spend much time in vegetarian communities outside of seeing the reference of V and VG on restaurant menus.

But I do have some opinions I want to share with you about the difference between vegetarian and vegan, and more importantly, why it matters.

So what is the difference between vegetarian and vegan?

The best way to understand the difference between vegetarian and vegan is to see how their requirements compare.

As a vegetarian, no doubt, you already understand the differences. But here’s a quick refresher:

A vegetarian is someone who avoids consuming meat, poultry and fish or any animal flesh. This also extends to insects. Vegetarians do, however, consume dairy, eggs, honey and are more open to supporting products that are made from animal fabrics.

Conversely, a vegan is someone that avoids consuming anything that comes from an animal. This would include meat, poultry, fish, insects, dairy, eggs and honey. Veganism extends beyond food, as they also avoid products made from animal fabrics including leather, silk and wool.

It’s common for both vegetarians and vegans to reasonably avoid forms of animal entertainment like zoos, animal rides, racing, circuses and fighting.

Another overlap between vegetarians and vegans includes avoiding products that are tested on animals.

I think it’s interesting to note that vegetarianism as a concept came before veganism. In fact, the word vegan was made by taking the first three letters and the last two letters from the word vegetarian.

If you want to learn more, you can read my post on the definition of veganism.

So to summarise, the fundamental difference between vegetarian and vegan comes down to the consumption of:

  • Dairy (milk, cheese, cream, yoghurt etc)
  • Eggs
  • Honey
  • Animal skins
  • Consumer goods made with ingredients from dairy, and honey, e.g. cosmetics

Again, you knew this already. But at least we’ve isolated our differences, which will fuel the rest of this letter.

What’s more popular, vegetarian or vegan?

Okay, if you haven’t seen this already, check out a Wikipedia page called Vegetarians by country.

The article is regularly updated with statistics on the population of vegetarians and vegans across different countries.

Sample sizes and references for each country vary greatly, but at least it starts to give us an idea of the growth in both lifestyles.

Let’s take the United States, for example. According to a poll conducted in 2018, 8% of the population was vegetarian, and 3% were vegan.

As you look at the statistics of each country, it’s clear that vegetarianism is consistently two to three times more popular than veganism.

This is unsurprising as vegetarianism has been around much longer than veganism.

Furthermore, there are not as many restrictions, making vegetarianism more approachable and accessible than veganism.

food being served

Thank you, vegetarians

Before I explain why I think our differences matter much more than you probably think, I want to take a moment to thank you.

Thank you for being the original animal advocates, at least by an official term—as some humans have unknowingly been vegetarian from the beginning of our existence.

I want to thank you for your passion for promoting an alternative way of living. Your efforts have changed supply and demand of all of the cruelty-free products we have access to now.

Lastly, thank you for being courageous and removing animal flesh from your diet.

But now you need some tough love.

You need to take the next step

There are gaps in your philosophy that need addressing.

I’m frustrated with you more than omnivores because I know you know all of this stuff.

You’re acutely aware and connected with the impacts of dairy, eggs, honey and fabrics, yet you’re stalling.

Why?

You’re almost there. I mean, you are the original. You were pushing for vegetarianism when there weren’t even any labels on packets to help you.

I’d argue that you had to fight harder than vegans in your time.

But now? Come on. We have an abundance of alternative options.

And the thing is, I know you think about this often. You ask yourself, “could I really be vegan?”

The answer is a resounding YES!

In the next part of this letter, I’m going to explain why you need to act on what you already know.

The problem with dairy

The dairy products you love dearly, including milk, cheese and cream are made from the milk of animals.

Milk can be produced from:

  1. Camels
  2. Goats
  3. Yaks
  4. Buffalos
  5. Horses
  6. Donkeys
  7. Zebus
  8. Sheep
  9. Cows
  10. Humans
  11. Cockroaches, yes cockroaches!

However, according to this article, 85% of the milk that’s created for dairy comes from cows. So let’s talk about cows for a moment.

Dairy cows are a specific breed of a cow who produce a certain type of milk. From the age of two, these animals start their careers as dairy cows.

Like any mammal (including humans), to produce milk, you need to have given birth. So either organically, or forcibly, farmers impregnate these cows on 14-month cycles.

The cycle looks something like this:

  1. Give birth
  2. Produce milk for ten months until parched
  3. Take a 60-day break
  4. Forced to mate or get artificially inseminated
  5. Start the process again
  6. Do this for four years, then get sent off the slaughter for beef, leather etc.

The average lifespan of a cow is 18-22 year. However, the average lifespan of a dairy cow is 4-6 years.

Calves of the dairy cow are considered to be “waste-products” as they’re unable to grow at the same rate as beef calves. And their meat is substandard according to the beef industry.

So often, only after a couple of days of living, these calves are sent to the abattoir for slaughter.

Okay, I feel like I’m going all vegan on you when I realise, I’m preaching to the choir.

But what I don’t understand is why you’re comfortable supporting an industry that is just as cruel if not crueller than the beef industry?

Especially when it’s never been easier to get alternative products. This is an easy win if you just make the switch. There are more alternatives out there now then ever before!

a letter to a vegetarian from a vegan

The problem with eggs

Like you, I used to love eggs. Like really love eggs.

I’d have eggs any time of the day whether it was fried, boiled, poached. Runny or well done. Oh, and how could I forget? Eggs were an essential ingredient for baking cakes!

Between Maša and I, we’d go through two cartons of eggs each week. You read that right. We were running quite the eggy operation.

However, we only used to buy organic and free-range because we cared about how hens lived.

Having said all of that, even eating the leftover eggs from your backyard chicken is unethical.

Again I know you know this, but unlike dairy, I’d say you’re willing to fight a little harder to defend your consumption of eggs.

Even though the rate of laying eggs from farmed or backyard chickens means a reduced life expectancy for hens, it’s easier to justify consuming eggs.

This is not to mention all of the male chicks who get ruthlessly discarded at birth because they have no commercial value.

You’ve seen the footage of these chicks getting ground up. You understand that every egg you buy or consume promotes exploitative practices. But you choose to turn a blind eye.

Take it from someone that loved eggs. When you give them up, you’ll quickly become disgusted by them.

Even when I ate eggs, I hated dealing with them. The smell, getting bits of the shell stuck in your food. Or holding blocking my nose as I’d drink eggs white raw after watching Sylvester Stallone do it in his famous Rocky movies.

You’ll honestly be surprised at how quickly you’ll forget about eggs. You can do it!

The problem with honey

Okay, this is where things get a little more challenging.

I can’t blame you for consuming honey, because it’s even confusing amongst vegans.

We wrote a whole post on this very topic—so I suggest you check it out.

But fundamentally, honey is not for human consumption. Honey is for the bees that produce it.

If you were stubborn about eggs, I easily imagine you rejecting the premise boycotting honey in your life.

The thing is because you’re used to shopping for cruelty-free products you’re probably more aware of alternative sweeteners than the other 90% of the population who are not in our vegetarian/vegan bubble.

I get it. I enjoyed honey. My favourite combination growing up was honey and peanut butter on bread.

Do you know what my favourite combination is now? Maple and peanut butter sandwiches. I don’t even think about how I wish I had honey instead of maple.

Once you finish the rest of the honey in your house, this is an incredibly easy switch.

eating honey

The problem with animal fabrics

It’s common knowledge that leather, wool and silk are fabrics made from animals.

Perhaps you haven’t seen these products to be a problem, as the fabrics are promoted as a by-product of the meat industry.

Animal fabrics, however, are not by-products, but co-products of meat as they make up a decent percentage of profits from these animals.

In some instances, like silk and exotic leathers; the only reason to exploit these animal materials is for the fabric industry.

For example, snakes and alligators are explicitly hunted for their skin to produce leather.

When you support leather, you’re supporting the trappers that go out at 3 am and kill and skin wildlife to earn their keep.

How are these actions anything but cruel? Now I’m not saying that every vegetarian in the world supports the animal fabric industry, but it’s an area that’s often overlooked.

Luckily there are lots of innovative alternative fabrics being made all the time, especially in fashion.

So, what’s the hold-up?

You don’t eat meat. You don’t support animal entertainment and testing. And you probably care about the environment.

Remember, vegetarianism is two to three times more popular than veganism.

Think about the impact you could have on animals if you switched over to veganism. It’s a tangible and realistic goal, considering how closely related the lifestyles are.

Yet, you resist becoming vegan. You’re almost there. I mean you’ve done the hardest part of eliminating meat from your diet!

So I write this letter to you to ask why.

Why don’t you become vegan? I think we’ve established throughout this post that you’re not ignorant to what’s going on. So if it’s not that, what is it?

Respond to this letter in the comments below.

PS – please know that this letter comes from a place of love. I acknowledge that being vegetarian is still a far better alternative than eating animal flesh. So whether you decide to go vegan or not, thank you for being considerate.

A Letter To Vegetarians From a Vegan

Other articles you’ll love:

  1. It’s Just One Bad Day
  2. How To Go Vegan: A Guide On How To Transition To a Vegan Lifestyle
  3. Finding The Humanity In Non-Vegans
  4. What Level Vegan Are You? A Response To Beyoncé’s Announcement
  5. Looking Beyond The Nutrition Label: Being an Ethical Vegan
  • Chrissie Cleary 24/11/2019 Reply

    Writing as someone who was a vegetarian for over 30 years & now vegan for approx 3 years I absolutely get what you’re saying. Acknowledging the inherent cruelty that pervades modern dairy industry practices alluded my blinkered conscience for a long long time. Becoming committed to being vegan was the logical next step, my deepest regret is that I didn’t ‘see the light’ all those years ago. It’s not like I didn’t know what went on behind the happy contented cow & fluffy cute chick pictures but sometimes it’s easier to not think too much. It’s not easy being an imperfect human but better late than never.

    • Hi Chrissie, thank you for sharing your experience with us. I’m curious, after 30 years of being vegetarian, do you remember what pushed you to go vegan? Or was it more gradual? Also, I’d say we’re all still imperfect, but it’s always positive to try our best. Cheers, Michael.

      • Chrissie 01/12/2019 Reply

        Hello Michael,
        my embracing of veganism was indeed a gradual process, a steady slow drip, heavily aided by watching undeniably shocking videos of what goes on behind the scenes of the dairy & poultry mega-industries. What finally tipped me over the edge was the horrible abuse of bobby calves being treated like unfeeling trash by some members of the NZ farming community. To say I was shocked to see the mindless cruelty involved was an understatement. Thankfully MPI investigated & charges were brought but to this day I cannot look at a dairy cow & not think of those images. And who can eat eggs without thinking of the live chick macerating process? Not me. The biggest issue for me is how the food industries have reduced living things to mere objects on a production line, that’s what really gets me. Yep, I’m trying to stay positive but it’s pretty hard sometimes! Cheers.

        • Aha, that all makes sense. Good on you for having the courage to expose yourself to these things, it’s not easy! Thanks for sharing your specific experiences; it’s always nice to see different examples and perspectives.

  • Great article! I have been vegan for almost 18 years. Before becoming vegan, I was vegetarian for 10 years. When I was vegetarian, I had never heard of the word vegan and didn’t know veganism existed. (This was before the internet.) I had never heard of the cruelty involved in the production of dairy and eggs and I believed completely that dairy and eggs were ethical because I believed they didn’t involve killing or cruelty.

    The moment I found out the truth about dairy and eggs from a book (“The Food Revolution” by John Robbins), I instantly became vegan. And I was deeply horrified that I had been so blind to the truth about dairy and eggs.

    Our culture lies to us, brainwashes us, conditions us, and programs us to believe that there is nothing wrong with using animals for food. The meat, dairy, and egg industries spend billions of dollars poisoning us with these lies.

    But now-a-days with the internet, there is no excuse for not knowing the truth.

    Vegetarians don’t want to be vegan. They know the truth. And they know about all the amazing vegan alternatives for dairy and eggs. Yet they choose cruelty because they don’t really see anything wrong with animal exploitation. I think it boils down to them being human supremacists and being prejudice and bigoted against animals.

    • Hi Elizabeth, thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us. 18 years of veganism is quite incredible!
      You’re right, there was a time where there wasn’t much awareness of the impact of the dairy and egg industries, but in 2019 we have all the information we could need.

  • Julie 25/11/2019 Reply

    Great letter, thank you! I was a vegetarian for about 40 years before going vegan. Much of the reason I went vegetarian was because of animal cruelty. I don’t think when I started in 1980s the dairy industry was as cruel and dirty (or maybe I was kidding myself). But then I saw the movie “Cowspiracy” and realized that if cared about animal cruelty and the enviornment and wanted to stay true to my values I had to stop eating/consuming all animal products. I have now been a vegan for about 3 years and it is clearly one of the best decisions of my life! I will add about 4 months ago I took the final step and went whole food plant-based. I started to believe that there is a lot of waste and ultimate harm in the industrial food complex that produces all that vegan junk food. Additionally and importantly it also now appears to be producing a new generation of unhealthy vegans! I think often people mistake the word vegan for “healthy”. In this day and age that is a dangerous mistake to make!

    • You’re welcome, Julie! It’s fascinating to read about your transition from vegetarian to vegan. Cowspiracy is a powerful documentary, so I’m not surprised that it pushed you to switch 🙂
      Yes, there’s still much room for improvement in the vegan movement when it comes to waste and health. Thanks for sharing.

  • jacquie 25/11/2019 Reply

    My story is similar to Chrissie so I will put my two cents into the pot as well. I was a long term vegetarian and just didn’t take the next step for longer than I care to admit. While I was moving in a more vegan direction it was not from an informed manned. Bu then I was doing some reading/watching with regards to the issue of compassion for some classes I was taking in a pastoral care program and I stumbled upon some footage of the chicks being ground up and the living calves thrown in the back of dumpsters and that was it. I became vegan at that moment and haven’t looked back. Though I’m still learning and struggling especially with regard to clothes. Warm vegan socks? Really I need some help there as winter is here. But no regrets about the change and missing things but just about not doing it sooner. And no I don’t think it is extreme by any means.

    • Hi Jacquie, thanks for sharing your story with us. I can certainly see how vegetarians could get comfortable and not see the need to investigate a little more. It sounds like you had a pretty confronting experience that ultimately pushed you into veganism.
      I think we’re all still learning and struggling, but it’s the awareness of the truth and the willingness to act on that awareness that matters.

  • Graham Spencer 25/11/2019 Reply

    I was vegetarian from the age of 19 for 31 years until I became vegan for the last 10 (I am still vegan). I always wanted to be vegan but thought it would be difficult. Then I did it and really, it was much easier than I thought it would be. It was much more difficult then trying to take wheat out of my diet. I think vegetarians rely heavily on diary. Vegans rely heavily on wheat. Once you give up wheat you really are just eating vegetables. I gave up wheat, not for ethical reasons although one could argue the environmental reasons. I gave up because it made me feel sluggish. I also thought it was less likely to be natural part of our diet pre agricultural times. I do eat bread now but I’m thinking of limiting it again as it still makes me feel sluggish. Anyway, my message to vegetarians is to give veganism a try. It is easier than you think especially nowadays with many plant based ‘milks’ available. When I was vegetarian back in 1978 it was really difficult to eat out. You were limited to omelettes in restaurants. Now there are restaurants dedicated to gluten-free vegans. Amazing. But I prefer to cook fresh veg. Eating out is rarely a treat. I digress, vegetarians….just try it.

    • Hi Graham, it’s so valuable to get words of encouragement and wisdom from someone who’s transitioned from vegetarian to vegan, so thank you for sharing! There’s still a lot of work we all need to do as vegans to find the right nutritional balance for our bodies. So kudos for finding what works best for you.

  • Yupin Phaovanij. 25/11/2019 Reply

    Can we detect the gender of those chicken in advance (when they are
    still in the eggs). So that we can discard those male chicken .

    • Hi Yupin, what an interesting question! I’d recommend checking out our post on the ethics of backyard eggs. Discarding baby chicks is incredibly disturbing, however, even still, extracting eggs from hens for our consumption is still an exploitative practice. It’s easy to get caught up in finding ways to get what we want when we don’t need it 🙂

  • Mary 25/11/2019 Reply

    Michael,
    The first few paragraphs of your letter induced a few eye rolls… I am, after all, a vegetarian. I wanted to tell you that life is simply easier this way. Feeding a child and meal prepping is hard enough with no-meat restrictions, let alone introducing no dairy or eggs. What would replace the same breakfast I’ve eaten every day for what feels like forever, of yogurt, fruit, and nuts? What would I use in my weekly muffins for the hubby in place of eggs? What would my kid pour in his cereal? Life would be so much more difficult!
    I wanted to tell you that it’s cheaper. That it’s stressful working out my monthly budget already, let alone adding in tempeh and a $9 bag of something my child may or may not believe is cheese. I wanted to tell you that it’s no big deal… That I’m doing my part by abstaining from flesh and damnit, isn’t that good enough?
    But I kept reading.
    You see, I’m new to this again. In my last few years of high school/ early college, I ate vegetarian. But I strayed far from the path and am just now returning after a years-long hiatus. And you know what? Your words, the depiction of the life of a dairy cow? All of my excuses are bull. It may be an adjustment to meal prep and grocery staples, but after the first few weeks I probably wouldn’t even notice. And who am I kidding about expenses? I’ve never shopped vegan. I have no clue.
    You are right, dear friend. Thank you for opening my eyes, and doing so with loving kindness. I hope that your words reach others as well.
    Keep on making the world a better place. You are a treasure.

    • marissa 26/11/2019 Reply

      Hi! I have been vegan for just a year and i’d like to share some alternatives for the things you listed! I’m feeding a family of 5 a vegan diet and have found a lot of substitutes that everyone has grown to love 🙂

      “yogurt, fruit, and nuts?” There are some great plant-based yogurts out there! It’s definitely more expensive, but I really like the yogurts by Kite Hill.

      “What would I use in my weekly muffins for the hubby in place of eggs?” Tofu scramble! It takes some getting used to, but we love it now! You can also cut a round of tofu about the size of a fried egg you’d put in a muffin then fry and season it like an egg, and the texture is almoat the same. Add some black salt for they eggy smell. Best of all, tofu is pretty darn inexpensive!

      What would my kid pour in his cereal? Almond milk, soy milk, flax milk, oat milk! I have found that soy milk is often cheaper than most and it’s thicker than almond milk. You can also make your own of most of these if you have the time. I don’t so I go with store bought.

      I hope this was helpful! Good luck in your transition!

      • Hi Mary, I don’t have anything to add that Marissa hasn’t already suggested. All I want to say is thank you. Thank you for being open and for trying. You’re asking all of the right questions, and if you keep doing that, you’ll find a way. Hope you both have a lovely week 🙂

  • Joannie 25/11/2019 Reply

    Hi =)
    I’m a vegetarian and i plan to stay a vegetarian, but you asked for answers to your letter so here i am. Basically, i find that vegetarism is a good compromise. I have a lot of criterions for my food. I want to avoid hurting animals when possible, of course. But i’m even more mindful of environmental matters, so i want to eat food produced nearby and without pesticide. I also want to keep being able to go eat with people (at their home or at a restaurant) because i find it an important part of having a social life (especially here in France). Last but not least, i wish to avoid conflicts when possible, since i’m very bad with them.
    When you try to consider all that together, i think vegetarism works better. Veganism is perfect to avoid hurting animals, but hard to do at a local scale (especially during winter), basically impossible in a restaurant (especially in the small town where i live), and very, very controversial (i don’t know why vegetarism is easily accepted and veganism so frowned upon, but that’s a fact : the word vegan is enough to trigger hateful reactions nearly everywhere).
    I’m not trying to say vegetarism is better than veganism – i really admire vegans, and i do think that they are more logical than vegetarians ethically speaking. I’m just saying that for some people, a lot of other criterions are worthy – and that, unfortunately, it might not always be possible to reconcile all of them.

    • Hi Joanne, thank you for sharing your experience! My sister-in-law is french, and I’ve experienced trying to be vegan in France culture first hand. The social dynamic is not an easy one to navigate!

      I agree that the stigma of veganism is still there, but it’s rapidly changing as more people become vegan—it’s becoming more accepted. Much like how vegetarianism has progressed 🙂

      If your top priority is the environment, I suggest watching Cowspiracy if you haven’t already. The dairy industry is incredibly destructive to our planet, and by making this one tweak, you could really make a difference—especially culturally.

      Thanks again for sharing, it’s interesting to understand where people are at.

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