People living and breathing a lifestyle grasp the vernacular that goes along with it over time, until it eventually becomes a language they can fluently recognise and speak.
When you’re just starting out, it can all sound completely alien. It’s easy to misunderstand, misinterpret and make mistakes when you have no idea what all the labels mean. This could leave you on the receiving end of a litany of attacks from the militant – those who can’t seem to separate identity from lifestyle.
To sidestep the virtue signallers and save you some of the hassle I’ve compiled a list of my interpretation of common definitions in the plant-eating world. Here’s what you need to know about the terms “vegetarian”, “plant-based”, “vegan”, “animal activist”, “whole food plant-based” and “nutritarian”.
The earliest record of vegetarianism comes from 7th century BCE yet the first written use of the term “vegetarian” didn’t originate until early 19th century – a long time between meals for that one to work its way in!
Vegetarians don’t eat the flesh of any animal, including insects and shellfish. It may also exclude animal slaughter by-products. There are variations of the diet as well: an ovo-lacto vegetarian diet includes both eggs and dairy products, an ovo-vegetarian diet includes eggs but not dairy products, and a lacto-vegetarian diet includes dairy products but not eggs.
There could be several reasons driving the decision behind the lifestyle like religion, health or to spare the lives of animals. For the vegetarians in the latter camp who haven’t yet moved to the plant-based realm, they may be unaware that they’re still contributing to the loss of animal life in the consumption of milk, cheese and eggs. Despite this, vegetarianism has done more good for the world than veganism or Sea Shepherd or whatever. Consider, for example, India alone has ~500 million vegetarians.
Vegetarianism is usually the first step in moving away from a standard western diet, and the most catered to in the modern-day world making it a more accessible lifestyle to the others we are about to explore.
Plant-based (aka ‘Dietary Vegan’)
Plant-based eaters are the new kids on the block as far as terminology goes. We can thank the militant vegans for this one.
In recent years, there has been a growing negative association with veganism which saw many disassociate from the name and “plant-based” was born.
People who consider their diet “plant-based” eat no animal products or by-products (including dairy, eggs, honey, etc). It’s all about the food and generally stems from (but not always) wanting improved health, or for environmental reasons. “Plant-based” can be a Burger King rebel burger made from plant-based ingredients but still cooked on the regular animal meat grill.
“Plant-based” can include processed foods providing they exclude animal ingredients – e.g. refined sugar, white bread, white flour, oil etc. For a lot of people this is the next logical step on the journey after vegetarianism.
Vegan (ism) (aka a “strict” vegetarian)
By definition, any word ending in “ism” means “taking side with” or “imitation of”, and is often used to describe philosophies, theories, religions, social movements, artistic movements and behaviours. It’s been suggested that veganism is the fastest growing social movement of all time.
A “vegan” can eat identically to a plant-based baller but kicks things up a notch – from casein to gelatin to red food colouring, no stone is left unturned as to what’s lurking behind the food label.
Vegans also consider the ethical treatment of animals, with a tendency for it to be the driver of their decision over factors such as health and/or environment. A good friend once summed it up as eating “nothing that once had a face or a mother” which is illustrative of the empathy supporting the decision.
A vegan lifestyle carries over into every facet of life, from homewares to toiletries to clothing.
If animals were made from it (e.g. leather) and/or,
if animals were involved in its production (e.g. wine) or testing (e.g. make-up) and/or,
if an animal’s environment was heavily impacted to produce it (e.g. palm oil) …
… it’s out.
To try and put what may sound complicated simply, a vegan is a plant-based eater with the emotional plight for animals and their environment.
Even cross contamination is a concern for vegans – they certainly would NOT be okay with chowing down on a plant-based burger cooked on animal meat grills (sorry, not sorry, Burger King).
I’m not so sure that this sits in its own category as this is more a subgroup to vegan. An animal activist is usually a vegan who actively fights for the welfare of animals and their rights. This could be by way of protest, petitioning, or other methods of raising awareness. While it doesn’t fall into a dietary lifestyle per se, animal activism is an important distinction to make as activists tend to be labelled “vegans” in the media, further adding to public confusion of the definitions.
As animal activism can involve assertive and even somewhat aggressive forms of protest, the association has perhaps cast a negative hue over the more passive and non-confrontational vegan lifestyle. Not all vegans are animal activists, yet many wear the public backlash regardless.
Like or loathe it, animal activistism gets people talking and raises awareness on much needed topics. Extremists may like to consider more positive methods of lifestyle enrolment as research suggests current tactics are not working.
Whole Food Plant Based (WFPB)
“Whole Food Plant Based Diet” (WFPB for short) is a term coined by Dr T. Colin Campbell, an American biochemist and author of New York Times best-selling books, including The China Study and Whole – Rethinking the Science of Nutrition.
Dr Campbell specialises in the effect of nutrition on long-term health and believes that eating a variety of whole veggies, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds is the most effective way of preventing, treating, and in some cases, even reversing the most common ailments today, including certain types of cancers, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
A WFPB diet does not include highly processed foods including oil, refined sugar and grains (e.g. white rice, white bread). It does include minimally processed foods that come from plant-based sources e.g. nutritional yeast, tahini, tamari sauce etc. For plant-based eaters and junk-food vegans, this way of eating is the next progressive step.
A “Nutritarian” is a person whose diet is largely plant-based, gluten-free, low-salt and low-fat. The term was created in 2003 by family physician Dr. Joel Furhman in his book “Eat to Live”. The Nutritarian Diet, also referred to as a nutrient-dense, plant-rich diet (NDPR diet) promises impressive weight-loss results, increased lifespan, slower aging and shares in the health benefits touted by Dr Campbell for WFPB.
Key to a Nutritarian diet is the principle of selecting the highest number of nutrients for each food calorie.
Foundationally, the diet is vastly like WFPB. How it differs is that:
- Non-factory farmed animal products including meat, dairy, eggs, fish and seafood is compliant in small amounts (<10% of total diet).
- Gluten and salt are off the table completely.
- Natural fat sources and whole grains are reduced in measure.
- Snacking is banned
Many Nutritarians have found food (and fat) freedom with Furhman’s approach. It’s a good fit for anyone wanting to reduce animal foods from their diet but aren’t yet ready to say goodbye to them for good.
There you have it – my distillation of the various definitions you might hear around the traps to do with eating lifestyles. Things are not black and white and two people in the same “group” don’t always agree on every variable.
What you may or may not eat is a continuum to finding where you belong and where you’re comfortable. It isn’t for anyone else to dictate or criticise your personal choices. There is no right or wrong way to eat. Just begin, and when you find yourself overwhelmed and caught up in food miniature, come back to centre by remembering the sage advice of Michael Pollan “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”
What do you think about these definitions? I’d love to hear in the comments below.
Moreish Quinoa Veggie Soup
Light and filling, this homemade vegetable soup will have you coming back for more! It packs great for lunch and like most soups, it tastes even better the next day. Why not double batch it and keep the second portions in the freezer for when you need a quick but nutritious meal.
Moreish Quinoa Veggie Soup
- 1 brown onion, chopped
- 3 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 2 celery stalks, chopped
- 6 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 cups seasonal vegetables, chopped (like pumpkin, zucchini, sweet potatoes)
- 1 400g can diced tomatoes
- 1/2 teaspoon thyme, dried
- 1 cup quinoa, rinced
- 4 cups vegetable stock
- 2 cups water
- salt and pepper (to taste)
- 1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
- 1 cup kale, ribs removed and chopped
- 1-2 teaspoons lemon juice (to taste)
- parsley, chopped (to garnish)
Warm a little water in a large soup pot over medium head. When warm, add the chopped onion, carrot, celery, and seasonal vegetables. Cook, stirring often adding more water to prevent sticking. Cook until the onion is translucent.
Add the garlic and thyme, Cook for about a minute until fragrant. Add the can of diced tomatoes and cook for a few more minutes, stirring frequently.
Add the quinoa, stock, water and salt/pepper. Raise heat and bring to a boil, then partially cover the pot and reduce the heat to a simmer.
Cook for 25 minutes then add the beans and kale. Simmer for a further 5 minutes until the kale has softened.
Remove the pot from heat and add the lemon juice. Taste, and season with more salt and pepper to your liking. Divide into bowls and top with chopped parsley.
Wishing you a yummy week ahead – whichever way you choose to fuel.