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The Many Flavours of Plant-Based Diets

The number of diets adopted by people all over the world is… let’s just say “large” for now.

Aside from the many trendy diets, ranging from keto to Atkins, and the list could go on and on, there are others that are seemingly simple: plant-based diets. And this is where many people get confused, especially by the many labels that can be applied to these. There is a difference between a simple plant-based diet and veganism, for example. Let’s try to clear a few things up about these below.

Diet vs. lifestyle

First and foremost, let’s nail this down: vegetarianism is a diet, while veganism is a lifestyle.

The first one has everything to do with the foods eaten, while the second doesn’t stop there. To shift a bit toward the “official” definitions of the two: vegetarianism means refraining from the consumption of (some or all) animal-based foods, while veganism is used in reference to refraining from the use of animal-based products, in general. It is a philosophy that rejects the “commodity status” of animals – thus, it doesn’t only restrict the consumption of meat and milk, for example, but leather, cosmetics tested on animals, and so on.

Veganism has many flavours itself. A “dietary vegan” – sometimes called a “strict vegetarian” – will refrain from consuming all foods of animal origin (this is pretty close to the definition of a “vegetarian” diet), while a “moral vegan” will extend this restriction to all other products. And there is one more label that’s often applied to this lifestyle: “environmental veganism” that is based on the fact that the industrial production of animal-based foods is very bad for the environment and it’s generally unsustainable.

There are many vegetarian diets

Now let’s turn our attention from ethics and morals to the foods consumed and take a look at vegetarianism as a spectrum rather than something that’s easy to label.

There are many “vegetarian” diets that are more or less permissive. The “strict vegetarian” diet we mentioned above forbids the consumption of all animal-based foods, no exceptions. This is the simplest and easiest to understand level. But as we said above, vegetarianism is a spectrum

“Lacto-vegetarianism” permits the consumption of milk and dairy products but forbids the consumption of meat and eggs. “Ovo-vegetarianism” permits the consumption of eggs but forbids the consumption of meat and dairy. Finally, “Lacto-Ovo-vegetarianism” forbids the consumption of meat but permits the consumption of dairy and eggs. Confused yet? Wait, there’s more.

There are several “semi-vegetarian” diets out there that are more or less permissive:

  • The “macrobiotic diet”, proposed by Japanese army doctor Sagen Ishizuka based on the teachings of Zen Buddhism, is a diet based on plants that allows the occasional consumption of seafood and fish
  • The “pollotarian” diet restricts the consumption of meat from mammals but permits the consumption of chicken and eggs
  • The “pescetarian” diet is similar to the “pollotarian” except it allows the consumption of fish and shellfish (but forbids the consumption of eggs and dairy)

Finally, let us mention the most interesting semi-vegetarian diet of them all, one that will probably be seen differently in the light of the recent bush fires: the “kangatarian” diet and lifestyle. This one is seen as a form of “environmental” veganism: it forbids the consumption of all meat except for kangaroo. Kangaroo meat is sustainable, its proponents say, because it doesn’t require any extra land and water – kangaroos live in the wild in Australia – as opposed to industrial farming of the other popular meats.

Vegetarianism and veganism, like all other restrictive diets and lifestyles, are not for everyone. It takes willpower and dedication for one not to give in to the temptation of a steak or a cheeseburger. Still, going vegan can be a healthy choice for many. And for those lacking the force to keep away from meats, there are always less-restrictive options – or the newly introduced plant-based meats.