There is some confusion about whether people are vegan or vegetarian, and what each type of vegetarian means. Here are a list of the four basic types of people who generally abstain from meat, from purists through far more flexible eaters.
Vegans (pronounced vee-gun) eat only plant-based foods. They abstain from any animal product or byproduct, including all meat, honey, eggs and milk products. A vegan lifestyle can be challenging, especially at first. However, here are a few simple guidelines.
First, vegans should probably avoid foods with catch-all ingredient listings such as “natural flavors” or “natural colors.” It’s hard to know if these unlisted mystery foods include milk or other animal by-products. Likewise, “natural” and “no animal by-products” are not foolproof ways to avoid meat or meat products.
Also, truly vegan foods will contain no cholesterol. Cholesterol is only found in animal products.
On the other hand, options for this type of vegetarian are becoming available in every part of the supermarket, including soy milk, rice- or soy-based ice cream and vegan frozen entrees.
Lacto vegetarians eat everything vegans eat, plus milk and milk products, such as cheese and ice cream. The addition of dairy allows for more freedom when eating at restaurants, but more warnings are in order for this type of vegetarian.
Most cheeses are made with rennet. Unless specified, rennet is made from cow stomachs. Jello, marshmallows and yogurt often contain gelatin, which is typically made by boiling animal bones.
Wine is sometimes processed with an ingredient that comes from fish bladders. Even red candy or drinks can be dyed with cochineal, which comes from ground beetles. Chips and French fries are also a stumbling block, as they are potentially fried in animal fat.
Ovo-Lacto vegetarians eat everything lacto-vegetarian eat, but also add eggs. Again, this type of vegetarian lifestyle doesn’t allow for gelatin and other animal products, but it does include most cakes and other baked goods.
Flexitarians are also called semi-vegetarians. They even sometimes call themselves vegetarians, but other types of vegetarians would dispute that label. Flexitarians eat primarily plant products but occasionally add some meat to their diet.
Some flexitarians are selective about the meat they consume and may eat fish but not “land animals.” Others eat chicken, but not beef.
Freegans and raw foodists
Finally, a note about some other types of eaters. Freegan sounds like vegan but can be very different, and may not even really be a type of vegetarian. The freegan movement started with vegans who focus on eating free food, including food salvaged from supermarket and restaurant garbage bins or community gardens.
Some freegans today are not necessarily vegan, but the practice is clearly not as safe for meat eaters.
Raw foodism or rawism is about eating only uncooked, unprocessed foods. Many raw foodists focus on organic foods and may be vegan. Others eat raw meat and non-pasteurized dairy products.