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Vegetarian/Vegan Definitions


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Vegetarian/Vegan Definitions

ElsieDee | Apr 5, 2007 12:59 AM

Please help me out here - I used to think that I knew what defined a vegan and what defined a vegetarian, but lately a couple of comments from friends and family members have me scratching my head.

Vegan - I think that this means nothing from animals, period (no flesh, no milk, no eggs, no honey, and someone once mentioned to me that they don't eat anything with "yeast", etc.).

Vegetarian - I used to think that this meant no flesh (no red meat, no poultry, no fish, no seafood).

And then there's ovo-lacto vegetarian, which I understand to mean no flesh, but okay with eggs and dairy.

And then there's my friends and family members - one who won't eat mammals or poultry, but loves fish and seafood (and pepperoni, but that's a whole other topic in itself); another who doesn't eat mammals but is okay with poultry and fish/seafood; and yet another who won't eat "flesh" of any kind, but happily consumes some foods based on a don't ask/don't tell policy (such as meat broth-based soups, etc). All of these people have told me that they consider themselves to be vegetarian.

And then there's two other friends, both of whom have told me that they're vegans - their dining preferences fit pretty much with my definition of "vegan" except that one only eats "fruits" that is, food that can be taken from the plant without killing the plant (okay with strawberries, not with potatoes) and the other only eats raw foods.

Is this a situation where the definitions are dynamic and still being agreed-upon in common usage? Or are my friends and family members calling themselves vegetarians when they should be calling themselves something else? And is there a polite way to ask someone (say an aquaintance coming to dinner) to explain their definition of vegetarian (or vegan)?

I once had an aquaintance (now a friend) coming for dinner, and she'd told me that she was a strict vegetarian. I decided to make a "safe" main dish of black beans and rice (onions, red bell peppers, black beans, steamed white rice, cilantro, Worcestershire sauce) which I serve with Sauce Lizano. Well, about 45-minutes before she was to arrive, as I finished the cooking and pulled the Lizano from the fridge to place it on the table, I glanced at the bottle's ingredients: whew, no meat listed. But then it hit me - I'd already added Worcestershire sauce! Ugh! So the rice and beans were set aside for the night and I quickly "filled-out" the sides I'd made (a big salad and some roasted vegetables) and served those instead.

Some time later I "confessed" to my friend about that almost disaster of serving her the food containing anchovies - she laughed and reassured me that she would have happily eaten the rice dish, even knowing that it had Worcestershire sauce, 'cause I'd been kind enough to cook a special meal for her in the first place. (See, that's why she's now a friend.)

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