What's the Difference Between Vegan and Vegetarian?

Is one more sustainable than the other?

Organic curry, alternative soy meat burger, tofu salad on a wooden table.

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If you are new to learning about veganism and vegetarianism, you may be curious (or confused) about the difference between the two. Vegetarians refrain from eating meat, including fish and poultry, while vegans refrain from eating any animal byproducts, including eggs, dairy, and honey

But there’s a vegan philosophy that extends beyond the diet. Vegans also avoid purchasing products that were made using animals, such as some clothing, furniture, shoes, and accessories.

Does this mean that veganism is better for the planet than vegetarianism? Here, we explore the details of and differences between veganism and vegetarianism. 


Veganism is a lifestyle based on eliminating the consumption, purchase, and usage of animals. People who follow a vegan diet, however, may not exclusively use or buy vegan products.

Veganism is based on animal rights, which assert that animals have worth and purpose outside of human utility. In other words, animals do not exist for us but among us, and therefore we should not exploit them.

These beliefs extend beyond food. Vegans also avoid silk, wool, leather, and suede in their clothing. Vegans also boycott companies that test products on animals and do not buy cosmetics or personal care products that contain lanolin, carmine, honey, or other animal products. Zoos, rodeos, greyhound and horse racing, and circuses with animals are also out, because of the oppression of the animals.

Non-Vegan Foods

Those who follow a strict vegan diet refrain from consuming the following foods:

  • Meat (red meats, poultry, fish, fowl, and anything else that falls under the category of meat)
  • Eggs
  • Honey
  • Dairy (milk, butter, cream, yogurt)
  • Any product that might include this list's foods as ingredients

People who follow a vegan diet might replace their animal-based protein sources with seitan, tofu, and other vegetable-based foods with a "meaty" texture.


Vegetarianism typically only refers to a diet that excludes the consumption of meat. This includes red meat, poultry, fish, fowl, and any other types of meat. There are various other labels that may fall under the umbrella of vegetarian—many of which bend the rules, so to speak, regarding what not to eat:

  • Lacto-vegetarians: This group avoids all types of meat and eggs but still consumes dairy products, such as milk, butter, cheese, and yogurt. 
  • Ovo-vegetarians: This group avoids all types of meat and dairy products but still consumes eggs.
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarians: The most common type of vegetarian who avoids all types of meat but still consumes dairy products and eggs. 

Related, pescatarians abstain from eating meat but allow for some fish in their diets, while pollotarians consume poultry and fowl but not red meat or fish. Flexitarian is another category that is less restrictive; flexitarians may eat meat on occasion but generally aim to limit their animal product consumption and mostly eat plant-based foods.   

Which Is More Eco-Friendly?

The answer is probably veganism. There is a strong argument that eating predominantly plant-based foods is the most effective diet choice to reduce your carbon footprint. However, there are several factors—such as medical reasons, lack of resources, and cultural barriers—that prevent the whole world from turning vegan overnight. 

What is more feasible for most people is a flexitarian approach—easing your way into a more plant-based diet that does not contribute to animal exploitation.