Vegetarianism versus veganism

Sunday, October 11, 2020 Stef dela Cruz, MD 0 Comments

Versus. It's the term I chose for the title of this blog post. Not “and”, which would portray vegetarianism as having a token relationship with veganism. Not “instead of”, which would imply that vegetarianism was an alternative for veganism.

Versus. A word that implies antagonism.

It was a deliberate word choice for me. I believe that vegetarianism, while it might have good intentions, is a rival of veganism. And while vegetarianism might have been one way for people to get to know veganism, I believe these people would have been better off knowing veganism from the very beginning. I believe that vegetarianism being an obstacle to veganism is why many vegans who were initially vegetarians spent years being vegetarians instead of immediately becoming vegan.

If you're vegetarian, perhaps you'll feel attacked. I want to assure you that's not the intention of this post. The intention is to shed light on how vegetarianism is, in its very essence, not a stepping stone towards veganism. It is not an ally of veganism.

dairy is scary

Vegetarianism is an enemy of veganism, and you should be pissed about that if you truly care about animals, instead of being pissed at me.


Technically speaking, in terms of nutrition-related definitions, vegan diets are a type of vegetarian diet. Vegan diets are referred to as “strict” vegetarian diets.

Not all vegetarian diets are vegan. Pescatarian diets, for instance, include fishes. Lacto-ovo vegetarian diets include dairy and fish.

However, veganism is not a diet.

Confusing, isn't it?

Let me clarify. Veganism is a philosophy that seeks to exclude animal use (and you can read more about that in this post about Meatless Mondays). It's a social justice movement based on the ethical implications of treating animals as objects.

It is not a diet.

However, food is something we consume regularly each day. It is also because of the food we eat that billions of animals are bred into existence, forced to live tortured lives, and eventually killed for our gustatory preferences.

Understandably, therefore, food becomes a very prominent topic when veganism is mentioned.

In a nutshell: While being a vegan does mean following a vegan diet, veganism itself is not a diet, in the same way being a Muslim might mean following a certain diet, but being a Muslim itself is not a diet.

And that right there is the first main difference between vegetarianism and veganism. Veganism, since it is an ethical philosophy, goes beyond food. It involves daily choices – the clothes we buy, the makeup we wear, the toiletries we use. This is why there's vegan makeup, vegan leather, vegan footwear.

Vegetarianism, on the other hand, is purely a dietary choice. There is no such thing as a “vegetarian lipstick” or a “vegetarian shoe” or a “vegetarian jacket”.

But that's not where the difference between vegetarianism and veganism ends.

“Stepping stone”

Many would like to believe that being vegetarian is a great way to start on a journey towards veganism. Removing some animals from one's plate is better than eating all animals, right?


Vegetarians aren't doing animals a favor. Imagine telling a woman that while you used to think of all women as inferior to men, you now think only 5 out of 10 women are inferior to men. Do you think the woman you're talking to should feel grateful?

vegetarian versus vegan

Animals shouldn't be grateful that vegetarians are now somehow choosing which animals should die, because that's not a favor to them. It is merely someone's way of feeling better about still treating animals as objects, about still thinking that it's okay for animals to be murdered.

And while vegetarians eventually realize that their chosen lifestyle still contributes to the murder of animals – an epiphany that turns them vegan – vegetarianism is not a stepping stone to veganism, because vegetarianism is speciesist.

Speciesism, as a prejudice against animals in the same way racism is a prejudice against skin color, is the biggest obstacle to veganism.

Supporting the most cruel animal industries

Vegetarians are often lulled into believing that by keeping some animals off their plates, they are doing less harm. But even if they no longer consume some forms of animal flesh, this assumption is not even true.

Vegetarians tend to consume more dairy than people who consume animal flesh, and the dairy industry is one of the most cruel in animal agriculture.

For us to consume dairy, the industry has to masturbate a male cow, rape a female cow, get her to carry pregnancy for nine months to term (just like a female human does), get her to deliver a baby she naturally has a bond with (just like a human mom would), and steal her baby away – usually within a day – so that the milk meant for her baby can be used by humans.

vegetarianism and cows

Imagine the grief of this mother cow whose child is suddenly taken from her without explanation. She will cry out for her baby for days, perhaps weeks. Anyone close to a dairy farm who hears her screams – and that of many other mother cows whose babies are unceremoniously taken from them – will think something horrible is happening.

And they would be right.

Vegetarianism: Anti-female

If you think being born female in a patriarchal society is such a pain in the ass, imagine being born a female cow.

You can tell by now that for vegetarianism to exist, anti-feminist sentiments have to be tolerated. Female cows have to be objectified. Their being mothers has to be exploited.

Sadly, the suffering of a female cow doesn't end with one opportunity to be a mother cut short. Soon enough, she stops producing milk, so she's raped once again, impregnated, and the whole process repeats itself.

She will grieve not one, but many children stolen from her. And once she's spent, once she is no longer profitable to the dairy industry, she meets the same fate as other cows like her: a gruesome death.

Vegetarianism: Anti-male

Being vegetarian doesn't just step on the toes of feminists. It also needs to treat males like they're worth nothing.

Vegetarian diets that include eggs promote the idea that a young male chicken does not deserve to live. After all, male chickens can't lay eggs. So, once an egg hatches and a male chick is born, he is killed in one of different ways. He may be ground to bits while still breathing, or simply rounded up with his comrades in a plastic bag and suffocated.

Vegetarianism kills animals

No matter the intentions, no matter the desire to do less harm, vegetarians still contribute to harm. And when lives are at stake, the least we should expect is zero harm.

Not less harm. Zero harm.

We cannot give vegetarianism a jacket with matching five thousand pesos just because it's trying to tell a compelling sob story. Anyone who wants to truly help animals has to consider veganism the one true goal.

Not vegetarianism.

A threat to animals

If anything, vegetarianism is a legitimate threat to veganism. For as long as vegetarianism is considered a “stepping stone”, it has the potential to become a “permanent pitstop”.

Someone who feels they are already doing good by being vegetarian won't be motivated to go vegan. They'll stay vegetarian for a long time, quite possibly unaware that both females and males in the animal kingdom are being violated and killed. They might even think it's unnecessary to go vegan, even if veganism is supposed to be the moral baseline.

Being vegetarian becomes a dangerous comfort zone. It becomes a false choice for people who would have otherwise gone vegan already.

Moving forward

If you were considering being a vegetarian as a baby step towards veganism before you read this article, I hope you've changed your mind by now. But we can't stop with just the things I tell you.

You have to do some thinking yourself.

So, here's a question I'd like you to think about when you're otherwise free:

Is there such a thing as “ethical vegetarianism”? How so?

Before you formulate an answer, remember that all these years, you have been led to believe it's okay to have animals killed for you, in the same way Americans at one point in history were led to believe it was okay to enslave people with dark skin.

Animal use is still considered normal in our society, but history shows us that what many of us consider normal isn't always ethical. So, consider the fact that you have a big bias for the consumption of animals who suffer and want to be free before you answer the question. Try to remove that bias by using your sense of justice – by using your inherent desire to do no harm to any animal – before you think of an adequate answer.

30-Day veganism guide for Filipinos

And in case you aren't aware, this article is part of a series of 30 daily posts meant to be an online guide for Filipinos who want to go vegan. I'm still in the process of publishing all 30 posts as of this writing, so right now, there are only five posts before this one – starting with this – all of which I think you should check out.

Feel free to write down your thoughts privately. Or, if you wish, share them on social media with a photo of vegetarian things in your refrigerator which you feel you will no longer consume, with the hashtag #GustoKoMagingVegan.

the future is vegan

You might also want to read this extensive list of vegan items to buy for your kitchen. In the post, you'll also see Filipino vegan food trends, which will make you realize that you won't be missing out on anything once you go vegan!

That's all for Day 6 of this 30-day veganism guide for people living in the Philippines. Check back soon for the next post where we try to answer this question: Is it okay to keep wearing leather shoes which you purchased before going vegan?

Stef dela CruzAbout the blogger
Stef dela Cruz is a vegan doctor and writer. She received the 2013 Award for Health Media from the Department of Health. She is the editor of The Manila Bulletin's Animal Scene Magazine. Get in touch if you want to invite her as a speaker!