Vegan vs Vegetarian vs Plant-Based

Here are the main differences between eating plant-based, vegetarian, and vegan.

Vegan vs Vegetarian vs Plant-Based
Photo by Claudio Schwarz / Unsplash


I've been heavily criticized since becoming vegan in 2017.

  • Vegans are clueless when it comes to food. Where's the meat?
  • If I gave them scrambled eggs and bacon, they would learn to eat like everybody else.
  • Vegans are just doing this diet to be annoying.
  • Vegans can't eat anything I cook for them. They are being inconvenient for everyone else.
  • You're vegan, so you eat rabbit food, right?

No matter your stance on veganism or what you eat, it is vital to understand the difference between plant-based, vegetarian, and vegan because these concepts are incredibly confusing when the definitions aren't consistent.

Loaded Sweet Potato Fries Bowl
Photo by Ella Olsson / Unsplash

Plant-Based Eating

Plant-based eating has a broad range of definitions depending on the brand and the person. Here are some terms on plant-based foods you should be aware of when accommodating vegetarians and vegans:

  • 50/50: I've seen some plant-based hamburgers in the health food sections labeled 50/50. For plant-based burgers, the burgers are half meat and half plant, like with the brand Both. For regular burgers, it's half beef and half bacon, aka 100% meat.
  • Lactose-free: This marketing term targets those with milk allergies and lactose intolerance. Double-check if there is milk in it before purchasing it. For example, Lactaid and Fairlife both contain milk.
  • Plant-based meats: This spectrum is partially to completely made with plants. Note that just because something has plant-based meat on the label does not mean the product is vegan. For instance, Del Monte's Veggieful frozen line includes pocket pies with plant-based meats, but they all contain dairy.
  • Nut alternatives: There are a decent amount of nut-based alternatives to dairy products, from cheese to milk. Be wary of the ingredient list before purchasing. For example, Lisanatti Foods sells vegetarian cheese made with almonds and rice, but none of the cheeses are vegan due to containing casein (milk protein).
  • 100% plant-based: The food is both vegetarian and vegan.
After two weeks of living on bourbon and donuts (okay, fine. Two and a half.) I decided it was time to kick myself into healthy gear. Pulled out favorite fresh veggies, drizzled with sesame oil, rice vinegar and a kiss coconut aminos. And reminded myself that fast food doesn’t have to come from a drive thru.
Photo by Brooke Lark / Unsplash

Vegetarian Diet

Going vegetarian means they stopped eating animals, but that definition is very flexible. Some vegetarians eat fish. Many eat no meat. A few may restrict eating parts of the animal besides meat, including regular refried beans (lard), brown sugar and cane sugar (gelatin), and some alcohol (some beer and wine).

At restaurants, vegetarian dishes only exclude meat. Vegetarians drink milk, shakes, and pop/soda and eat about any dish imaginable like everyone else except without meat. Most vegetarians are okay with wearing leather, fur, and wool, and no, this is not counterproductive. Instead, they focus on not eating animals. Veganism is way stricter than that.

Belgrade is full of vegan street art. Sometimes it’s a bit silly, like this one. I mean, I understand the point, but it’s not possible to make an omelette out of a baby chick.
Photo by Ivana Milakovic / Unsplash

Vegan Lifestyle

Veganism is more than not eating or drinking animal products (eggs) and by-products (gelatin). It is a way of living. Have you heard of PETA? PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) is the world's largest animal rights association and one of the most well-known and extreme groups. They protest bullfighting with explicit gore and nudity in Spain. PETA convinces celebrities to pose in porn  instead of wearing fur. PETA members even compare the poor animal treatment to concentration camps. However, PETA is hypocritical due to euthanizing animals, and this link has PETA's logic on why they believe euthanizing animals is justifiable.

Most vegans do not run naked to protest animal rights, are unaware of the Humane Party, and never rant at people for eating animals. Instead, they look like anyone else on the street. Similar to being vegetarian, the definition of a vegan is not stagnant; rather, there are more debates in the vegan community than the vegetarian one. Some are okay with consuming honey. Others are against wearing cotton due to human exploitation. A few have designated times of the week or year that they eat animal products like everyone else. Some vegans only perform a vegan diet, as well as non-vegans who eat meat but protest animal testing.

The lifestyle aspect of veganism is strict vegans do not wear wool or leather. They never use regular crayons and candles. They are some of the biggest produce and bulk food aisles users. With new processed food brands and items, vegans read the food labels like people with allergies do. They may have vegan apps, guides, lists, etc. like I do to double-check if some weird-sounding ingredients are vegan.