What Is A Vegetarian? Confusion Abounds!

I am always confused when someone tells me they are a Vegetarian as that has come to mean so many different things. Among the definitions I have been given are -

1. Doesn't eat Beef or Pork, but eats fish and chicken
2. Doesn't eat Beef, Pork or Chicken, but eats fish.
3. Doesn't eat cute animals
4. Doesn't eat anything with a face
5. Doesn't eat any animal or animal by-products.

This list goes on ad nauseum and is one of the reasons my eyebrows usually go up. I wonder what they truly mean by it. Often they go on to order dishes that I had never considered vegetarian and their reasoning for it alludes me. And I have begun to wonder where insects fit in all of this as they are a food source in many parts of the world. Strict vegetarians seem to say no, but would prefer others use this source of protein to animals who suffer greatly under current market practices.

Indian Cuisine offers a fabulous selection of
Vegetarian options.
As a very young girl, it was a shock one day to realize where meat actually came from. We were pretty poor - my dad a minister at a church in the small town of Mitchell, South Dakota - and one parishioner gave us 3 live chickens. My dad had to kill them and my mum cleaned them on the old porcelain washboard attached to the sink. We don't see those anymore. Another time someone gave us rabbit. Not thinking my mum told me it was in the fridge and I went running expecting to see a live rabbit living in our kitchen. Nope - just a plate of meat.

For years this troubled me. Somewhere in my twenties, I reached a point I didn't want to cook or deal with meat anymore, so away it all went. It wasn't limited to one animal type as this wasn't about diet or cow flatulence and global warming. I just didn't want to kill things to eat. With occasional exceptions when in a social setting where I didn't want to cause waves, I followed this course for 7-8 years. The change came with marriage.

I grew up in such a strict environment where I was told what to feel, how to think and that there was only one right way. My husband had no leanings towards being a vegetarian. He would happily eat the occasional vegetarian meal, but not every day. I also felt my three kids had a right to listen to their heart and decide for themselves how they felt about it all. So I changed courses and offered a wide variety of meals with and without meat.

Often when dining out I order a vegetarian meal if there is something truly inspired on the menu. The reaction is always the same from my co-diners and surprised me - "Are you a vegetarian?"  Not really, not any more. Having meat in the dish isn't really a requirement for me, so not a necessary element to a great meal. It always surprises me that anyone would consider it odd to enjoy a meal without meat for no reason other than it looks wonderful.

To help with those who stumble over how to label their eating choices, here are some general definitions to use as guidelines. Only the someone in the first section is actually considered a Vegetarian -

Vegetarian - Someone who lives on a diet of grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruits with, or without, the use of dairy products and eggs. A vegetarian does not eat any meat, poultry, game, fish, shellfish or by-products of slaughter. There are 3 subcategories -
  • Lacto-ovo-vegetarians eat both dairy products and eggs; this is the most common type of vegetarian diet.
  • Lacto-vegetarians eat dairy products but avoid eggs.
  • Vegans do not eat dairy products, eggs, or any other products which are derived from animals.
Pescetarian - A person who eats fish, but doesn't eat beef, chicken, pork or any other kind of meat - only fish and seafood.

Pollo-Pescetarian (sometimes wrongly referred to as Pollo Vegetarian or Pesco Vegetarian) - Someone who eats chicken and fish, but not beef, pork or meat by-products. These are not Vegetarian diets, so the use of that term in the name is truly misleading). Stick with Pollo-Pescetarian.

Flexitarian - Vegetarians who aren’t that strict and meat eaters who are striving for a more health conscious, planet-friendly diet”. This type of diet provides more flexibility and a general emphasis on healthy eating and living. It also enables people the option to use locally sourced foods which may include fish, meat or poultry.

I hope that clears up some confusion for everyone as to what a Vegetarian diet actually is.  Here's to clarity!