Vegetarian, Vegan and Plant-Based diets are at the center of almost every food convo I’ve had lately. I have to tell you that the labels never did anything for me. Yes, I absolutely consider myself a plant-based advocate. But no, I don’t like that the labels cause stress and anxiety for so many.
My reality is that my clients are looking to incorporate more plants on their plate. They really want to better understand how to explore new fruits, vegetables and grains. For many, that means revisiting the foods of their childhood. For some, it means learning about new foods. But is it important to claim a food label? Do you need to shout “Vegetarian” at the top of your lungs to feel like you are on the right path?
What’s a Vegetarian?
So let’s dig into some definitions. A vegetarian lifestyle means that you are not eating meat. That includes meat from animals and seafood. No red meat, no turkey or chicken and no salmon. So here’s the tricky part. If you consider yourself a vegetarian but you indulge in fish and shellfish…guest what? The new label is pescatarian.
And if that wasn’t enough….vegetarians that eat dairy and eggs are called lacto-ovo vegetarians. There are also vegetarians who only consume dairy like milk and cheese but not eggs (lacto). Finally, you can be an ovo-vegetarian if you eat eggs but no milk or cheese.
Now do you see why I can’t deal with the labels? When I started the Black Girls Eat journey, my goal was to stop the aches and pains that were racing through my body. Inflammation is no fun and I was eager to find a solution. I did discover that I felt better without consuming meat. But I didn’t stop eating seafood. I couldn’t call myself a vegetarian and I didn’t want to commit to pescatarian. I was just a girl trying to make healthier food choices. No labels required.
A Vegan Diet is a Lifestyle
I have come to understand that being vegan is not even a diet. It’s a lifestyle. Unlike vegetarians, vegans do not consume anything that ever had a face or a parent. Yep. Their plate never includes any animal products. They also don’t consume animal by-products like milk, cheese, eggs and honey.
What takes it to the next level for this group is that they typically avoid clothing, shoes, purses and other items that are made from animals. As my daughter pointed out to me, they also are not down with using products that have been tested on animals. We are very much not down with that.
Choosing a vegan lifestyle is a choice that goes beyond food. I have seen how their efforts challenge food manufacturers, farmers and politicians to change policies and practices that ultimately, we will all benefit from.
Last But Not Least: The Plant-Based Diet
Just a few years ago, I was not paying attention to how much of the food on my plate was so heavily processed. So much of it was filled with sugar and and salt. Many items were filled with added ingredients that my body didn’t need. We know that fast food is heavily processed. That’s an obvious. But what I didn’t realize was that potato chips, cereal and ice cream were also on the list of heavily processed foods.
Once I decided to lean into a plant-based lifestyle, I started looking for foods that were whole. It was easier for me to slice the potato to make my own chips. I learned that if I baked my own cookies, I could avoid all of extra ingredients. And I started making Nice Cream too! Foods that come in boxes and packages are often the ones I have been avoiding. I do buy pasta and rice but not so much ready made mashed potatoes or soups. The sodium is to much for this body to handle.
A plant-based diet is mostly about whole foods that come from fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Yep. Mostly plants. There are times that a plant-based diet resembles that of an lacto-ovo vegetarian. That means although there is tremendous focus on putting more plants on their plate, they might indulge in eggs or dairy products.
So What Really Matters? Vegetarian? Vegan? Plant-Based?
Only you (and your physician) can determine which one is best for you. Vegetarian, Vegan or Plant-based is actually a very personal decision. Everyone has their own budget, health and lifestyle needs. Whatever you choose, make sure you are clear about giving your body all that it needs to help you live your best life!
LA Dunn is a plant-based advocate from the Bronx who is having fun cooking, coaching and consulting. Feel like going from plant-curious to plant-focused? Take the really easy 5 day class. Shop with LA on Amazon and don’t forget to subscribe to the Recipes & Random-ish newsletter.