Vegan vs. Vegetarian

  Soulwriter  —  Grammar Tips

Vegan vs. Vegetarian

Both “vegan” and “vegetarian” refer to a diet that consists of products that are not derived from animals. The best clue to remember this is the beginning of the words, which both start with “veg-”, just like ‘vegetables'. The diets focus on consuming plant-based food such as vegetables, fruits, beans or legumes, rather than meat, fish, eggs or milk.

The specific difference between these two diets, however, is the specific produce that are/are not allowed in each. Because while one only forbids animal meat, and allows eggs and dairy consumption (milk, butter, cheese), the other one forbids any kind of food that comes from animals. So, which one is which? Let’s get deeper into the matter in the following paragraphs.

When do we use “vegan”?

Before the word “vegan” started to be used, the phrase “non-dairy vegetarian” was often used in its place. So that’s the best trick to remember that “vegan” is the word used for diets where neither meat or fish, nor dairy (eggs, cheese, milk, butter) are consumed. A vegan refrains from eating meat, as well as anything produced by, or derived from, an animal.

Furthermore, “vegan” can be used both as a noun and as an adjective. As a noun, it refers to the person who follows a diet consisting of foods that are not meat, fish or dairy, whereas as an adjective it describes the diet where meat, fish or dairy aren’t consumed.

Example 1: I’ve been a vegan for the last two years, and you can still eat plenty of delicious and nutritious food even without dairy, fish or meat! – “vegan” is a noun defining someone who doesn’t eat meat, fish or dairy.

Example 2: Do they have vegan meals on the menu? I am lactose-intolerant. – as an adjective, “vegan” describes a food that does not contain meat, fish or dairy.

When do we use “vegetarian”?

Unlike “vegan”, “vegetarian” is a lot easier to explain due to its etymology. In fact, this word becomes self-explanatory once you understand its origin. “Vegetarian” was formed from the words “vegetable” (“veget-“) and “agrarian” (“-arian”), which means that a diet that is “vegetarian” consists of vegetables and products from the agrarian (ie agricultural) society (mostly grains).

Just like the word “vegan”, “vegetarian” has meaning and application as both a noun and as an adjective. The noun defines someone who doesn’t consume meat or fish (but is allowed to consume dairy), whereas the adjective describes a diet consisting of vegetables, cereals and dairy, but not meat or fish.

Example 1: I can definitely eat cheese; I am a vegetarian, not a vegan! – when it’s used as a noun, “vegetarian” defines a person who doesn’t consume meat or fish, but may consume dairy.

Example 2: Please find a vegetarian restaurant, because none of my friends are going to order meat. – as an adjective, “vegetarian” describes something not containing, using or consuming fish or meat.


Now that you know the difference between the two words, you can remember which is which by noting the way the word vegetarian is derived from 2 words meaning vegetables and grains. Vegan goes one step further to include animal derivations in its restrictions.