Cabbage Vegetarian
There is no reasonable question that one can live and be healthy on a vegetarian diet. A major part of the worlds population has lived as vegetarians for generations, either by choice or because they couldn't afford to do otherwise. Despite what some idealists claim, though, vegetarianism is a recent post-agricultural development - our more distant ancestors ate any animal, grub or worm they could get hold of.   Photo ©i0120 .


Classes and Types of Vegetarians

There are two broad classes of vegetarians:

  • Ethical Vegetarians:   These are people who feel, or who's religion teaches, that killing animals is cruel and wrong. Some sects go a mile farther and forbid any exploitation or even inconveniencing of animals, for any purpose whatever. Many of the more extreme ethical vegetarians do not extend these courtesies to people, even though people are animals too.

  • Health / Aesthetic Vegetarians:   These are people who are vegetarians for reasons other than ethics.

Now lets cut this a different way into types:

  • Strict Vegetarians:   These are folks who don't eat any animal derived foods. The strictist of the strict are the vegans who consider use of any animal products whatever, for any purpose, highly unethical. See our separate Vegan Diet page for more on that.

  • Fruitarians:   These are another variety of very strict vegetarians, with a number of subclasses depending on exact diet. The most extreme will only eat fruit that has fallen, or would soon fall, from the plant. Others use the botanical definition of "fruit" and eat beans, peas and the like. Most do not eat grains. Frutarians may or may not be "ethical vegetarians".

  • Lacto Vegetarians most exemplified by the Jains of India. To the Jains even no-see-ems are "five sensed life" and not to be harmed in any way. In times past Jains wore face masks to prevent injuring tiny insects. Eggs, even sterile eggs, are regarded as forbidden life forms, but milk products are permitted. This leaves a huge hole in their philosophy (see next section) which perhaps could be avoided in the India of times long past, but not now.

  • Ovo-Lacto Vegetarians feel it is acceptable to eat eggs and milk products because the animals producing them are not killed or injured (they may be inconvenienced - but so are the rest of us). It is not possible to be both an "Ethical Vegetarian" and an "Ovo-Lacto Vegetarian". Anyone who doesn't understand why should read our Veal - Controversy page.

  • False Vegetarians eat fish, sometimes describing fish as "fruits of the sea". Fish are not fruits or vegetables. We, and all other higher animals are descended from fish. All of our characteristics are exaggerations and adaptations of characteristics we inherited from our fishy ancestors. We are of the same flesh, and no-one who eats fish has the right to claim the title "vegetarian". Episcatarian, perhaps?
Health Considerations

Information in this article is based on many publicly available sources. Please refer to our Medical Disclaimer

Today the vegetarian diet and protein requirements are much better understood and a whole lot less scary than when I started my vegetarian phase, but even back then I had no health problems from it. Of course I wasn't a vegan, and I solved the social problems by simply adhering to Thai Buddhist conventions, allowing me to eat whatever I was served (provided it wasn't prepared specifically for me) outside of home. Records show that people who opt for a vegetarian diet hold to it an average of about 8 years - I probably did a little less than that.

Here in California there are now so many ovo-lacto vegetarians people are used to them and the social problems are much reduced from what they once were. Of course, vegans are still considered pretty unsufferable by most folks.

Protein:   When I started my vegetarian phase the protein thing was scary. It looked very difficult to assure the U.S. recommended minimum. Turned out this "minimum" was so high it was dangerous (encouraged by the meat and dairy industries) and was soon reduced. It's probably still well above any real minimum.

The only real protein deficiency problem normal vegetarians face is with a severely unbalanced protein supply. Vegetable sources are incomplete (soy is one of the most complete but it apparently has other serious problems). Fortunately beans and grains nicely complement each other's deficiencies.

Earlier books on vegetarian nutrition say you had to balance your protein at each meal, but current thinking is that you have at least 24 hours and probably a lot longer to balance out. The "protein combining" theory was popularized by the first edition of Frances Moore Lappé's book Diet for a Small Planet, but has never been supported by properly interpreted data, and was withdrawn from later editions.

Vegans:   Of all the classes and types of vegetarians who are actually getting enough food, only strict vegetarians and vegans (and the frutarian subset) face serious deficiency problems, particularlly with vitamin B12. For details read our Vegan Diet page.

Fruitarians:   Persons on this extreme version of the vegan diet are just as at risk from vitamin B12 deficiency as regular Vegans. The fruitarian diet is considered quite risky for teens, and has proven it can be deadly for infants. Some adults seem to get along OK though.

Unfortunately long term risk data is very sparce. One notable occurance was Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who spent a lot of time on a fruitarian diet. It is known that the fruitarian diet can seriously disrupt pancreatic function, which can put people in the hospital. This happened to Ashton Kutcher, who used the diet while preparing to play Steve Jobs in the film jOBS. It is suspected, but not yet proven, that this stress can result in a particular variety of pancreatic cancer, the kind that Steve Jobs died of.

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