Vegetarian vs. Vegan? Some Sense 'Holier than Thou' Condescension

"Anyone who chooses not to eat meat should be applauded," says Fisher, known to friends as "the vegan." "But it's perplexing to me that someone who chooses a vegetarian lifestyle wouldn't go vegan."

Atkins believes "naming is counterproductive because it causes division." With celebrity news and eco-fashion as his beat and New York City as his home, Atkins meets all kinds of people. He says he "hasn't had any real problems with vegetarians, but there certainly is a gap."

Atkins, who gave up animal products eight years ago, says, "I would like it personally if everyone were vegans, but that's not very realistic."

It took just two months of being a vegetarian before he went vegan.

"I told myself, 'If I'm gonna do this, I'm gonna do it right,'" he says.

Sapon, a "vehement vegan" since 1975, thinks those butting heads over which way is best miss the point.

"It makes a difference whether vegetarianism is a diet or a philosophy," he says. "A diet is a list of the foods you choose. A philosophy is a set of coherent reasons for making those choices."

Sapon's mantra implores more humane dealings across the board.

"The ethics of vegan philosophy calls for a gentle, respectful, benevolent and compassionate treatment of all life forms -- human and animal," he says.

Basically, for Sapon and many other vegans, the act of trying to live "animal-free" is the important part; the degree to which one chooses to do so is a personal formality.

Atkins, another "vehement vegan" puts it this way: "Some people consider veganism giving something up," he says. "I don't see it that way; I just don't want to purchase or contribute to anything that hurts animals."

Staying Alive

People have to eat to live, and some argue virtually everything consumed by humans, including nonmeat eaters, can be tracked back to a dead animal. Vegetables, for example, must be farmed, according to the argument. Farms need land, and countless animals perish when that land is tilled and occupied. So is it really even possible to survive without causing harm to another living creature in some way?

Fisher says he's "not sure living without impacting animals is possible, but that would be my goal."

Johnson on the other hand, takes another tack.

"I try not to wear leather, for example, but I have leather shoes on right now," he says. "You try to do your best, but sometimes you just have to do what you have to do. Every once in a while, you come across a preachy vegan," he says, but he calls that the exception, not the rule.

Johnson's girlfriend is a meat-eater, but he says their different tastes don't get in the way.

"I make my evaluations based on what's right for me," he says.

As for those who dine on fish or poultry, Johnson agrees with Fisher. "That's cute and all," he says, "but someone who eats fish is not a vegetarian."

Matt Prescott, director of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals' factory farming and vegan campaigns, follows along with Sapon's thinking that "some cruelty is unavoidable; PETA's message is that when a harmless option is present, people should make the choice that does not support cruelty. And eating meat, eggs or dairy supports cruelty."

PETA, the world's largest vegan advocacy organization, uses its Web site,, as the main platform for its campaign. There, visitors can find advice on how to eliminate animal products from their lives.

Prescott, who has been "animal-free" for eight years and a vegetarian for 10, believes most vegans are supportive of ovo-lacto vegetarians, "but while supportive, we still urge everyone to do their best to stay away from all animal products."

And what do the meat-people say? While you might expect them to be licking their chops over the idea of dissent among flora-feeders, a spokeswoman for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association bit her tongue when asked to comment.

"The association has no point of view on how vegetarians perceive each other," she says.

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