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

Some sense vegan "holier-than-thou" attitude toward dairy-eating vegetarians.

ByABC News
May 17, 2007, 4:38 PM

May 18, 2007 — -- For centuries, people have been crowing about the benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle. While it's not for everyone, more and more folks want to reap the green goodness sown by means of a vegetable-dominated diet.

Traditionally, vegetarians have stood together as a group, but there is evidence of a growing rift among those who say "no" to meat. Why? It just may be that some noncarnivores think they are better than others.

"It is really a matter of great distress," says Dr. Stanley Sapon, professor emeritus of psycholinguistics at the University of Rochester.

Sapon, a long-time vegetarian crusader, is concerned about the effect of a division among the flock, which he says "would seriously diminish the power to effect social change that a single, large, unified organization can exert."

By definition, all vegetarians are not created equal.

Most dictionaries describe them in general as people who do not eat meat or fish but instead eat vegetables, fruits, grains, seeds and sometimes eggs and dairy products.

It's that last bit that sticks in the craw of many a hardcore noncarnivore. The problem is most people have very different ideas about the word and the lifestyle.

"I know people who eat fish and call themselves vegetarians," says Hyland Fisher, 33, an 11-year vegan and an apprentice architect from Nevada City, Calif. "I wouldn't consider them vegetarians."

While there are numerous variations, the meat-free family tree is made up of two main branches.

On one side is ovo-lacto vegetarians, who swear off the consumption of flesh but will readily partake of animal products such as eggs, milk, cheese and honey.

This is thought to be the most common type of vegetarian. A 2006 national poll conducted by Harris interactive bears that out. Of 1,000 adults surveyed, 2.3 percent counted themselves in the ovo-lacto category.

On the other side and in the minority are the vegans, those who claim to shy away from animal products of any kind. Just 1.4 percent of those asked in the Harris poll said they were vegans.