Vegetarian versus vegan


As we begin our journey toward a better and healthier plant-based lifestyle, we have a choice to make: Should we be vegetarian or vegan? And what’s the difference? A vegan is someone who follows a vegetarian diet—plants, fruits, seeds, nuts, grains, legumes—that excludes meat, eggs and dairy products. A vegetarian, on the other hand, eats eggs and dairy products but no meat. Of course, if you are either one of these, there are additional lifestyle ramifications and choices to make, such as what clothing you wear, but I want to concentrate on the food aspect of these two approaches.

In talking with vegetarians, besides hearing that they would “never give up their “cheese,” I have learned that some decided to eat healthier because of overwhelming proof that vegetarians live six to nine years longer than their meat-eating counterparts. This was shown by a long-term study started in 1958 called the Adventist Health Study, which included over 96,000 people. 

In addition, most vegetarians, regardless of the reason they changed their lifestyle, feel that lifestyle is animal-friendly because they are consuming just the byproducts provided by cows, goats or chickens. They feel they are not harming the animals in any way. As Jolinda Hackett states in her article, “Can vegetarians drink milk?,” “Milk comes from animals, usually from cows, but it is not the flesh of the animal, therefore it is not meat.”

Actually, the dairy industry is as harmful to animals as the meat industry is. You might ask, “Why? All I am doing is drinking milk or eating cheese. The animals are not being hurt.”

Here’s the scoop: In order for a dairy cow to produce enough milk to be profitable, the animal must be kept in a continual state of lactation, which means being pregnant all of the time.  Within a day or two of being born, a baby is taken away from its mother. Cows are known to mourn this forced separation for days afterwards, and the calf cries for its mother for hours.  Once it is taken away, the cow is immediately and forcefully impregnated, usually through artificial insemination. Walla! Pregnant and more milk.

Because of this method of forcing cows to produce copious amounts of milk, different hormones and foods are introduced into feed to produce even more milk. But even if no hormones are added to the feed (as for organic milk), bovine milk still contains twice the number of hormones that human milk does. Inflammation and acne are typical human physical reactions to these additional hormones, not to mention that most of the world is lactose intolerant. But I digress.

Because the cow is continually producing at its top efficiency, it will die younger. Instead of living naturally for 15 to 20 years, it will only be in production for about four or five years and at the end of this period will be sent to a feed lot to be made into hamburgers. 

During a cow’s peak output period, it will give birth to four or five babies. Assuming a 50/50 gender split, one of the females will replace its mother and the other three or four calves will be either immediately sent to a feed lot or raised for veal. Typically, male calves are raised for veal production and are placed in a small pen, about 3 feet by 6 six feet. These are the little white igloos you see on your way to the Point Reyes Lighthouse. 

The male calves are fed a low-iron milk substitute so they will become anemic and create light flesh. See the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals website for detailed information at 

So being a vegetarian is not without its effects on animals, your health and the environment. Following this lifestyle, even though one is not eating meat, causes the need for additional animals to be created and killed so cow milk can be diverted for human consumption rather than for the offspring.     

These are not easy facts to absorb, but they are essential in understanding how our food affects our health and our planet. I hope this information can help us all have a productive discussion and make informed decisions for ourselves and our community.   


Dave Osborn is a semi-retired contractor and moisture and mold consultant. He has lived in Point Reyes Station for 31 years.