"You are what you eat", goes a famous saying. And if that
is truly the case, then a lot of Americans would appear to
be unhealthy, chemically treated, commercially raised slabs
of animal flesh. And while that is not a particularly pleasant
thought, it is nonetheless an description of the typical
American omnivore who survives on the consumption of
Big Macs and steak fajitas. But there are individuals who
do not follow this American norm and have altered their
diets so that they do not consume any meat. These people
are vegetarians and they are the new breed of healthy
Americans who refuse to poison themselves with fats,
cholesterol, and the other harmful additives that come from
meat. And while once thought to be a movement that
would never gain much momentum, it has nonetheless
moved itself to the forefront of Americans’ healthy diets.

The word vegetarian, used to describe the diets of people
who do not consume animal flesh, was not used until
around the mid-1800s. The concept of vegetarianism,
however, dates back much further. The Greek philosopher
Pythagoras, considered by many to be the father of
vegetarianism, encouraged a non-meat diet among his
followers as a diet that was the most natural and healthful.

A vegetarian diet excludes the consumption of meat and
can be exercised by people for a number of reasons. The
largest majority of individuals choosing vegetarianism
related to heath reasons. For example, someone with an
ulcer might be prescribed a strict diet of vegetables in order
to promote the healing process, or someone with a
dangerously high level of cholesterol might be advised to
follow a vegetarian diet to lower his or her fat and
cholesterol intake.

The immorality of consuming animal flesh is another
argument touted by a smaller group of vegetarians. This
moral argument for vegetarianism and the effect of what
meat eating might have on the character of humans; some
people have come to believe and fear that in the suffering
and killing which occurs in commercial farming, we demean
ourselves, coarsen our sensitivities and dull our feelings of
sympathy with our fellow creatures. Almost to a point
where it becomes easier for us to contemplate and carry
out the torture and killing of human beings.

Whatever the reasons behind a person’s choice to be a
vegetarian, it is important to understand the different diets
that individual vegetarians can choose. In the widest sense
of the word, a vegetarian diet is a diet that is made up of
grains, vegetables and fruit, but does not include any animal
meat, such as fish, pork, poultry, or beef. Beyond these
standards, there are many variations of diets that occur
within the world of vegetarianism. The first, and most
common category of vegetarianism is a lacto-ovo
vegetarian. This a person who includes dairy products and
eggs but no animal meat. This means that there is
consumption of animal byproducts, such as milk, eggs, and

Another variation is the lacto-vegetarian diet that allows the
consumption of milk and other milk products, but does not
include the consumption of eggs. Like all vegetarians, these
two groups do not consume fish, poultry, or meat.

The third category that vegetarians can fall into are vegans.
The vegan diet is by far the most strict of all the vegetarian
diets. Vegans shun all animal products. Foods that involve
animal processing to any degree are often avoided. This
means that vegans can consume no foods containing any
animal byproducts, such as milk, eggs, or cheese. Being a
vegan often dictates an "animal friendly" lifestyle that, aside
from not eating anything that came from an animal, also
abstains from buying or using products that were tested on
animals or are made from animal hairs or skin, such as
leather shoes or belts.

A common misconception of vegetarians is that they are all
a bunch of skinny, malnourished idealists who live on plants
and soy milk. Another common misconception is that a diet
of protein is a diet that builds strength and muscle.
Professor Irving Fisher of Yale designed a series of tests in
which he compared the strength and stamina of meat-eaters
against vegetarians, with three groups of individuals
represented: meat-eating athletes, vegetarian athletes, and
sedentary vegetarians. His studies showed that the average
score of the two vegetarian groups was over double the
average score of the carnivores, even though half of the
vegetarians were sedentary people and all of the carnivores
were athletes. Fisher concluded that, "....the difference in
endurance between the flesh-eaters and the abstainers (was
due) entirely to the difference in their diet...There is strong
evidence that a ... non-flesh ... diet is conducive to

A comparable study was done in 1968 by a Danish group
of researchers that