Very simply, a vegetarian is one who eschews the consumption of meat or other animal foods. However, vegetarianism, which has been practiced since ancient times, is certainly not one-faceted. The wide-ranging custom of vegetarianism may be based on a variety of personal principles including religious (certain Hindu and Buddhist sects), ethical (cruelty to animals and more efficient use of world food resources), nutritional (the healthy benefits of reducing fat and cholesterol) and economic (nonmeat products are, on the average, less expensive). There are several types of vegetarians today. Vegans, who are the purists of the vegetarian world and who have the most limited diet, refuse to eat all animal-derivative foods including butter, cheese, eggs and milk. Ovo-lacto vegetarians consider such animal-related foods acceptable but, of course, do not eat meat. Then there are those vegetarians who will eat fish and/or poultry, but not other animal meat. Across the board, most vegetarians prefer their food organically grown and (if they eat fish and fowl) organically fed. Vegetarians get their protein from a variety of sources, such as foods from the large family of legumes. See also flexitarian; fruitarian.
From The Food Lover's Companion, Fourth edition by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. Copyright © 2007, 2001, 1995, 1990 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.