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10 Surprising Facts About Vegetarians

by Oliver Taylor
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Most people define vegetarians as people who do not eat meat even though this is not necessarily true. Some of them do consume meat, and even the most hard-core vegetarian might not hesitate to eat meat when he is drunk.

But that is not the only surprising fact that we have about vegetarians. For example, most return to eating meat sooner than you might expect, some have an unusual fetish, and a war is brewing among them.

10 It Used To Be Called ‘Pythagorean’

Photo credit: Wikimedia

“Vegetarian” is actually a new word. It was only formed in the 19th century. Before then, people used “Pythagorean” to refer to a meatless diet. And yes, it was named after Pythagoras, the same Greek mathematician and astronomer for whom the Pythagorean theorem is named.

Pythagoras did not go meatless for health or ethical reasons. Instead, it was due to his belief that dead humans were reincarnated as animals. He thought that slaughtering and eating an animal was akin to doing so to a man. And who knows? That animal could be a dead relative.

Pythagoras’s belief in reincarnation becomes weirder when we realize that he was a really practical person. This was the same man who discovered that the Moon reflected light from the Sun and that the Earth was round. However, he was so convinced about his reincarnation theory that he once stopped beating a dog because he thought its yelps resembled those of a friend.[1]

Pythagoras only ate bread, honey, and vegetables. Many of his followers also dumped meat and adopted his diet. Pythagoras tried introducing his diet to the Greeks. But he was unsuccessful because meat consumption was greatly intertwined with their culture. As Greeks were often critical of people who adopted a Pythagorean diet, his followers tried to hide their diet from the public.

9 84 Percent Return To Eating Meat Within A Year

A study by the US Humane Research Council revealed that 84 percent of modern-day vegetarians gave up their new diet less than a year after they started. The participants included 11,000 vegetarians, former vegetarians, and nonvegetarians in the United States.

According to the study, 88 percent of Americans above age 17 have never gone vegetarian, 10 percent used to be vegetarians, and 2 percent are vegetarians. However, only one in five vegetarians stays that way. The rest return to eating meat. Of that figure, one-third dumped the vegetarian diet after three months while the rest got rid of it in less than a year.

One-third of vegetarians said they started eating meat after they got into a relationship with someone who ate meat. Others went back to meat due to health, financial, or social reasons. However, all former vegetarians ate less meat than they did before they became vegetarians.[2]

8 There Are Different Types Of Vegetarians, And Some Do Eat Meat

“Vegetarian” is a catchall word for different kinds of people who claim to adopt a plant-based diet devoid of animal flesh. We say “claim” because not all vegetarians stay away from meat, although all eat a plant-based diet.

We will start with vegans. They are the ones we imagine when we think of vegetarianism, even though they are in the minority. Veganism is the strictest form of vegetarianism. They do not eat animal flesh like meat and fish. They do not use animal by-products like honey, milk, and eggs, either. They also avoid using products like silk, leather, and wool that are made from animals.

Lacto-vegetarians are almost like vegans except that they eat dairy products such as cheese and milk. Ovo-vegetarians are similar to vegans but will eat eggs and other egg products. Lacto-ovo vegetarians are a hybrid of the two. They eat dairy products and eggs. Most vegetarians fall under this category. They do not necessarily avoid using products made from animals.

There is also the pollotarian who only eats poultry, the pescatarian (aka pescetarian) who only eats fish and seafood, and the flexitarian who occasionally eats meat. Some do not consider the flexitarian as a mainstream vegetarian because the basic idea is to stop eating meat.[3]

7 Some Vegetarians Only Eat Kangaroo Meat

A new group of vegetarians has popped up in Australia. They are kangatarians, vegetarians who only eat kangaroo meat. Kangatarians usually stop eating meat for ethical reasons. Ethical vegetarians do not like the way that animals are reared and slaughtered on farms.[4]

However, Australia has an abundance of wild kangaroos. As they are not reared on farms, these vegetarians have no qualms about eating them. Kangatarians further justify their consumption of kangaroo meat by claiming that kangaroos are greener for the environment since they do not produce as much ozone-destroying methane as cattle and sheep that are raised on farms.

6 People Generally Become Vegetarians For One Of Two Reasons

People generally become vegetarians for either ethical or health reasons. There is no agreed-upon meaning for what qualifies as ethical vegetarianism. But let us put it this way: Ethical vegetarians do not care whether eating meat will be beneficial or harmful to them. They believe that animals should not be used for food because they are not in this world to satisfy our needs.

As we mentioned earlier, veganism is the strictest form of vegetarianism. Ethical vegetarians often end up becoming vegans. This is why they refuse to use nonfood items made from animals. They believe that animals have the same rights as humans and killing animals for food or their products is a form of discrimination.

Health vegetarians are people who become vegetarians for health reasons. Most of the time, they are only interested in losing weight or lowering their cholesterol. This is why they will often eat certain animal products, including meat, and usually have no qualms about using nonfood items made from animals.

To put ethical and health vegetarianism into better perspective, we will define them this way. Health vegetarians are the ones who benefit when they decide to stop eating meat, while the animals are the ones that benefit when ethical vegetarians decide to stop eating meat.[5]

5 Vegetarians Suffer From Vitamin B12 Deficiency

Vegetarians can receive all the vitamins and minerals they need from a plant-based diet except vitamin B12, which is available in meat, fish, eggs, and dairy. Vegetarians could get this vitamin from vitamin-enriched cereals and supplements, but it is not usually enough. Vitamin B12 deficiency can trigger the excessive production of homocysteine, leading to depression, fatigue, weakness, nausea, constipation, anemia, heart disease, and stroke.

The people at most risk are vegans who do not consume any kind of meat or animal product. However, even regular vegetarians and nonvegetarians are at risk of developing vitamin B12 deficiency. A study revealed that 92 percent of vegans and 67 percent of lacto-ovo vegetarians suffer from B12 deficiency.[6]

4 A Third Eat Meat When Drunk

It seems like many vegetarians have no qualms about consuming meat when drunk. According to a study, one-third will eat meat when drunk. And it is not a one-off incident because they keep eating meat every time they get drunk.[7]

The meat of choice is usually kebab and beef burgers, although they have also confessed to eating chicken, pork sausage, and bacon. However, 69 percent never told anyone they ate meat and just keep it as their personal secret.

3 Fruitarianism Is A Radical Form Of Vegetarianism

Fruitarianism is another form of vegetarianism—and a deadly one at that. Fruitarians only eat fruits and maybe nuts and seeds. They do not eat anything else. Their diets consist of 50–75 percent fruits. The rest is seeds and nuts.

Steve Jobs was known to have adopted a fruit diet before his death. In 2013, actor Ashton Kutcher went on a similar diet to prepare for his role as the Apple Computer founder in the film Jobs. Kutcher ended up with stomach pains that left him hospitalized two days before he was supposed to start shooting. The stomach pains were caused by his pancreas. Jobs himself had died of pancreatic cancer.

Fruitarianism is deadly because fruits do not have all the nutrients we need for survival. Regular vegetarians, including vegans, have a large diet to choose from (except whatever could provide them with vitamin B12). But fruit-based vegetarians have a limited pool of fruits to consume. This occurs even though they eat tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers—which are technically fruits, although we classify them as vegetables.

The fruit-based diet is also unhealthy and too unbalanced. Fruits lack calcium, protein, and iron. The result is evident in followers who usually have weaker bones that are prone to breaking.

They also have weaker immune systems, making them susceptible to diseases. Besides, people who go on a fruit diet are likelier to become fatter the moment they abandon fruitarianism. So it is not a viable weight loss option, either.[8]

2 Why Vegetarians And Nonvegetarians Don’t Get Along

They clash because nonvegetarians consider vegetarians, especially vegans, to be moralists. Vegans are often critical of meat eaters and even fellow vegetarians. This is obvious in their aggressive anti-meat campaigns where they will often pass subtle controversial messages to nonvegetarians and even fellow vegetarians.

Although vegetarians do not realize it, these aggressive campaigns, intimidation, and moralist behavior actually discourage prospective vegetarians. For instance, animal rights group PETA once claimed in an advertisement that “feeding kids meat is child abuse.”

Vegans are also known to intimidate meat eaters. They have poured fake blood on the displays of butchers and once left negative comments directed at a dead meat-eating chef.[9]

Vegans also use graphic images of suffering animals to discourage nonvegetarians and even fellow vegetarians from eating meat. The images are usually counterproductive, especially among people who could consider going vegan. They are usually so moved by the pictures that they will avoid such images—and the accompanying negative information—in the future.

1 Vegans Hate Vegetarians More Than Nonvegetarians

We have already mentioned that vegetarians and nonvegetarians do not usually get along. However, vegetarians are not friendly among themselves, either. As we discussed earlier, “vegetarianism” is a catchall term for different kinds of people. Veganism is the strictest form of vegetarianism. Vegans do not want us to eat animals or use their products and by-products.[10]

However, other vegetarians do not share this ideology. Again, some eat meat and the majority have no problem with drinking milk, eating eggs, and wearing clothes made from wool.

Vegans are very critical of other vegetarians for this reason. They believe that other vegetarians suppress the effectiveness of their anti-meat campaign. Vegans are generally more tolerant of nonvegetarians than they are of other vegetarians.

+ Reducetarianism Could Be A Better Alternative To Vegetarianism

When all is said and done, reducetarianism seems to be a better alternative than vegetarianism. A reducetarian is someone who reduces the amount of meat he consumes. All vegetarians, including vegans, are classified as reducetarians.

A reducetarian should not be confused with a flexitarian. Although both eat meat, a flexitarian is a vegetarian who occasionally eats meat while a reducetarian is a vegetarian or nonvegetarian who has reduced his meat intake. Vegans, lacto-vegetarians, ovo-vegetarians, and lacto-ovo vegetarians qualify as reducetarians because they have all reduced their meat intake to zero.

Reducetarianism is proposed as the better alternative because some people interested in becoming vegetarians are not interested in putting a stop to meat consumption. Vegetarians are likely to be more successful in getting people to reduce their meat intake rather than having them give up meat altogether.[11]


Read more fascinating facts about vegetables and vegetarians on 9 Reasons To Reject Vegetarianism and 10 Vegetables That Have Killed Humans.

fact checked by Jamie Frater