There are, of course, many ethical and health controversies surrounding vegetarianism in all its different forms, but we wanted to know – where did the words come from? Who invented “veganism”?
Vegetarianism has been around for a very long time. Some historians date it back to Ancient Greek philosophers, and religious sects of Buddhism and Hinduism have encouraged vegetarianism for hundreds of years. However, the word itself came into common usage in the 1830s. During this era, vegetarianism was associated with religious conservatives, some of whom also campaigned for the temperance movement to ban alcohol. (To this day, the Church of the Seventh-Day Adventists encourages a vegetarian diet.)
It is not completely clear who invented the word “vegetarian.” It may have been the founders of the British Vegetarian Society in 1847. Regardless, its linguistic roots are very clear. The Latin word “vegetābilis” meant “lively or animating” and came to describe foods that made one lively or animated. The suffix “–arian” changes an adjective into a personal noun, as in librarian or veterinarian. From the 1840s onward, the word was in common English usage. (What actually makes a vegetable? Or a fruit? Learn more.)
Why “vegan” though? Where did that short word that connotes radical vegetarians come from? Donald Watson, founder of the Vegan Society, coined the word “vegan” in 1944 as a statement against vegetarians who ate dairy products. He took the first and last letters of the word vegetarian to create his orthodox version of vegetarianism. Today, as many as 10% of American adults say they follow a vegetarian-inclined diet, but only 1% of them are strict vegans.
Most people who describe themselves as vegetarians are technically lacto-ovo-vegetarians; that is they eat eggs and milk. If you want to get really specific in describing your diet, you could use some of these terms: pollotarians (if you eat chicken, but not meat from mammals), pescetarians (if you eat fish), freegan (if you eat food only when it’s free).
Recently, a new word has entered the dietary lexicon: flexitarian. Though the term dates was invented in the 1990s, only in the past few years has it acquired common currency. The first flexitarian cookbook came out in 2008. Celebrity chef Mark Bittman advocates for a “plant-based diet” meaning one that focuses on plants but can include a little meat.
Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma uses a different nomenclature to talk about similar issues. By calling us “omnivores,” Pollan suggests that we should not be herbivores (or carnivores, for that matter). The language he uses closely resembles the words that biologists use to talk about animals. Owls are carnivores; rabbits are herbivores. As with most attributes, though, we prefer to have different adjectives to describe the same behavior in animals and in humans.
What do you think about inventing new words to describe how and what we eat?
ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh now i got it
Anybody can invent a word.
Will more than one person use the term?
Will the term be marketed or used in advertising?
That will determine it’s popularity and usage.
I had no Idea about that, I have been a vegetarian since I was 10 and I had no idea it was like that.
[...] ‘Veganism’ or just another Trap? — Where labels that define us with limitations and Plastic Wrap. — In a world that’s changing rapidly with communication breakdown, — Though vapidly rearranging isolation of the Fake Clown. — For fear of eating what you are or is it being what you eat? — We’ll have another Chicken Wing before we take a seat. –>>L.T.Rhyme [...]
Guess what? I’m a vegan
I have a question and a comment.
Question- I’m a ‘vegetarian.’ i don’t eat fish/seafood or red meat. I’m allowed to eat chicken. Will I be considered a pollotarian?
Comment- Maybe pollotarian came from Spanish because I know that pollo means chicken in Spanish.
Dear Sir / Madam,
Human beings are animals. This statement may annoys some people if not most people. Personally I don’t see any difference which separates us from animals, I am talking about apes, our cousins – biologically- and higher mammals (our family brunch) which biologically we belong to. Only difference is our HUMONGOUS intelligence. Nobody knows where did we get from. So it does not matter if we use terms herbivorous, carnivorous, omnivorous for us. My point of view we are biologically animals, except our very remarkable, interesting, HUMONGOUS intelligence.
Interesting. I guess inventing words to describe how and what we eat sort of differentiates the kinds of people that eat only certain types of foods, which I think is perfectly fine. However, I think this whole thing has gone a little too far with these obscure diets that’ve turned pretty extreme.
I mean, freegan? These people actually exist?
“There are, of course, many ethical and health controversies surrounding vegetarianism in all its different forms … .” Who wrote this? I’m not clear on what this sentence means or how it fits into this article. Also, with so many studies by organizations/institutions like the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and the American Dietetic Association–just to name a couple–touting the benefits of a plant based diet, it is irresponsible, to say the least, to refer to a vegetarian diet as controversial. Also, I am not sure how one could possibly make an argument that there is an ethical controversy surrounding vegetarianism. I would be hard pressed to find a laudable argument insisting that it is somehow unethical to refrain from eating animals. This article starts out poor from the beginning with a poorly placed, hardly relevant and misinformed sentence. However, the meat of the article is actually interesting.
I think it would be very useful because with our common sense and people’s typical senses, we can develop a word that makes sense and one that people can understand.
For example, flexitarian has the attribute of flexibility which matches the definition in which one is allowed to eat some meat.
Am I the only one that thought calling them “radical (vegetarians)” seemed odd?
I’m 12, and , technically, I’m a lacto-ovo-vegetarian and a pescitarian.
Response to Tbird83’s post: I think the author was justified in calling veganism controversial, because some vegans and other advocates of plant-based diets believe that it’s unethical to eat meat. They cause quite a stir about it, which counts as a controversy over ethics.
My own comments: I think the creation of words to describe what people eat is useful – I’m a vegan, and it’s really helpful to be able to tell people that term and have them understand me, instead of having to give a full listing of the foods I don’t eat. Maybe it’s just me being picky, though, but I get annoyed when people call themselves vegan or vegetarian when they technically aren’t; I have a friend who calls herself a vegetarian but she occasionally eats chicken and turkey, which means she’s technically a flexitarian. That sort of thing kind of bugs me, since it makes the terms lose some of their meaning and usefulness.
And a response to Ralph’s post: yeah, that kind of struck me as odd, too. Not technically incorrect, though, because veganism is one of the barest, strictest forms of vegetarianism. Still, sort of a strange word to throw around in this particular era of religious and political tension.
I’m thirteen and have been lacto-ovo for the previous three years. I plan on going vegan when I turn eighteen and have many friends that are flexitarian, but I never knew the origins of all these words. Thanks for posting this!
*Also, does anyone know the exact definition vegantarian and where the various stances on gelatin fall into this? I don’t eat it, but I was just curious.
I am 13 and I found this article amusing especially when it refers to vegans as being ‘radical vegetarians’ and when it states that ‘There are, of course, many ethical and health controversies surrounding vegetarianism’. I don’t even know what that means. Why would having a plant based diet be considered ‘controversial’? Besides the few unusual sentences I thought the article was interesting.
People. For goodness sake. If you eat animals you are NOT a vegetarian! Since when is fish a plant?
Tbird83, I don’t think anyone is implying that it is unethical to refrain from eating animals. I think that people like vegetarians and vegans think it is unethical to eat meat. They think they’re some kinda animal messiahs or something.
I eat anything except for chicken and pork. Nope, no word for that.
Of course freegans exist. Food is a human right, it grows in the ground. Capitalist Humans decided to package it in a highly processed form and sell it. Many people believe we shouldn’t pay for food and are outraged at how much perfectly edible food is thrown away. Here in the Twin Cities there is an organization called sisters of Camelot that receives donations of produce that is bruised or imperfect or past it’s so-called “expiration date” and gives it away for free.
I’m a vegetarian who eats meat but only red meat. What’s that called?
Can anyone tell me what Sofi Javid means when she makes first comment . “eloburated” ???
Be what you want to be but we are all omnivors.
Now I know what a vegitarian is but the question remains. What exactly is a vegan?
I do have a friend who is purported by another friend to be a “Freegan!”. I just try not to make value-judgements based on peoples’ choices…but I’m not perfect!
Veganism is not about a restricted diet. It is about showing respect and dignity to all sentient beings, and not eating them is only a single (although significant) aspect of that. That’s not radical – the wholesale destruction of humans and non-humans (as is the norm today) is radical.
I’m a value-mealian.
Why does FLEXITARIAN have to refer to diet? Can it not mean being a libertarian with certain tendencies towards necessitarianism? What denotes it’s relationship to diet and food rather than something else? Or is this NANA NANA I was here first? This whole thing (VEGANISM) has spawned something that sounds political thus my references. Although 1% of 10% of Americans can’t be a cultural food revolution, can it?
I heard the term breatherian,living solely on air (oxigen) is this a sci-fy term?or some kind of an extraterrestrial term.I’m almost positive I had this conversation with a woman who was interested in writing a Diet Book based on herbs (purely) and from there I might have said “If we continue like this …with all these different diets we’re gonna end up living on air,breathing just air,and there the term, (breatherian), the idea of relying solely on oxigen to survive.Maybe it was a dream.In more ways than one.Imagine!?…how great it would be for our environment.
“… sorry!….I forgot to close the quote.
Ignoarrogance and its derivative ignoarrogant.Someone not only ignorant,but even worse,….arrogant about his ignorance, and I guess, not even aware of it.I can think of a lot of people in the world who suffer from this illness,more like a disease.I don’t want to sound ignoarrogant myself,but humbly…I came up with this word.I think.Ha ha !
The article got off to a bad start in my mind when it said that “There are, of course, many ethical and health controversies surrounding vegetarianism….” Pardon me but aren’t the ethical controversies surrounding the consumption of animals? I have never heard of any ethical controversy over vegetarianism.
The article calls vegans radical vegetarians. Whew. The writer’s politics are showing through.
i am a proud happy and healthy Vegan. only wish i was born vegan and never tasted flesh ever.. oh well
Ignoarrogance and its derivative ignoarrogant.>a person not only ignorant,but worse, arrogant about his ignorance and not even aware of it.Andrés Rieloff-Nielsen.
Granted I’m in California, however, I know quite a few more vegetarians and vegans than these statistics allow. Personally, I try to only eat meat that has been ethically cared for. Is there a name for that. If not, I’m sure there will be.
I’m a pescetarian and I agree with TBird83. That sentence was simply ignorant. I’m wondering if they were referring to the “radical vegetarians” and some of the more controversial stories that have come out in the news about vegans.
The single best thing you can do for your heart health and the environment is to stop eating beef. Try to make yourself watch one of the PETA videos. If you’re not “man enough” to admit what you’re consuming, you’ve lost some of your humanity.
Making up new words is fine…we live in a constantly evolving society. Without change…our vocabulary would become stale.
I’m guessing Omnivore’s eat anything since they’re not considered Herbivore nor carnivore.
Here’s one: anyvore, anyvarian and anyvarianism.
If people can eat everything, then why not use ‘any-’ since it means everything. I can eat anything, except spicy foods (yes Im mexican lol), harse radish and sometimes sauercraut. Teen years are awesome!!! ‘Bout to see uncle Sam soon though.
What are his views? I bet we have to pay taxes for being any of these eating terms. lol
Always interesting to find out how someone can create a word and it catches on.
I try and avoid labels, but I’m against animal cruelty and pro-eating healthy.
Big Pharma is trying to claim that is Orthorexia nervosa and that I need a pill for that.
To Tbird83 from a flexitarian: my brother – a carnivore – would argue that the ethical aspect to vegetarianism is that, I quote, at least an animal can run away!
I think that the bit about lacto-ovo vegetarianism is odd because for most people, saying that you are “vegetarian” means that you don’t eat meat, but you do eat eggs and milk. Also, I believe that it is important to get this knowledge out there, because, as a vegetarian, it really annoys me when I say that I am a vegetarian and I ask if the soup if vegetarian and the waiter says yes, then I ask if it has chicken broth and that answer is also a yes. I’m sorry, but if you are a pollotarian or a pescetarian please do not call yourself a vegetarian and then order something with chicken or fish because then the waitstaff get confused and give a true vegetarian a dish that contains something that they don’t eat.
Would I be considered a flexitarian?
What’s the word for someone who only eats vegans? Veganibal?
v-e-g-a-n (spelled out)
Very Egotistical Ghastly Anemic Nitwit.
*applauds* bows… -Thank you internet
Now we know more about a 12 yr. old than we ever wanted to know.
What about meatatarian as a euphemistic labeling for persons who eat animals?
Even if I don’t eat animals for for my own ethical reasons, still resent being labeled w/ any kind of invented ‘tarian word.
Yes, to inventing the word that is more precise describing our behavior.
“Though the term dates was invented in the 1990s, only in the past few years has it acquired common currency.”
I think the word ‘dates’ is a little out of place here . . .”
What about a Reagan?
I only eat seeds. How would classify me? A bit seedy or a seedatarian
Hmmmm… what would you call a person who eats “anything that’s not nailed down”?
The ethical controversies around vegetarianism and veganism do not include saying that it is controversial to not eat meat. The controversy is with the people that protest against people who do eat meat. The first sentence is just an opener to get your attention, you don’t have to bash it just because you misinterpreted it.
Oh… i see…. nice information….but i”m not a vegan….hehehehhe
I think that designations that denote what you you eat and don’t eat are inherently anti-social and pompous. They were coined to give people a false sense of importance, especially when used to introduce themselves to others. What could be less important about a person than what they eat? That they’re overweight, gay, black, white, or mentally ill? Vegan? “Hello, I am a flatulent, bean-eating, carrot-munching vegan trying to point out to you my disgust at your diet of animal flesh by calling myself thus?” We have enough phrases that differentiate ourselves from others unnecessarily. Terms like vegan only serve to inflate our egos beyond the significance of diet. By the way, yes, I was a vegetarian for 14 years before I woke up and realized that I was an obsessive-compulsive zealot in search of ways to lord it over my family and peers. Let’s all just have friendly meals with one another without worrying about our opinions of what we are eating….
Vegetable and soy farming inadvertently kills millions of small animals and birds a year. Look it up before you eat your self-righteous salad.
Anyways, for every animal you don’t eat – I’ll eat three.
Meatatarian… mmmmmm… porkchops….. nomnomnomnom….
No need to get annoyed in restaurants if you just skip the, “I’m a vegetarian” announcement & go straight to question of whether or not the vegetable soup is made with chicken broth.
Another option is to find a vegetarian restaurant & not have to ask at all.
Humanitarians eat people.
Choosing not to eat animals has not to do w/ a “self-righteous” attitude. Just my personal opinion that other species may not look like me but still wan’t to live as much as I might.
Today’s exposure about the surreal suffering & slaughter of factory farmed creatures sealed it for me, though vegetarian is just an easy lable that trivializes deep convictions in some humans.
The word also includes people who avoid eating animal flesh strictly for their own health reasons without interest in animals.
LIVING IN LAS VEGAS.. … AM I STILL A VEGAN OR A LAS VEGAN .
WHAT I EAT TODAY I MAY OR MAY NOT EAT TOMORROW. ACTUALLY MOST OF US ARE TOO INCONSISTENT TO CARRY ANY KIND OF LABEL. SOOOOO *** I DON’T WANT TURKEY OR GRAVY ON SPUDS *** I’D RATHER THE TURKEY REMAIN IN IT’S DUDS *** DON’T GIVE ME CAKE OR ICE CREAM ON PIES *** THERE’S TOO MANY CALORIES NOW STUCK TO MY THIGHS*** LUV GRAMA
Nice! The idea of thinking and making up a new name regarding what is being discussed is common to many. Some ppl have knack….
@Mackenzie: in a yes…pollotarian part that is. Originally, Spanish is from Latin like French, so, pollo… I think more of Latin, perhaps
@ Adam: You are so very right, it looks! Human beings are not only animals, they are @ the top of echelon. Another reality, I think, we human beings belong to special kind of apes that had speechability or thinkability [NB: Speechability/thinkability...I coined new terms]; it is not just the apes we see in the zoo, possibly
@firstcommenter: Heavens!!! These freegans, must be coined by the vegan ones, do exist; they are roaming @ the lap of Himalayas [Him=snow/ice & alaya=lap, for when the ancient ppl came down south (India) from north from Caucasus Mountain, that what remineded them of. They saw snow/him... on the lap/sprawling sides on a mighty mountain; Himalaya is Sanskrit].
Today upon reading I learned the term freegans for the first time and instantly I could thought of none but those ppl, and they are so very thin they look like sticks. These are munis/rshis & such and you see them in In India. Also, there many here there everywhere whose livelyhood depends on begging; Buddhists monks are that too; however, they look kind of healthy. Let me give you a secret… my name uptop connotes that, as if I am that, yet not… yet.
Thank you enjoyed the article, for today’s article I’ve found very interactive.
omnivore works for me but if there must be a new word how ’bout ieatwhateveriwantian, or maybe itsallgoodean. i love almost all vegetables and usually eat them first off my plate, but there really is no finer taste than a juicy steak
i am a lifelong member of P.E.T.A. (People Eating Tasty Animals)
I am getting such a kick out of these comments! Some people are very witty and it is actually more fun reading the comments than the article. I don’t mind new words, but some people get carried away … it’s only a good word if it’s self-explanatory.
I am a flexitarian but inclined more on vegetarian diet. Being a Hindu, our culture & religious background directs us to be pure vegetarian. But, since decades I have seen many families having a mixed diet.
On an average, I eat chicken twice a months or red meat once a month and eggs 3-4 times a month. Our regular food is vegetarian only. I sometimes called my self as “eggetarian” but coinage of word may be slightly misplaced.
Can anyone throw more light on whether milk is a vegetarian product or not? (as it is obtained from an animal)
I don’t really know a simple word like you all do but I got lucky from this site which got my interest senses and makes me enjoy studying lots of words.
@Laura on January 29, 2012 at 8:13 am
“Granted I’m in California, however, I know quite a few more vegetarians and vegans than these statistics allow. Personally, I try to only eat meat that has been ethically cared for. Is there a name for that. If not, I’m sure there will be.”
–Good for you! There is no name for this. Only some adjectives, such as “informed, consciencious, progressive and aware!”
This is interesting!
I really like “flexitarian” …which is my eating style and which my spell-check doesn’t recognize, of course. I would guess most of us have a far larger vocabulary than our spell-checks, in large part due to medical terms in my case, but they’re still handy for typo correction.
Oh, for those of you who do not know, Dic.com will give you an exceedingly rude “slow down” ORDER if you post more than once in a “sitting” so make sure you get everything you want to say out in one go so you don’t catch a scold …pun intended. If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s being ordered about by software for the “sin” of a second post in a 20-30 minute time period. *grins*
As far as I’m concerned, all humans are omnivores. We have the teeth that say so. The thing that frustrates me about vegetarians/vegans is that a lot of them don’t eat meat because it’s ‘cruel to animals’. Plants are living things too.
In saying that, I do think that humans over-farm. Life would be better if everyone just took what they needed.
It’s pleasing to entrap a glimpse of that hotshot believe the repose and all modus vivendi = ‘lifestyle’ as I do. Provisions blogging my party consort and peradventure someday we can forgather to the preponderate a beer or something.
I soak up added your blog on my punchy catalogue of readed blogs.
Arthur, I totally agree with your sentiment about the vegetarian/vegan label being pompous “I’m-better-than-you” behavior in their users; some are genuine adherents, but most i fear use these labels to serve radical political ends of attacking traditionalists.
Also, I resent vegetarians/vegans co-opting traditional food names for their own ends: hotdogs made of soybeans?! No, then it’s NOT a HOTDOG! Call it Tube-O-Soy if you will, but leave the word HOTDOG alone!
Can the term flexitarian closely means omnivore then why again a new word?
Read it all. I think i want to be a freeflexapollotarian. Thats i want to start eating mostly free vegetable based foods with minimle non chicken meat, but larger amounts of chicken??
Plants are not creatures. or brain an or brain and brainstem, so ts safe to say they do not experience pain. Or sadness if you kill its sapling. Lol.just biomechanical responses to external stimulation. But i do call my plants ladies.they dont talk back though, shannyn.
Seriously though. I have a date with a vegan tonight. Than Thank you