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Vegetarian 101

When it comes to vegetarianism, the number one question on most meat-eaters’ minds is, “What do you eat?” The answer: Anything we want! There are vegetarian alternatives to almost any animal food, from soy sausages and “Fib Ribs” to Tofurky jerky and mock lobster. Vegetarian-friendly menus are sprouting up everywhere—even Burger King offers veggie burgers—and more and more eateries are focusing exclusively on vegetarian and vegan foods. There are fantastic alternatives to every dairy product you can imagine, including Soy Delicious ice cream, Silk chocolate soy milk, Tofutti cream cheese, and more.

Going vegetarian has never been easier, and we’re here to help! From our fantastic recipes and list of favorite products and favorite vegetarian cookbooks to our free vegetarian starter kit and online shopping guide, PETA has all the information you need to adopt a healthy and humane vegetarian diet!

Every year in the U.S., more than 27 billion animals are slaughtered for food. Raising animals on factory farms is cruel and ecologically devastating. Eating animals is bad for our health, increasing the risk of developing various diseases and illnesses, including heart attacks, strokes, cancer, diabetes, and obesity.

In response to animal welfare, health, and ecological concerns, compassionate people everywhere are adopting a vegetarian diet.

For Animals

Animals on factory farms are treated like meat, milk, and egg machines. Chickens have their sensitive beaks seared off with a hot blade, and male cattle and pigs are castrated without any painkillers. Farmed chickens, turkeys, and pigs spend their brief lives in dark and crowded warehouses, many of them so cramped that they can’t even turn around or spread a single wing. They are mired in their own waste, and the stench of ammonia fills the air.

Animals raised for food are bred and drugged to grow as large as possible as quickly as possible—many are so heavy that they become crippled under their own weight and die within inches of their water supply.

Animals on factory farms do not see the sun or get a breath of fresh air until they are prodded and crammed onto trucks for a nightmarish ride to the slaughterhouse, often through weather extremes and always without food or water.

Many die during transport, and others are too sick or weak to walk off the truck after they reach the slaughterhouse. The animals who survive this hellish ordeal are hung upside-down and their throats are slit, often while they’re completely conscious.

Many are still alive while they are skinned, hacked into pieces, or scalded in the defeathering tanks. Learn more about the factory-farming industry. By switching to a vegetarian diet, you can save more than 100 animals a year from this misery.

One suggestion: If you plan to make the transition to a vegetarian diet gradually, the most important foods to cut out of your diet first are bird flesh and eggs. While many people think that “red meat” and dairy products should be the first to go, this isn’t the case.

By cutting bird flesh from your diet, you’ll save many more animals. Because chickens are so small, the average meat-eater is responsible for the deaths of many more chickens than cows. Plus, chickens and turkeys exploited by the meat and egg industries are the most abused animals commonly used for food.

For Your Health 

Some of the leading killers in America today, including heart disease, cancer, obesity, and strokes, are directly linked to meat-based diets. Heart disease is the number one cause of death in America today, and it can often be caused by the build-up of cholesterol and saturated fat from animal products in our arteries.

The only two doctors in human history who have successfully reversed heart disease have included an exclusively vegetarian diet as a part of their programs. The average vegan cholesterol level is 133 (compared to 210 for meat-eaters); there are no documented cases of heart attacks in individuals with cholesterol under 150. Other health problems tied to clogged arteries, like poor circulation and atherosclerotic strokes, can be virtually eliminated with a vegan diet.

Vegans are approximately one-ninth as likely to be obese as meat-eaters and have a cancer rate that is only 40 percent that of meat-eaters. People who consume animal products are also at increased risk for many other illnesses, including strokes, obesity, osteoporosis, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, multiple allergies, diabetes, and food poisoning. Learn more about the health benefits of a vegetarian diet.

For the Environment

America’s meat addiction is poisoning and depleting our potable water, arable land, and clean air. A staggering 51 percent or more of global greenhouse-gas emissions are caused by animal agriculture, according to a report published by the Worldwatch Institute. More than half of the water used in the United States today goes to animal agriculture, and since farmed animals produce 130 times more excrement than the human population, the run-off from their waste is fouling our waterways. Animal excrement emits gasses, such as hydrogen sulfide and ammonia, which poison the air around farms, as well as methane and nitrous oxide, which are major contributors to global warming.

Forests are being bulldozed to make more room for factory farms and crops to feed farmed animals, and this destruction causes soil erosion and contributes to species extinction and habitat loss. Raising animals for food also requires massive amounts of food and raw materials: Farmed animals consume 70 percent of the corn, wheat, and other grains that we grow, and one-third of all the raw materials and fossil fuels used in the U.S. go to raising animals for food. In short, our country’s meat addiction is wrecking the earth. Read more about factory farming and the environment.

Request a vegetarian starter kit to get started today!

You may have been thinking about a vegan lifestyle for a while but didn’t know where to start. Well, it’s as easy as one, two, three! Here you can find out how to go vegan in three simple steps.

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  • Sharon says:

    I just read some posts on here and was amazed at all the negative talk…first and formost there is a great difference between being Vegan and a Vegetarian. There is also a difference between a Vegetarians and Prescetarians ( those who prefer the vegetarian lifestyle but who eat fish and seafood) To learm more visit my website and view the chart which explains these and many more eating cultures.
    I also tried being a Vegan for months but found that all the Soy products sent my hormones off the chart and had I had a high jump in my cholesterol during this time. I have now re-introduced fish and sea food back into my diet for the omega 3 and protein which my body needs.
    I am a strong believer that your body will react to the foods we eat differently and we need to adjust to our own specific needs in order to stay healthy.
    I still do not eat red meat, pork or chicken as YES these animals are abused in this day and time. Yet even Jesus ate fish and gave it to his Diciples so in order to keep my body healthy I will partake for my own health needs.

  • Kat says:

    @ Hunter

    I’m a Vegan and I don’t think that is hard. Maybe in the beginning when you don’t know what to cook, but you can replace nearly everything: soy beverage, soy cuisine, tofutti cheese, soy flour (for replacing eggs for baking)… I even have a simple recipe for vegan scrambled eggs. It’s just difficult when you’re not at home (normaly you get something vegan in restaurants, but at a friends home, it’s not sure^^), so I normally take something to eat with me. But if you’re a vegetarian and don’t want animals to suffer for you, just search for an organic, transparent farm (near to you, maybe in a suburb), where you can see the animals are treated good and buy your eggs and milk there. Try not to eat products where eggs or milk are inside, because normally they put the cheapest things in there they can get and this animals will have suffered for sure.

    Greetings,
    Kat

  • iAMonly_ME says:

    @hunter
    Veaganism is best. however some people become vegetarian first. I am one of those people. I just recently became vegan. It’s easier now than when I tried before bc I’ve been without meat for a while now. I now going dairy and egg free. I love it. I feel better mentally emotionally and physically. Check out this site to tell you the different type of vegetarians. http://www.vegetarianvegan.com …good luck! thanks for even thinking about it!!!

  • Hunter says:

    You talk a lot about becoming a vegan, but my question is which one is better for animals? Veganism or Vegetarianism? I really want to help animals, but I feel being a vegan is harder than they say! I had tried it out for a while but found out that it just wasn’t my thing. I would assume being a vegan is better for the animals sake but is being a vegetarian still good? Thank you!

  • Ashok says:

    Felt greatly inspired by PETA’s work and we have written this article on our new blog supporting Vegetarianism from the Indian and global perspective – http://www.viprascraft.com/2010/10/vegetarian-health-intelligence-balanced.html and other posts!

  • Brooke says:

    I’m writing a paper for my college english class and i’m so happy i found this sight. It argues three things that come up with the topic of vegetarianism. Whether someone is for the ethical reasons, health reasons or for the environment, there is no argument against vegetarianism. I hope my paper impacts my class or at least gets them to rethink their choices and see the impact on more than just themselves that it has. I hope one day factory farms will be run out of business and animals will finally be treated with the respect that they deserve.
    I have been vegetarian for almost a year and couldn’t be happier.

  • Ken says:

    For me the idea of eating anything containing soy is no better than eating meat. All soy in the U.S is GMO. I don’t believe any claims on the packages that they are organic.

  • Jessi Gerl says:

    I just finished reading the book, “THE Skinny Bitch.” Wow, I have heard of the bad things that take place in slaughter houses but since it was not a direct effect on me I never even thought twice about the cruelty these animals went through to feed us. It is not that I do not eat meat or should I say that a week ago I was consuming animal flesh, until I read this book. It all makes since the way they expalin that we do not need animal flesh for protein or milk for calcium or that milk even does the body good. Well hell there are alot of natural foods that are great for the body and you never see commercials on broccoli or fruits, actually we are told that friut is high in carbohydrates. Well so is a bag of chips dip shits. Plus they come about $4.00 a bag. Now how can you tell me that eating healthy is to expensive! When you eat healthy your body actually uses the energy in the food, meaning you eat less. When you consume man made chemicals, fatty oils, and shit that has gone bad but they make it taste good is going to go staright to your ass, hips, and thighs. So it makes since to put stuff in your mouth and body to where your body can benefit and use the energy from the food instead of storing it. As a human race, and an intelligent one at that, we need to use more common sense when it comes to life. Put things in perspective, look at the ingredients instead of the caloric intake. Make wise choices. Do not be lazy. Plan meals and cook in bulk for later on in the week. Do not make excuses. If you are not happy no one around you is happy. If you can take 30 minutes a day for yourself it will increase your energy and livelihood. We need to get back to the basics and stop torturing these innocent animals who have feelings just like we do. It is really quite simple America! we are caught up in a rat race, to busy to care about the health of one another or more importantly the health of our children. We second guess eachother all the time, but we do not second guess our health when it comes to what we consume. This is our life, what you eat is what you are. When you eat healthy your body can dispose of it, when you do not eat healthy it is stored. Come on America! Make educated decisions, please show the USDA that they are a fraudulent company and we will not belive their lies and support their cruelty to animals. I have ranted and raved on this post, so if you are not following me go to GoVeg.com website and read the book I mentioned above. The information is so SAD. To finish my post I want to end by saying, I enjoy steak and chicken and eggs and even milk, however these animals are not raised on farms with lush green grass and seeds to eat, they do not see the sun and grow healthy running and playing outside, no they are caged and tortured and brutally slaughtered to be on our plates. Most of the time already having diseases or deformalities. So forget the perfect little picture, stop consuming animal products. Or keep eating the mad cow disease or the salmonilla and hurting these innocent animals. Once again, I am all about a nice steak, but I will sacrifice that in order for one animal to not be abused.

  • sara says:

    I was reading an article on soy latte and this link shows up to the Weston A. Price Foundation. Is this really a non profit health foundation or a dairy council and beef producers of america lobbying organization in disguise? Does PETA have a position statement on the claims they are making about soy? I get the gmo thing but all the issues with vitamin absorption and cancer causing isoflavins are seriously getting parents at soccer practice all riled up! Help me combat all the craziness.

  • jazminnesoflyy says:

    So what exactly do vegetarians eat? I am one, have been for 3 years. I don’t eat any meat, eggs, fish.
    Some say that vegetarians can eat chicken and fish and I was like, what?! No!! But now I’m not sure cause I’ve heard so Many people say it!!:o

  • Girlgerm says:

    Cassian, sorry to break it to you but eating fish and gelatine products is not “mostly” vegetarian. Take that leap, you wont miss anything I promise! :D

  • Mike says:

    Eating meat is a con and a fraud. Even American Indians painted as the famous “hunters” were mostly vegetarian. The history books are all fraudulent in one way or another. Whatever you eat, make sure you pray over it whatever that means to you, it changes the vibration of your food. Don’t eat GMO. Read “The Source Field Investigations” by David Wilcock. Everything is connected.

  • Justin says:

    I see no one has simply stated or shown any facts that eating meat is not the healthiest way of living. Everyone make it sound like God or some divine power wants us to live in harmony or that their crazy coincidence that their family member went to a state fair at the same time they got cancer is a reason to not eat meat. Give anyone reading this a reason to not eat meat other then your crazy bable and maybe they would. Oh, and by the way, I am a 30 year old new vegetarian. I have more energy now than I did 3 months ago and the change was almost instant, better sleep, better attitude better feeling. My body is not using so much energy on digesting meat.

  • Susan says:

    My sister got cancer and my daughter went to a state fair around the same time. It struck them both that animals should not be eaten by enlightened people for health reasons and the pure love for animals. I started doing my own research and read several great books which I can recommend to all. I first went vegetarian and then vegan a few months later. It is by far a game changer for me and it is first for our animals and environment, second for health. What happens to you inside when you eat something on your plate that has been basically tortured? It is a profound life
    changing question!

  • S Rigzin says:

    sharing through experience, i think watching the DVDs that most animal loving organisations produce to create awareness sure does help one to become a vegetarian. The video clip are so heart aching that it should change most of the people like it did to me, a special quote on one of the DVD which reads, “think twice once you watch this DVD” made it even hard for me to eat the flesh of the innocent animals. All the things i shared might not be of any help to some people but i recommend everyone to try it once because at the end all of us wants to try to stop devouring on the fleshes and become a proud vegetarian.

  • Atinder pal singh says:

    Whole of the Sikh Community is vegetarian, it is forbidden to eat meat in our religion.

  • Lynn says:

    Primarily a response to Jacquie: I’m 48 and was a lacto-ovo veg for 20 yrs. I LOVED butter, cheese and eggs, and relied heavily on them in my diet. One day recently I just couldn’t partake of animal suffering anymore–had an epiphany about the ‘second-hand consumption’ (my words) I was engaging in, I.e. calves as leftover products of the milk I was drinking (subjected to being raised as veal, or neglected to death, etc), and baby boy chicks discarded because they have no value in egg production. So, I looked for replacements. There are SO many good oils available, and an amazingly butter-like substitute in Soy Garden. Regarding cheese…surprisingly, after a couple of weeks I didn’t want it at all. Don’t even like the smell. Try rich nut butters, homemade hummus, really good olive oil, nutritional yeast, good sea salt and the like. Your urge for cheese will fade right away : )

  • Ian says:

    Ashley-Peaches,

    Seafood is not vegetarian (unless one counts edible seaweed). Fish, dolphins, whales, molluscs, and lobsters are all animals. Some are quite intelligent, some have social lives, and all feel pain and suffering. On top of that, massive overfishing is threatening many species with extinction, even if those animals are not being directly eaten.

    There are many substitutes for all meats, including fish and other seafood.

  • Ashley-Peaches says:

    Is seafood considered vegetarian?

  • Jacquie says:

    I want to be a vagan. I love to cook and have always been a omnivore, though in recent times when I think about meat-any kind of meat- I get nauseous because I love animals and don’t want to eat them. I need help, I am 57 years old, love veggies, love cheese and butter. How can I do this? The meat is not hard to give up but the cheese and butter is. Any help would be appreciated. bockius@succeed.net –Thank you good folk.

  • Julie says:

    I REALLY wanna become a vegeterian, bacause I absolutely love animals and I think it’s pointless to say you love animals and then turn around and eat a burger. But im kinda worried cuz everyone in my family eats meat except for two of my brothers. And I wanna convince my mom to do it with me 2. Any advice???

  • Charlotte says:

    I really want to be a vegetarian, but I’m worried I won’t have enough to eat. Simply put: I’m not a big fan of veggies, especially salad!
    Any tips?

  • Claudia says:

    About two months ago I did a juice fast. After my ten day juice fast was over I decided I felt too good to start putting back all that junk I just got rid of back into my body. I have since become a vegetarian, however I am still eating some dairy products. I want to cut those out too which is why I came on this site. I lost 16 lbs and feel good. I don’t drink soday, caffeine and a lot of other things along with cutting out all meats. I don’t eat anything with preservatives or anything synthetic I cannot pronounce.

  • Molly Tomer says:

    I have been a vegetarian my entire life. I am a huge animal lover and am against the slaughtering and torture of animals. GO PETA! Everyone should be a vegetarian…poor animals should not be consumed :(

  • preeti jain says:

    I sincerely respect the kind of initiative PETA has taken for animals. They are innocent and can’t even raise a voice to save themself. they are being killed without any reason that too so cruely. we have to save them. Human is the worst creation of God who tortures every living & non living thing. Please I want to help every innocent animal in any ways. Love youe website and will be greatful to be part of it.

  • Cat9985 says:

    Best of luck to everyone working to bring healthier habits into their lives! I have been meat-free for 3 1/2 years now and couldn’t be happier.

    Ana — When I first gave up meat, I did lose weight (about 15 pounds over six months or so). Part of this weight loss was attributed to not eating fast food anymore. I knew I would be tempted by the smell of fast food, so I avoided it. I was in college at the time, and most of the meat I ate was high in fat and sodium and had very little protein content by the time it reached me.

    It is easy to be a “junketarian,” though. If you give up meat, make sure you don’t make up your bad habit with another bad habit, like chowing down on potato chips, guzzling soda, etc. Enjoy those things in moderation like you always should, and enjoy your veggies, beans, rice and fruits.

  • Amelia says:

    I finally “woke up” from my meat eating lifestyle after reading a wonderful book about living a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle, although I didn’t realize thats what the book wss about when I got it. I’m very very new to this, but I have no desire to eat meat anymore. My husband is still a meat eater and has teased me about giving it up, but is very supportive of my decision. Not only do I want to improve my health, but I love animals, all shapes and sizes and I cannot contribute to the suffering and torture of them anymore. I’m slowing transitioning into the vegan lifestyle, but I’m taking it slow, so I don’t relapse. One vice at a time, and I started with meat. Wish me luck!

  • Ana says:

    If you follow a vegetarian diet could you lose weight?

  • VeggieLova says:

    I hate ignorant people who think that you need to eat meat in order to get protein…. IT’S CALLED TOFU!!!!!!!!! I absolutely love tofu and there are so many different ways to make it!!

  • VeggieLova says:

    I’ve been a vegetarian my whole life but still eat eggs and drink milk, but after reading this article am not going to eat eggs ever again.

  • Hollybeanxx says:

    i live in the uk, and really cose to me is this lovely guy who has his own chicken and geese that he keeps in a beautiful garden, he sells some of thier eggs, and when one dies he buries it with genuine remorse! i get my eggs, tomatoes potatoes and more from him and he always allows me to go in to see the birds :)

  • marymouse says:

    I’ve been with my grandkids who won’t eat anything but chicken nuggets, pizza or hot dogs. They’re visiting for 2 weeks. I’ve tried substitute meats…they don’t like. Fortunately, they will drink my amazing Green Smoothies made with almond milk, bananas, dates, spinach and rice protein powder!!! We call it the Monster Drink – deelicious! :)

  • Chi Bites says:

    People from aroudn the world have varied reasons to adopt vegetarian lifestlye but no one can discount the marvellous benefit of health and well-being that comes with it. I have been vegetarian all my life and I am very glad that I am. I have grown up eating delicious vegetarian food at home and I am continuing to explore exotic vegetarian flavours around the world. I am just amazed at the great variety of vegetarian food options you have today in super markets and restaurants. There is no way that one can miss their non-vegetarian lifestlye if you choose to convert. I have recently started capturing some of my favourite recipes from around the world which are meant to be easy, healthy and exotic. http://palateofdreams.blogspot.com/ Check it out you all and I wish you all good luck with the happy healthy vegetarian lifestyle!

  • Cassian says:

    I’ve been mostly vegetarian for four months now {I believe the term is “flexitarian”? I still eat seafood, and I still eat some foods with gelatin in them even though I don’t really like to think about the way that’s made.}. I was actually vegetarian for six months my senior year of high school, then went back to a “normal” diet for a few years. But at the end of last year I met someone who’s become the most important person to me, and she has a very deep love for animals. The more I thought about it and talked to her, the more I realised that for her sake as well as that of the animals, I needed to make this change in my lifestyle. I feel so much better following this diet than one of excessive meat consumption, and I now can’t even imagine going back to what I used to eat.

    I know that sometimes it’s hard, and there are people who won’t support you or your decisions, but I wish the best of luck to everyone who wants to make this sort of change. I promise it’s worth it!

  • Robin says:

    Thanks to Iggy Pop for waking me up. When I watched those Seals being beaten in the head it had a big impact on me. No living being should be treated like that! I sent a donation to PETA right then & there. Thanks PETA for all that you do.

  • nondairydreamer says:

    Since becoming a vegan, I’ve felt healthier and weighed less than any other “diet” I’ve ever experienced. I eat more fruits and vegetables without having to try to squeeze them into my diet. My triglycerides tested high prior to my becoming a vegan – I’ve now dropped down to low levels despite hereditary factors that would lead me to having high cholesterol. I’m iron-deficient by nature, but by eating a healthy balanced vegan diet have experienced no ill effects in removing red meat from my diet (as I was warned by many naysayers that my vegan diet would lead me to chronic anemia). Best of all, I can feel great about what I eat and know that I contribute to the welfare of animals the world over every single day by influencing the demand for animal products in food.

  • Hannah says:

    Thank you.

  • Hannah says:

    Thank you.

  • Dimitri says:

    Thank you Peta for all your hard work over the years.
    We as vegan educators are finding that a major issue with people is they actually have no idea how to prepare good vegetarian (100% plant-based) food. In New Zealand where we are offering vegan cooking workshop experiences, it now seems people have been wondering about eating vegetarian for some time which yields a healthy interest in wanting to know more about plant-based nutrition. So thanks again to all those who speak out about not only animal cruelty but about the senselessness of consuming the bodies of sentient beings. Especially in times of total over-production of plants, the bulk of which are fed to animals which people eat.
    Namaste,
    Dimitri

  • Apple says:

    Thanks for the sharing!

  • UncleDavid says:

    I am having some health problems and I’m fat. I should weigh 160. Until April 2010, my weith was 280. My doctors weren’t even polite when they told me to lose the weight. Then I began to look at my diet and had to lok at the number one culprit.Meat. Then i began to see the compulsion for what it was and the idea of ‘flesh’ and ‘dead’ became a major issue for me, so I no longer eat meat.Uggggh. Thanks for the work you’ve done!

  • Mark says:

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Laura says:

    Thanks for sharing the vegetarian 101!

  • Hilary says:

    Thanks for the great vegetarian 101, it is really useful for people who are trying to become more healthy. I found something similar on Four Green Steps website talking about Meatless Monday: Easy Tips to Go (and Stay!) Vegan. There is also many healthy recipes on the site too! The link to go to the tips is : http://www.fourgreensteps.com/community/blogs/ask-a-vegan/meatless-monday-easy-tips-to-go-and-stay-vegan

  • Zoe says:

    I went vegetarian when I was 11, I’m 18 now and still happily living a vegetarian lifestyle (almost vegan, but I still eat cheese and eat yoghurt). Best decision ever, I’m always asked how I stay so thin and it’s simply because I eat healthier and get regular exercise. Peoples biggest criticism I’d that I don’t get enough protein. Which is frustrating how ignorant people are. I’ve done my research so I just kind of gave up answering people!

  • Yupp says:

    Not that I disagree with the message this article is getting across, but don’t you think it’s a bit bold to say that “there are no documented cases of heart attacks in individuals with cholesterol under 150″? What about those with pre-exisiting heart conditions, those who take certain medications, those with eating disorders, etc. There are plenty of circumstances and medical conditions that could cause someone to have a heart attack. Cholesterol from meat products are not always behind occurrences like these.

  • Gabby says:

    I never really liked meat to begin with. Always found it sick and disgusting and most of all..cruel. I stopped eating meat over 2.5 years ago and I never felt better. I don’t miss it at all. People often ask me what do I eat, because they cannot imagine how wide and tasty the variety of vegetarian food is. It’s the decision that completely changed my life.

  • sophie says:

    I’ve been vegetarian since the start of the summer it was the best decision I’ve ever made!!!

  • Amanda Russell says:

    Obviously if slaughterhouses had glass walls not everyone would be vegetarian. People still rape and murder HUMAN BEINGS in the masses in many countries……What makes anyone think that watching animals being tortured would make a difference to everyone? Right and wrong is based on what people are conditioned to do and allow. I have been a lacto-ovo vegetarian for 2 months now. I only eat cage free vegetarian fed eggs and going with free range organic milk, I know the source.

  • Crystal H says:

    I’ve been a vegetarian for about two years now. Before that, I was on and off for a few years (when I got pregnant, I decided to go back to eating “regularly” for the sake of the child). In the past two years, I’ve gone from 220-ish pounds to 175 pounds. I don’t exercise at all, LOL, just go to work everyday. It’s really easy, and I do feel better for it.

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