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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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  • mkat says:

    I only recently converted to vegetarianism however it’s been an easy adjustment. I don’t eat meat, fish or drink milk. However I do consume cheese and yogourt (mainly for health reasons.) Do what feels comfortable for you.

  • Person says:

    Everyone, Vegetarians can eat dairy and eggs, there are vegetarians, lacto or ovo vegetarians, vegans, raw vegans and fruitarians( do not try this diet, they are prone to deficiencies)just to let people who get vegetarian and vegan confused.

  • Sara says:

    Im proud to be a vegetarian, even though my parents think im weird. i cant commit to be a vegan just yet.

    its wrong to kill helpless animals for your own selfish needs…. :(

  • Nyx says:

    I’m 16 years old. And I am a vegetarian since I was about 9. It was and stil is wery hard for me because my whole family eat’s meat. My mom understands me and cooks for me specialy. My dad is the one who thinks animales are in the world only so we can eat them. And I realy hate him for that. To me a vegetarianism is a way of life and altho it is difficult from me sometimes I’m proud of it!

    PS: sorry for my spelling I’m from Slovenia :)

  • St.Kristofer says:

    I’ve never really liked meat. The smell, taste, texture or even the thought of where it comes from. Not limited to the thought of the cruelty to animals. But the truth is i’ve never taken the jump to become a veg head (no offence). But I’m goin to take the time to be more thoughtful of what I’m eating. Not just for myself but for my girls who love animals and I’m sure wouldn’t be to hard to convince. Just have to convince their Mom (my EX!) Here goes, wish me luck!

  • SOUGLIDES says:

    I am in my 40′s been a vegitarian/vegan for more than half my life. I have friends who say they don’t know what to cook or make. For anyone who would like to prepare a veg meal, it is the easiest meal preparation to do. Vegans and vegetarians also love raw food, salad is a good start, sprouts, tofu, beans, soya, nuts and the list goes on. Fruit in salads is healthy.

    I represented my country South Africa in martial arts competitions. I placed my team on a diet/eating plan mostly of cooked/raw vegetarian food/meals. At world championships we always bring home gold, silver and bronze. My students achieve top places, proving they have better performance than the heavy meat eaters.

    I train students to be champions in and out the ring. They have come to realise to become enlightened one must pass through the path of understanding. To understand respect we must respect all living creatures. Life is about wisdom, wisdom is only attained through the heart. When we love we understand and respect everything and everyone. When this is embarked we are free from the chains of limited belief systems, nature provides, with respect we offer our understanding.

    In the Bible Genesis states that man will eat vegetation as their meat, and so it is.

    Thank you Peta for a wonderful site, love all the recipes.

  • MMDMSDD says:

    @concerned parent: Soy milk is good… It is tasty too… It stinks a bit but that is ok.

    Personally, I am a milk-consuming vegan, not total vegan, since I ensure that the dairy I consume is almost cruelty-free.

  • emma says:

    im proud to be a veggie

  • mimi123 says:

    I am a meat eater. I don’t have high cholesterol or any other health issues. If anything, my cholesterol is low. When it reads 117/60 I say wow it’s high today! So I disagree with the statement that insinuates everyone will become obese and have circulatory issues by having a diet which includes meat, as well as that vegetarians have higher IQs. I have an IQ of 178. Meat consumption is not retarding my mental capacity. However, I do condemn the meat factories. I am fine with animal meat from private, organic farms.

  • Lottie says:

    My dad is pretty much a carnivore! I want to go vegetarian (not quite ready to give up eggs, cow milk, e.t.c), but I’m only in Year 6, so I’m not sure if it would affect my growing up. I saw the ‘Meet your Meat’ video (though probably wasn’t meant for kids!) and was disgusted by what unsuspecting shoppers are encouraging. I’ve always thought about becoming vegetarian, but soon forgot. I hope my dad lets me!

  • cypadilla says:

    Amy, try some indian options. Lentils, chickpeas any beans, etc. Their basmati rice is delicious too! I have found that may Indians are lacto-vegetarian, so they still drink milk, cheese, yoghurt (specific ones though, without a certain enzyme), but they don’t eat eggs or seafood. I find that with all the spices and different texture, I don’t feel deprives. I too don’t care much for the substitute soy sausages, but I find that I’m just fine without them . The boca burger (black bean) is what I have at restaurants and it’s delicious!

  • concerned parent says:

    My 14 year old son is trying to go vegetarian. I might be the rare parent that says, please do it. I stand behind him in about 90% of his choices in life. What concerns me about it though is with being on an extremely tight budget, eggs and milk is something that I don’t have the extra money in the budget to find hime the proper substitute. He has cut out all the “meat” from his diet. He does the veggie burgers, soy corn dogs, chikn patties and the like. Also pastas with meatless sauces. He seems happy with just that, but I know the dairy should change as well. Any suggestions for something that isn’t expensive…or a store in southern cali that specializes in veggie lifestyle?

  • Carol says:

    I did not know burger king has veggie burgers.

  • Nick C. says:

    By far the most difficult thing about becoming, and then being, vegetarian is other people. Parents, for example, will likely feel you are rejecting the way you were brought up by them and consequently feel rejected and upset. Shared meals can prove awkward and hazardous. My advice is to be positive and reassuring, avoid confrontation and provocation from mischievous friends/ relatives and play the long game. Never worry overmuch about nutrition – vegetarians are, on average, healthier, longer-lived and have higher IQs. Remember all the killing that your eating patterns would require if you went back to eating meat!

  • Scott says:

    I am in the process in becoming vegan but the only concern I have is that not eating meat isn’t going to stop the slaughtering of animals, right?

  • maria amitha says:

    i thought i could never go veg…but to my surprise..i tried and its not hard! u can have beans(red, kidney, lima, anything), u can spice tofu and have soya milk and ur done with what meat gives u :) and the best part…u look stunning!! ;)

  • Amy says:

    I tried to go Vegetarian, I even bought into the tofu and tried to make fajitas with it. Over the very short period of time I tried vegetarian my body went into complete alert and I felt like I was going to die. Even though I want to be a vegetarian, I have it in my head now that if I don’t eat meat or dairy, then I will die. I’ve looked everywhere for a website or a book at Chapters on simple everyday vegetarian meal plan options, but it always includes specialty items like fake this or that, or expensive ingredients, or an item I can’t eat like Avocado. THis happens to me with fish too, I hate fish, won’t eat it but you always see it as an unavoidable option you must adopt. I’m a simple person who doesn’t need a lot of variety, just a simple and tailored meal plan I can work on and know without it throwing my entire week or weekend out of whack attempting to become vegetarian. You know what would really help? Pre-made store bought veg meals that came with a weekly meal plan so you know which combinations to eat so you won’t suffer nutritionally. I mean the one thing in your vegan list says fruit for breakfast..thats it! Where’s the protien? It’s not a functional diet if you ask me. Ppl can’t live without protien.

  • S,V,RASTOGI says:

    VERY GOOD AND APPRECIABLE GUIDANCE

  • Cassie says:

    I eat a mostly vegetarian diet. I do still drink milk and eat eggs and cheese on occasion. The problem with me going completely vegan is the fact that I’ve read that soy and soy-based foods aren’t that healthy, after all. Frozen veggie patties have all kinds of perservatives, which defeat the ‘healthy’ lifestyle I try to live. How can I be considered vegetarian, and still avoid those other foods?

  • Gina says:

    I am 17. I live with 4 other people and they all eat meat. One of them is a 2 year old baby and my parents say that we can’t be vegetarians because we would have to chang our diet and the baby needs meat to grow up ok. They told me that I could be vegetarian if I wanted to, but all they buy is for meat lovers and I don’t have many things to choose from. I don’t make my own money to buy my own groceries. What could I do?

  • Crystal says:

    I’m new to this. Are there certain food groups that I need to eat almost daily to have a well rounded diet?

  • Julia says:

    you can rarely eat eggs and still be considered vegetarian right? I drink soy milk not dairy milk as much as possible but i am only 15 so sometimes i have to deal with skim milk bc i live with 4 other ppl

  • Katherine says:

    @SoYMilk,
    Organic milk does not mean it is humane. And even if it is organic, they still constantly impregnate the cows and take away the calves. And what do they do with the calves? Do you think they just keep them as pets? No, this is business. They’re veal.

    Cage free eggs; that simply means they aren’t in cages. They’re still in dark buildings, crowded together. Don’t trust free range either. That means they have some access to the outdoors. Doesn’t specify how much, for how long.

    If you care about all animals, you’re vegan.

  • Thiet ke web says:

    Many thing to do after this post,thanks

  • Kristen says:

    Thanks for sharing the video on Factory Farming. It makes me ill to see how the animals are treated. I have turned away from meats and dairy and have been gradually adopting a vegetarian lifestyle. It’s hard making the change, but good God, I will never support Factory Farming by eating meat ever again!!

  • SoY Milk says:

    i just dont get it can someone please explain this to me. i am a vegetarian and i drink milk but i dont really eat eggs unless they are cage free and we make them ourselves. i just need a little convincing why should i not eat eggs and drink milk. besides our family only gets organic milk and cage free eggs thats good right?

  • Eric says:

    Great article! We’ve decided to become vegetarian about 12 years ago, then made the switch to a vegan diet two years ago and we’ve noticed our health and energy greatly increase. If you’d like some free vegan recipes, check out our website at http://www.livingrawandvegan.com.

  • Todd Fogelberg says:

    There is a lot of good information here- be sure also to visit Mercy For Animals for more information. Both PETA and Mercy do a great job! Read the brochures and recipes, lots of options for those who choose to go meatless.

  • Sabrina says:

    I have been aa vegetarian for about 3 years and I have never looked back! My sister and I actuallt started together to loose weight, and it has been such a great experience. My new year’s resolution is to transition to Vegan, but my Fiance is a little neverous about the effects it might have if we decide to have children. Does ayone have any advice on how to be vegan and pregnant?

  • Arian P.Q. says:

    @Lena and any other person with the same issue:

    I had the same problem, my family is culturally attached to meat and I as well was raised on it, but it does get better. Try integrating the veggies slowly into your diet and eat them how YOU like them, because seriously, nothing sucks worse then eating something you can’t stand. For me I started just skipping the meat portion on meals and eating more of the good ‘ol leafy greens or chowing down on something not meaty. Word to the wise, don’t’ substitute pasta and breads for meat, you’ll start going in the wrong direction. Finally, when I really believed I could, I cut meat out of my diet cold turkey. . . or u get the point. . .It was REALLY REALLY hard not to just eat a little now and then but every time I’m tempted I think of the reason I quite eating meat. You will warm up to the veggies, there is bound to be some you like, and even try the exotic ones, its all about how willing you are. To be a hundred percent honest the pride and joy I get when I tell someone I’m veggie also helps ;] There will not always be someone supporting you and many people will try to talk you into eating meat again but remember why you are doing it and be strong. We are all here for you. :]

  • Kim says:

    @patsy: Are you allergic to wheat? Seitan is made from wheat gluten and it is excellent for replacing meat.

  • Chrissy says:

    KaraH – I was the same way with my daughter, too! She’s almost two now and during my pregnancy I had a strong aversion to poultry and I had already cut out red meat. I’d like to think that she was a natural born vegetarian and my husband and I have adopted that lifestyle too! :)

  • patsy says:

    I am alergic to all nuts and All soy products.I try to eat egan but it is tough due to my allergies.What can I eat to replace soy and nuts? any suggestions are appreciated.

  • Lena says:

    I’ve lived off mostly meat for the majority of my life and i never could stand eating vegetables. Recently I’ve been wanting to go vegan after discovering the horrifying treatment that animals are put through and that it would be best for my health if I did. Can anyone give me some advice on how to become more fond of vegetables so I may pursue this diet?

  • kmskaty says:

    watch the “meet your meat” video on here and you will want to go veg ASAP

  • KaraH says:

    I’ve been vegetarian for about 3 years. During my pregnancy with my daughter (now almost 3) I had a major diversion to poultry and eventually after cutting out poultry, red meat and fish became disgusting to me to eat. I LOVE veggies and always have loved them! Now I have a garden of my own and grow my own produce!I love being a vegetarian and there’s so much more information now about the health benefits of being an herbaviore! Meat isn’t good for you or for the environment. There’s so many chemicals that are harmful to us that they inject into these animals that are being consumed and if you are what you eat and what you eat is toxic then it definitely isn’t good for you! People need awareness and education about this type of stuff. Good luck my vegetarian/Vegan friends!! : )

  • Ayye'Broo. says:

    I Have Been A Vegetarian For Almost A Year. Its Easy And It Makes Yu Feel Good To Be Able To Go To A Farm, See A Cow Or Chicken Or Pig And Think That Yu Have Saved Its Life And Its Familys Life. At First Yu Think ‘No i could never become a vegetarian. I couldnt imagine life without bacon or fried chicken!?’ But Once Yu Start Yu Understand Its Easy. Eventually Yu Will Grow To HATE The Smell Of Meat And Hate To See Meat And Grow Apart From The ‘Need’ For Meat. Hope Yu All Have Good Luck Becoming Vegetarian/Vegans.(:

  • Sylvia Santos says:

    Please do not eat anymore meat of any type. Please learn what is being done to the animals, that they are defenseless from human-predators.Young baby turkeys, birds of all types, pigs,deer, and all others have been made to suffer painfully. They are kept prisoners, deprived of food, water, space to move, made to step on their on feces, left to die while others are seeing them laying right next to them, so helplessly. Our government does not take any action to stop this criminal behavior, and they get to go sit on their dining room table just waiting to eat a slaughtered animal. Shame of them, Shame on all who have been educated of the torture and bavarian killings, and yet still they continue to condone the massacre of killings. May God spare the lives of these innocen animals.

  • Sylvia Santos says:

    Thank you PETA for defending our animal kingdom God created. I used to eat meat without knowledge of the horrendous and cruel slaughtering of our precious innocent vulnerable and loving cratures; But, now, I have made it a crusade in protecing them. God Bless these beautiful life. I cannot conceive that people can continue to eat the flesh of them.

  • MJ says:

    There is a position statement by the Dieticians that clearly states that a well-planned vegetarian diet or a vegan diet is safe for all life stages. The old theory of food combining has been thrown out; As long as you eat a variety of foods each day, you will get enough of all the essential amino acids.

  • Redd says:

    Im totally thinking of being vegan. Ive just finished watching Free For All video I got from Neveshoutnever Time Travel tour and my eyes have been opened(: Im so glad I went to that concert to get the video. I had no idea the singer of Chiodos was vegan o.o

  • Valeria says:

    I’m not a vegan, but i’m thinking about it. I don’t know where and how to start. Having a kid shifted my values a lot:I used to be very mainstream, now I’m turning natural. I’m very proud to be breastfeeding, co-sleeping, babywearing business mama))) I think even the business I’m in now is sort of organic lol

  • stev0 says:

    (THANK YOU PETA) i became a vegetarian 15 months ago and haven’t looked back since; i HATE the taste of meat (any of the like 10 times i’ve tried a bite just to see if i still like it). WOW!
    after the first 2-3 weeks, i felt great; during those first couple weeks i actually FELT my body (insides) CHANGE somehow…after that i had no desire for meat! (i started VEGAN for a month but went to just vegetarian…sorry milk cows and egg hens :’( but i still eat very little animal products.)

    TRY IT! GO VEGAN OR JUST VEG!!!!!! SRSLY U WILL LOVE IT
    plus your conscience will be clear thats the biggest part! (watch those meat.com videos!)

  • Imperfect says:

    Venganism/Vegetarianism isn’t the only answer if you love all animals and don’t want any animal to suffer. There are plenty of better, ethical and moral choices on the market these days.

    I have cut back my meat intake to about 100grams (chicken/beef/sometimes pork, all organic free-range) per dinner (sometimes more depending on what I’m eating – ie, having snapper tonight so a nice big piece of about 300g). And replace the ‘meat’ portion of your plate with fresh vegies. Source your meat from places you can talk to. The same with eggs, I did alot of research into companies until I found one I was happy with (any Aussies on here – EcoEggs).

    I have however stopped drinking cows milk (and cheese and yogurt and so on) and have switched to Rice Milk and soy products. And I feel fantastic for it!

    Be smart and make informed choices about your diet and everyone can benefit. I do believe an animal deserves the right to a happy, healthy fear-free life. And as someone once said if we can give an animal that, what’s one bad day at the end of their long and happy life really matter in the end? =)

  • steffi says:

    I am considering becoming Vegan but I am on the fence. I need help understanding all of this. I have seen research to support eating meat and giving it up. I don’t know what to do. HELP!

  • jess says:

    If anyone on here who doubts or criticizes any of these claims about eating meat.. please read the china study :) that is all

  • Dominic says:

    I’ve been vegan for a solid two months now and I’m feeling better then ever. I think the problem most people have with a vegan diet is eating soy. Here is my solution: don’t eat it. So is not a health food nor is it good for you. It fucks with your hormones and actually disrupts your ability to form protein.
    Simply eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables while getting the bulk of your calories from high fat and starch foods. One of the biggest misunderstanding about human nutrition is that we need to consume a lot of protein. The truth is we really don’t need that much protein and too much is actually harmful to our bones.
    I’ve been lifting weights for a long time and I had been stuck using the same weights for about a year. Since I’ve gone completely vegan I’ve had more energy and strength than ever before. I can now curl 35lbs. with each arm and can bench plates. I am just amazed that all that whey protein I used to take with my lifting was probably inhibiting muscle growth more than anything.

  • romina says:

    Ive been a vegan for 20 years now and i look younger and feel better than my friends that eat meat, but main reason i dont eat meat is i feel sorry for all the animlas that are suffering everyday, im doing my part to help them.

  • Susan says:

    I find it so interesting that you list all of these things which can actually be fixed or are already fine. First of all, any information presented by your website as well as any other site is based upon slaughterhouses who have formed such a bad reputation. Same with farms. I live in a rural area, and understand the practices of farming and their reasoning. Farmers do not want their animals to suffer; if they do, the animal will be highly stressed causing them to be have weaker immune systems and be less able to produce for us. Also, farmers are people like anyone else and do not want to see their animals in pain. Just last night I was watching a show on PBS about wolves, on which multiple ranchers were discussing their dislike for the wolves killing their animals and then not eating the kill. Antibiotics and medications cannot be administered to any animal to be used for food, otherwise the product would be contaminated. Additionally, these food-supply animals do in fact see sunlight and breathe fresh air; chicken houses have curtains which can be raised or lowered for light and air. In terms of our health, everything is okay as long as it’s in moderation. Should there be a diet for non-sugar eaters? What about those who don’t consume fat at all? Our bodies are created to consume both meat and plants; we aren’t omnivores for nothing. We have adapted over time to the state we are in now. Such health problems are not caused by simply eating meat, but by a overconsumption of one particular food. For example, poultry and fish are a leaner source of protein making them a better choice than red meats, including pork, for daily consumption. A general rule is to eat a “four-legged animal” only once a week. If people in America would learn the importance of a balanced diet including vegetables, grains, meat, fats, and fruits, we would be a healthier population. Finally, research has shown that the Earth does not have enough land suitable for crop production to sustain the current human population, let alone all animals included. Waste is waste. Just because we have regulations to treat our human waste, it doesn’t mean that if we didn’t have these regulations our waste would be just as harmful. We are animals too.

    To conclude, we are animals too. The food chain consists of prey and predators. How are we different to a wolf who kills a cow using their teeth to bite and tear at the animal? How are we different if that wolf kills many cows, and does not eat a single one?

  • Lori says:

    I am a vegetarian because I do believe it makes a difference in the number of animals killed yearly, but what are the references for this information? I don’t think I save quite so many animals.

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