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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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  • sally bjorkman says:

    I WOULD LOVE TO BE A COMPLETE VEGAN, I LOVE BOILED PEANUTS STRAIGHT OUT OF THE CAN!!! I EAT THEM COLD, LOVE LOVE LOVE

  • sue says:

    Hi, my husband and I became vegetarian 7 months ago. In the past couple of weeks, we have both been waking up with achy hands and feet. I am sure its because of the diet change. How do I add or take from my diet to stop the pain?

  • LoriVeggie says:

    For those of you asking if you can still eat eggs or why you shouldn’t eat eggs, I am going to tell you why not, but it isn’t pretty. In the US alone, more than 200 MILLION chicks are killed each year by the egg farming industry. Essentially, since male chicks do not lay eggs, they are of no use so they are killed a few days after hatching. The typical killing of these poor little chicks is to throw them into a high-speed grinder live, break their necks, gas, or electrocute them. Once I realized that was happening, it was not difficult to make sure I never ate an egg or any egg bi-products, again. Many things have eggs in them. If you want to cut out eggs or any egg products, I highly recommend you start reading the labels on anything processed you buy. While most breads do not contain eggs, some do. And likewise, pastas are also made with eggs, even the ‘no-yolk’ pasta, so opt for the rice and wheat pastas that usually don’t. Sorry again if this information disturbs anyone, but the image has been stuck in my mind forever and as a result, besides meat, milk, and cheese…I don’t eat eggs.

  • Sjones says:

    @enavock I use Quorn brand meatless meat option which is made from mushroom instead of soy as my mother had hormone reactive breast cancer and must steer clear of soy products.I also LOVE almond milk.

  • Tom Tobin says:

    Hi all, I ordered my hard copy of the Veg starter kit and it’ll arrive right before Christmas. I will do my trial 30 day vegetarian on January 1st. Funny thing is, I never thought I would EVER even TRY vegetarian but my wife to be is a lifelong veg-head so I thought I’d give it a whirl. I want to lose 40 lbs and I hear going veg is a good way to lose it.

  • @alexis192110 says:

    In the For Your Health portion of the article. There is a slight portion that involves vegetarians. Yet, all the statistics involved pertain to only a Vegan diet. So I wanted to clarify that a vegetarian diet has proved to reduce your risks heart disease, cancer, obesity, and strokes. Since it states that these “are directly linked to meat-based diets”.

  • onalark123 says:

    Ive had hormone positive breast cancer and can no longer eat soy products. I want to become a vegetarian. Aren’t most meat alternatives have some soy in them? Also I’m allergic to gluten.

  • jonnie313 says:

    What is the verdict on soy? I have seen several bodybuilding articles that say that soy inhibits the body’s ability to satisfactorily utilize protein. I was a vegan, trying to get into shape, and I will have to say that I’ve noticed more progress in terms of muscle definition since switching back to vegetarianism. What are some alternatives to soy based vegan alternatives?

  • I have been a vegetarian for 6 weeks now but i need more protein in the morning, are eggs ok? If not than what should i do! I need help to start this the right way. says:

    have been a vegetarian for 6 weeks now but i need more protein in the morning, are eggs ok? If not than what should i do! I need help to start this the right way. As school begins.

  • georgetownveg123 says:

    Thanks for everything you have done to help animals, PETA! It’s really thanks to you that I have been vegan for almost 2 years! :)

  • PETA says:

    @Stacey, Please read the following articles to see PETA’s stance on “free-range” animal products: http://www.peta.org/living/vegetarian-living/free-range-eggs.aspx & http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/free-range-organic-meat-myth.aspx

  • Stacey says:

    Is it OK to eat eggs if you buy them from a small farmer who treats his hens well?

  • KM97 says:

    I’ve used to be a lacto-ovo vegetarian off and on for a while because there always seemed to a problem with it for me. I mean, my mom said I needed more iron as an anemiac, and then she said I needed more protein. Then I found a solution: eating more plant-based iron and protein-enriched food such as nuts, beans, and spinach. I also found out that I could eat energy bars like Luna bars or Clif bars. Then I started back on my vegetarian diet again, and even deicided to take it one step further: being vegan.

  • hilary says:

    I have been a lacto/ovo vegetarian for nearly 29 years (started on my 12th Birthday when my father made a “nice” lobster dinner for me…witnessed their death then that was it!). I have made the jump to Vegan and love the recipe resources on your site. Thank you, PETA, for always fighting the good fight!

  • Tach says:

    Im trying to be away from soy producs because most of them are GMO here in the US, so I have increased the use of kale and specially “Quinoa” as a source of protein which are GMO free and gluten free. :). Give it a try, there are tons of recipes.

  • peggy sowell says:

    I don’t really care for meats that much, willtry your vegetarian for a week and see , Ellen still enjoying Your Shows everyday.I have been in the Hospital for some time, so I’m home on sofa and get to see You most days//// Peggy Sowell

  • KateV says:

    A great alternative to soy milk is Almond milk and it’s very tasty too!

  • Sophie Cat says:

    Sky, I had similar problems when I stopped eating meat & found that it was the overabundance of soy products I added to my diet. I recommend Quorn products – no soy in them & some of their products (the ones without a crust) are gluten free as well. They do a great imitation fried chicken breast that works well on a “chicken” Ceasar salad. As for soy, I can eat soy products 1-2 times / week, but after that the bloating & indigestion come back. Good luck.

  • Paul says:

    Faith, It can be hard with family. I think the best bet is to simply make great vegan dishes without trying to imitate the qualities of meat. If it starts to become an issue that is causing a lot of trouble within the family, consider Dr. McDougal’s approach. He’s vegan all year except Thanksgiving and Christmas so it doesn’t become a family issue.

  • Kat says:

    Faith – try Tofurky products. :) My family tells me great things about them (I can’t eat them because they contain wheat gluten, so if you know anyone with celiacs…let them know!)

  • Kat says:

    Sky…I’ve been vegetarian since age 7 and vegan for a long time :) The most important thing is to not shock your GI tract with too many high fiber foods at once!! Try to look at foods that contain soluble versus insoluble fiber. Many people have problems with insoluble fiber. While it has its health benefits (such as reducing colon cancer etc.) it can make you feel awful if your system is like mine… Test it out. Find healthy foods that make your stomach feel calm after. For me, I do best with: cooked spinach, cooked or lightly steamed carrots, rice pasta, avocado (high in soluble fiber, but not insoluble fiber. a great food!), and certain fruits, esp. berries. But my stomach goes haywire with a lot of cruciferous vegetables, such as too much broccoli, cabbage, or too much “roughage” foods. I have celiacs, so I’m used to being careful. But yeah, start with less high fiber stuff, and make sure you chew well, and drink lots of fluids throughout the day. (To this day, if I have a very high fiber food like fava beans…even more than a few, I get a stomachache. Generally husky foods (like corn kernels etc.) and lentils can be harder to adapt to…) Of course, vegetarianism/ veganism means that it’s super easy to get enough fiber. Maybe have more soups too instead of large plates of veggies? :) Good luck!

  • Sky says:

    Hi, I have been a vegetarian for nearly two months with the exception of seafood. So, I am not even sure if you would consider that being vegetarian. Anyways, I have started having some stomach problems such as bloating and cramping. A vegetarian friend years ago mentioned something about stomach problems when you first become a vegetarian. Any insight/help on this would be greatly appreciated!

  • Rsh1307 says:

    to correct that burger king/hungry jack veggie burgers are not vegetarian. A friend of mine works there and informed me that they have some beef products in them. so please don’t eat them and advice others as well. now i’ve decided not to eat anything form stores

  • Faithbs says:

    I’m a new Vegan, what is good to replace The Thanksgiving Turkey? My family is not very happy about the vegan foods, so what taste good enough to offer them for Thanksgiving??

  • Jesse says:

    I need help! Lots of help actually, and have a couple of issues. Any help would be apperciated! Currently, I am a vegetarian, although I would like to be vegan. I am a pastry chef and of course my job requires me to taste stuff that isn’t exactly vegan. I also live in a rural area. So I have a hard time, getting fresh items. The things I can purchase, are often expensive and sometimes bad. So it is super hard in the winter time to be completely vegan. It is frustrating also, as many of the ingredients called for in some recipes, are unavailable up here. Also, I am on a super tight budget, and somedays I end up eating canned vegetables, as that is all I can afford. I try to stay away from many foods. After reading what some of the stuff is made from, it makes me cringe! I would also like to try to find a job, as a vegan pastry chef! It WOULD BE AWESOME!!!!! I have made friends with a 35lb tom turkey named Baby. He IS NOT going to be eaten, and he is quite a doll! He is a sweetheart, I wish people would see them more, than a sandwich or Thanksgiving. Baby is super smart, and like to follow me around. Thank you PETA for all your work! =) ~Jesse

  • Zippy says:

    Is there an alternative to soy? It seems like our options get very slim when if you have a soy allergy or just don’t care for soy?

  • Michael says:

    Made the vegan switch after reading the China Study. I have really had some tremendous benifits for making the switch. More energy, and I feel a lot better. I have noticed a lot of people switching because of how poorly animals are treated. While this remains terrible due to conditions etc…, the main reason I made the switch was because of all the health risks that come with consuming animal products. I am amazed at how fiercly the meat and dairy industry protect their interests by magnifying the very small benifits while ignoring the larger problems that come with consuming animal products. @Rossella. You might like the section in the China Study on the Atkin’s Diet and on carb consumption.

  • lovelyveggiegrl says:

    been veggie for about a month now, feel so much better, my family doesnt really support me, but they realized i was serious when they kept giving me meat and i kept pushing it to the side of my plate, and picking every bacon bit off my salads. im 15 and have a lot of health problems so theyre being a bit more supportive once they realized how much calmer my diseases seem to be. im so happy and cant wait to try going vegan next year when i move out (my roommate is gonna do it with me) so excited!!! everyone should try going veggie! god bless! <3

  • Angie says:

    Good job Emily! Don’t get discouraged, maybe some of your family will begin to understand when they begin to realize all the yummy vegetarian food out there. My daughter, also named Emily is 11, and she decided to go vegetarian in 4th grade. At the time, none of us were vegetarian, and her older brother and sister teased her quite a bit about it. But now they tease her a lot less, and our whole family is eating vegetarian meals more and more. She has been a good influence on the rest of us, just like you will be in your family. In the meantime, have fun exploring the world of veggie cuisine, and try to let the jokes just bounce off you into the atmosphere. You are doing the right thing girl! good for you, precious, and God Bless your sweet Mama for supporting you!

  • Emily(: says:

    I’m a new vegetarian. I started just about 5 days ago & I already feel healthier. I became a vegetarian because I saw how animals were cruely slaughtered. Only my mom supports me & everyone else in my family likes to joke about how I just started. I told them why & they also go ” what about eggs?” I love animals, but I can’t go vegan yet. I’m only 14.

  • Lisa Moran says:

    I am committed to becoming a Vegan because of the nightmarish way the animals are treated. It has been difficult learning a new way of shopping and cooking but I am unable to eat meat, eggs, etc. after watching some of the slaughterhouse films.

  • rossella says:

    I’ve been on a no carb/low carb diet eating mostly meats and veggies and lost weight until i saw the video on how cruel the animals are treated. I want to start meatless but I’m afraid that I will gain weight back if I introduce carbs back in my diet any suggestions??

  • Jodi says:

    I was a vegetarian for years in my late teens and early twenties and now I have gone back to that again…in the last 4 days alone the weight haS been dropping off everyday (Bad habit to weigh everyday I know!) also I feel sooooooo much better…I do eat rennit free cheese and organic milk from pasture kept grass fed cows but I still feel soooooooo much better! I really encourage everyone to try being vegetarian at least once~!

  • kirah says:

    this was very helpul with what i needed to know,
    Thank you.
    -Kirah

  • Andrew says:

    I have been a vegetarian for a mere month (the journey of a 1000 miles begins with a single step) and have lost fifteen pounds already. I ate meet everyday for over forty years, and I feel guilty about it but am taking steps to better myself.

  • Motweeta says:

    I’ve been a vegetarian for about 4 years, I’m 15 and I really appreciate the effort PETA displays in helping new vegetarians live a healthy lifestyle.. Thx PETA!

  • Stephanie says:

    Before I became a vegan I was constantly sick all year around from flus, streap, colds etc. Always in the hospital! Well ever since I became a vegan I have not once gotten sick. Not even colds! I feel so much healthier and happy! I love my vegan lifestyle and wouldn’t change it for the world. Saving animals gives me all the satisfaction I will ever need.

  • Miranda says:

    I have decided after much consideration & investigation, to become
    a vegetarian. My partner of 20 years is an enthusiastic meat eater
    who’s angry at my decision. My decision to go veg was primarily on
    ethical grounds, but also for better health (several years ago I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes). Any tips on how to deal with this issue would be greatly appreciated.

  • Jai says:

    I have been vegetarian for nearly 26 years now and I am nearly 26.Being from India helps there are lot lot and lot of options ..but currently am in US and find it bit difficult

  • Laura says:

    I have been a vegetarian for 3 years, and I must say that in my country (Romania), it’s not easy. Even if I order a vegetable soup at a restaurant I find meat in it, and when it comes to going to the grocery store, I’m more than happy if I find hummus. I really hope that more vegetarian products will become available here and in other places which have similar problems.

  • Maria says:

    I became a vegetarian last year for my new years resolution. That summer I became lactose and tolerant which helps. Although, I still eat eggs but my parents will buy free range eggs for me. I am 15 and my mom supports me. While my dad doesn’t believe that I can do it. Since I gave up meat I haven’t had many headaches and I feel healthier. My family doesn’t eat as much meat since I gave up meat. I have also met some very cool people who are vegetarians and you realize that there are many vegetarians.

  • Samantha says:

    I just wanted to thank everyone of you who are switching, it’s great of all of you! I’ve been a vegetarian for 15 years, and I’m only 15 years old. I’m cutting out dairy and going vegan today. Enjoy your vegetarian lives :)

  • vee says:

    i have been a lacto-vegeterian for 5 years now and still my family wants me to eat meat, im begeinning to hate the smell of meat nowadays.

  • i<3hens says:

    I have been a pescetarian for a year now, as i am 14 and my mum won’t let me be a full vegetarian, let alone a vegan. I only have soya milk with my breakfast – and you can’t actually taste the difference from normal milk. – I volunteer for the BHWT and donate to over 6 charities monthly. I love the PETA, it made the transition so much easier, and i have since persuaded my best friend to be a vegetarian after i told her about the poor animals that are killed for food. Thanks PETA!

  • heather says:

    i am going to try and switch to vegetarian for the animals and for my health.

  • bdblackshear says:

    Today I decided to make the change to vegetarianism. It finally clicked to me that there is no difference between the animals we eat and the ones we smother with love in our own homes. Though I won’t be able to cut out dairy, I am making sure that the cheese is vegetarian friendly and both milk and eggs will be purchased from Sprout’s Farmers Market to make sure the animals it came from were not exposed to animal cruelty or hormones.
    I can’t wait to get started, I wish I would have made the decision earlier on in my life.

  • I've been Vegucated says:

    I saw the new documentary Vegucated about a week ago and it made me take the leap straight to veganism. I suggest that you all watch this documentary. It is really very lovely. And the woman who made it has her own website and go Vegan pledge along with daily Vegan missions.

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