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When I first became a vegetarian 25 years ago, there weren’t many vegetarians around. Most people didn’t understand why would anyone stop eating meat especially if they could afford it. I mean you don’t eat meat only if you don’t have enough money to buy it. I remember one incident which is kind of funny.

Back when I was living in Turkey, I always preferred fish restaurants in Gumusluk because they all do mezes as starters. When waiters came around to take fish orders, I used to order more mezes instead of ordering fish. It always worked for me. On one those occasions, I was having dinner with a bunch for people and their wives. I didn’t know anyone personally; it was a business event. When the waiter came to our table to take everyone’s fish order, I said I wouldn’t be having fish. Instead I ordered more mezes. One of the wives leaned over and told me that the restaurant was famous for their hygiene and their fish was always fresh. She said “Don’t worry, their fish is safe.” I said “It’s not the reason why I’m not having fish; I’m a vegetarian.” She looked at me with sad eyes and added: “I hope you soon get better.” She clearly thought that being a vegetarian means you have a kind of disease and there are dietary restrictions you need to follow like not eating fish!

Today, the number of vegetarians and vegans are increasing. It is good to see people challenging well-seated, even traditional practices on the grounds of respect for life, health and environment.

What Does It Mean To Be Vegetarian?
In general, vegetarianism or veganism are systems of dietary and lifestyle practices that emphasise the consumption of plant foods (legumes, grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds), avoid the consumption of animal flesh and discourages the consumption of other animal products. Therefore, these diets promote health and peace while reducing the suffering of both people and animals.

The term “vegetarian” comes from “vegetus”, the Latin for “enlivened”, and has no connection, apart from a linguistic one, with vegetables. This is a common misconception.

Types of Vegetarians

First, let me define different types of people who would not eat animal flesh because there is so much confusion out there. I often hear people saying; “But, you eat fish, right?” when I tell them I am a vegetarian. I don’t blame them as some people stop eating red meat and still eat chicken and fish but call themselves vegetarians. True vegetarians do not eat meat, poultry, fish and seafood. That means they exclude all animal flesh —or flesh foods as it’s sometimes referred to.

Here are the main vegetarian types:
Lacto-vegetarian: Lacto-vegetarians avoid all animal flesh except dairy products.
Lacto-ovo vegetarian: Lacto-ovo vegetarians avoid animal flesh but includes dairy products and eggs in their diet.
Ovo vegetarian: Ovo vegetarians exclude all animal products except eggs.
Vegan: Vegans follow a diet which consists of only plant-based foods. In other words, they exclude all animal products –including dairy and eggs—not just flesh foods. Vegan lifestyle goes beyond exclusion of animal foods; they also do not use wool, goosedown, leather, silk and any products that has been processed using animal products or some animals died during the process, like honey.

*Lacto: Dairy
*Ovo: Egg

Brief History of Vegetarianism
Throughtout the history, there have always been groups, communities and individuals that have been vegetarian or vegan. However it is only in recent years that we have seen the great move in the western world to individuals making the choice to become a vegetarian.

The biggest first step taken toward vegetarianism in history was in the nineteenth century. The nonconformist campaign against drinking alcohol also embraced the vegetarian diet by many of its members, as did the Quaker movement.

The Vegetarian Society was founded in the year 1847, and at that time had a very strong link with religious links. This link was later severed as the society moved towards a more moral crusade against the raising and slaughter of animals for food.

As the diet progressed in the west, a group of vegetarians broke away and renounced all animal products. They formed ‘The Vegan Society’ in November 1944. From then until the present, many people have progressed to follow the vegan diet.

All over the developed world people are adopting a meat free diet, though some are moving much faster than others.

The Netherlands has more vegetarians than any other western country, based on a pro rata scale of population. Germany has moved from a nation of pork and sausage lovers to having more vegetarians than the UK.

Other countries such as France are much slower to develop a vegetarian and vegan population, but even here things are moving forward. French chefs are creating meat, fish and fowl free meals, something they thought was a sin just a few years ago.

The future is one of more of the same progression towards a meat free diet. This is fuelled by the increasing food scares that are coming from animal foods and factory farming. Issues such as BSE, Salmonella and E-Coli, are sending more people to seek a safer alternative.

In addition they are also being presented with an overwhelming amount of evidence of the dangers of flesh foods, as well as the many advantages of cutting them out. All this will insure a future that is increasingly moving towards a vegetarian and vegan one.