Vegetarianism is not simply a present-day fashion. Human beings from diverse cultures have practiced it since ancient times. The number of vegetarians worldwide today is unknown. However, according to the Vegetarian Resource Group, there are as many 6 to 8 million in the United States alone. Since the 1980s, interest in vegetarianism has risen dramatically. So has the demand for sound information about its pros and cons.
According to the International Vegetarian Union, vegetarians at minimum refrain from eating all animal flesh, including meat, poultry, fish and other seafood. Vegetarians do eat beans, grains, fruits, and vegetables, but disagree about animal-derived foods other than flesh. Vegans refrain from eggs, dairy and often honey.
Vegetarians must pay particular attention to eating enough protein, iron, calcium, omega 3 fatty acids, and Vitamin B12. Vegans need B12 supplements or B12-fortified plant foods to maintain their health, according to the Vegetarian Resource Group.
Vegetarians, especially vegans, must also be constantly vigilant about the abundance of foodstuffs that contain "hidden" animal-based ingredients. For example, some milk cheese is made with rennet, derived from the stomachs of slaughtered calves. Some apparently non-dairy rice and soy cheese actually includes the milk protein casein.
While some people are born into vegetarianism or adopt it quickly later in their lives, other aspiring vegetarians must thoroughly relearn basic skills like routine and holiday menu planning, grocery shopping, and food preparation. This process can be difficult to sustain, especially in contexts where meat eaters are the majority and vegetarians the minority.
During everyday household or social encounters, meat eaters and vegetarians may conflict over their dietary differences. Even when they do not call attention to their eating practices, vegetarians may feel they are continually exposed to...