There are a number of different kinds of vegetarians. Probably the three may types are (1) lacto­ovo vegetarians, who eat eggs and milk, (2) vegans, who eat no animal derived products including honey and (3) pescatarians or macrobiotic leaning vegetarians, who eat fish and try to stay away from dairy. There are other types, for example, Hindus eat dairy but no eggs. There are raw food vegetarians who do not eat any cooked food and focus their diets on sprouts. There are also fiuitarians who only eat fruit and nuts, since plants do not have to be killed to produce these. People become vegetarians for a number of reasons. Some of these are spiritual, i.e. following the ahimsa tenet in Hinduism, of non violence which Martin Luther King, Thoreau and Ghandi used in their teachings. The motivation is not to kill other life forms. Most vegetarians will admit it is natural for humans to eat meat, but some may choose not to live by killing other lives. Others have an ethical or political motivation. For example, vegans are often motivated by our ecological crises, and see that the way we raise cattle as a major cause of environmental degradation. Others become vegetarians for health reasons, based on data that shows vegetarians have less heart disease and less of certain cancers. For people who are vegetarians for health reasons they also try to eat whole grains and refrain from refined sugar.

For non vegetarians it may be a challenge to entertain vegetarians, since it is somewhat of a mystery as to what they eat. The safest way to entertain is to serve a legume which will provide high quality plant protein (pintos, tofu, black beans, lentils or garbanzos, for examples).  Simple wasy to do this are sauteed tofu, hummus,  veggie burgers, refried beans, black bean soup or vegetarian soups like chili or minestrone. Legumes have amino acids more similar to what might be in eggs, dairy or meat, and when combined with a whole grain, provide a complete protein of the eight essential amino acids. A vegetable source of protein is very much appreciated by vegetarians. Most vegetarians over time grow away from relying on dairy for protein sources even though they are not vegan.

Because of some spiritual and ethical reasons for being a vegetarian, it may be insulting to ask them to pick vegetables out of a meat dish, pick pepperoni off a pizza, give them soups with meat or chicken stocks, or to give them food that is cooked with meat or is stored in direct contact with meat.

Notes for New Vegetarians

France Moore Lappe’s book, Diet for a Small Planet, is a classic and teaches how to combine legumes and whole grains to get complete proteins. It is also instructive to look at traditional diets (i.e tortillas and beans, beans and rice, lentils and rice, peas and rice) to see how to make sure you are getting complete proteins.