I am a vegetarian. I still eat eggs and dairy but I do not eat anything that once had a heartbeat - like fish, beef, pork, chicken, or seafood. After the few years I've spent not eating animals, I've learned a lot about being a vegetarian - more than just how to balance my diet so I get a proper dosage of proteins. I've learned that there's a lot of ignorance and prejudice against vegetarians. While I don't claim to be an expert on vegetarianism, I can tell you a few things that might help you understand vegetarians and vegetarianism better.

Types of Vegetarians
First of all, there are many varieties and degrees of vegetarians and reasons for becoming a vegetarian. I may leave some types out, but like I said, I am not an expert, I just play one in my own mind. I went out to lunch with my sister once and after scanning the menu and not finding anything without meat, I asked the waitress if I could have a grilled cheese made up for me. My sister explained that I was vegetarian and could not eat meat. The waitress snorted, "But you're eating cheese!" I found this attitude fairly disturbing - here was a woman who probably (judging from her ignorance) killed animals for her meals and was mad at me for eating dairy.

The first type (and the least "extreme") is called a White Vegetarian. These people do not eat red meat but do eat chicken and turkey, fish and seafood. This is mainly a health choice option.

The second type is a Sea Vegetarian. The only type of "meat" these vegetarians eat is fish and seafood - anything that comes from the sea/river/lake/water. Their reason for this type is a health choice.

The third type is a Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian. I am this type. I've heard this described as not eating anything that once had a heartbeat or not eating anything with eyes. Basically, we don't eat any animals - no fish, no seafood. As the name suggests, we do eat cheese (lacto) and we do eat eggs (ovo). Opting to be this type of vegetarian can be a health choice or a moral choice.

The fourth type is a little more strict than a Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian. These vegetarians are called Lacto Vegetarians. Basically, they are the Lacto-Ovo Vegetarians, except that they do not eat eggs. One belief stemming from the moralists is that the egg would have been alive, if it had only been given a chance to be fertilized.

The fifth type is a vegan. These vegetarians are the strictest of all. They do not eat anything that was received by the efforts of an animal. They do not eat meat or seafood or dairy or eggs or honey (as honey was made by bees), or gelatin (as gelatin is made from crushed bones). They can't even eat chocolate as it made with milk (although there is a chocolate substitute called carob - not exactly like chocolate but can pass). Vegans are most assuredly vegans by a moral choice.

Finally, there are several other types of vegetarians. There are fruitists and rawists and foodists and probably more that I just don't even know about. Fruitists only eat fruit - or vegetables with seeds such as cucumbers, peppers and squash. They believe in not taking life for their meals AND they believe that what they eat should be able to give back to the land, in order to continue the growth cycle. They only eat foods with seeds so that when they are finished eating, they can spread the seeds on the earth and a new plant will grow. Rawists do not believe in cooking their food. This means no chocolate (because heat was applied to make it) or dairy (because heat was applied to make it) and some types of alcohol. Rawists believe that cooking the food loses the most valuable nutrients.

Reasons for Turning Veggie
There are many reasons for being a vegetarian. While I can't speak for everyone, I am a vegetarian for moral reasons. I saw a documentary on the slaughtering of animals for meat and after that, I just couldn't eat meat with a clear conscience. I didn't want to be a part of their suffering. Part of this documentary dealt with the foreign market where a lot more varieties of animals are eaten. For example, in China, cats are eaten as a delicacy. The cats are kept (alive) in crates and children walk by them and pick out the one they want to eat - very similar to the lobster tank. The cats are then pulled from the crates, knocked around a few times to stun them, thrown in boiling water for a few minutes (while still alive), then are removed and skinned (while still alive) and then thrown back in the water for a few more minutes until they die. Although I have never eaten a cat and would never have eaten a cat, in my mind I found that repulsive and disturbing. I had to think about why. I own a cat and the thought of someone torturing him to death just for a meal scares me deeply. If I couldn't do that to my cat, how could I do that to another creature? Cats are cute but is that any reason to murder the ugly animals?

As harsh as my words may sound, you must understand that although I believe them and speak them when asked, I do not judge people for eating meat, nor do I really care if others eat meat. In fact, my fiancÚ is a carnivore and I make his dinner for him. I would love it if people did not kill animals but I understand reasons for doing so, too. I feel better knowing that I myself don't eat meat.

There are several other reasons why vegetarians become vegetarians. One is for health. Many people believe that meat is bad for you, that there are toxins in meat that are not, well, healthy. Meat is not as easily digestible as many veggies and grains. The other more common reason is morality. Many people do not believe in killing an animal for food. Some believe that cooking the meat is not natural. With a lot of types of meat, if it is not properly cooked (or cooked at all), it can kill the consumer or at least make him very sick. These vegetarians believe that is not an instinct then to eat meat, if you must first cook it because cooking is not an instinct. Therefore, it is a learned behavior that is not necessary. Still, other vegetarians are not comfortable with the way most animals are slaughtered for meat. Those who choose not to eat anything that is a product of an animal (like dairy and honey) may not be comfortable with the treatment those animals receive, even though they are alive. These are just a few reasons why - there may be many, many more.

Aspects of Being a Vegetarian
After looking at the types of vegetarians and some reasons for opting for non-animal life, there are many aspects of a vegetarian's life that people do not understand or even know about. Aside from not eating animals, there other factions of life that a vegetarian must consider. How far does one go with his crusade against the suffering of animals? Many vegetarians refuse to have anything to do with the death or suffering of an animal - such as textiles (leather, goose down, even wool). I refuse to have leather seats in my car and will not buy a car if the option of cloth is not available (the Land Rover is an example). I have a synthetic-down comforter instead of a goose down comforter. My purse is vinyl - although it gives the illusion of leather. My shoes, sadly, are leather. I feel bad about wearing them. I have looked all over and there are very few non-animal options. If the shoe itself is not leather, the sole is. Don't get me started on trying to find winter boots! I do use floppy disks, though (they are made from crushed bones).

Vegetarians must read labels constantly. I've been eating a snack for years and out of curiosity, I read the ingredients. It contained worcestershire sauce - which contains anchovies. Although not all brands of worcestershire sauce contain anchovies, most do. I'd rather not risk it. Some brands of Twizzler-type snacks have gelatin in them, but not all do. Some brands of candy corn have gelatin in them, but not all do. Caesar salad dressing is not vegetarian, either (the salad itself can be, provided the anchovies are not on the salad). The dressing contains anchovies, but not all brands do. Marshmallows are not vegetarian either, because they contain gelatin, although not all brands do. For a really cautious vegetarian, relying on, "Oh, I've had that before" just doesn't do. Just because you've eaten a Twizzler that's vegetarian, doesn't mean the Twizzler-type candy you have in your hands now is vegetarian.

Not only does a vegetarian consider what goes in the food they eat, they also are concerned with what goes on around the food they eat. My fiancÚ eats meat. I don't. Both meals are cooked at home, by me. In order to separate the meat from the non-meat and make sure that no trace of meat gets into my food, the meals are cooked in separate pans. We have green pans for veggies and non-meat items and there are red pans for meat. I have red utensils that only stir meat and green utensils that only still non-meat dishes. I try very hard to make sure that I only eat veggie dishes. When we go out, however, it's a different story. I have no idea what goes on in the kitchen and I can only assume and hope that they make sure to separate veggies from meat. When I worked in my college's cafeteria, there were cutting boards for meat and cutting boards for veggies. However, I am not na´ve. I know my fries are cooked in the same oil as the chicken fingers, probably right along side one another. When I go to some delis, I watch them cut the meat and then turn around and use the same machine to slice my cheese.

One myth about vegetarianism is that it is not a healthy diet. Many essential vitamins and minerals are only found in meat. By careful nutrition analysis, vegetarians can eat healthy, if not healthier than their carnivore counterparts. By combining gains and legumes and dairy, an amino acid complex can be created. Protein can also be found in tofu or mock duck.

Vegetarians and their reasons for being a vegetarian are very different, very unique. Some vegetarians were leather, some consider an occasional meat meal okay, some even go deer hunting. I hope reading some of my views may help you have a bit of insight into your co-worker, your neighbor or your daughter.

Just My Thoughts
One last thing: I, like many other vegetarians, do not judge people who eat meat so in return we would hope that people who eat meat do not judge those who choose to eat veggies.