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Ballad of Narayama

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You say vegan, I say vegetarian -- let's call the whole thing off

From Eric R. Schmidt of Durham, NC:

I read your review of "Forks Over Knives" with great interest; for years now, I have attempted to convert over to a purely vegan diet, but -- just as you report having done -- slipped back into the world of meat and dairy many times after the whole deal became too difficult. I know that many espouse a vegan diet as being cheaper than a carnivorous one, but as a poor graduate student I find Whole Foods to be far out of my price range.

I'm writing, though, because I was initially confused by the terminology used in your review. Over the past ten years there has been a steady semantic shift blurring the term "vegetarian," initially used simply to mean someone that abstained from meat, with the term "vegan," meaning someone abstaining from meat and animal by-products. The PETA literature I read, as well as popular herbivorous books like Safran Foer's Eating Animals, blurs this line also. At the end of the review you indeed switch over to the term "vegan," but early on you recommend a "vegetarian diet based on whole foods. Period. That's it," because both "animal protein" and "dairy" are bad for us. For the entire review you clearly mean a vegan, not a vegetarian, diet. I have friends who joke that vegans exist to remind vegetarians how comparably easy their lives are; many are self-professing vegetarians who indulge in dairy like it's nobody's business. But does the confluence of the two terms -- "vegetarian" and "vegan" -- have any political significance? Or, less dramatically, have we reached a point where the two words mean exactly the same thing?

Ebert: The film calls for a vegan diet, but uses that word only once. My wording was imprecise. I do believe, by the way, that an ordinary vegetarian diet is itself much healthier than a diet heavy on animal protein.

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