There are several types of vegetarian. Lacto-vegetarians eat dairy products but not eggs. Ovo-vegetarians eat eggs but not dairy products. Ovo-lacto-vegetarians eat eggs and dairy. But vegetarians who have chosen to forego meat in order to avoid the killing of animals may find that they are - albeit unwittingly - complicit in just that.
Since the overwhelming majority of farm animals are factory farmed (95% in the UK and Canada, 99% in the US) it is likely that their eggs and dairy products are sourced from the intensive agri-industries. These systems are designed to suit the industry and as a result the needs of the animals are disregarded.
Take eggs. Hens in the commercial sector are bred for high egg output. Being no good for meat male chicks are an unwanted by product. Thrown alive into grinding machines or into bins for gassing with carbon dioxide, their remains are used for animal food or fertilizer.
Even hens selected for the organic and free-range egg market are sorted this way. Although these birds have the freedom to exercise, have litter for dust- bathing and areas for nesting, they are kept in large colonies - up to 3,000 in the organic sector and 4,000 in the non-organic free-range sector. With flocks too large for birds to form a natural pecking order they often, in their stress, turn on each other. In order to avoid 'cannibalism' (which can cause 25-30% mortality) farmers - even organic farmers, though only with special permission - resort to beak trimming, a hugely painful and disabling mutilation.
When egg production begins to fall off - usually after about one year of laying - hens are taken to slaughter. Their carcases are used for cheap food products like soups, pastes or stock cubes, or processed into fertilizer. This is intensive production. A healthy free-range chicken can live for 15 years.
Then there is intensive cows' milk production. In the UK this accounts for 95% of all cows' milk production, including organic. To ensure a constant supply of milk cows calve once a year. Those with no commercial value are killed at birth. Those to be kept as dairy herd replacements or destined for the veal and beef markets are removed from their mothers within a few days of being born.
Meanwhile dairy cows, having been treated as little more than milk machines, will be culled after two to five years of milking (depending on the intensity of the system) and their carcases processed into cheap food products like soups, pastes and pâté.
Goat milk production is also becoming more intensive. 'Zero grazing' is becoming more common (as it is for dairy cows) which means that animals spend all their lives inside. As in the dairy cow industry mothers and offspring are separated at birth. And, like dairy cows, female goats, worn out by excessive milking, might be culled after only a few years of milking and sold as meat. A goat's natural lifespan is between 15 and 20 years, a cow's 17 to 20.
And what of sheep's milk products: cheeses like Feta, Halloumi and Roquefort? Dairy ewes are worn out more quickly than ewes that are farmed only for lambs. 'Spoiled udders' (a trade euphemism for mastitis) are a common cause of culling. 10 - 12 years is a sheep's natural lifespan, a dairy ewe's five to seven.
When labels read "Suitable for vegetarians" it might be more appropriate if they came with a warning: "Suitable for vegetarians ??". For if eggs or dairy produce have originated from factory farms then buyers are complicit in supporting the intensive egg and meat industries that involve slaughter and cruelty on a massive scale.
Only at small retailers, farm shops and farmers' markets can customers find out if the food they buy has a compassionate provenance. The extra expense means that animals will not have suffered the cruelty inherent in the factory farming system, reared with such brutal efficiency that their entire lives are, in effect, torture.
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Always hungry on your new vegan diet? You may not be eating enough, says Lanou. "What people find when they move to a more whole-foods diet built from plant foods, is they have to eat larger quantities of food," she says. "People find themselves hungry or not feeling full and it's because the caloric density of the food they're eating is lower." For example, you can't expect to go from eating a sandwich that has meat, cheese, lettuce and tomato, to a sandwich with only lettuce and tomato and expect to feel the same amount of fullness, she says. So you "have to eat more food, and that happens anytime you're taking out, or removing, the calorie dense foods from your diet."
There are a myriad of plant-based options to get most of our body's essential nutrients -- you can get calcium, for example, from leafy green vegetables and tofu instead of milk, and you can get omega-3 fatty acids from chia seeds and flax seeds instead of fish. But a big mistake many new vegans make is not going out of their way to find a plant-based source of vitamin B12, which is vital for proper neurological development and functioning, Sheth says. The nutrient "primarily comes from animal products, so make sure you're getting it either through things like fortified cereals or plant-based beverages fortified with B12," Sheth adds. Lanou explains that because the body is able to store up vitamin B12 for a long period of time, you may not even notice that you're deficient until a year or more after you've started a vegan diet. Older people who are going vegan should talk with their doctors about getting enough vitamin B12, Sheth notes, because the "intrinsic factor" in our bodies that help us absorb vitamin B12 diminishes with age.
When some people start a vegan diet, they load up on foods like processed veggie burgers, processed veggie cheese, processed veggie hotdogs, and other, well, <em>processed</em> veggie-based foods. While this can help you to stick to your meat- and animal-free goals, some of these foods aren't giving you the nutritional benefits you would get if you actually ate whole, real, non-processed foods, Lanou says. "The benefit of going from an omnivorous diet to a vegan diet has to do with what you're taking out <em>and</em> putting in," she says. "If you're putting things in that are too similar, you may not be getting all the benefits you could be getting." Sheth agrees, saying that she discourages her clients switching to a vegan diet only to rely solely on those processed vegan foods. "Those are also heavily processed -- high in sodium and fat. But you wont want to live off that either -- it's <em>still</em> a processed food," she says.
Many restaurants and stores now have plenty of options for plant-based eaters -- but not all of them. So, it's wise to carry some delicious, nutritious back-up options if you find yourself in a place where you have nothing to really eat. "You can always find a bag of peanuts or cashews somewhere, and that's not bad food, but you don't want to live on that," Lanou says. And the same goes for restaurants -- don't feel like you always have to have the salad if you're out at a place that serves meat-centered dishes, Sheth says. "You can customize and say, 'I'll have the grains and vegetables that come with the steak,' but ask if they have tofu or a bowl of chili so you can easily have all the nutrients you need," she adds.
Every time you alter your diet pattern, it will take about three weeks for your body to adjust, Sheth says, so don't be discouraged if you're feeling strange or still adjusting your eating habits when you first start. And don't take cravings as a sign that your body "needs" a certain food (a bacon craving doesn't mean your body needs bacon!) as it could just mean you need to reassess what nutrients you're consuming. "If you're craving meat or bacon, what have you been eating the last few days? Maybe you've just been living off salads, so you may not be getting adequate heart-healthy fats," Sheth says. "See if you can balance it out. Is it the fat your craving? The salt? Just assess what you're doing and see if you're meeting all your nutritional needs." Lanou advises people to listen to their bodies, and adjust accordingly. "If your body is telling you it's hungry, eat. If it's telling you something doesn't feel good when it's in your stomach, buy something else," she says.
In this edition of You've Got, Kathy Freston tells you all about the health benefits and variations of Vegan food.
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