How do we characterise questions to be specifically about vegetarianism, as opposed to issues that equally affect vegetarians and non-vegetarians?

For example, consider these questions:

Just because some activity is compatible with a vegetarian lifestyle, does not make it on-topic on the site. What are the criteria to determine whether a question is specifically vegetarian, as opposed to something that affects anybody?

See also boat programming. This is a recurring concern over on Travel as well.

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If it isn't unique to vegetarians, it's not really necessary to ask here.

In particular, general food safety (e.g. removing pesticides and/or bacteria from food) is applicable to anybody, not just vegetarians. Just because you may eat more fruits or vegetables than an omnivore doesn't mean they don't have similar concerns. (Such questions could be migrated to Seasoned Advice.)

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  • This is a reasonable answer, but I'm downvoting because it doesn't reflect our actual current practice. – Nic May 11 '18 at 0:16
  • Erica, could we get this question [featured] on the main site? It seems to be our biggest stumbling block right now, and I just had a bit of a discussion in chat about it. – Nic May 15 '18 at 3:21
  • @Nic done, this is now a featured question. – Erica May 15 '18 at 12:25

These questions should be off-topic. A vegetarian on a bike can ask over at bicycles.SE, while "Is it healthy to?" can be asked at health.SE.

This is not a Q&A about the human condition, but about things specific to Veg*n lifestyles. So What are the health benefits of vegetarianism? would be on-topic.

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  • 2
    While I think these are off topic, being on topic elsewhere doesn't actually prevent them also being on topic here. Questions are only off topic if they don't match a site's scope. – SuperBiasedMan Feb 3 '17 at 10:21

I think the first question is at least borderline on-topic, since veg*ns usually need to prepare fruits and vegetables to eat.

We should be wary of closing questions just because they are on topic elsewhere or are widely applicable. This does not necessarily make them off-topic here.

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  • 6
    Everybody needs to prepare fruits and vegetables to eat. – gerrit Feb 1 '17 at 19:15
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    @gerrit nonetheless, I consider the question significantly of interest to visitors to this site, even though it is widely applicable (I come from Ask Ubuntu, where Linux-in-general questions are on topic as long as they are applicable to Ubuntu) – Zanna Feb 1 '17 at 19:35
  • @gerrit With the difference that fruits for fruitarians are like the whole life, it's their passion and literally their life depends on them. Same with vegetables for vegans, they don't eat anything else, so how to eat it and prepare is part of their life. Otherwise what would be on-topic. Asking only if X is vegan/vegetarian, we can quickly run off the questions. – kenorb Feb 1 '17 at 21:28
  • @kenorb vegans eat many foods besides vegetables :) – Zanna Feb 1 '17 at 21:49

We need a more nuanced definition. It's not precise enough to say:

If it isn't unique to vegetarians, it's not really necessary to ask here.

That sets an extremely high bar that excludes a large set of interesting and useful questions. There's really very little that is truly unique to vegetarians, especially among food. Tofu is not the exclusive property of vegans. People who are lactose-intolerant are interested in dairy substitutes, even if they still eat meat. Any food that a vegetarian might eat is probably also eaten by a non-vegetarian somewhere. So are we going to blacklist questions about food on a site that is primarily about food? I don't think so.

The thing that makes vegetarians and vegans unique is that they live within some generally agreed-upon constraints which are not followed by society at large. So I propose a different test.

Questions must relate to constraints that vegetarians live within and the challenges that arise from those constraints.

This is similar to the idea that Erica and others were trying to express, but the wording is more flexible. Now a question about meat substitutes would be on-topic because it relates to a vegetarian constraint against eating meat, even though tofu and the Beyond Burger are eaten by plenty of people who aren't vegetarians.

But what counts as a vegetarian constraint? Not eating meat is an obvious one. So too for eggs, dairy, and leather, even though those restrictions are followed by a smaller group of vegetarians (the vegans). But those aren't the only groups we have here! We also have fruitarians and raw foodists who choose to avoid most vegetables and cooked foods, respectively. They might not be popular lifestyles, but the restrictions are valid within their framework. It's up to the community to determine which lifestyles we accept here -- I suspect that we won't be allowing questions about breatharian living any time soon. Meta is the right place to make these decisions.

Let's see how this plays out with some of the recently contested questions.

How to remove pesticides and harmful bacteria from fruits and vegetables? (borderline)

One of the useful functions of cooking food is that it kills bacteria. This person's problem could be avoided by cooking their food, except they have adopted a constraint against cooking food. That constraint is valid within their chosen framework. This is why it's very important for questions to be tagged with the appropriate lifestyle or diet pattern, so that we can answer the question with respect to the chosen constraints. In that regard, the question is on-topic. However, the bit about pesticides does seem to off-topic because it doesn't relate back to any vegetarian constraint. This question is borderline and could benefit from editing (the title especially) or clearer tagging.

Are mango seeds edible? (fail)

I don't see how this relates to any vegetarian constraint. By this test, the question would be considered off-topic. I say that while being fully aware that I have voted to reopen the question and it currently has 4/5 reopen votes. I voted to reopen based on precedent, not definition.

Is boiling orange or lemon peels and drinking it as a tea healthy? (fail)

There's nothing in the question that relates back to a vegetarian constraint so I can definitely see why it was closed off-topic. It was nearly redeemed by the answer which shows that orange and lemon peel are a good source of pectin which is a vegetarian substitute for gelatin, but that would really work better as a separate question. Conclusion: off-topic.

What place do chia seeds have in cooking? (pass)

Chia seeds are an excellent source of omega-3 fats. This relates directly to the constraint against eating fish because oily fish are (currently) the world's largest source of omega-3 fats and therefore it might be a challenge for vegans.

How can components of a packaged food item exceed the net weight? (borderline)

If the question had been asked in the context of a low-carb diet (eg. vegan keto) then it could be on-topic based on the constraint to reduce carbohydrate intake. However, the question wasn't asked in that context, so it doesn't seem to relate to any vegetarian constraint. It also meets the bar of being substantial concern for non-vegetarians because understanding nutrition facts labels applies to nearly everyone. Migrating to Seasoned Advice would have been the right choice.

Okay, that seems like it works fairly well. And from a quick glance at the most highly upvoted questions on the site, I'd say that our best questions all fit this test as well.

And just to round out the definition, I'd like to add a supporting corollary.

Before migrating a question it should be shown to be a substantial concern for non-vegetarians.

This sets a pretty high bar for migrating questions to other sites. Most people will live out their entire lives without ever boiling orange or lemon peels. That's not a substantial concern, so we shouldn't migrate it. If we don't like the question, we can just close it. Likewise eating mango seeds is not a substantial concern, so it shouldn't be migrated. However, arsenic in rice is a substantial concern, and could merit migration. Even though vegetarians eat a lot of rice (with beans!) it's also important and common for a lot of people who don't restrict their diet.

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  • This is also why I think that raw foodists should have a distinct tag rather than being grouped together with all raw foods. The tag should clarify the constraints that the question is working within. – Nic May 15 '18 at 20:36

2018 update The highest voted answers to this question say that we should be closing questions which aren't specific to vegetarianism, but that doesn't seem to be what's happening in practice with currently active members on the site.

Consider the following questions which are not specific to vegetarians.

These foods are not the exclusive domain of vegetarians or vegans.

Vegetarians aren't the only ones who need these nutrients.

This is arguably not even related to the core site definition.

I'm adding this post because I think these questions need to be considered as precedent when making future decisions about close votes, even though this contradicts the most upvoted answer on this question.

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