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I was having a friendly exchange with a woman while shopping at a natural foods store when she asked me which ricotta cheese brand I liked. I took a breath and reminded myself to deliver my response gently and with a smile, “I personally don’t eat cheese. I’ve been vegan for 22 years.”  She stared at me stunned, as if she would be less impressed watching the superhuman feats of an acrobat.

“Oh wow!, that must be so hard!” she said.

“No, not at all.” I answered. “In fact, the benefits to my health, the animals, and the planet has made being vegan a joy.”

What comes next is often predictable; the same questions come up over and over again. Whether these questions are meant to be sarcastic or not, they deserve a comprehensive response. So, here are some ideas to inspire your enthusiastic answer. Or if you are the questioner, now you don’t have to bug a vegan. (Just kidding- most of us actually love to talk about it!).

 

Question #1: Where do you get your protein?

 

If an animal could be freed from the factory farm every time a vegan is asked this question, I would have no need to write this. You’ve got to hand it to meat and dairy industry advertisers; they have a product to sell and that product is high in protein. They have accomplished one of the greatest deceptions of the American public, scaring us into believing that you must have animal’s protein (and lots of it) to survive, build muscle, have healthy babies and so on. It is simply not true. Plant protein is not inferior or even scarce. Plant protein is abundant and if you’re eating a healthy, balanced vegan diet, you’re getting it.

However, if you’re on the vegan version of the ever popular and all-American pizza and beer diet, then there may be reason for concern about lack of protein- and any number of other nutrients for that matter. But if you’re getting enough healthy calories, that include legumes, whole grains, and veggies, you’re getting enough protein. You can click here to learn more about protein and the vegan diet.

Question #2: What’s the difference between killing plants and killing animals? Where do you draw the line?

 

Would you prefer to mow a lawn or hit a dog with a baseball bat? We know inherently through observation of behavior that animals have the capacity to suffer and feel pain. It is the same way we know a very young child feels pain. Pain is a lower brain stem function that all animals, including fish, equally possess. According to our scientific knowledge, it takes a central nervous system to feel pain. A cow, chicken, or fish can suffer just as much as a dog. Unlike plants, animals scream when in pain and struggle to get away from oppression. A child knows to pet a rabbit and eat a carrot.

Some will argue that plants do feel pain. It has not been scientifically proven, but even if this were the case, a vegan diet would still cause the least suffering. If you eat animal products, you are actually killing more plants as the animals ate plants before slaughter. This wasted grain, which could be going directly to humans, is another excellent reason for veganism.

 

Question #3: Isn’t it natural to eat animals?

 

If it’s so natural, I invite you to hunt your prey as other “natural carnivores” do. Use your senses, sniff out your prey, hunt with the chase, plunge your teeth into the jugular and eat the raw, bloody flesh.

Or you can go in the garden, pick a strawberry and eat its raw, juicy flesh. Which would you choose? Do you salivate and think about dinner when you see road kill? We are not carnivores. We can survive and as we are learning, thrive on an all plant diet.

We are evolving. We now live in houses, use computers, freeze our food; would any of this be considered “natural?” The more we learn about the abundant benefits of not eating animal products, the less “natural” they will seem.

Question # 4: What DO you eat?

 

Everything else! There is a wide variety of vegan and vegetarian food out there. Shopping at natural food stores can open you up to a whole new world of delicious plant foods. Some healthy options are whole grains like rice, quinoa, millet and amaranth. There is also pasta, couscous, polenta, breads, tempeh, setain, a plethora of beans and of course, tofu as well as the abundant variety of veggies and fruits. Many people feel their diet has much more variety after they go vegan.

 

Question #5: Isn’t vegan food too expensive?

 

Beans, rice, bread, and pasta are some of the least expensive foods in the supermarket. Where it starts to get pricy is with the faux meats and cheeses that are highly processed and not all that good for you (although it’s healthier than meat!). They should be eaten sparingly anyway.

But maybe you can look at it this way. How about spending a few more dollars on your food bill now and save hundreds of thousands of dollars on triple by-pass surgery or chemo in the future? Not to mention the suffering, misery and anguish of having a chronic degenerative disease. You can reduce your chances of this terrible fate significantly, all while protecting animals and helping save the planet. I would say that is worth a few extra bucks.

Question #6: I’m very athletic and need energy/protein. Aren’t vegans scrawny and weak?

The list of incredible vegetarian and vegan athletes who have accomplished amazing feats with their bodies is growing rapidly. You can build muscle on any protein, animal or plant. There are even world champion ultra marathoners and vegan bodybuilders!

There is no nutrient in animal products that can’t be found in a superior plant source. Superior, because plant foods are high in fiber, antioxidants and phytochemicals, and unlike animal products, contain no cholesterol or high saturated fat. Generally, when people are “feeling low energy” and think they need protein, they just need calories. Even the American Dietetic Association proves that there is no need for meat to build muscle.

Question #7: If you were stranded on a deserted island with only animals to eat, would you?

 

Hmm, how likely is this scenario?

The answer to this question is that we are not on a deserted island; this is not Survivor. Quite the contrary, we are in a first world smorgasbord of plant foods. Thank goodness! I sure would have gotten sick of seaweed!

 

Question #8: Isn’t it too hard to remain vegan when you travel?

Whether you are traveling in the U.S. or internationally, you can always find vegan food. You might have to dig a little deeper to find healthy options, but if you are persistent, staying vegan while traveling can be rewarding.

In the U.S., almost every major city has a health food store and a Chinese restaurant featuring at least one veggie and rice dish. Most restaurants will create something for you if there is nothing vegan on the menu. One time, I reluctantly joined my family at a steakhouse and had an excellent non-menu meal. The waiter gladly brought me a green salad, baked potato with margarine, and a mix of roasted veggies. Quite healthy and cruelty-free compared to what the rest of the table indulged in.

If the server seems reluctant, and I am unsure if they will be careful and honor my request, I will sometimes say it is for health reasons, like I’m allergic and could have a reaction. This often gets his or her attention.

If you are planning a trip, do a bit of research before you go. There are excellent websites that offer information on natural food stores and veg-friendly restaurants in an area. Some cities might surprise you and have excellent options. Vegan treasures are hidden everywhere. Isn’t that one of the joys of travel- finding unknown pleasures? We can do all this and still remain free of animal suffering.

 

Question #9: Indigenous people eat meat. Would you tell an Inuit to go vegetarian?

No, I would not. Their climate, location and circumstances force them to eat meat to survive. But we are not in the Arctic. We have an abundance of plant foods overflowing in our farmers markets and grocery shelves.

Actually, our planet’s survival hinges on us, the first world, eating a more plant-based diet. Our livestock production spews greenhouse gases, destroys rainforests, causes severe topsoil erosion, and wastes vast amounts of water, polluting what’s left. The entire planet’s survival depends on how much we consume and destroy. A shift to a plant-based diet in the first world could vastly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reforest more than 600,000 acres of land in the U.S. alone and save the Inuit people.

Question #10: Aren’t your shoes leather?

Vegans are all striving to make personal choices that will improve our world. Striving is the key word here. Finding non-leather, eco-friendly shoes can be a full time job. Some vegans do it and others don’t. Perhaps some people choose to put their energy into avoiding animal products in their food, in their personal care products, and in their entertainment choices, yet they still wear their old shoes that they don’t want to throw out. We have to pick our battles.

Ultimately, what the person is truly asking is “aren’t you a hypocrite?” Even the purest of vegans unknowingly use a small amount of animal products. Some beer and wine use fish or eggs for clarification. White refined sugar uses the ground up bones from the slaughterhouse in the refinement process. There is gelatin in tires and film. Some vegans avoid these products and some don’t. We do what we can, and avoiding meat, dairy and eggs is a noble endeavor, no matter what degree you take it to or what you wear on your feet.

We are all hypocrites to some degree. But if we are not setting our goals higher than we can actually achieve, then we become complacent. I would argue for hypocrisy over complacency any day.

Image Source: Ethan Lofton/Flickr

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19 comments on “Top Ten Common Vegan Questions (and Answers!)”

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Privileged
1 Years Ago

I wonder if all indigenous people are "forced" to eat meat by their climate, location or circumstances? I wonder if we asked an Inuit they would agree with such a statement? This is a vey privileged statement that ignores thousands of years of culture and presumes that if given a choice indigenous people would clearly choose a non meat eating lifestyle. Check yourself and the enormous privilege, assumptions and ego you have.


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Elizabeth
1 Years Ago

In response to question #2: Being eaten is an important part of many plant's life cycles. For example if there are no animals around to eat the fruit from fruit-bearing trees the seeds will not be dispersed in new areas. This is not the case for animals.


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2 Years Ago

This is what I've been looking for for almost ten years as a vegetarian! Think I might have to print it off to keep in my wallet for those individuals who look at you like you've grown a second head for aiming to go vegan! And I love that you've addressed the shoes issue in such an honest way. Thanks so much. I've recently started a site at kindtobekind.com where I'm blogging my way toward veganism. This is a huge boost!


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Alisha
2 Years Ago

Hope - this is absolutely amazing! Thank you for your kind, compassionate and informed responses to the questions we so often have to answer. This article not only helps us deal with these questions, it does so in a way that conveys the basic reason most of are vegan in the first place; we are caring people who want to make this a better world. Bravo!


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Christie Nix
2 Years Ago

WOW! Your responses to the "10 Common Vegan Questions" are spot on! I've been a vegan for 3 years and I'm always trying to find a good way to answer questions like these. I was going to write a post about it on my blog....but I think I'm just going to send my readers to your blog :) Cheers!


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It's Carmen
2 Years Ago

This is a great article! These questions seem to come up all the time & this is an easy go-to guide for answering them all!


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Lilith
2 Years Ago

Thanks so much for this information. It helps me answer questions from carnivores, especially the ones who are trying to bait me. I have no problem finding vegan shoes and boots, some are online sources, but Payless shoes has them too and are inexpensive. You just have to check the shoe labels for the materials they are made of. Even Easy Spirit shoes has a few vegan shoes on their website, and Propet shoes has them on their website as well. And there are always Crocs, they now offer many different styles, colors and price range.


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nancy
2 Years Ago

I only disagree with one thing. It's extremely easy nowadays to find non-leather shoes, bags, jackets. It used to be hard many years ago but the market has really grown. I have no problem finding these things and I don't have to make sacrifices in appearance. (Some examples of places I shop online are Urban Outfitters, Endless, Moo Shoes. There are many more places to suit many styles and people.)


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2 Years Ago

Tests have been done in the states very recently that prove meat protein actually inhances brain development. Our veggie children are being left behind!


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Carol
11 Oct 2011

Could you please supply one of those tests' results? I'd be interested in learning more. thanks, Carol

Leafy Green
15 Oct 2011

Provide link to such "tests". You're probably just pulling this statement out of your meat-laden colon. If any such study "proves" anything, you'd also have to show who funded the study. I could also say that I performed a "test" to show that eating meat inhibits one's ability to spell correctly, as "proven" by your comment :)

Jane
30 Oct 2011

As a scientist that sounds a bit absurd and I would be interested to see a study, peer-reviewed if possible, that you could post for us to look at? I tried to search for this claim online and could not find it.

04 Nov 2011

Knowing alot of vegan children (vegan from birth) who have grown up to become more succesful than most children, I would say this is not true. Alot of "studies" can be misleading, for example, we've all heard of the study that was carried out to provide evidence that adding meat and dairy to a vegan diet can and will improve someones overall health. There were 10 children, all on a vegan diet, they were fed meat and dairy, their health improved imensly, that's what they told the public, what they failed to mention is that the test were run on starving children, who only had corn and grains to eat. Of corse feeding them meat and dairy would improve their health, you could of fed them a bar of soap or a tin of commercial pet food and their health would of improved. So, the overall study was pointless, but still left people beleiving their "results". If they had ran the test on vegan children, who had a well balanced diet with lots of variety I bet their results would of turned out different. And surprise, surprise, the study was funded by a company that gains profit from meat sales. Anyway, don't trust all those "studies" or "tests" out there, they are often misleading.

Brenda
18 Dec 2011

Who funded that study? Look into it. Who presented the information? Where did you read this?

Brian
18 Dec 2011

The word is "enhance."

18 Jan 2012

Hmmm. My vegan daughter is a high school senior. She is the class valedictorian, scored near perfect scores on her SAT exams, and is being sought after by some mighty colleges and universities. It does not appear that she has been left behind. In fact, she is a peer leader and environmentalist leader in our community. I am intrigued by how many other vegan children are blossoming...

Sara
2 Years Ago

Thank you so much for this! As a fairly new vegan, I am still trying to refine my answers, and your article helps me soooo much! :)


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