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