Myths and Stereotypes About Vegans

Knowledge, acceptance and perceptions of veganism vary widely by culture and geographic area. Although veganism is most common in more urban and progressive areas, myths and stereotypes about this lifestyle choice are still extremely pervasive.

Some of the more common stereotypes about vegans and veganism include:

  1. Vegans are skinny, weak, pale, and anemic.
  2. Vegans are confrontational and in-your-face.
  3. Vegans are all animal rights advocates and activists.
  4. Vegans are hippies and tree huggers.
  5. Veganism is about deprivation.

As with most stereotypes, there is a kernel of truth to each one of these thoughts.

  1. Vegans are, in fact, generally thinner than the general population. Studies have shown that in a spectrum from omnivore to vegan, meat-eaters have the highest body mass index, while vegans generally have the lowest BMI. While the difference in BMI is significant, vegans as a whole have never been shown to be underweight. The average BMI of 22.0 and 22.5 in vegan women and men, respectively, is squarely in the middle of the “healthy weight” range suggested by health organizations like the CDC.
  2. Some vegans do feel strongly enough about their decision to eschew animal products that they protest, leaflet and otherwise seek to influence others’ choices. But most vegans go about their lives quietly, will never protest anything, and would feel uncomfortable handing out a brochure about veganism. You may even know people who are vegan and not know they are vegan.
  3. While some people do go vegan out of concern for the treatment of animals, many people choose to eat a plant-based diet for health reasons, for example, and have no inclination towards animal advocacy. Just over half of all respondents to a 2008 poll conducted on behalf of Vegetarian Times cited animal welfare among their reasons for not eating meat. However, half of all respondents also cited health as a major motivator for their dietary change, and a quarter cited weight loss.
  4. Some vegans could be called (or may even self-identify as) hippies, and many care about the environment. But there are vegans of all walks of life, with varied incomes, styles of dress, professions, and views. There are vegan ultra athletes, politicians, actors and actresses, doctors, lawyers, writers, singers, and artists. Some are deeply involved with environmental causes, while others are not.
  5. Yes, there are certain things vegans choose not to eat, whether for health, animal advocacy, environmental, or sustainability reasons. But vegans also enjoy extremely delicious, satisfying, and sometimes even decadent foods. There is now a vegan substitute for just about every animal-based food (including plant-based milk and vegan “meats”), often with several brand and flavor options. Whether it’s a “cheesy” sauce made with nutritional yeast, a raw brownie made with nuts and dates, or a veggie burger made with beans and potatoes…anything animal products can do, plants can do better!

But more important than refuting every possible stereotype about veganism is understanding why these misconceptions persist. There are two main explanations for the pervasiveness of these ideas:

  1. Lack of knowledge. If you’re not vegan or don’t know anyone who is, what shapes your impression of people who have chosen this lifestyle? A character in a movie or television show? A chance encounter with someone at a restaurant or social event? When people don’t have facts or concrete knowledge to inform their views, stereotypes become increasingly powerful.
  2. Noticeable behavior. People are obviously more likely to notice someone whose appearance or behavior is counterculture, or groups who have organized to convey a specific message. For example, a group protesting fur at a fashion show, a few individuals leafleting outside a film, or a couple with lots of piercings and tattoos wearing “vegan” t-shirts are more noticeable than people who are not conveying a message with their actions or apparel. So it’s easy to incorrectly assume that certain behavior is representative of the entire population of vegans.

The Takeaway? While it’s great to actively spread awareness that veganism is not some kind of cult or exclusive club, it can also be effective just to live according to your values and let others notice your healthy glow, your clear conscience, or your uncomplicated love of animals.

Image Credit: Caro’s Lines/Flickr