Once you’ve decided to step onto the road to veganism, you are faced with a challenge that omnivores only face on a much smaller scale. Or maybe it’s just a different scale. Everyone ends up explaining their diet choices to someone sometime. Daily fast food eaters often have to defend their obesity to strangers; the lactose intolerant may have to explain the unpleasant gastro-intestinal after effects of the cheese being pushed on them at parties; the diet conscious will have to explain (endlessly) why she doesn’t want an enormous piece of chocolate cake at the coffee shop. Human beings as a whole tend to be very judgmental about other people’s diets and lifestyles. Vegans face this judgment on a daily basis.
I was pretty lucky that I had a supportive family when I made the switch (my brothers made fun of my choice of bottled water but not of my desire not to eat meat.) I was also shy and fairly reclusive at 13 so explaining it to my friends was not really an issue. I never told a doctor about my choices in the early stages, so I didn’t have that hanging over me (mostly because doctors had never heard of veganism and didn’t know that they should ask about it.) But not everyone is so lucky.
Veganism myths are born of not knowing anything about veganism or of knowing that it means trying to abolish meat and dairy as food products and not wanting that to happen. The trick is to know what the myths are and have an answer for the naysayers when they start in on you.
1. Veganism is a diet that you can “cheat” on.
Nowadays, everyone’s heard of veganism, and everyone has an opinion about it. And no one is shy about telling you. I was in a bookstore in New York recently and the cashier asked about my reading choices (The Face On Your Plate by Jefferey Masson, The Starch Solution by Dr. John McDougall). I told her that I was the founder of Starter Vegan Media and was doing some research for upcoming shows. Her response, “Oh, I couldn’t do that. I have to give up too many things for Lent once a year. And I never crave anything more than what I have to give up on those days. I would die.” Okay. Veganism is not a diet. It’s a conscious living and compassionate lifestyle. Once you decide veganism is your choice, it is necessary to remind yourself of why you’re doing it. Go to a factory farm and tell me you still crave a bucket of chicken.
In my adult life I’ve run into numerous omnivores who believe that veganism is a diet without connection to the source of our food. I’ve been at parties where someone will say to me “you can cheat on your diet just this once can’t you?” No, I can’t, because it’s not a diet. It is a determination never to knowingly participate in the torture and destruction of living beings with parents, friends and children. If I eat cheese or deviled eggs or chicken salad, I am telling the factory farms it’s okay to do what they’re doing and it’s not. I’ll just have some salad, thank you.
2. Vegans are preachy.
It’s true that going vegan or raw can have such a profound effect on your life that you want to share it with everyone. And sometimes it’s hard not to point out that what other people are eating is affecting animals, the planet and you. In fact, when I was in my twenties, I regularly and loudly protested cosmetics companies, marched in anti-fur rallies and sent my mother-in-law detailed descriptions of the process by which she obtained her fur coats. Now I write a single letter to the company I am protesting telling them why I won’t buy their products in the future. Then I never buy it again. You’d be surprised how well this works. When they get enough letters refusing to buy their products, they can be persuaded to change their policies. This is why McDonald’s doesn’t use Styrofoam containers for their burgers anymore. The rallies were never effective. People just thought we were crazy and didn’t listen. Sending anti-fur literature to my mother-in-law didn’t make her give up her furs or stop buying new ones, but it did make her hate me. Now I seduce them with the food.
I also find that it’s serious carnivores who are preachy. Last week, I acquired a twitter follower who called himself an “extreme bacon connoisseur.” He only followed me long enough to send me links to pigs being slaughtered. There are people making videos on YouTube that are all about how much they hate vegans. My recent doctor visit was all about my doctor talking to me about how bad for me veganism is, rather than a discussion of the estrogen level problem I had gone there for. It’s not us who are preachy, it’s them. Best to give them a beauty queen smile and ignore them. Just remember, you’ll live longer, be healthier and eat guilt free.
3. Veganism is a hippy thing and I’m not a hippy.
In the 70s, veganism was a hippy thing. Now it’s mainstream. More and more products are being created for vegans. Not only that, but products that have always been accidently vegan are now being labeled as such, so we can easily identify them. I can go to the market and buy phyllo that is labeled vegan. Even though it’s the same brand and recipe that I bought 3 years ago without a vegan label. I can buy vegan stilettos, designer handbags and cosmetics. It’s no longer a hippy thing and even if it was, such an arbitrary label shouldn’t keep you from doing the right thing.
4. Vegans only eat twigs and berries.
Vegans have never only eaten a diet of twigs and berries. This is just a justification for meat-eaters to keep from giving up their cruelty foods. Hand them a bowl of garden mac n’ cheese or a vegan chocolate cupcake. See if they still think that. I get more compliments on my baked goods from omnivores than anyone else.
5. Vegans crave meat.
This is one of the stupider myths. All creatures, both human and animal, get used to eating certain things. When we change what we’re eating, we crave whatever that thing was for a short time, then we get used to the new diet and the cravings go away. This doesn’t happen only to people new to veganism. It happens when someone gives up coffee or sugar or bread too.
But this myth took a really pathetic and disgusting turn a year ago when writer Jeff Corbett of the Newcastle Herald in Australia wrote an article (that was actually published) that stated that vegetarians chose not to eat meat because they found meat repulsive but vegans chose not to eat it because of animal suffering. The reality, Corbett stated, was that vegans would eat meat if it was cruelty free and that we could often be found scraping dead animals off the highways because we constantly crave roadkill. Of course, this is ridiculous. In 36 years of veganism, I have never once craved roadkill, nor would it ever cross my mind to eat a dead animal no matter how it died. I have, on occasion taken injured birds, skunks, cats, dogs, deer, ducks, armadillos, donkeys and horses off the road to animal hospitals after some jerk has run them down and left them to die. I have mourned the ones who died and given homes to the ones who lived. But never have I considered any animal a food product for consumption. To this myth I say, I crave kale not ‘kill.'
6. Veganism is emasculating.
This myth is just plain weird. Why is compassion not manly? It takes a lot more courage to stand up for the rights of creatures without voice than it does to stand up for ourselves. This is just a way for the carnivorous, monster truck owner to keep his destructive lifestyle. The person who makes this comment is usually someone who over-consumes resources in all areas and doesn’t want his choices to be limited in any way. Vegans are a threat to the macho, meat-eater. Just shake your head and walk away. Whatever you say after this comment is not going to sink in anyway.
I was once punched in the face because a guy I had just met accused me of making his father’s cattle ranch go bankrupt. Does that mean that carnivorous diets cause violence? That remains to be studied. But for now, it means that this person is a jerk and wanted to someone to blame. If someone's manhood is threatened by the thought of going vegan, they've got more serious problems.
7. Vegans don’t get enough protein (or calcium, or B12)
Compared to many mammals on the planet, humans are tiny with much less muscle mass. However, these giants animals, like hippos and giraffes and horses and cows are vegans. They eat plant-based diets and they grow strong and heavy muscles without the addition of meat to their diets. This is because protein is found in plant foods. Every plant food has protein in it in varying amounts. The same goes for calcium. By eating meat and dairy, we are just consuming the middleman, while taking out all the fiber and adding a lot of fat. Even if you don’t follow the ethics part of veganism, the diet speaks for itself. It’s healthier because there is less fat and more essential nutrients in plants.
B12 deficiency can cause blindness. But it is very rare and there are lots of foods that contain B12. But as a measure of protection against the unlikely possibility that this might happen to a vegan, Dr. John McDougall suggests taking a B12 supplement.
The vegan diet is healthier than the Standard American Diet, regardless of what omnivores want to believe. In ten years when you are running marathons and have almost no cholesterol (except what your body naturally produces) while they’re obese and lying on the couch, ask them again.
8. Veganism is expensive.
Depends on where you shop. If you go to Whole Foods every time you need something, then yes it’s expensive but it wouldn’t matter if you were vegan or non-vegan, it would still be expensive. Whole Foods is a high end specialty supermarket. Just because you’re vegan doesn’t mean only shopping at Whole Foods. It isn’t actually a vegan supermarket, just a specialty market.
There are relatively few special items you have to buy to be vegan, most of your food can be found at the regular supermarket and farmer’s market. There’s no need to buy avocados or oranges at Whole Foods since you can get both at a local store, where you also buy your tissue cat food and shampoo. The farmer’s market is largely for things that you want to buy organic. Can’t live without strawberries? Okay. Buy them at the farmer’s market. The price might be a little higher than the supermarket but you aren’t going to be buying meat to it works out. There are some things that you shouldn’t buy if you’re on a budget, which most of us are. As much as I love heirloom tomatoes, at $4-$6 a pound, they are outside my budget. The way I solve this is to consider them a luxury item and grow them myself. They need very little space; just a little sun and some water. Rhubarb prices at farmer’s markets also tend to be a bit insane. Same with some herbs. So skip them or grow them yourself. There are plenty of affordable choices. If you’re committed to the ethical side of veganism, you’ll find the adjustments that work for you. You might have to go to Whole Foods for Ener-G Egg Replacer or for vegan margarine, but you might not have to. My local Waldbaum’s carries vegan butter and is a standard supermarket. They also carry Gimme Lean and Galaxy International Cheese. But you’ll notice that these products are just as expensive at a regular super market. In this case, it’s what you’re buying not where you’re buying it. If you only need these products a couple of times a month, budget for that and it will be fine. Try to cut down on the convenience foods. These are heavily processed and are no healthier than a 7-11 corndog. The only thing they have going for them is the cruelty free aspect. Stick to plant foods and you’ll be surprised how well you’ll eat.
9. Veganism is inconvenient.
All changes in life are an inconvenience. New jobs are a pin in the neck the first couple of weeks. You don’t know how long it takes to get there or where to eat or how to dress. New relationships are inconvenient because you know nothing about the other person’s likes and dislikes. Veganism is the same. It takes 3 weeks to get over the challenges and withdrawals of your old bad habits, but you’ll form new ones that work just as well. After a while you’ll carry nuts and nutritional yeast in your purse just in case. You’ll make hummus and pesto and vegan crackers in case you need something fast after a long day. You’ll bake all sorts of delicious things on your day off so you’ll be ready for the next week. You’ll have a two or three recipes that you can make on a moment's notice.
10. Vegans are pale, sickly and weak.
This is not just a layperson’s belief. It is also perpetuated by Western medicine. When I went to the doctor 2 weeks ago, the endocrinologist first asked me if I was vegan or vegetarian. Then, after getting her answer, she said, “Vegans have trouble getting enough animal protein, which is essential for bone health.” Clearly she knows nothing about veganism or about nutrition. I get no animal protein and never will. In addition, no one needs to eat animals, it’s part of our culture, but it isn’t a necessity.
Vegans play professional sports, have children, run marathons and live longer than their carnivorous counterparts.
The myths about veganism persist because there are always people who don’t want to change their lifestyle, regardless of the destruction it’s doing to their bodies, the animals or the planet.
More often than not, myths develop as a result of misinformation or wishful thinking. Unfortunately, vegans will have to continue to combat these myths as long as there are meat eaters who spread them.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons -- Claude Covo-Farchi