veg·an /ˈvēgən/ (Noun) A person who does not eat or use animal products.
I was having a conversation with a woman on my lunch break when she queried what icecream brand I preferred – Sara Lee or Browne’s. I smiled and said I was vegan so I didn’t eat either. Her facial expression evolved to one uncannily similar to that of a stunned mullet if I ever saw one. It was as if she just witnessed an immaculate conception. I checked to see if I had inadvertently grown horns on my head. I hadn’t. I glanced around. There were no aliens behind me either.
“Wow! Vegan! That’s pretty extreme, it must be so hard!”
“Umm, no, not really.” I answered. “I eat icecream – it’s just made from nuts, tofu or coconuts – not animals.”
What invariably follows is the usual barrage of questions and well-meaning comments that I’m often subjected to. I must say at times I liken it to being subjected to the Spanish inquisition! People are curious creatures. I’ve noticed regardless who is asking the questions, there are common themes which arise time and time again.
So drawing from my experience, here’s a standard set of Vegan FAQ’s for carnivores, omnivores, vegos, vegans and everyone in between!
Question 1: Where do you get your protein?
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked this question, I could buy a wardrobe-full of pieces from the (vegan) Stella McCartney collection!
Hats off to the meat and dairy industry: I covered this in a previous post. They are indeed fantastic marketers. There’s a widespread fear among the majority of the population they’re not consuming sufficient protein. We’re led to believe our protein shortfall will inevitably result in weight gain, hunger or muscle loss. Cue panic and mass hysteria.
It is simply not true. Plants have protein, people. Kale for instance, has more protein than red meat. As do many other vegetables. There is abundant protein from non-animal sources – you just gotta know where to find it. Grains, legumes and pulses are all protein-rich. For instance, many of the foods on this link are ones I regularly consume. Google not only the protein but nutritional content of some staple vegan foods such as buckwheat, quinoa, blackbeans, chickpeas (I could go on forever) – you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Question 2: Our predecessors ate animals, isn’t it natural to eat them?
Yes, cavemen did eat animals. They also lived in caves and ate their own poop in desperate times. That was eons ago and they had no choice, if they did not eat meat they would die. For them, it was a matter of survival not of personal taste. Our predecessors were true hunter gatherers, like any other species in prehistoric times. They did not wander down to the nearest Woolie’s and pick up a kilo of chops. Did you know out of the billions of species on the planet, we are the only one that eats cooked meat?
Alright, let’s see you hunt a la naturale. Go fashion a spear out of wood, stake out your prey, run after it (using your legs not a car!), hunt it down, use your bare hands and teeth to rip into raw flesh. Natural enough for you? I don’t believe we are natural carnivores. We can thrive just as well, if not better, on a plant-based diet.
Low and behold, we have evolved. We can make choices in food consumption now. Choices that no longer impact whether or not we survive. We’re living in a different time, spoiled with a plethora of plant-based foods.
Question 3: Why the emphasis on not killing animals, plants are also living beings?
Do plants feel pain? I am not aware of any research that confirms this. We know animals feel pain and suffering, much like humans. The central nervous system signals to the brain when pain is felt. How would you explain the tears that fall when a mother cow is separated from her calf at a dairy farm? All animals, not just those commonly slaughtered for food (cows, chickens, fish) feel pain.
Let’s simplify. Think of spearing a whale. Compare that to trimming a hedge. Which would you rather do? If ground-breaking findings support plants can actually feel pain, a vegan diet still causes less suffering. Animals require feed. By eating animal products, you are creating the demand for the slaughtering of animals. The result is you’d be killing both the plants (feed for the livestock) and the animals. A Western meat-heavy diet kills more plants than an exclusively plant-based diet due to the land and feed required to raise livestock.
Question 4: What’s the environmental benefit of following a vegan diet?
This arguments expands on Question 3. Global meat production has increased rapidly in the past half century, partly attributed to the meat-centric eating habits of the burgeoning Chinese and Indian middle class. This equates to global warming, pollution, topsoil erosion, water scarcity and potentially endangering many species – more animals means more crops are required to feed them. The earth cannot cope with a simultaneously increasing farm animal and human population. A vegan diet requires only 1/3 of the land of a conventional diet.
Question 5: So what do you eat?
Definitely not just carrot sticks and lettuce leaves. My answer is “everything you eat”. A little substitution of ingredients, and you can veganise any recipe your heart desires. People are of the mindset veganism is this limiting, extreme lifestyle which pigeonholes you into consuming only fruit and veg. But it’s not just fruit and veg. There’s an extended family of vegan foods such as buckwheat, quinoa, amaranth, tempeh, seitan, polenta, couscous, tofu, millet to name a few. Check out your local health food store and the array is mindboggling.
It’s not a boxed in, exclusive diet. Educate yourself, start experimenting and asking questions. You’ll be surprised at what you can create in your kitchen.
Question 6: I can’t afford a vegan diet.
Says who? It’s the poor man’s diet! The cheapest staple items are vegan. Compare dried beans at $4/kg vs red meat $15/kg. Pasta, rice and bread are easy on the wallet too. Cook up a kilo of beans and you’ve got lunch for 2 adults for the next five days. Cook up a kilo of meat? You’ve got one meal for two people.
The higher end of the price spectrum are ‘superfoods’, gourmet cheeses, yoghurts and icecreams. These are special occasion foods anyway. Solution? Make your own. Yes, chia seeds may be $20/kg, but you only need 1 tablespoon a day. It lasts for months. Ditto for items such as maca powder, wheatgrass powder, spirulina et al… a little goes a long way.
As I said before, we now have the opportunity to choose what we put in our mouths, without fear we’ll become extinct. Healthy veganism is about prevention, not cure. Jamie Oliver loves to bring attention to the fact that homicide accounts for 0.8% of deaths, whereas diet-related disease is a whopping 60%.
Spend more on fruit, veg and other good stuff for you now and avoid ridiculous medical and surgery bills down the track. Perhaps even eliminate the need for facelifts or expensive face creams and lotions? Sign me up!
Question 7: I’m quite the athlete / fitness fanatic. Wouldn’t I faint from hunger / not be able to perform on vegan foods?
Hmmm, tell that to Mac Danzig, Carl Lewis, Scott Jurek, Steph Davis, Martina Navratilova, Robert Parish, Dave Scott, Alexander Dargatz to name a few. Google vegan athletes and you’ll come up with a list of ultra-sports people from wrestling, running, MMA, bodybuilding and many sports in between. Muscle can be built from plant-sourced protein, even better than animal protein. Why? Plants are rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals yet have no saturated fats or cholesterol.
Question 8: What about travelling overseas? It’s hard enough being vegan at home.
Happycow website. Happycow app. Lifesavers.
Preorder your meals before you fly. All airlines have vegan menus available. No-brainer. I pack nuts, fruit, snack bars or bliss balls in my travel backpack. Also there are travel-size vegan essentials in some healthfood stores such as squeezable coconut oil and sachets of chia seed. Although more pricey and not as good as fresh, supplements (vitamins, minerals, probiotics, green powders) do come in handy when you don’t have access to appliances and a kitchen.
Do some googling – some of our best experiences have been visiting the local farmers markets! Good thing to know where your local supermarket or healthfood store is, and map out how to get there from your hotel too. Learn from my experience: note the opening hours. We trekked all around Lyon in the freezing snow looking for this “must-see” specialty food co-op… we arrived nearly 2 hours later – only to find it closed early in winter.
I’ve never visited a restaurant that did not have a veg only dish. And if for some reason they don’t, I’m sure they will be willing to create one for you. I recall being in Spain and there were no vegan dishes on the menu. I asked for a dish identical to the one hubby ordered, but asked for the meat to be excluded and doubled the veg instead. They were more than happy to accommodate. Most mainstream restaurants have vegan options, such as seasonal vegies or house salad.
Little-known vegan haunts are everywhere. We love stumbling upon vegan treasures the world over. It’s part of the fun and makes for priceless memories.
Question 9: If a vegan diet is supposed to be so healthy, how come I got sick on it?
Bizarre. Many people report being healthier on a vegan diet, even eliminating various allergies, ailments and diseases that plagued them for years. Any diet lacking a variety of vitamins and minerals can be unhealthy and deficient, not just a vegan one. So focus on nutritional content this time round. Perhaps you felt unwell not because it was a vegan diet, but rather it was an unbalanced one. There’s plenty of information out there on what constitutes a well-balanced vegan diet. Read up on it, speak to other vegans and by all means ask questions!
Question 10: How extreme are you? Do you wear plastic shoes, roam around on a pushbike, have a penchant for tie dye and pay no attention whatsoever to personal grooming?
Many people mistake ‘vegan’ as a codeword for “tree-hugging hippie with generous lashings of patchouli”.
They come in all shapes and sizes, undiscriminating against race, sex, age or gender.
One well-known vegan is Anne Hathaway, of Les Miserables fame. She famously insisted the Tom Ford gladiator heels she wore to the red carpet premiere were to be remade in faux leather (she also wore custom-made vegan shoes in the film). Other celeb vegans are Drew Barrymore, Woody Harrellson, Stella McCartney, Russell Brand and Ellen DeGeneres & Portia de Rossi to name a few.
Everyone is at different stages and makes their own personal choices. I wish vegan shoes / cosmetics / skincare / vegan-anything really was more affordable. Who doesn’t! And yeah, I can understand (and have felt) how difficult it is to fork out three times as much for the vegan option compared to the mainstream option.
Some vegans dedicate their efforts to eliminating animal foods and animal by-products from their diet, others embrace the vegan lifestyle through their homewares and furniture choices, some through deciding what charities to support. It’s a full-time job being 110% vegan 24/7, as so many products contain eggs and other animal sources, even beer and wine! We are limited by our available resources (time, money) and do the best we can with what we have.
No matter where you are on your journey, every little bit helps.
“We do not inherit the planet from our parents, instead we hold it in kind for our grandchildren.”
I absolutely love the quote below from a man I profiled in a previous post. It really sums up what veganism is all about – so compelling on so many fronts.
“I learned there wasn’t just my one reason for being a vegetarian or vegan, spiritual, there were several others: ethical (animal rights), economic (it was cheaper), ecological (less polluting and better for biosphere), health (many factors), and aesthetic (wasn’t it more beautiful?)” Warren G
What about you? Why did you choose to follow a vegan lifestyle? Or what’s holding you back from it?