Hey vibrant vegans!
I’ve been vegan for over two years, and was even a vegetarian for a few years before going vegan, and I have heard each of these more times than I can count. Over time, I’ve developed standard and diplomatic ways of responding to these common questions (more tips on talking to people about veganism here!) and I’m super excited to share them with you all! Whether you’re a vegan looking for help fielding responses from friends and family or you’ve asked some of these yourself, I hope you can learn a bit from this post!
This is normally the first response from any given person when you tell them you’re vegan. Somehow, this dogma that meat = protein has taken over the food world, and people think that we need to eat meat to avoid protein deficiency! This view is based on a couple of incorrect assumptions. First, that meat is the only source of protein. This is simply not true; there are a number of plant foods that are high in protein, including nuts, grains, soy, legumes, and vegetables. In fact, every whole food has some amount of protein. The second assumption here is that people need a lot of protein in the first place. The World Health Organization actually recommends that 4% of daily intake be protein. 4 percent! Even a potato is 8% protein. This means that it is virtually impossible to have a protein deficiency without a caloric deficiency – aka, if you are eating enough, you will be getting enough protein. Think about it, have you ever even heard of anyone having a protein deficiency? For more on this topic, check out this article all about protein.
This is an admittedly valid concern raised by people who know a little more about nutrition than the protein questioners. B12 is the one and only vitamin that cannot be obtained in sufficient amounts from a plant-based diet (there are a few mushrooms and types of edible algae that do contain B12, though not in very large amounts.) It’s also a biggie: B12 keeps nerve and blood cells healthy and helps create DNA. Deficiency can cause anemia and even neurological damage. Vegans can either get B12 through fortified foods (Clif Bars and Starbucks matcha lattes are my personal favorite sources) or take a supplement. Vegan favorites like nutritional yeast and spirulina are also sources of B12. It’s pretty hard to get the adequate amount (2.4 micrograms a day for adults) just consuming fortified foods or these two superfoods, so taking a supplement is definitely the safest route to preventing deficiency. If you’re iffy about supplements like I am, don’t worry – B12 is a water-soluble vitamin meaning that if you consume too much you’ll just pee it out! (Fat soluble vitamins can be a little more dangerous to supplement because they can build up on the body over time, so definitely consult with your doctor before taking any!) It’s also a smart idea to get a blood test every few years to make sure you don’t develop a deficiency (plus you can bring up the results of your blood test whenever someone assumes you must be deficient in something, as I always do).
If you’re vegan and haven’t been supplementing B12, definitely start! I use this supplement. When someone asks you about it, you can impress them with your knowledge about it and explain that you supplement. If someone is only bringing up B12 to “prove” that humans aren’t meant to thrive on a plant-based diet, I have a whole post on that here.
The final nutrition-related question I’ll address here is iron. I led this post off with three questions about nutrition, because these seem to be the most common questions that get asked of vegans (isn’t it funny how when you say you’re a vegan, everyone becomes a nutritionist?) and the most common questions people have when they’re thinking about going vegan. I also made an entire post dedicated to common nutrient deficiencies as well as a post all about my favorite nutrition resources so you can read up on your own. Iron is essential for transporting oxygen around the body and deficiency typically causes extreme fatigue, weakness, and lightheadedness. The good news is that plant-based iron is plentiful! Legumes such as lentils, soybeans, chickpeas, and kidney beans are great sources; a single legume serving contains between 14-48% of daily iron intake (depending on the type of legume). Other plant sources of iron include grains such as quinoa, fortified cereals, brown rice, and oatmeal; nuts and seeds such as pumpkin, squash, pine, and cashews; and vegetables such as tomatoes and collard greens. If you’re eating a balanced vegan diet filled with whole grains, legumes, and lots of vegetables, getting enough iron should be no problem. Getting that blood test mentioned above can also dispel any fears of anemia. This is purely anecdotal, so interpret it however you wish, but I know several people (including my baby sis!) who actually stopped being anemic after transitioning to a vegan diet.
People bring up our “canine teeth” in order to demonstrate that humans are naturally omnivores and must eat meat, therefore eating animals is moral. Let’s get this straight. Two of our front teeth have a slight point at the end. They are not canine teeth. If you look at a chart comparing a lot of different animals’ teeth, you’ll find that our tooth structure does not remotely resemble that of a carnivore, or even of an omnivore. We have flat teeth and large salivary glands that enable us to digest whole plant foods. If you think you have carnivore teeth, go out and try to kill and eat an animal with them, because that’s what carnivores do. I suspect that you won’t be able to – there’s a reason that we use special knives to cut steaks into small chunks! Humans do not have carnivore teeth by any stretch of the imagination.
Even if we did have canine teeth though, it still wouldn’t matter. The core of the vegan argument is that unnecessary suffering is wrong. So we actually don’t even need to prove that humans were “designed” to eat a plant-based diet, all we need to prove is that you can be perfectly healthy if you exclude animal products. The millions of thriving vegans around the world prove that every single day. If you’re curious about that line of thinking, I wrote a whole post about why we don’t need to prove that a plant-based diet is the healthiest diet – we just need to prove that it’s healthy enough that eating animal products is not necessary.
By bringing up the quintessential carnivore, people are trying to imply that humans are at the top of the food chain and therefore are entitled to eat meat. That’s just how evolution goes, right? Here’s the thing though – humans aren’t lions. Unlike lions, we actually don’t need to kill other creatures to survive. This question really gets at the necessity piece we discussed above. The core belief of veganism is that unnecessary suffering is wrong. There’s a clear scientific consensus that we do not need to eat animals to survive – a well-planned vegan diet can be very healthy (check out my recommended vegan nutrition resources for tons more info on this). If we do not need to eat animals to survive, then eating animals is wrong because it causes unnecessary suffering. Again, I have a post that dives a lot more into this topic.
Here’s how this argument usually goes: almonds (or insert other plant food) take a significant amount of resources to produce, so vegans are hypocrites. At its worst this statement is antagonistic (how many non-vegans avoid almonds due to their water footprint? None I’ve met so far) but at best it represents a potentially valid criticism: if environmental vegans choose to avoid animal products due to their large resource footprints, shouldn’t they extend this logic to all food and consider the resources used for each food item on a case by case basis? First off, there are so many reasons to go vegan and water use is just one of them. Second, animal products really do take the cake for resource use. The animal agriculture industry is the top contributing industry to climate change, water pollution, water use, waste production, deforestation, land use, and biodiversity loss. For over 100 sources detailing the environmental, ethical, and health reasons to go vegan, I suggest checking out my why vegan page.
Several people have said this to me at outreach for Anonymous for the Voiceless, and nothing could be further from the truth. First of all, going vegan does benefit humans. The animal agriculture industry holds one of the most dangerous and exploitative labor markets of any industry; slaughterhouse workers have extremely high rates of PTSD, and also work in grueling conditions. Workers are expected to kill an average of one animal every three seconds and in extremely hot and unsanitary conditions. They’re nearly always covered in blood and sweat and they suffer severe trauma and estrangement from friends and family because of the work they do. If you’re at all interested in the workers’ rights movement and disrupting exploitive labor markets, going vegan is an absolute must.
Animal agriculture is also one of the leading causes of climate change. Climate change is already increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather events such as droughts and hurricanes. Sea level rise threatens coastal communities worldwide. Climate change is expected to have a profound effect on agriculture. Animal agriculture also produces an insane amount of waste and pollutes our air and water (see my why vegan page for tons more environmental facts and sources! Pollution from factory farms disproportionately affects marginalized communities. By continuing to eat animal products, you are complicit in these environmental harms and thus are hurting people, plants, and animals.
Finally, being vegan does not automatically mean that we can’t also care about humans! Vegans specifically refrain from consuming animal products. This clearly does not imply that we don’t care about humans. I’ve heard this comment the most at activism events though, so let’s stretch it a little further and assume that this comment is not just about being vegan (which doesn’t necessarily require any extra time on your part) and that it is specifically directed to vegan activism (which theoretically does take time away from other things). Let’s imagine for a moment that we held everyone to the same standards we hold vegans to – what would we say about people watching TV on the couch? Going out to the bar? I choose to spend my free time blogging to help people go and stay vegan, when I could be attending some other protest event, maybe, but I could also be painting my nails, watching a movie, or listening to music. We never seem to criticize people who dedicate their free time to themselves, so let’s not make a fuss about people dedicating their free time to the animals.
I get a lot of questions about honey, probably because most vegan activism is focused on the violent triad of meat, dairy, and eggs. But no, honey is not vegan, and I do not consume it. Large commercial honey operations typically take away 100% of the honey that bees produce (bees produce honey for themselves to eat) and replace it with a cheap sugar substitute that is not optimal or satisfying to the bees. Beekeepers also frequently clip the wings of queen bees to prevent them from leaving the hive. Finally, the honey industry also has environmental implications; companies engage in selective breeding, which narrows down the gene pool and renders bees more susceptible to disease (made worse by the fact that they are consuming sugar water rather than the optimal honey). If you’ve ever thought to yourself “bees are dying, so eating honey is good because I’m supporting the bee population!” think again, because beekeeping practices are actually contributing to the decline of bees. Luckily there are a ton of sweet vegan substitutes to honey – agave, maple syrup, date syrup, monkfruit sweetener, the list goes on.
Everything you do! There are substitutes for virtually every animal product you can think of – burgers, ice cream, pizza, mac n cheese, “chicken” nuggets, meatballs, cheese, milk, eggs, the list goes on. There are truly as many ways to eat vegan as there are to eat non-vegan. I personally tend to focus more on whole foods – vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. For tons of vegan recipes and inspiration, I encourage you to take a look at the Recipes tab on my website, or my Pinterest page.
But…tempeh bacon! There are substitutes for every animal product you could possibly want, and the plant-based meat market grows every day. It’s not necessary to kill animals, for our health or our taste buds.
There you go, friends! I hope that these responses help you out whether you’re wondering what to say when someone asks you these questions, or you’re the one asking! As always, you can get in touch if you have any questions or requests for a future post! I’m here as a resource:) Talk to you on Thursday!!