It’s World Vegan Day (yes, it’s a thing!) and to mark the occasion, I thought I’d attempt to respond to some of the questions and
comments I’ve received as a vegan in the past. I know vegans get a bit of a bad reputation for talking about themselves, but in my experience the conversation generally comes from other people wanting to know about our choices and lifestyle.
If you’ve ever wanted to know why vegans don’t eat honey, or what they’d consume on a desert island, then look no further than this post…
"Why do you buy products that look and taste like animals if you’re against eating meat?"
If you can replace the taste and texture of meat and enjoy it without the cruelty, why wouldn’t you? Besides, burgers and sausages don’t actually look like animals. They’re just shapes.
"You can’t just cut out dairy. It’s a main food group!"
Dairy provides people with calcium and other nutrients. People who can’t, or choose not to eat dairy, can get their calcium from tofu, milk and yoghurt alternatives, bread fortified with extra calcium, kale, pak choi, okra, spring greens, beans, cauliflower, dried figs, chia seeds and almonds. Oh, and sesame too….which is why we love da hummus.
"Where do you get your protein from?"
Well, to go through the alphabet...
Almonds, avocado, beans, broccoli, chickpeas, edamame, flaxseed, grains, green beans, hemp, hummus, Jerusalem artichokes, kale, lentils, milk (soya, almond, oat), nutritional yeast, nuts, oats, peas, peanut butter, quinoa, rice (brown), spinach, seeds, soy, tahini, tempeh, tofu, vegetables, walnuts and yoghurt (soy, coconut, almond).
Don't you worry about our protein. We've got it covered.
"Is all vegan food healthy?"
Nope. The vegan junk food market is CRAZY at the moment, with restaurants that sell vegan burgers, hot dogs, mac & cheese, pizzas, pies, cakes and donuts popping up all over the place.
It’s all so delicious, but no one is pretending that this is healthy. We're not rabbits you know.
"Why is it cruel to drink milk? Won’t the cows explode if you don’t milk them?"
Human women do not explode if they do not breastfeed their babies. They simply stop lactating. Mammals produce milk when there is a demand from their young, or some other mechanical intervention.
Like humans, female cows will only produce milk once they have given birth. Dairy cows are artificially inseminated to get them pregnant in the first place. Once she has given birth, she will lactate for 10 months, but none of her milk will reach her calf beyond 24 hours. After a day, she is separated from her baby in order to be hooked up to a milking machine so that her milk can be sold to humans. This process might be repeated for 4 to 5 consecutive years, before she’s no longer useful to the dairy industry and sent to slaughter. A cow’s natural lifespan is 20 years.
Cows are sensitive, loving, intelligent mammals and mothers will continue to look for their babies long after separation. In their mother’s absence, female calves are given a milk substitute and will re-enter the dairy farming industry as adults to go through the same milking processes as their mothers, but male calves are of little use to dairy farmers so they’re sold to the meat industry to be raised as beef or veal. However, this is actually the more expensive disposal method and many will be killed or incinerated immediately after birth.
Is it cruel to drink cow’s milk? I’d say so.
"Why is it cruel to eat eggs? Chickens lay them anyway."
Even if it weren’t for the horrendous living conditions experienced on battery farms, most vegans would choose not to take and eat the eggs of a chicken, even organically sourced, free range ones.
Chickens are very protective of their brood, and research suggests they do not know if the eggs they lay are fertilised or not. If you’ve ever collected eggs from a broody hen, you’ll have heard the noises and the protective efforts she makes in protest when she thinks you’re trying to steal her babies. Chickens have strong instincts to lay and raise a full brood of chicks, after which point they will stop laying and start nesting. If a chicken’s eggs are removed on a regular basis, she will continue to keep laying. The laying of every single egg involves great deal of effort on the hen’s part and depletes her levels of calcium and protein. To replace this, hens will sometimes eat their unfertilised eggs. The more frequently they lay and cannot replenish these nutrient sources, the more likely it is to impact their overall health and lifespan.
"But what's wrong with honey?!"
Vegans, by definition, avoid consuming any products that have been obtained through cruel or exploitative measures, and yes, this even includes the exploitation of the humble honey bee.
Bees make honey for….themselves! It’s their main energy source and their winter fuel store. Commercial extraction replaces the honey with a sugary-substitute, but this is not quite as good as the real-deal and can leave bees susceptible to disease. When bees are already endangered, why would we put them at greater risk?
Some commercial bee-keeping methods will ‘cull’ hives to avoid paying to feed them over the winter, and also clip the queen bee’s wings to keep the hive in one place. The queen may also be killed and replaced with a younger queen once she’s done her job. Nice, huh?
There are some arguments for small scale, local bee-keeping methods as an ethical way to extract honey in measured amounts, but I think this is a bit of a grey-area for most vegans.
"If nobody ate meat, we’d be overrun with cows!"
Would we though? Because farmers would stop breeding cows if nobody ate them. We don’t eat meerkats and we’re not overrun with them.
"If nobody ate meat, there would be NO COWS!"
Relax, there would be SOME COWS. Animal sanctuaries for rescued farm animals already exist, and they are looked after by kind-hearted farmers and volunteers. The animals are free to roam and play and eat and nourish their young without fear. A bit like a zoo, but without the bars and the cages and the gift shop. If people stopped eating meat, these places would still exist.
"You don’t look like a vegan."
Ellen DeGeneres is a vegan, and so was Barry White but weirdly, they don’t look like each other.
Other famous vegans include: Beyonce, Brad Pitt, Alicia Silverstone, Alanis Morrissette, Gandhi, Morrissey, Woody Harrelson, Sandra Oh, Moby, Bryan Adams, Joan Jett, Einstein, Will.I.Am, Jay-Z, Russel Brand, Bill Clinton, Miley Cyrus and Pamela Anderson.
Note: all pretty varied.
"Why aren’t you skinny?"
Firstly: thanks so much! Secondly: Vegan Junk Food. This is the reason I’m not skinny.
There are skinny vegans and fat vegans and average sized vegans, just like there are skinny and fat and average sized non-vegans. Some vegans eat oats and quinoa and kale and blueberries, some eat burgers and fries and mac & cheese and cake. Most vegans eat a bit of both.
"Why are vegans so annoying? Do you want a badge or something?"
Non-vegans think vegans go on about being vegan all the time, but I have never met anyone who’s introduced themselves by saying, “Hi I’m Barbara and I’m a vegan.” I doubt you have either.
It very likely comes up in conversation, because people (many people) talk about food a lot and social occasions invite the discussion. A meat eater might say, “You should go to the new Flat Iron restaurant in Covent Garden, it’s so good!” and a vegan would have to reply with, “Well I’m a vegan, so I probably won’t….”
Vegans are also very passionate about what they believe. They care about animals and the planet and the health and well-being of people they love. They have often done a lot of research and they want to pass this on to others because it’s hard to un-know the horrors of the meat and dairy industry once you know them. Most vegans don’t want to get into an argument and don’t want to criticise people, because they can remember a time when they were not vegan themselves. But some vegans will get it wrong and come across as self-important, patronising or judgemental. I agree, this is very annoying.
However, omnivores are also pretty annoying when they say things like, “Oh sorry, you can’t eat this, Lol!” Or, “I shouldn’t be eating these sticky ribs in front of you should I?” Or, “I’m going to eat more dead animals to make up for the ones you don’t eat!” Or, “Don’t you miss bacon though?”
I guess some people are just a bit annoying. Vegan or non-vegan.
"I’m surprised vegans even have the strength to campaign about anything. LMAO."
Prime example. (See above point)
"Do you ever miss meat?"
Some people might miss the taste of meat, but I don’t. There’s nothing you could feed me that would make all that cruelty and suffering worthwhile.
No, not even bacon.
"I bet you wear leather shoes!"
Vegans avoid buying or consuming any animal products and this includes leather, silk and wool products because of the cruel and exploitative measures used in obtaining these materials. You can buy excellent, high quality faux-leather bags, belts, shoes and boots such as those made by Beyond Skin, Vegetarian Shoes and Wills that look and feel like leather, but are made from synthetic materials.
Some people might still use the leather products that they bought before they were vegan, and don’t want to replace them unnecessarily. Some people might buy second hand leather goods to reduce waste and because their money wouldn’t be directly benefiting the original manufacturer. Veganism is more about common sense and compassionate choices than it is about following a strict set of rules.
"All food production has an impact on ecosystems and animals somewhere, therefore no one can be 100% vegan. It’s impossible."
No they can’t, and nobody is perfect. But this doesn’t mean we should do nothing.
"If you were stranded on a desert island, would you eat a cow though?"
I’ve never been in this EXACT situation...but I recon I’m much more likely to find a coconut than a cow on a desert island. If there IS a cow on this island, however, I want to know what she’s eating because… I’ll probably just eat that.
I mean, great question though.
Links for further reading:
The honey industry
The dairy industry
The egg industry
"It's cheaper to kill male calves than rear them" - Guardian 26/03/18
How to go Vegan
Vegan sources of protein
Vegan sources of calcium