Myths

Bite-sized answers to the most common vegan myths.

Originally published on Veganuary and Sharan India.

But where do you get your protein?

The most common misconception out there is that you have to consume meat in order to get enough protein. You don’t! There may be a lot of protein in meat, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist anywhere else. In fact, vegans simply do what cows, pigs, sheep and chickens do; we go directly to the source. Green vegetables (the superstars are kale, broccoli, seaweed, and peas), beans and pulses (lentils, lima, edamame, pinto, black), grains (brown rice, pasta, quinoa, bulgur) and nuts (brazils, peanuts, cashews, almonds, pistachios and walnuts) are all excellent sources of protein.

One person going vegan won't make a difference, will it?

In a lifetime, each of us will eat more than 7,000 animals so by choosing to stop today, a lot of lives are spared. It won’t save the animals who are on farms and slaughterhouses today, of course, but it is a simple rule of economics that when demand decreases so does supply. Quite simply, as people buy fewer animal products, supermarkets and butchers will reduce their orders, and so fewer animals will be bred and killed.    

While sparing the lives of thousands of animals is no small thing, our impact is magnified further because we are not going vegan all by ourselves. There are millions of us choosing to eat only animal-free foods and each of us influences others to enjoy meat-free meals, too.

Don’t tofu and soya contain oestrogen and lower testosterone?

Soya has no known effect on testosterone levels in men.

This myth has come about because soya contains natural phytoestrogens, known as isoflavones, which resemble oestrogen chemically. Some people thought – before proper research was conducted – that they would affect testosterone in the same way that oestrogen does. But they don’t because they are not oestrogen. In fact, one study suggests that soya isoflavones have just 1/10,000 the potency of ‘real’ oestrogen.

Another study involved seven healthy young men who ate A LOT of soya beans every day for a week. At the end, they showed no changes in estrogen or total and free testosterone at all, but the study did find an increase in brain activity, specifically an improvement in spatial cognitive performance. Interesting…

Don’t cows have to be milked or they’ll explode?

Cows don’t have to be milked at all! They make milk for the same reason that human women make milk: only when they are pregnant, in readiness for feeding their newborn. If cows are not impregnated, they do not produce milk.

Naturally, cows would choose their mate, would give birth infrequently, and spend time suckling their young, forming a bond and protecting them. But the milk industry is ruthless and to keep the milk flowing, cows are impregnated year after year, no matter the toll it takes on their bodies. In fact, most dairy cows are exhausted, lame and spent by the time they are six, and are sent off to slaughter where their bodies are turned into low-grade meat products. Without the strain of constant impregnation, birth and separation from their young, cows could live to 20 years or more.

Of course, milk is not the only outcome of pregnancy. Calves are born, too. Female calves may be reared and used as milking machines themselves, and will endure the repeated cycle of forced impregnation, birth and loss of their young to replace their own mum when she is deemed useless and is slaughtered. If the calf is male, he may end up on a veal farm; he may be allowed to grow and then slaughtered for low-grade meat; or he may be shot at birth if money cannot be made from him in another way.

Is a vegan diet safe for children? How can I encourage them to adopt a vegan diet?

A carefully planned vegan diet which includes whole foods can meet all of your children’s nutritional requirements and is the healthiest diet you could give them. By setting an example yourself and teaching your children to make healthy food choices, you will also be giving them a lifetime of good eating habits and good health!

Patiently explain why a vegan diet is important, not only for good health but also for animal welfare and the protection of the environment. Take their favourite foods and recipes and veganize them by substituting the animal products for plant foods. Prepare tasteful meals and occasional vegan desserts. If they enjoy the food, then they will enjoy being vegan.

For more inspiration, read about some Indian vegan children.

What’s wrong with eating honey? Don’t bees make it naturally?

Bees do make honey naturally, but they make it because they need it, not because they are worried about what humans are going to have on their toast.

Bees have to work extraordinarily hard to produce that honey, finding and collecting nectar, regurgitating it, dehydrating it by fanning it with their wings to concentrate and preserve it, and then storing it as honey within the hive. They need nectar from five million flowers to produce just one pound of honey, and this honey is needed to feed the hive over the winter months.

When bees are farmed, the honey, along with other substances made by the bees such as royal jelly, bee pollen and beeswax, is taken from the hive and sold for human consumption. The honey is replaced with a sugar water solution, which has neither the nutrients the bees need nor the power to protect their immune systems. This, coupled with exposure to pesticides and destructive varroa mites – which were accidentally introduced when bee geneticists tried to make bees more productive in honey – means these insects are facing a rough future.

But leather is a by-product of the meat industry so it makes sense to use it, right?

Many people feel buying leather makes use of the whole animal and so reduces waste from the meat industry. However, leather is less a by-product and more a highly profitable part of the industry. Buying leather directly supports the meat industry; therefore the same ethical and environmental concerns apply.

For example, much of the softest leather comes from unborn calves or newborns, such as those slaughtered for veal. Most animals kept for leather endure the same appalling factory farming conditions as those raised for food. Even so called ‘free-range’ animals may not fare better. Indian cows are a source of leather and are transported across the country, often in horrendous conditions, to states where it is legal to slaughter them.

Leather production has a high environmental cost: to begin with, most leather is from methane-producing cows, a factor in climate change. Also, much leather that claims to be Italian is actually from ranches in the Amazon rainforest which, in some cases, have been set up on illegally cleared land. Finally, leather tanning is a highly toxic process – both for people and the environment – which is largely outsourced to developing countries that pay the price. In Bangladesh, for example, the Buriganga river, which runs through a major leather-production zone, has been declared “ecologically dead” as a result of pollution.

But fish don’t feel pain, right?

Isn’t it infuriating to come up against someone who argues that fish don’t feel pain but that plants do?! Obviously, plants don’t feel pain — they don’t have central nervous systems, nerve endings or brains — but if they did, that would be another argument in favour of veganism, as vegans actually consume fewer plants than the farmed animals that omnivores eat.

And as for fish, there is plenty of scientific evidence to show that fish do feel pain. First, they have pain receptors, which would be strange if they weren’t able to feel pain. Moreover, they produce substances known as enkephalins that mediate pain in the same way that they do in vertebrates like you and me.

The second way scientists determine that a species can feel pain is to observe whether they behave as though they feel pain. There has been much research, much of it pretty unpleasant (which we do not support but we cite to illustrate the point), that has shown that aquatic species have an aversion to noxious substances.

Scientists also found that crabs will trade a great hiding place for a mild electric shock but abandon it for an inferior place should the shock be increased. And, like us when we bang a limb and rub the affected area, prawns rub their antennae when they have been pinched with forceps.

Isn’t it impossible to be vegan as animal products are in everything?

It is impossible to be perfect in this imperfect world of ours. In fact, The Vegan Society states that being vegan is:

‘A way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.’

For the vast majority, being vegan is not a quest for personal purity, but a way of life that avoids unnecessary suffering and promotes compassion rather than cruelty.

Because we have canine teeth doesn’t that mean we are carnivores?

We are not carnivores as we cannot survive on a carnivorous diet. We can, however, survive as vegans and, in many cases, more healthily than omnivores (more on this can be found within our Health section).

Also the presence of canine teeth doesn’t mean we are carnivores… Have you seen a gorilla’s canines?

Will I still be able to eat at a restaurant or at a friend’s house?

There are many restaurants to choose from which offer vegan choices, especially those offering Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Malaysian or Burmese cuisines, which traditionally do not contain dairy products. So if you ask for a vegetarian dish, it will most likely be vegan also (check for eggs in the noodles though). When ordering in a continental restaurant, ask for dishes usually made with cheese/ butter/ cream to be adapted. For example, pizza is delicious even without the cheese, and you can also ask for pasta dishes to be served without cheese.    

If you’re invited to a friend’s home for dinner, ask if you can bring a dish. This way your friends can also discover how delicious vegan meals can be. Invite your friends over for dinner and prepare a meal they won’t forget, which includes a vegan dessert! Once they see the possibilities and how you are benefiting from a vegan diet, they may be inspired to follow your example and also try vegan.

Vegans have nothing to eat!

Nothing to eat? Are you kidding?!

For a start, the typical grocery cupboard in an omnivorous house is already well-stocked with vegan foods: peanut butter, yeast extract, jam, marmalade, almost all bread, baked beans, dried pasta, rice, some gravy granules, vegetable stock cubes, chopped tomatoes, oven chips, coconut milk, lots of curry pastes, many breakfast cereals, herbs, spices, tomato ketchup and HP sauce, pickles, sugars and sweeteners, olive oil and vegetable oils, soy sauce, hummus, fruit juice, fizzy drinks, tea and coffee, many biscuits, crackers, crispbreads and crisps, and of course fruit and vegetables – fresh, dried and frozen.

And that is just the beginning…

There has been a phenomenal increase in vegan foods available on the high street. Supermarkets stock a wide variety of dairy-free cheeses and margarines, plant milks (oat, rice, soya, coconut, almond and flavoured milkshakes), cream and ice cream, and so switching from dairy to non-dairy couldn’t be easier.

They also sell vegan sausages, burgers, schnitzels, cutlets, sausage rolls, pies, nuggets and other similar products. Soya mince can be bought everywhere and can be used in chilli, shepherd’s pie and Bolognese to replace the meat. There are also vegan ready meals such as lasagne, mac ‘n’ cheese, dhal and chilli too, as well as various fresh and tinned soups.

Lots of biscuits, crisps and other snacks are already vegan, and there is plenty of vegan chocolate around, including ‘milk’ and white chocolates that are made with rice milks instead of dairy. Pastries such as apple pies, croissant and pain au chocolat can be found, too – you just need to know which brands you are looking for! And when you look in health food shops, the choice widens even further.

I'm sporty - won’t being vegan make me weak?

Of course not! This myth comes from people who confuse nutrients with items of food. Yes, we need protein but there are plant sources; and of course we need iron but … you guessed it, we can get it from plants. A vegan diet suits athletes across all disciplines, and many world class competitors credit their achievements to their plant-based diet.

Top class footballers Jermain Defoe and Russell Martin are vegan, as is heavyweight boxer David Haye. World champion tennis player Novak Djokovic is so taken with plant-based foods that he opened his own vegan restaurant, while champions Serena and Venus Williams also eat plant-based.

As for runners, you’d be hard-pressed to keep pace with Scott Jurek, Rich Roll and Fiona Oakes. Scott has won the Western States 100-mile endurance race no less than seven times. He won the Millwok 100k three times, the 246k Spartathon race twice, the Leona Divide 50-mile race four times. He has set ten ultramarathon records. Rich competes in the world’s top tier of Iron Man events and pushed his body beyond extremes when he completed five ironman-distance triathlons in under a week. His story is made all the more astonishing as he only started to train at the age of 40, when he also adopted a plant-based diet. Fiona is a marathon runner who holds three world records, has come in the top 10 in several international marathons and in the top 20 in both the major races of London and Berlin. And all this while she runs an animal sanctuary. Oh, and remember Carl Lewis? Yep – he was vegan too.

Professional American footballers, Griff Whalen and David Carter are vegan. David is known as the 300-lb vegan and eats 10,000 calories a day to maintain his extraordinary fitness regime. If you think eating vegan will make you weak, think again. Patrick Baboumian is an Iranian-born German strongman (Germany’s Strongest Man) who has set four world records in various strength disciplines and can bench press 463 lbs and deadlift 794 lbs. He says: ‘My strength needs no victims.’ And he’s not alone. There are many more strength athletes who are vegan, including Olympian weightlifter Kendrick Farris.

Don’t we need milk for strong bones?

No, we need calcium (and Vitamin D) but those who think that calcium can only be found in milk may have fallen victim to the milk marketers’ hype.

Most of the calcium in our bodies can be found in our bones and if we don’t get enough in our diet, our bodies will take calcium from the bones which can weaken them. The loss of too much calcium can lead to osteoporosis later in life. So, obviously, we need calcium in our diets and a good dose of Vitamin D to help absorb it, and both can be found in abundance in a healthy vegan diet.

You can boost your intake of calcium with dried figs, fortified plant milks and yoghurts, tofu, beans (especially black turtle beans, kidney beans and soya beans), kale, collards, watercress, broccoli, sweet potato and butternut squash. (Spinach has loads of calcium but it is poorly absorbed due to the oxalic acid in the leaves.)

As for Vitamin D, there is no better source than the sun and 15 minutes of exposure a day during spring, summer and autumn should suffice so long as face, hands and arms are exposed. But for those who don’t spend time outside, or who live in northern latitudes or have darker skin, look out for dairy-free margarines, breakfast cereals and breads that are fortified with it. You may also consider a supplement.

We are also advised to limit caffeine and avoid smoking, as both increase calcium loss from the body.

Good bone health is not all about the foods we eat and those we should avoid. Exercise is one of the most important things we can do to maintain our bones, and the exercise we choose should be weight bearing i.e. you should be standing up or literally bearing weights. Walking, running, dancing, playing tennis or football, and lifting weights in the gym are all good for bone health. (Swimming and cycling are great in other ways but are not so good for strengthening bones.)

So our advice for great bone health is: eat your greens, pull on your trainers and go for a run in the sunshine!

Don’t you need meat to be healthy?

Quite the opposite. A plant-based diet cuts the risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some kinds of cancers, and vegans typically have lower cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure and are slimmer than omnivores.

Processed red meat has now been classified as a Group 1 carcinogen, putting it in the same category as smoking and asbestos. Meat is said to be ‘processed’ if it has undergone salting, curing, smoking, fermentation or any other process to enhance its flavour or improve its preservation. This group includes bacon, hot dogs, ham, sausages, salami, corned beef, biltong, beef jerky, canned meat and meat-based sauces. The evidence is clear: these processed red meats can cause colorectal cancer, and there is also some evidence that connects them to stomach cancer, too.

Unprocessed red meat has been classified as Group 2A, which means it is ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’. There are clear associations between eating red meat and developing colorectal cancer, and also evidence of links to pancreatic and prostate cancers.

Processed red meat is also in the frame for contributing to heart failure. A study published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation: Heart Failure found that for every 50g serving of processed meat (about the size of a hot dog), heart failure risk increased by 8 per cent, and the chances of dying from heart failure increased by 38 per cent.

And it’s not just processed meat, again all red meat is linked to heart disease. Dr Hazen, Vice Chair of Translational Research for the Lerner Research Institute led one study. He concluded: ‘These studies do offer some powerful reasons to consider dropping or limiting red meat.’

Am I guaranteed to lose weight on a vegan diet?

You’re not guaranteed to lose weight, but it is highly likely that you will. Eighty-seven per cent of those who took part in Veganuary 2017 reported that they did lose weight during that month, and a study from Loma Linda University in California found that vegetarians had a lower BMI (body mass index) than meat eaters, and for vegans it was lower still. This was the case even though the amount of calories ingested was much the same for each group. Other studies have published similar results.

But like everyone, vegans come in all shapes and sizes and some of us are naturally bigger than others. We have different habits, tastes and preferences. Some vegans care very much about health. They’ll cook fresh foods from scratch every day, won’t consume sweet things except, perhaps, on special occasions and take regular cardiovascular exercise. Others are happy to eat burgers, chips and beans, followed by a bag of doughnuts and would exercise only if forced to do so. We make no judgement at all but in this scenario one is obviously more likely to be slimmer than the other. Most of us fall somewhere in between these two, and have to make choices about what and how much we eat from the growing range of delicious vegan convenience foods. Even so, vegans are generally slimmer than those who eat meat and dairy.

Of course, our food choices are about more than how we look. Our bodies thank us in lots of ways for being vegan. Ninety-seven per cent of those who took part in Veganuary 2017 and answered the question reported that they felt their health was better as a result of being vegan for the month. Eighty-seven per cent reported they had more energy. Some participants told us that their hair and nails were stronger and healthier; others that long-term digestive problems had cleared up.

By being vegan they had all reduced their risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. Their bodies may have been slimmer, which in a world of rising obesity is a great thing, but they were also healthier and felt a whole lot better.

Isn't soya destroying the environment and rainforests?

The problem isn’t soya itself. It is the amount of soya that is grown to feed farmed animals that is driving the environmental damage. Yes, that’s right – farmed animals, and by extension the people who eat them – consume 70 per cent of the world’s soya harvest.

This goes to the heart of the sustainability issues with meat consumption. Many more crops are required to feed to farmed animals than if we ate the plants themselves. In fact, producing protein from chicken requires three times as much land as protein from soyabeans, while pork needs nine times the amount of land, and beef a whopping, shocking 32 times as much.

Because the available farmland is not sufficient to grow the soya and other feedstuffs that the billions of farmed animals require, rainforests and other habitats are cut down in swathes. The Worldwatch Institute reports that

the human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future—deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities, and the spread of disease.

 

A third of the world’s cereal crop is already being fed to farmed animals and this may rise to around half by 2050. More people will starve as a result because, according to George Monbiot, ‘the poor rely mainly on grain for their subsistence, and diverting it to livestock raises the price’. But cutting out meat has a direct and positive influence on all these issues.

Aren’t vegan diets unsafe for pregnant women?

Vegan women can easily meet their nutritional needs when pregnant. If you’re eating healthily for one, you’ll be eating healthily for two so long as there is an increased calorie intake in the second and third trimester. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine suggests women pay particular attention to the following nutrients:

Calcium: ‘Just as it was before pregnancy, getting enough calcium … is easy’ for vegans. It suggests vegan women choose tofu, soya beans, dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, bok choy, broccoli, beans, figs, sunflower seeds, tahini, almond butter and fortified non-dairy milks.

Essential Fatty Acids: ‘It is certainly possible to meet omega-3 fatty acid needs … by consuming enough sources of ALA, balanced by not having too many omega-6 fatty acids.’ So, in a nutshell, it’s best to eat plenty of flaxseed, flaxseed oil, rapeseed (canola) oil, walnuts and soya beans for omega-3. And, while you do need some omega-6 fatty acids, of course, it’s best to limit intake of their concentrated sources (corn, safflower, cottonseed, sesame and sunflower oils).

Folate: This is especially important in the first weeks of pregnancy, and so all women should aim to eat plenty of it from leafy greens, beans, peas and other legumes, oranges, wheat bran, whole grain foods and yeast extract. Breakfast cereals are also often fortified with it.

Iron: Iron requirements increase during pregnancy, and so iron-rich foods should be included daily: whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, kale, sprouts, spinach, dried apricots and other dried fruits, and blackstrap molasses. Eating foods high in Vitamin C will help to absorb iron.

Protein: Protein requirements also increase during pregnancy, and vegans should be aiming for around 71g per day during the second and third trimester. Your diet should include whole grains, beans and legumes, soya products, vegetables, nuts and seeds. If enough calories are consumed and these foods are included, protein needs are almost certain to be met.

Vitamin B12: Requirements increase only slightly during pregnancy and so all the usual fortified foods – cereals, dairy-free milks, yeast extract – should be consumed. It is wise to take a B12 supplement nonetheless.

Vitamin D: Requirements don’t alter during pregnancy and 15 minutes a day in the sunshine during spring, summer and autumn should be sufficient (assuming face, hands and arms at least are exposed). Women who don’t spend time outside, or who live in northern latitudes or have darker skin, should ensure their foods are fortified. Look out for dairy-free margarines, breakfast cereals and breads that contain it.

Zinc: Zinc requirements increase during pregnancy and good sources of it are nuts, legumes, whole grains and cereals. Absorption can be increased by including sprouted grains, beans, or seeds and yeast-raised breads in the diet, soaking and cooking legumes, and combining zinc sources with acidic ingredients such as lemon juice or tomato sauce.

There are many bloggers and Facebook groups dedicated to advising on vegan pregnancy so you may want to connect with them, but the great news is that a vegan diet can be safe and healthy during pregnancy.

Don’t vegans need to take several supplements in order to stay healthy?

No. All the nutrients you need – with perhaps one exception – can be found easily and plentifully in a vegan diet. That one exception is Vitamin B12.

It is possible to get enough of this vitamin on a vegan diet if you eat plenty of yeast extract, fortified plant milks and breakfast cereals but it is not worth risking being deficient so the advice is to take a daily supplement to be 100 per cent sure you are getting enough.

Vitamin B12 is needed to keep our nervous systems, DNA and red blood cells healthy, and it’s not just vegans who need to keep an eye on their B12 intake. People with pernicious anaemia or who suffer from Crohn’s or lupus, or who drink heavily, are at risk of being deficient. Since the risk of deficiency increases with age, the advice given in the US is for everyone over the age of 50 to take a daily B12 supplement regardless of their dietary choices.

Why do vegans need to supplement it? Well, the vitamin is found in animal products but it is not made by the animals themselves but by bacteria that live inside them. The B12 used in vegan supplements or fortified foods such as Marmite is made by ‘farming’ the bacteria directly and harvesting the vitamin. It’s the same substance made in exactly the same way so it’s not unnatural, or in any case, it’s no more unnatural than any other use of microorganisms in bread, cheese, yoghurt, wine or beer. And it’s a LOT more natural than some of the processed foods we all sometimes eat.

As for all those other vitamins, minerals and nutrients, you’ll find them aplenty if you eat a varied vegan diet.Take a look at Dr Michael Greger’s Daily Dozen chart to guide you as to what else we should be eating for optimum nutrition.

Can vegans take drugs tested on animals?

It is a legal requirement that all medicines are tested on animals, even though animals are not the best predictors of how that drug will work in people, and even though animals don’t get the same diseases we get. It’s an old-fashioned approach, and it needs updating to reflect the far more effective methods and tests currently available. Unfortunately, though, this is the situation we have and it is not likely to change anytime soon. It means that we cannot choose between animal-tested and non-animal-tested medicines. If we could, the choice would be clear.

(Thankfully, the situation is different with regards to cosmetics and some household products, where consumers can boycott animal-tested products and choose cruelty-free ones.)

You may be able to talk to your doctor or pharmacist about the ingredients, however. Some medicines are delivered in a gelatin capsule, or in a pill that contains lactose or stearate. It may be there is another option that would allow you to get the same drug without ingesting the animal products. It’s worth asking but the bottom line is this: if you need a drug, please take it.

More conditions than ever before have become medicalised and drugs are often prescribed for conditions where a change in our lifestyle could as much if not more good. If we take better care of ourselves, follow the advice we all know makes sense about smoking, exercise and drinking alcohol, we can keep healthy, and perhaps avoid having to take drugs, all of which have side-effects that can cause other health problems.

And when it comes to diet, choosing a vegan diet will help you avoid some of the nasty diseases that affect our population: cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

I only buy high welfare meat and dairy, and free-range eggs. Those animals are happy.

‘High welfare’ farms are not what you might imagine. You may think of free-range hens roaming in a pasture, pigs grubbing in a woodland or goats running around an expansive hillside. This is not what modern farming looks like.

Free-range hens do not live outdoors but instead are given access to it for a period of the day, if the weather permits. Since flock sizes are enormous and hens are territorial, many birds won’t cross another’s territory to get to the exit holes and they will spend their entire lives inside a shed. And what of the outdoor space itself? For most it is a patch of dirt, and almost certainly not what is printed on the box, depicted on the website or the image you have in your mind.

Male chicks born into the free-range egg industry will be gassed, crushed or minced alive at a day old because they are deemed useless. And when the hens’ productivity declines, being ‘free range’ or ‘organic’ won’t save them from the catching gangs and the slaughterhouse. These animals’ lives are far from happy.

Is it an unnatural diet?

It’s true that human beings evolved the ability to digest a wide range of foods including meat, but this isn’t the same as needing meat for survival.

Rather than worrying about what our ancestors ate, the more important question is whether it’s possible for a human being to get all their necessary nutrients as a vegan. Happily, it is – and the only supplement required is B12.

This vitamin is present in animal products, but it isn’t made by the animals themselves, it’s created by bacteria that live inside them. The B12 used in vegan supplements or fortified foods such as Marmite is made by ‘farming’ the bacteria directly and harvesting the vitamin, so it’s the same substance made in exactly the same way.

Hardly unnatural – or in any case, no more unnatural than any other use of microorganisms in food production (bread, cheese, yoghurt, wine, beer…. you get the idea).

There are a lot of ways in which non-vegan food may be considered unnatural, for example the consumption of the milk of another species, so it’s probably wise to ditch the concept of what’s ‘natural’ (you’re reading this on the internet after all!) and simply concentrate on getting all the right nutrients.

Vegans only eat processed foods, don't they?

It’s rare to find anyone – whatever their diet – who does not eat processed foods at some point. These items are created to make life easier and healthier for us all. That’s right – processed foods are not all bad!

Breakfast cereals, bread, yoghurt, baked beans, pasta and a host of other things that we eat on a regular basis are processed, but they also contain nutrients we need, and we shouldn’t be too snobby about them. It is a lot harder to live healthily only from what we create out of fresh, raw ingredients, not least because of the time it takes to prepare and cook them.

There is now a huge range of vegan convenience foods available, and while it is technically possible to eat only processed foods as a vegan, no one actually does that! Even junk-food junkies like some vegetables with their roast dinner or a glass of fruit juice with their breakfast. But for most of us, processed foods will make up a portion of our diet, and that is true for meat-eaters and vegetarians, too.

Vegans come in all shapes and sizes, and we all have different motivations. Those who choose to be vegan because they want to eat a cleaner diet may well shun processed foods, and that is great. Others, who choose the vegan diet primarily out of a concern for animals, may delve into the world of vegan salami, sausages and sour cream. Great for them, too. It is wonderful that these foods exist for vegans, and that we can choose which of them, if any, are for us.

Interestingly, people who relied heavily on processed foods before becoming vegan often find they are more interested in nutrition after they stop eating meat, eggs and dairy, and they seek out the wealth of healthy foods they may not have tried before. Those interested in including more wholesome wholefoods in their diet can take a look at our Recipes section – it’s packed with delicious meal ideas, with virtually no processed items in sight.

It's impossible to be vegan if you live or travel abroad!

Not any more!

Of course, the definition of ‘abroad’ depends on where you live, but there are very few places in the world where it is not possible to be vegan, and in most countries you’ll find a wealth of vegan-friendly foods, shops and restaurants available.

If you move to another country, it makes sense to do your research. Find local vegans, explore the new shops and markets available to you and try the new products that you are likely to find. HappyCow.net will guide you to your nearest health food shop where you are likely to find all the goodies you need. If you move to an area of the world where there are fewer such specialist shops, you may need to rely on your own tried-and-tested recipes to make your favourite items from scratch but don’t forget you can mail order items, too.

If you are planning a holiday, again get online first and do your research! If you are staying in a city anywhere in the world, there is no reason why you won’t be fed extremely well. Again, a quick check of HappyCow.net shows there are 40 vegan restaurants in and around Paris, 62 in London, 22 in Melbourne, 29 in Vancouver while New York has 118. All of them are 100% vegan, and there are a lot more vegetarian and omnivore restaurants that cater for vegans, too. It’s not just the big cities where you’ll find vegan foods – you’ll find good options in towns and often in villages, too. Search for ‘vegan’ + the name of your destination, and you may be surprised at what’s available around you.

In countries where meat is a luxury, you’ll often find a surprising range of meat- and dairy- free dishes. In other parts of the world where meat is not part of the cultural tradition, you may find more soya or bean dishes in any case.

Being understood is not always easy. In China, for example, it might be easier to explain that you want a Buddhist meal than to explain that you are vegan. But wherever you go, it is helpful to take the Vegan Society’s Vegan Passport to help you get the food you want.

Doesn’t planting crops still involve the deaths of animals?

Sadly, it does. Wild animals are at risk from all human activities and farming is no exception. Land clearance, pesticides and harvesting machines all have a direct and negative impact on the lives of our wild friends.

But the truth is that omnivores eat more of these crops than vegans, and therefore have a bigger impact on wildlife. It sounds counter-intuitive but it’s true. The vast majority of the world’s harvest is fed to farmed animals, and so those who consume animals are also consumers of all the grain, soya and other crops that go into animal feed. And because animals are inefficient at converting grain to muscle, a lot more goes in than comes out. According to The Economist ‘Chickens and pigs convert grain into meat at rates of two or three to one (i.e., it takes 2 kg of feed to produce 1 kg of chicken). The ratio for lamb is between four and over six to one and that for beef starts at five to one and goes as high as 20 to one.’ It’s incredibly wasteful of crops, and the lives of wild animals, too.

Choosing vegan is not a perfect answer to ending all animal suffering. This is, after all, an imperfect world. What’s important is that being vegan significantly reduces wild animal suffering, while eliminating all intentional harm to farmed animals. 

Doesn't it matter that meat tastes good?

The vast majority of vegans were not born vegan and most of us enjoyed the taste of meat, milk and / or eggs at some point. And it’s natural to consider what you think you’ll miss, as well as what you will gain, when contemplating leaving these products behind.

But there is a whole array of products that can simply be substituted for the animal-based ones. These include plant-based milks, yoghurts, cream, ice cream and cheeses, as well as a huge range of vegan ‘meat’ products from deli slices to ‘beef’ pies to haggis. There is a vegan version of pretty much everything.

Some people – but not all – find that it is easier to switch one product at a time, so it doesn’t feel like an overwhelming overhaul of your diet. They may try various brands of meat-free sausages or burgers to start with, and then stick to the ones they like. They may find that the faux fish fingers taste just like real fish, and so start to include those instead, before looking at, perhaps, yoghurts or milks. Whether you’re a toe-dipper or a cannon-baller into the world of veganism, you can get the taste you love without the animal suffering, cholesterol and poor environmental record.

There will be a period of adjustment while you learn which foods are vegan and where to find the vegan brands but that is why Veganuary exists – to help you find the foods you love that cause the least harm to animals.

Interestingly, vegans who accidentally eat something that contains meat or dairy often say they knew it straight away, as it tasted so awful or rancid. It seems that our taste buds adapt very well to the change, along with the rest of our bodies.

Shouldn’t we worry about people first before we worry about animals?

Our hearts and minds are big enough to care about people as well as animals. Even if our life’s work is spent caring for orphans, fighting for gender equality or campaigning on behalf of oppressed peoples, we can still care for animals simply by not eating them. We don’t have to do anything more than that.

Besides, social justice movements are all connected in their goal of ending suffering, oppression and exploitation. And they are also connected by the great people who work for a kinder world across several issues.

Consider William Wilberforce, the English politician renowned for his commitment to ending slavery. He also campaigned for prison reform, political reform, to improve workers’ conditions and he gave generously to charities that fed the poor. No one could accuse him of not dedicating his life to ending the suffering of people. But he also founded the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which was the world’s first animal protection group. He cared about both.

And then take his counterpart in the US, Henry Bergh who founded the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. He also founded a Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children. He cared about both.

What about Frances Power Cobbe, a leading suffragist and an anti-vivisection campaigner? Or Annie Besant, who campaigned for women’s and workers’ rights, and was also vegetarian? History is full of people who cared deeply enough for people and animals to do their very best for both.

The same is true for vegans today. Being vegan does not hinder us from caring for people. Far from it. If anything, research suggests that vegetarians and vegans are more empathetic than omnivores, and their compassion extends across a broad spectrum of social justice issues.

Why should it matter if animals are harmed?

Have you ever noticed a child in a buggy being wheeled past a cat or a dog in the street? Invariably, he or she will point, laugh, and twist around in order to catch a better view. Children are enchanted by animals, and their books, television and films reflect their fascination. Because it is so strange for children to dislike animals and to be indifferent to their suffering, children who are cruel to animals are flagged up by the FBI as possible future abusers of people. Research has shown a clear link between harming animals and harming people.

So, do you really dislike animals so much that you could stand by and see one being deliberately hurt?

The vast majority of people in the UK oppose hunting with hounds. Similarly, bullfighting in Spain and the use of wild animals in circuses in the US. Most people do care about animals, even if they say they don’t.

And we are still more likely to show our compassionate side to our best friends: the animals with whom we share our sofas, beds and secrets. We would defend them against someone wishing to harm them as vigorously as if they were a human. And all it takes is for us to see that the dog we love, or the fox we hope gets away is no different from the pig in the crate or the chicken in the cage. Their lives are as important to them as yours is to you.

What about people who go vegan and get ill? Doesn’t this prove vegan food isn’t nutritious?

Vegan food is nutritious and the vast majority of people who take part in Veganuary say that they feel better as a result of going without animal products. Even within the first few weeks, they report that they have more energy, have lost weight and sleep better. Many also say they have improved digestion, sleep, skin, hair and nails. For most people, switching to a vegan diet feels great in the short-term but crucially it also protects them from an array of diseases like cancer, heart disease and diabetes in the long-term.

If someone becomes ill when they switch to a vegan diet, then one of two things are happening: either they have caught a bug or developed a condition and would have become ill anyway, or they are eating all the wrong foods.

It’s entirely possible to be a junk food vegan these days, as there are so many convenience foods out there, but if you fail to eat good, wholesome, nutritious foods, you are likely to feel under the weather, and that is true whatever your diet. If a person chooses to live off biscuits and crisps, you can’t really blame their deficiencies on veganism.It’s their food choices that are the problem. Conversely, if they eat a balanced diet – and we aim to provide as much helpful information as possible in our Nutrition section – then they are very unlikely to become ill as a result.

All the nutrients you need can be found on a vegan diet so if you find you are falling short of, say, enough iron, then make sure you include plenty of wholegrains, beans, peas, nut butters and green leafy vegetables in your diet. And we should realise that it takes a little time for a good diet to undo the damage of a poor one.Online nutrition trackers can be useful in giving you a rough idea about whether you are consistently failing to get enough of a particular nutrient. If this is the case, you’ll need to adjust your diet to account for it, but the good news is that this can all be done on a vegan diet, and there is no need to go back to the animal products that can cause so much sickness in the long run.

It may take a little time to adapt and get into the groove of a vegan diet, and you may notice some changes to your body in that time. But if you start to experience unpleasant symptoms don’t make assumptions about the cause. Instead see a doctor for advice.

Isn’t what we eat simply a matter of personal choice?

It is, and yet our dietary choices are already restricted so we never truly get free choice. You won’t for example, find the meat of a bear or the milk of a panda in your local supermarket. Nor will you find human flesh. There are good ethical reasons for our choices being curtailed here, and we understand and accept them.

But why do we feel it’s wrong to eat a bear, a panda or a parrot, and yet it’s OK to eat other animals? Already our choices seem a little illogical. For now, though, in shops and restaurants all around the world we are offered a limited choice of animal products that cause suffering to animals, damage the planet and raise the risk of us becoming ill. But we are also offered foods that are kind to us, help feed the hungry, protect the planet and all its inhabitants, and prevent the suffering of farmed animals. And we can choose what kind of world we want.

We should remember that animals don’t have the luxury of choice. The cow who is repeatedly impregnated and milked to the point of biological collapse doesn’t want to suffer any more than a panda would. And the chicken standing on broken bones, waiting to be transported to slaughter did not deserve such treatment any more than a bear.

Let’s exercise our right to choose what we eat, and what we contribute to the world around us. Let’s choose the foods our bodies thank us for, rather than picking up carcinogenic processed meats or other meats that are designated as ‘probably’ carcinogenic. Let’s use our buying power to ensure the world’s food resources are distributed wisely so that crops are not fed to animals, when they could be feeding hungry people. Let’s end the misery of animal farming. They don’t deserve to be treated that way, but they will be if we keep on buying their meat, milk or eggs.

Veganism is just too extreme, isn't it?

Livestock farming contributes more to climate change than all the cars, planes, ships and trains on the planet. It is also a key driver of deforestation, it wastes land, energy and water, and it pollutes the air, waterways and the earth. Moreover, it causes appalling and unnecessary suffering to billions of animals. A diet based on animal products cannot feed the world’s population, many of whom starve while grain is being fed to farmed animals, and it raises the risk of suffering cancer, heart disease and diabetes for those who do eat it. Objectively speaking, all that sounds rather reckless, and yes, extreme!

Conversely, a diet that is plant-based is kinder to the earth, human and other animals, and is better for those who choose to eat it. In fact, 97 per cent of Veganuary’s 2017 participants said they felt healthier as a result of eating plant foods for a month.

Of course, it can feel daunting to think about making the change to a vegan diet but if getting rid of all animal products seems extreme, it may be because it is a new concept to you, or because you don’t know anyone else who has already done it. The good news is there are millions of vegans out there for whom it was all new once, and who, almost without exception say: “I wish I had done it sooner.”

The food itself is far from extreme unless you consider pasta, baked beans, peanut butter and bread to be radical foodstuffs. In fact, lots of the food you already buy is vegan, perhaps even those bacon-flavoured crisps and your favourite chocolate biscuits! And the rest of it can easily be substituted, like for like: plant milks, yoghurts, ice cream and cheese for the dairy versions; faux meats for the fleshy ones; and vegan pies, pasties, casseroles, soups, curries, stir-fries, fajitas, burgers, chilli, sausages, schnitzels, sausage rolls, ‘fish’ fingers and so much more for the non-vegan ones. Far from being extreme, you might not even notice the difference.

Will farmed animals become extinct - and meat in shops be wasted - if we don’t eat them?

It is highly unlikely that the entire world is going to go vegan overnight, and so we won’t have the ‘problem’ of what to do with all the animals in farms. (Although if that did happen, we would have a duty to care for those animals in sanctuaries for the rest of their lives, which would be a wonderful ‘problem’ to have!)

In reality, though, as each of us chooses not to buy animal products, fewer animals will be bred, reared and slaughtered in the future. This is how the supply-and-demand market works. If people don’t buy a product, it will stop being produced. So, if the whole world did eventually go vegan, no more animals would be bred, and farmers would diversify into producing beans, broccoli and beetroot. Since producing vegetables is more labour-intensive than farming animals, there would be more jobs in farming.

Some people worry that individual species of farmed animal would become extinct if people stopped eating them, and for many farmed species this would most definitely be a good thing. Farmed breeds are not natural in that they do not occur in the wild. They were specifically bred by people to have certain physical traits, such as large muscles or high milk yields, but these money-making traits also cause a lot of suffering. Commercial breeds of turkeys and broiler chickens, for example, are bred to put on a lot of weight as quickly as possible and as a result their joints are painful, their hearts are weak and they are prone to bone breakages. It is right that these poor creatures are not bred to be this way. But that doesn’t mean that all poultry breeds – or any other farmed animal species – will completely die out. (Just think of the thousands of species that we do not eat and who survive.) They would need the right habitat, of course, but that would be easier to provide for them as we would need a lot less land for farming.