Of course, I can only speak for myself, but as a vegan there are a whole host of typical questions I encounter on a fairly regular basis. Since I’m definitely more the “lead by example” type (as opposed to the “unload a sermon on anyone within earshot” kinda gal), I LOVE when people ask me questions.
The way I see it, it’s a green light to talk up all the awesome things there are to say about being vegan and maybe help dispel a few myths at the same time. That said, here’s a few of the questions I hear a lot and the answers I (try to) give:
As is true for a lot of people, my veganism began with vegetarianism. My vegetarianism was spurred by my dog (which sounds ridiculous, but is true). Milo was a birthday gift eight years ago from my then-boyfriend, now-husband, Andy.
I never had a pet growing up and though I didn’t dislike animals before this spunky little Yorkie came bounding into my life, never really gave them all that much consideration. The simple act of actually getting to know this teeny puppy with his huge and distinct personality brought me to the realization that he was a living, breathing, sentient being who could experience genuine emotions and clearly had a thoughtprocess (you can always see the often-evil wheels turning in there).
It wasn’t too terribly long before I started to connect the dots from Milo to all dogs, then all pets, then all animals – including the ones on my plate. The trajectory from there to veganism is pretty simple to follow.
Holy geez, what DON’T I eat? Seriously, with all the options available these days, being vegan’s a breeze. Literally, there’s a “vegan version” for basically anything your little heart desires! Of course though, a boatload of processed foods isn’t optimal, vegan or not, so the real basis of my diet is grains. What does that mean? Whole-wheat pasta, couscous, brown rice, quinoa, spelt, oats, barley, whole-grain cereal and bread, etc. Also, as you might expect, I eat a lot of fruit and vegetables and my fair share of tofu, tempeh and seitan.
If you’re looking for specifics, nearly every day starts with a bowl of cereal and unsweetened almond milk (faves include Nature’s Path Corn Flakes, Peace Cereal’s Maple Pecan Crisp and Barbara’s Bakery Original Shredded Oats). Egg-based dishes are easily (and deliciously) replaced with firm tofu and, in recipes, with any number of things from flaxseed meal and water to Ener-G egg replacer or mashed fruit. Without question, Follow-Your-Heart and Daiya have no equals among non-dairy cheese.
When this question comes up, here’s the first thing I say: Soy (which is available in many, many forms), beans of any kind and nuts/seeds of any kind are protein powerhouses. These foods are my main sources of protein. But, there is a (sometimes-surprisingly) hefty amount of protein in some grains and vegetables as well – quinoa, brown rice, spinach and broccoli are standouts.
Sometimes, I leave it at that. But IF it seems like the person I’m chatting with is interested, I’ll try to follow that up with this: For what it’s worth, a lot of people have the wrong idea about how much protein is actually necessary in our diets. Although, it is absolutely an essential nutrient with a series of key roles to play in our bodily functions, we actually don’t need very much of it. The RDA for protein is 0.36 grams for every pound of weight. If you do the math, that’s not a lot (multiply your *ideal* weight by .36 to see how many grams of protein you need each day). On average, Americans eat about twice as much protein as they need – which would be fine if it didn’t do bad things in excess amounts. I’m not an RD, so I’ll leave the explanation to an expert.
I track my daily food intake (yeah, I know – nerd alert!) at the Daily Plate on Livestrong.com. I almost always exceed my RDA for protein, which is why I take a calcium supplement every day. Speaking of calcium…
Like protein, it’s fairly easy to get an adequate amount of calcium from non-animal food sources. First, there are a variety of foods that have been fortified with calcium to the point that they rival dairy products in terms of percent daily values. Examples include non-dairy milks, tofu, cereals and orange juice.
Non-animal food sources that are naturally rich in calcium include almonds, leafy greens, sesame seeds and broccoli – to name a few. When you consider that there is at least as much calcium in just 4 oz. of tofu or 3/4 cup of collard greens as there is in one cup of cow’s milk, it’s easy to see how a vegan diet can be plenty rich in calcium without dairy.
I won’t bore you with the details, but the argument for iron is essentially the same. Feel free to check it out here. My favorite factoid from that page is this guy: “You would have to eat more than 1700 calories of sirloin steak to get the same amount of iron as found in 100 calories of spinach.”
I owe this reply to the lovely, Alicia Silverstone (who is WAY knowledgeable about all things vegan…and if you didn’t pick up on the pop-culture reference there, you’ve lived a sheltered life).
In her best-selling book, “The Kind Diet,” Alicia does an excellent job of explaining that B12 is synthesized by specific bacteria that can be found in a variety of places, most notably in the guts of animals. Though it’s true that plants themselves do not contain this nutrient (which is essential for brain and nervous system functions) all plant foods are grown in soil – which happens to be an excellent source of B12!
Up until the modern age of factory farming, you could get all the B12 you needed just from trace amounts of soil on veggies. Now that our food is grown in heavily treated soil, any B12 that manages to survive in it is lost in the necessary washing process.
So…it’s not the vegan diet itself that causes a deficiency, but the reality of modern agriculture, ya dig?
YES! Now sure, there are some specialty restaurants I frequent that cater to vegan/veggie diners, but my choices are definitely not limited to this (sadly) small sub-category. Usually, with just the tiniest bit of extra effort I’m able to find vegan options at a wide variety of dining establishments – chains and local joints alike.
I find this is especially easy with chain restaurants because many post ingredient lists for menu items on their websites. What nearly always works though, no matter what kind of restaurant I’m planning to dine in, is to simply (and politely) let them know I’m vegan and ask if there are any existing menu items that would be appropriate or if an accommodation can be made. I try to do this ahead of time, whenever possible. Even if this doesn’t get me anywhere, I always try to make a point of saying something just to help establish that there is a demand for vegan options on the menu.
If worse comes to worst though, I generally don’t sweat the possibility that there might be some dairy or eggs lurking in my food when I’m eating out. This is kind of exactly what I’m getting at with the whole “usually” thing.
I actually have a theory on the “difficulty” of being vegan and it’s one I’ve heard from several other vegans as well. If the vegan diet/lifestyle is hard for you, you simply aren’t ready for it.
I learned this lesson when I became a vegetarian. It took me a solid five or six earnest attempts (and many more half-assed ones) for it to stick – and that last time when it finally did take, it couldn’t have been easier. I simply (and quite suddenly) knew I could do it, and I did. Veganism was the same way. Though I never had any false starts, I convinced myself for years that it was just too hard for me. Then one day I realized I could do it, and so I did.
All of that is a long way of saying that it will be hard until you are ready – at which point, it won’t be.