Bite-sized answers to the most common vegan myths.
- 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. This is simply not true. There may be 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 to the source.
Green vegetables (the superstars are kale, broccoli, seaweed, peas and spinach), beans and pulses (lentils, lima, edamame, pinto, black), grains (brown rice, whole wheat pasta, quinoa and bulgur wheat) and nuts (brazils, peanuts, cashews, almonds, pistachios and walnuts) are all excellent sources of protein.
Getting enough protein in your diet is not as big a deal as this question will make you first think it is. Simply be aware of what plant based foods are protein rich, and try to include some in all your meals… The easy back-up of a peanut butter sandwich (although now you’re vegan you’ll discover the delights of cashew and hazelnut as well), quinoa on your salad, a big vat of chili with kidney, black-eyed and cannellini beans, or quinoa like in the photo (click for recipe), or a stir-fry with tofu and lots of veggies… And that’s only scratching the surface. There really is so much to choose from that often you won’t even notice you’re doing it!
- But what if you were stranded on a desert island?
Despite the fact that this situation is a rather rare occurrence, this question does seem to get asked to vegans a lot. Odd really. When you Google ‘desert island survival tips’ finding drinkable water tends to be top of the list. Hurrah, very vegan indeed.
If you’re really stuck for a response, and have forgotten that bananas, mangoes and coconuts tend to grown in abundance on such islands, then go with our standard:
“I’m planning on being just like Tom Hanks in Castaway, with only a volleyball for a friend and a wild shock of rock star hair.”
It really is the only sensible response you can give.
- Don’t tofu and soya contain oestrogen and lower testosterone?
Soya has no known effect on testosterone levels in men.
Soya beans contain isoflavones, which are members of a group of compounds called phytoestrogens. Because isoflavones bind to the same receptors in the body as oestrogen, a misconception has built up (about soya). The bottom line is that isoflavones are not the same as oestrogen, and do not have the same effect as oestrogen.
Furthermore, a 2010 study looked at whether soya has oestrogenic-like effects in men and lowers available testosterone levels. It concluded:
‘The results … suggest that neither soy foods nor isoflavone supplements alter measures of bioavailable testosterone concentrations in men.’ – Hamilton-Reeves JM, et al.
- Don’t cows have to be milked or they’ll explode?
A cow can only produce milk if she gives birth to a calf. The cows on dairy farms are impregnated every year so that they continuously supply milk. In a natural setting, cows would fall pregnant normally, calves would suckle from their mothers, and milking by humans would be completely unnecessary.
On these farms, however, the calves are taken from their mothers only a day or two after they’re born. This is to maximise on the milk produced by their mothers for human consumption. Female calves are then raised as milk producers, slaughtered immediately or possibly sold for veal production. Male calves have only two options: they are transported for veal production, where they are confined in small pens or crates, with restricted movement and no natural light and then slaughtered at six months; or they are killed straight away and sold as low grade meat.
Cows can live for up to 20 years. On dairy farms the average age of a milk producing cow is less than five years old.
- Don’t plants feel pain too?
Plants have no central nervous systems, nerve endings, or brains. In other words, plants possess none of the receptors with which sentient beings experience pain.
- What’s wrong with eating honey? Don’t bees make it naturally?
Bees do make honey naturally, but they make it for themselves, not for humans!
In much the same way as cows’ milk is meant for calves, honey is meant for bees, and is essentially their winter food store. The bees work hard throughout spring and summer to gather nectar from flowers before regurgitating it, cooling it (by fanning it with their wings) and storing it as honey within the hive.
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. Sometimes the honey is replaced by sugar syrup, other times beekeepers claim that there is enough honey left behind to see the bees through winter.
Either way, most vegans believe the honey is not there for us to use, and it is exploitative to buy, sell and farm the bees for our benefit. Also, even the most careful beekeeper can’t avoid killing some bees in the process of harvesting honey. So when there are many alternatives available such as maple syrup, agave and various other sweeteners, there seems no reason to use bees.
Furthermore, bees are currently under threat, which is very worrying as their existence is necessary for the pollination of our vegetable crops. Some people have argued that farming bees for honey is therefore beneficial – but a vegan might argue instead that we should provide assistance to bees ‘free of charge’, i.e. without going on to raid their hives and use their food. After all, don’t they already help us enough?
- 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.
- Aren’t we doing these animals a favour by giving them a life?
Many animals are treated so cruelly during their brief lives that no, we are not doing them a favour by giving them a life. A short life filled with misery is no real life at all.
However, what about animals that live longer, happier lives, and are slaughtered quickly and painlessly? That still doesn’t give us the right to slaughter them, just as a parent doesn’t have the right to abuse their child. From the moment an animal is born he/she has rights, and we have a moral obligation to not infringe upon those rights, just as we have a moral obligation not to infringe upon the rights of other human beings.
- 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?
For more bite-sized answers to over 50 more common vegan myths please visit our Myths section.