Top 10 Vegan Myths Debunked

From protein deficiency to being stranded on a desert island, we address the most common vegan myths out there

Cows on Farm. Black and white cows eating hay in the stable.
Image Credit: AdobeStock

When you try vegan, you’ll realise just how many stereotypes there are around plant-powered living.

Sometimes it can be tricky to know the right answer, especially if you’re put on the spot! Whether someone’s asking you about vitamin deficiencies, cows exploding if they’re not milked or being stranded on a desert island, we’ve got you covered.

Read our bite-sized answers to the most common vegan myths.

1. where do Vegans get protein?

One of the most persistent vegan myths 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.

Vegan protein sources include:

  • Cooking staples like tofu, tempeh and seitan
  • Beans and pulses (lentils, lima, edamame, pinto, black)
  • Grains (brown rice, whole wheat pasta, quinoa and bulgur wheat)
  • Nuts (brazils, peanuts, cashews, almonds, pistachios and walnuts)

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.

There are some easy go-to foods you can rely on, such as 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 pan of chilli with kidney, black-eyed and cannellini beans, quinoa 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!

2. what if you were stranded on a desert island?

Many vegan myths are somewhat amusing, including this one. Despite the fact that this situation is a rather rare occurrence, this question does seem to get asked of vegans a lot. Odd really. Still, let’s play along.

We would eat the bananas, mangoes and coconuts that tend to grow in abundance on such islands. We’d eat whatever the animals are eating as digging up tubers or picking berries would be a lot safer than hunting, trapping, killing, butchering and cooking a wild animal.

Of course, we realise this is not really about desert islands, but more about finding the limit to our resolve: if you were starving, what would you do then? If we were starving, and there was no other option, it’s possible we would even eat the questioner.

But if we may be permitted to ask a question of our own… If you lived on an island where delicious vegan food was available on every high street, would you still keep consuming animals?

A sunny island with sand and palm trees. It's a common vegan myth that vegans would eat animals if stranded on a desert island!
Image Credit: Unsplash

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

Soya has no known effect on testosterone levels in men. However, this remains one of the most widely believed vegan myths.

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, there is a misconception about this.

Now, research has confirmed 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.

4. 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 dairy farms, however, calves are taken from their mothers only a day or two after they’re born. This is to maximise 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 raised for veal, where they are confined in small pens or crates, with restricted movement 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.

Dairy cows being milked
Image Credit: AdobeStock

5. Don’t plants feel pain too?

The ‘plants feel pain’ argument is one of the myths you may encounter often. 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. But we do know that animals feel pain, and that is a key reason to be vegan.

If someone is more concerned about the possible feelings of plants than the actual feelings of animals, they’ll be delighted to know that vegans actually eat fewer plants than meat eaters.

This is because vast amounts of crops must be grown to feed animals – a wasteful exercise since animals eat more calories in plants than is made available in their meat.

6. It’s Fine to Eat Honey Because 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 – it is their winter food store, which is why they work so hard all summer to produce it.

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. Taking away their natural food source affects their immunity and may be one of the reasons why bee colonies are collapsing.

Most vegans believe that 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.

Bee perched on a flower. It's one of the most common vegan myths that bees make honey for humans.
Image Credit: Earl25. Reproduced under Creative Commons Licence.

7. leather is a by-product of the meat industry so it makes sense to use it

This is one of the vegan myths you may be familiar with already. 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.

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 common 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 serious factor in climate breakdown. 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 must pay a high 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.

8. 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.

Birds stand in filthy sheds, on broken legs, alongside the dying and dead, hungry in too much pain to move.

Cows on dairy farms call day after day for their newborn calf who was taken from them. The milk made to suckle their young is wanted instead for human consumption.

Lambs freeze to death on wintry hillsides because their mothers were impregnated too early, just so lamb meat can be in the shops in the springtime.

A short life filled with pain and misery is no real life at all.

Farmed pig in captivity behind a cage
Image Credit: AdobeStock

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

Being vegan isn’t about perfection; it’s about doing the best we can in this imperfect world.

We may not be able to control how the dyes in our carpets were made or the trim in our car, but we can choose what we eat, and it is not difficult to eat vegan – whether at home, in restaurants or on the go.

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.

There’s also the myth that cooking entirely plant-based is difficult. Check out our easy vegan recipes to prove this myth wrong!

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

We are not carnivores – we cannot survive on a carnivorous diet. We can, however, survive as vegans and, in many cases, more healthily than omnivores.

The teeth we call canines look nothing like the teeth of a canine, and they’re misnamed. And while we’re on the subject, our guts look nothing like meat-eaters’ short guts but instead more closely resemble those of our herbivorous friends.

Now that you know more about the most common vegan myths, you’ll be more prepared when you have discussions with people!

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