• What is Veganism?
“Veganism is a way of living that seeks to exclude, as far as possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing and any other purpose.” – The Vegan Society
• What does being Vegan mean?
As a consequence of adopting the philosophy of veganism, vegans adopt a plant-based diet which does not include any animal products. This includes all types of meat, eggs, milk and dairy products, honey, gelatin, etc. Vegans also avoid other animal-made products such as fur, leather, and cosmetics or household items that use animal testing.
• Veganism vs. Plant-Based
As is noted in the definition, veganism has obvious ethical and moral considerations that extend beyond mere diet. However, one can obviously eat a diet consistent with that of a vegan without maintaining the same moral principles. The term for a diet fitting this description is “Plant-Based”. A practitioner of a plant-based diet is one who eats a diet entirely [or mostly] consistent with that of a vegan, but does so for reasons other than the ethical consideration of animals (usually health). Therefore, one practicing a plant-based diet is likely comfortable buying leather products, having “cheat days”, etc.
Vegans typically care about this distinction because one claiming to be vegan, but participating in some of the aforementioned “cheating” habits, perpetuates the idea that vegans are occasionally okay with exploiting animals for certain occasions, conveniences, etc. Such a message muddles – and therefore weakens – the underlying message of the vegan movement.
• Why go vegan?
Most people choose to go vegan for ethical, health, or environmental reasons. Research the environmental effects of the meat/dairy/egg industry, the health benefits of a vegan diet, and where animal products come from. Decide for yourself why you choose a vegan diet. Here’s a list of resources:
- The Vegan Starter Kit: Why Go Vegan?
- The Environmental Impact of Meat
- Health Effects of A Vegan Diet
- What is Factory Farming?
- Earthlings (documentary)
• But what about dairy? Or eggs? Or honey?
• How do I start?
A vegan diet typically consists of legumes, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and grains. You don’t need meat or dairy alternatives in your diet if you do not want them, but there are tons of alternatives out there. Some of these include tofu, tempeh, seitan, soy milk, almond milk, and coconut milk. Here’s a list of common meat alternatives and information about them. There are several brands that are vegan friendly including Amys, Morningstar (check their products, some are vegan and others are vegetarian), Earth Balance, Smart Deli, Daiya, etc.
Also, checkout out this Guide For New Vegans by Vegan Street for various pointers on launching your veganism.
• What will my grocery list look like?
• Isn’t a vegan diet expensive?
No! A vegan diet does not have to be expensive. Meat alternatives can sometimes be pricey but a vegan diet can be very cheap if you shop consciously. For example, buy bags of beans and rice in bulk, get vegetables that are in season, shop around different grocery stores and farmers markets to find the cheapest prices. Here’s a great thread with budgeting tips.
• What about protein?
One of the biggest questions about a vegan diet is where will I get my protein. Believe it or not, most people on a meat-based diet are eating too much protein. A vegan diet is just like an omnivorous diet: If you eat junk, you won’t get the nutrition you need. A vegan diet will give you plenty of protein and nutrients as long as you eat the right things. A diet rich in beans, nuts, dark leafy greens, and lots of veggies and fruit will give you all the nutrition you need.
• What about getting B-12 in my diet?
It is true that a vegan diet naturally lacks vitamin B-12. It is very important to ensure a reliable source in your diet. It is also easy! Several vegan products such as milk alternatives are fortified with B-12. Supplementing your diet with B-12 tablets is a good idea, as well as cheap and effective. You can find recommendations on B-12 here.
• How do I make sure I meet my nutritional needs on a vegan diet?
You can calculate your Dietary Reference Intake using this online application (roughly equivalent to the RDA). This Wikipedia page on the DRI contains a static chart. You can then look up nutrition info for specific foods in the FDA’s Food-A-Pedia or similar sites (there are a bunch) to make sure you are hitting the recommended amounts. This advice is pretty US-centric but the general theory is to find a reference for your nutritional requirements and compare what you are eating to those requirements to ensure that your nutritional requirements are met. This video by Dr. Michael Greger MD explains why vegans should take 2000 micrograms of B12 every week (or 100 every day), and to eat 1-2 tablespoons of CRUSHED or GROUND flaxseed everyday.
• I’ve heard that soy contains estrogen. Is this true, and do I need to avoid soy?
Short version: No. Soy contains phytoestrogens, not estrogen. They interact with the body much more weakly than estrogen. In men, studies have shown that soy consumption/isoflavone supplements had no effect on testosterone, sperm parameters such as motility or testicle size. For women, it seems like soy may help decrease the risk of breast cancer but this isn’t entirely proven. In either case, unless you have an allergy or similar specific health reason to avoid soy, there’s no scientific reason to avoid moderate consumption. The same could be said of most foods: a balanced diet is generally best.
• What do I say to people questioning my diet?
If you want you can tell them the reasons why you personally chose your diet or if you want you can not tell them anything, you don’t have to explain or defend yourself if you don’t want to. The answer to this question is entirely up to you. However, here is a template to consider for how to respond to overly pushy friends, family, or coworkers.
If you’re looking for responses to arguments against veganism, these links are quite comprehensive:
- Common Anti-Vegan Arguments from Michael Slusher
- Guide To Justifications For Harming And Exploiting Animals from Vegan Sidekick
- Responses to many of the questions and challenges posed about veganism
• What if I get bored of the food I’m eating?
A vegan diet can be a fun challenge to branch out and try new foods. Check out recipes online, challenge yourself to try new ingredients and find new things that you like. Try your hand at “veganizing” some of your old favorites. There are tons of vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes out there just waiting to be tried!
• Will I have to give up sweets?
Absolutely not! Check out recipes online, there are tons of vegan friendly brownies, cookies, and other treats. Vegan doesn’t mean the end to delicious desserts.