Here are frequently asked questions, and frequently expressed objections, that we’ve received from participants in the mentoring program. Please also review our Resources page for more information on many of the topics covered here, and abundant links to help you go vegan and stay vegan.
If you’re vegan, you will go into a restaurant with the mindset that you’re vegan, not that you’re vegan unless it’s temporarily inconvenient for you. If possible, look at the menu online in advance to suss out items that can easily be made vegan, or call ahead and speak to a manager so you can ask questions. Try, “I’m coming to dinner with friends tomorrow night and I am vegan. What can the chef make for me that doesn’t have meat, cheese, butter, or eggs?” You may have to state exactly the animal ingredients you avoid – don’t assume it will be obvious to them. This also helps you avoid asking the wait staff questions they may not be able to answer at the table. Doing a few minutes of recon in advance can save a lot of missteps. When you don’t know what’s in something, ask. When you want to substitute an item, ask. If you were deadly allergic to dairy, you wouldn’t feel bad about asking if the soup is made with cream or if the vegetables are cooked in butter. When it’s your turn to pick a restaurant, pick a vegan restaurant, or at least ones that are more vegan-friendly such as Italian (dried pasta is made without egg), Indian (ask for no ghee/cheese), Asian (watch out for fish sauce), or Middle Eastern (avoid yogurt sauces). HappyCow is a good restaurant resource as well, and try smartphone apps that help find vegan items at chains.
This is one more reason we prefer to stick with vegan restaurants: there’s no chance of an animal part accidentally ending up in your food. (That, and it’s best to support a vegan business over a non-vegan business whenever possible.) But you can’t beat yourself up over someone else’s mistake. Spit it out politely, send it back, and let them make your meal correctly, just like you’d do any other time a restaurant gets your order wrong. If you are paying for the food and service, you should get what you want. There’s no shame in speaking up for yourself in these situations, and no need for anyone to regard you as confrontational. But don’t worry overly about being nice, worry about being ethical. That chicken died, whether you eat it or not, and you’re not helping him or her by eating it. Most of all, don’t confuse people by being ‘that vegan’ who occasionally eats chicken, because that makes you a hypocrite.
I think you already know the answer. No, you cannot be vegan and eat or exploit animals. Veganism isn’t about you or me, it’s about justice, compassion and fairness. Choosing to eat animals takes their lives and/or contributes to their exploitation. Trust that whatever brought you to veganism will keep you there. Tradition or personal taste is not an excuse. You are free to make other choices. Also remember that you are an example to others that we can live and thrive without exploiting animals.
Consider making larger quantities of food on the weekends such as a big pot of chili, soup, stew, or pasta sauce. Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is a fan of slicing and dicing all your veggies when you bring them home from the store to save time during the week (though there’s a minor sacrifice in freshness). Robin Robertson has written many popular cookbooks including Quick Fix Vegan, and the site Ten Minute Vegan also has abundant recipes you can make at home that take less time than you’d spend idling at the drive-through. Nothing is easier to bring to work than leftovers. When there aren’t any leftovers, try sandwiches with sliced lunchmeats like Tofurky, Yves or Field Roast slices, or canned soups and chili from Amy’s. Keep nuts, dried fruit, pretzels, protein bars, and other snacks in your desk or when you’re on the road.
Planning, and a stocked pantry, are keys to homemade meals. Even if you can’t plan your meals for the whole week every Saturday, try to think ahead even a few hours to allow yourself time to pick up a loaf of bread or a bunch of kale from the market on your way home from work. Here is a good tip sheet from the Vegan Housewives on vegan pantry staples. If you’re concerned about relying too much on packaged foods, try substituting tempeh and seitan for some of the veggie meats and then eventually adding more lentils and beans. But don’t be so hard on yourself: you’re probably already eating healthier than 99 percent of the population. (If those French fries are baked, not deep-fried.)
You can always fall back on French fries, fake meat, and salads. But seriously. you’re going to have to become more comfortable in the kitchen. Making your own food is tastier, healthier, and cheaper than any alternatives. And you might surprise yourself: there are tons of vegans who never cared about cooking until they had to learn how to feed themselves without animal products, and now they can whip up Tahitian vanilla cupcakes with strawberry cream cheese filling and chocolate ganache and shit. It’s practically necessary to know how to make yourself some good food, even if you’re only able to knock out four to five decent recipes. Just about anyone can master a breakfast smoothie (if you have a decent blender), a tofu scramble, a monster burrito, a kale salad, and chocolate chip cookies.
Good for you! There are so many gourmet vegan food blogs, cookbooks, and recipes that with your talent, you can surely replicate your favorite tastes and techniques, and learn new ones. Our lives changed when we discovered liquid smoke. Google “vegan (whatever dish you want to make) recipe” for hours of fun. Be aware that Google does not distinguish between vegan and vegetarian, so read the recipe thoroughly before embarking.
It’s quite easy to eat cheaply as a vegan – it’s perhaps even easier to eat cheaply and eat well as a vegan than it is to eat cheaply and eat well as a carnist. Bulk foods are your friends. Load up on beans, lentils, split peas, grains like brown rice, barley, and quinoa, which range from 75 cents to two dollars a pound. If you have a farmers’ market nearby, you can often get locally grown, in-season produce for a dollar a pound; show up near the end of the day and farmers are even more willing to bargain. Tofu costs about $1.25 per package, cheaper per pound than anything but the most disgusting ground meat. Plant Based on a Budget and several other online resources focus on affordable eating, and cookbooks such as Eat Vegan on $4.00 a Day: A Game Plan for the Budget Conscious Cook and Robin Robertson’s Vegan on the Cheap are busting the myths that being vegan is expensive.
Not true. While getting your hands on refrigerated vegan convenience foods or specialty items like the hot new cheeses might be hard, every major grocery store in North America sells beans, grains, fruits, and vegetables. Even if you’re in a very rural area and you’re the only vegan around for miles, you’ll probably do fine. Besides, there are many vegan specialty stores on the internet if you have a yen to try something trendy. Another thing to keep in mind: unlike most other chain stores, supermarkets try to be very responsive to their unique communities, and want to carry products that their customers want. So go to the manager at your regular market with a list of staples you want them to carry, and see if you can work it out. It might be easier than you think to place special orders or bulk orders through your market, at a good price, and freeze the surplus.
The social aspects of being vegan can be especially tricky and fraught with emotion. It’s not unusual for even your closest friends and family to be unsupportive. Being vegan reflects back to them that they eat and use animals. It doesn’t really matter what you say or don’t say. They feel uncomfortable when someone points out the 800-pound gorilla in the room. Over time, they will see that you are indeed committed and will begin to at least be open to understanding your choices. Try not to take pushback too personally.
It’s one of the most difficult things about being vegan, seeing people you love be so apathetic or adversarial about something that is important to you. You could ask them to watch Farm to Fridge or Earthlings so they’re clear on why you’ve made these choices. You could sit down with them and explain what your veganism means to you, or write it out if that’s easier for you. You could passive-aggressively post gory videos on their Facebook walls. However, I’d only do those things if you think any of them gives a shit about you, your choices, and your feelings. Don’t expend much energy on people who don’t give a shit. Time to make new friends and/or find a vegan-friendly living situation.
Only you can decide what your threshold is for living with people who are exploiting animals. You may find your threshold changes over time. If you’re the chief cook in your household, it’s fairly simple to make vegan meals for the entire group, and as your mother may have said to you, “you have two choices for dinner: take it or leave it.” It’s difficult if not impossible to control what your family members eat when they aren’t at home, but it’s totally possible to explain that at home, there are only going to be vegan meals from now on. If you aren’t the chief cook, then you’re going to have to be responsible for feeding yourself in a healthy and balanced way. With roommates, you may want your own set of cookware and dishes that are off-limits to others. More importantly, ask yourself how long you can live with people whose values are so different from yours, and consider looking for a vegan-friendly living situation.
Couples in mixed relationships generally have the most success when they come to an agreement that all the food in the house is going to be vegan. If according to those rules he’s allowed to grill and eat his meat outside, like a caveman, that might at least save you from having to see it and smell it. Vegan blogger and cookbook author JL Fields is an example of someone who first went vegan without her spouse, yet maintained a happy marriage, so her site may offer good insight if you want this relationship to work. Ultimately you need to commit to going vegan and staying vegan regardless of whether your husband or partner chooses to follow you. Maybe when he sees that you are serious, and that you’re not caving, he will be more open-minded and respectful of who you are.
Everyone handles holidays differently. Some vegans just can’t or won’t be around family at holidays where they will be cooking and eating animals, and others have found a compromise. How much do you want to spend time with your family over the holiday? Is it really important? If yes, then bring your own food and be polite unless someone asks you an indelicate personal question, or is critical of you. The reality is that the holiday table is really never the best place to educate. Or, if it’s not that important that you be there to be the butt of the vegan jokes, bow out of the forced family time, and spend the holiday with more open-minded friends, or other vegans. Recreate the traditional holidays in vegan style (such as our vegan Seder or “Veder”), see if there is a vegan potluck or other public event in your community, or start one. Here is how members of our community deal with it.
First of all, are you sure? You’ve checked Meetup and bulletin boards at the health food store and met everyone who volunteers at the local animal shelter or goes to the Hindu temple? There might be vegans in your neighborhood you haven’t met yet. In any case, community is very important when you’re a social minority, whether that community is in real life at potlucks and protests, or on the internet. If there’s truly no local vegan community you might have to stick with online communities. Listening to animal rights podcasts will help you feel like you have comrades out there, and you’re always welcome on our Facebook community. Eventually you might feel moved to start a new group (such as a Meetup, or check here for tips) and see if anyone shows up.
Unless you come from certain parts of India or Southeast Asia, pretty much everyone grew up eating and using animals. This is not a particularly unique situation, whether you come from Paris, Texas or Paris, France. Everyone has to experience a variation of this, and it can be alienating. Food is closely linked to heritage and tradition. Rather than rejecting that food tradition, whether it’s Bubbie’s chicken noodle soup or grandma’s mayonnaise-laden potato salad, try starting with substitutes, like non-dairy milks and butter, or soy and gluten meats, to use in your traditional recipes. As an adult, keep in mind you’re now able to create your own traditions, and don’t judge yourself by how well you live up to the traditions of others.
When you first switch to a vegan diet, you might notice some changes in your level of hunger. Keep in mind that meat, dairy, and eggs are very high in calories and fat. To stave off hunger, try to get a lot of vegan protein like tofu, seitan, beans, lentils and nuts. Protein is much more satisfying and filling than vegetables or fruits alone. You can also make sure to include grains with each meal and some healthy fats like coconut oil, olive oil, avocados and the like. It won’t take very long for your body to begin to adjust to this manner of eating.
Every parent imposes their values on their children. It’s called parenting. No one criticizes a parent for telling their kids not to throw rocks at people. Telling your kids not to kill or exploit animals is no different than “don’t throw rocks at people” or any other important lessons a parent may teach. Friends raising vegan kids say that they’ve explained to their children why they are vegan, in ways that are appropriate for their age and sophistication, and that the kids understand it and are likewise able to explain it to their friends. They also say they bring vegan cupcakes, pizza, or treats for their kids when they go to birthday parties or other occasions, so they don’t feel left out. Fortunately more people are aware of what veganism means (at least in terms of a diet), so it will become easier to explain to teachers or their friend’s parents what your kids do and don’t eat.
Watch Earthlings, Farm to Fridge, or undercover footage from Mercy For Animals. Seeing how animals are exploited is an excellent motivator. Make the commitment. It’s wrong to participate in their exploitation or you wouldn’t want to go vegan in the first place. Follow whatever in you made that decision. Trust that you can do this and that is vital for you to do it. It’s important for people to see that we can make ethical choices and stick to them. You can do it. Fortunately vegan desserts these days have been elevated to an art form.
Yes, because, as Dr. Neal Barnard argues, dairy contains opiate-like substances called casomorphins: “mother’s milk has a drug-like effect on the baby’s brain that ensures that the baby will bond with Mom and continue to nurse and get the nutrients all babies need.” Fortunately commercial vegan cheeses have made great strides in quality and availability. We’ve reviewed some of the artisan varieties and sampled recipes from popular cheese cookbooks, and for pizzas, quesadillas, and nachos there are quite credible non-dairy cheeses such as Daiya and Follow Your Heart shreds.
After a lifetime of conditioning, it isn’t surprising that your body wants animal products. It’s an automatic response to which you have been programmed. You, however, have the intellectual wherewithal to combat that programming and recondition yourself. When you want an animal product that’s in front of you, stop and think of what happened to the animal in order for him or her, or his or her by-products, to be on that plate. Run through the images revealed by undercover investigations. A new Pavlovian response should replace the old one. If that doesn’t work, find a farm animal sanctuary nearby. Meet the some of the scant few survivors of the animal holocaust. Look a former veal calf in the eye and try to explain to him why that dairy-based macaroni and cheese was worth his near death, and his mother’s prolonged suffering and eventual death. Explain to a former laying hen why every second of her life before she was rescued was worth your momentary pleasure. At the end of the day, it’s nice that there’s tasty vegan food, but that’s not strictly necessary. Veganism is our moral obligation to other living beings, which is not dependent on our convenience, pleasure, or comfort. Intelligence and knowledge can override conditioned responses. But, even if it cannot, contributing to the suffering of any living being is intolerable and inexcusable.
No. There is no way to humanely or ethically use another being. All meat, dairy, and eggs are the product of exploitation and suffering of others. Even the happiest of farms will one day unnecessarily end the life of a sentient being who wished to live. Dairy is always the product of forced breeding, calves being taken away from their mothers, and then raised for further human exploitation, including on organic farms. Cage-free eggs are more of a marketing scheme than reality. Thousands of hens can be packed in warehouses and still be labeled cage free, and the hens will be killed between 18 months to two years of age when their prime laying days are over. And all hens come from the same hatcheries that kill the male chicks by suffocating or grinding them up alive because they serve no economic purpose to the industry. If you think “humane meat” is a solution, please see here, here, and here for more information.
There are many approaches people take, and many different authorities with different recommendations. Some recommend eating a vegan breakfast each day for a week, then then adding vegan lunches, and the third week adding vegan dinners, under the theory that in three weeks, you’ll be vegan. Others recommend giving up dairy or eggs first and then giving up one animal a time. Animals would prefer that you stop exploiting and using them immediately. Every time you sit down to eat meat, dairy and eggs, you contribute to the suffering of beings who are and were exploited and killed. The reason you want to go vegan is to remove yourself from this violent chain. The quicker you remove all animal foods from your diet, the quicker your taste buds will adjust and your body will adjust to the new foods. Rather than weaning yourself off of animal products, try substituting your typical animal-based foods for vegan versions (margarine and oils for butter, non-dairy milk for cow milk, vegan cheeses, veggie meats).
To quote photojournalist Jo-Anne McArthur, who has spent her career photographing animals in their unnatural environments, “Most parents bring their children to zoos because it’s educational and wondrous to behold such beautiful animals. I would argue that seeing an animal in captivity as it exhibits behaviors of stress and boredom while living in a sterile environment is much less educational than, for example, watching a National Geographic video of animals filmed in the wild. Zoos are major tourist attractions because they are a form of entertainment. Every time someone pays a zoo entrance fee, they are perpetuating the myth that animals are on this earth for our pleasure and our use.” The same goes for other forms of animals in entertainment or spectator amusement, such as circuses, aquariums, horse or dog racing, or animal performers in television and films. It’s very important not to support these forms of animal exploitation. (If you go to a movie that turns out to have animal performers, it’s a good idea to leave the theater and ask for a refund, then write to the film studio to say that you won’t support any of their products that exploit animals.)
Again, watch Earthlings, or undercover footage from animal testing labs, and ask yourself whether your hairstyle is more important than the lives of animals. If it seems your body/hair/skin products are not as effective without the chemicals and crap of the conventional products you prefer, consider trying different brands. Vegan products can be found in all price ranges. Even if you don’t find a product you love as much as the cruel version, is a bad hair day now and then all that relevant when it’s the life of an animal? And reapply deodorant after lunch.
You don’t want to confuse people if you tell them that you’re vegan when you’re wearing leather shoes or carrying a leather handbag. Antagonistic people always want to peg us as either extremists or hypocrites, so it’s not really a winnable issue, but if those are the choices, it’s preferable to be ethically consistent even if that appears to others as extreme. With clothing, specifically leather and wool, consider what they were and where they came from. It might make you sick to wear them at all. Household and personal care items are a little less easy since they are not necessarily noticeable to the outside world. Not too many people are going to see your toilet cleaner and call you a hypocrite, whereas wearing leather or wool leaves you justifiably open to attack. It’s easiest on the wallet to use up your cleansers, shampoos, and makeup, and then replace them with vegan and cruelty free products when you buy new. Here are some excellent tips.
Because you do. Nobody credible claims a vegan diet is perfect. The top vegan RDs in the country agree: we need B12. There is voluminous work on the subject. B12 is really inexpensive and you only need to take a pill three or four days a week. And the question of whether a vegan diet is perfect or not is irrelevant. The issue is ethics. We can be vegan and be healthy, so why would we choose to take the life of another or exploit another? Trying to defend veganism as natural, or the perfect diet, is unimportant.
Please refer to registered dietician Virginia Messina’s daily recommendations at the bottom of the page here, and VeganHealth.org’s requirements for babies/children here. As for brands, Solgar makes a few B12s, DEVA is a vegan line, Jarrow makes a vegan calcium, and Dr. Fuhrman makes a good vegan multivitamin.
No, you will not die of protein deficiency. Protein deficiency in the first world is nearly nonexistent. And you do not need to combine foods at each meal to create a complete protein. Eat a balanced and varied diet that includes a range of plant proteins. What this means is include a variety of foods in your diet: beans, lentils, peas, soy, gluten, nuts, and seeds.
Get a good protein powder for post-workouts. There are a ton of vegan options, whether it be protein from hemp, pea, soy or rice. Sun Warrior is my favorite, but it’s not cheap, and Vega and Nutiva are also popular. I also suggest protein bars for workouts. I like this and this. It’s also easy to spread some nut butter on whole grain bread or an apple for a quick snack and protein hit. If you’re working out a lot, you’ll want to eat more protein than a non-athlete, but nothing excessive. With a variety of beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, tofu, tempeh, seitan, soy and gluten meats in your diet, you should have no problem getting more protein than you’ll ever need, even as an athlete. The amount of protein that non-vegans eat is far beyond what is needed or healthy anyway.
Vegans with low cholesterol can try adding more healthy fats to their diets, such as coconut oil, avocado, nuts and seeds. Check with our friend Virginia Messina at The Vegan RD for more specific guidance.
It’s important to have a well-rounded understanding of veganism that includes ethics, health, environment, issues of food justice, labor, etc., so you can counter negative reactions. (Reading this blog is a good start.) There are so many ways to tie a conversation to veganism. Also, people won’t respond with so much hostility to your personal story. What made you decide to go vegan? How has it changed your life? What benefits have you seen? How do you feel living in alignment with your ethics? These are good ways to answer, or at least deflect, some of the negative assholes.
It’s easy to feel that way when we’re surrounded by apathy and ignorance. Because of the scale of the problems, there’s little to no hope of seeing that “vegan world” people keep telling us is coming. Here is how members of our community deal with despair. But try to turn this despair into action, and focus on work that you can do to make some sort of difference. Volunteer, write a letter to the editor, show an animal documentary at the library, rec center, or college, make your garden more hospitable to wildlife, teach a free vegan cooking class, trap/neuter/return stray and feral cats. At the risk of sounding uncharacteristically positive, you will make inroads, and at a minimum, this helps us get to a place where no one can say they didn’t know better.
Most people start by looking for a grassroots group in the area such as an animal rights group or even a vegan meetup. (If there isn’t one, you might have to start one.) As a last resort look at national organizations’ websites to see if they need local volunteers for events or actions. But there are many things you can do, today, right now, to get active for animals. Volunteer at your local animal shelter or sanctuary, throw a vegan bake sale to benefit animals in need, rescue animals who need rescuing, find out if you can set up a table in the town plaza on Saturdays to share information and vegan recipes, or hand out vegan ice cream. Another good way to become active is to start with issues that are indigenous to your own hometown, region, or culture. Spain is famous for bullfighting, so many activists in Spain focus almost exclusively on ending this brutality, and have made great progress. In parts of Asia it’s bear bile farming. In parts of the Western U.S. there is great concern for protecting wild horses. In faith communities there are issues like ritual slaughter. If you live near a marine abusement park such as Sea World, you might target your efforts there. In nearly every city in the U.S. there are pet stores selling dogs from puppy mills, and chances are, wherever you live, you aren’t far from a slaughterhouse or a university science lab that tortures animals.
Um, maybe don’t? Okay, if you must. Whatever your skills may be, you can use those skills for a purpose. If you’re an attorney, you can practice animal law. If you’re a web designer, you can make sites for animal nonprofits. If you’re a teacher, you can sponsor the animal rights club at your school. If you’re a financial planner, well, I can’t help you because I don’t know what it is you do. You might find it wise to start by volunteering your skills at first, so that you build your network of contacts. There is also the option of working for an established nonprofit, however, jobs are scarce, and they pay poorly. Starting your own nonprofit is appealing, though this isn’t easy by any means. With any form of activism, including making a living at it, think about what you’re willing to do for the cause, as well as what you’re good at.