As a vegan, I get a lot of questions, stares, dropped-to-the-figurative-floor jaws, and rude comments. I’ve helped guide curious and open-minded folks toward healthier habits, yet I’ve also confronted quite a bit of antagonism, too, sometimes from members of my own family. Nevertheless, I never hesitate to discuss my lifestyle—I greatly enjoy answering others’ questions. Intolerance often stems from ignorance, so education is the key to promoting diversity and coexistence. Whenever I talk with someone about veganism, I view it as an opportunity to help him or her better understand not just veganism, but also ME as a person. So, recently, I took the time to write up a “manifesto” of sorts, answering the most common questions I receive.
Q: What is a vegan?
A: From a dietary perspective, a vegan is a person who chooses NOT to eat any meat (including fish), dairy products, eggs, or any product that came from an animal, such as honey (although I do eat some honey). Most vegans also choose not to use/wear any products (hygiene products, household cleaning supplies, leather, for example) that contain animal-derived ingredients or that were tested on animals.
Q: So what do you eat, then?
A: Everything EXCEPT meat, dairy, and eggs—so every other food group on the pyramid: beans and legumes for protein, a variety of carbohydrates, tofu and other soy products, nuts, seeds, oils, fruits, and vegetables.
Q: Aren’t you hungry all the time, though? Don’t you feel like you’re starving?
A: I am able to eat enough calories and obtain well-rounded nutrition from a vegan diet. Yes, I eat a lot of vegetables, which are low in calories, but I balance those out with more calorically-dense beans, grains, and healthy fats. My meals, on average, have between 400-500 calories, and I snack throughout the day, too.
Q: Why did you choose to be vegan?
A: There are a few main reasons:
I’ve always loved animals—ALL animals, not just cats and dogs. As a little girl, it bothered me that we killed animals for food; I remember making the connection with the chicken on my plate and my pet chicken Marshmallow. As a result, I do not want to cause cruelty and death to any creature. It is against my values to cause unnecessary killing.
A self-portrait of me at 9 or so & my pet chicken Marshmallow, the sweetest Japanese bantam ever. Few people believe me, but chickens make great pets and are wonderfully sweet and affectionate critters. (Acrylics on Illustration Board, December 2011)
A vegan diet is much gentler to the planet. Vegetables, beans, and grains require far fewer resources to produce and harvest than livestock. The Earth is my Mother and my Home, and I want to take good care of Her, beginning with the way I eat.
High amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol (which are found in meat, dairy, and eggs) are, as research confirms, linked to a number of serious diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. So, I am using food as preventative medicine. As I vegan, I consume no cholesterol, and my fats are the healthy mono- and poly-saturated versions found in nuts, seeds, and avocado, for example—these are excellent for brain, joint, and heart health. I eat a large variety of vegetables and fruits, excellent sources of diverse vitamins and minerals. I also consume plenty of fiber everyday, which promotes good digestion and effective elimination. This is not to say that animal products don’t have health benefits of their own—they’re just not necessary to thrive, and there are other sources from which I can obtain my nutritional needs.
Also with regard to health, my vegan diet makes me FEEL better, too, literally. As a child, meat always made me sick: I would be up half the night on the toilet, with such painful constipation cramps and diarrhea that all I could do was hug my tummy and moan. Since abstaining from meat, I haven’t had this problem. When I still ate cheese, I usually experienced horrible heartburn, indigestion, and gas, all symptoms of lactose intolerance, so I eliminated dairy and felt much, much better. Now, I have boatloads of energy and I never get sick. I haven’t had the flu or a serious cold for years, even when everyone else around me is sneezing and coughing all over the place. My fingernails and hair grow at lightening speed; I no longer have bad body odor or stinky feet (which was once a problem, yes); and I rarely suffer from headaches, which I used to get every. single. day.
A: Meat, dairy, and eggs are not the only source of protein. Beans, grains, tofu, nuts, seeds, and vegetables all contain protein, and by eating a variety of these foods on a daily basis, I can easily obtain the complete proteins humans need to build and repair healthy muscle. Plus, as a female at my weight, I only need 49 g of protein per day, but without even trying, I usually get between 70-80 g. Easy, peasy!
Q: What about calcium, iron, B-12, and other micronutrients?
A: I do take some supplements, but even without those, I am still able to obtain all the vitamins and minerals I need from sources other than animals products.
Q: Do you eat fat?
A: Yes, I eat plenty of healthy fat, from nuts, seeds, avocado, coconut, olives, and natural oils, such as olive, sesame, or coconut oil. I don’t use margarine because I prefer cooking and baking with oil.
Q: Do you eat sugar?
A: Yes, I do eat sugar—but not granulated white sugar, for two reasons. First, white sugar can contain traces of animal bones due to the way that it’s processed; second, white sugar contains no nutrition whatsoever. Instead of white sugar, I use maple & brown syrups, honey, molasses, stevia, and less processed granulated sugars, such as raw cane sugars. I do limit my sugar intake overall, though, as I find too much gives me headaches. Sugary foods are treats.
Q: Why don’t you eat white bread?
A: Because refined white flour is stripped of fiber and certain nutrients from the original grain. Whole grains and whole grain flours are less processed and contain more fiber, protein, and nutrients. The body processes them more slowly because they are complex. I personally think they taste better, too, always have.
Q: Why do you shop organic?
A: Because organic farming is better for the planet and, thus, reflects into my values. The pesticides and other chemicals used in industrial farming are detrimental to our health, too, and I don’t want to fill my body with those toxins. I also believe in supporting local farmers rather than corporations.
A: No, I don’t feel deprived—honestly. I don’t miss meat, dairy, and eggs at all. I eat a far more diverse and exciting diet now than I ever did growing up. My family literally recycled the same 20 or so dishes the first 18 years of my life. Boring! I’ve always loved ethnic food, too, which naturally tends to be more vegan-friendly, so I’m not missing out on what I love, since I never was a cheeseburger-&-French-fries fan to begin with.
Q: Don’t you feel “different” and alienated?
A: For one, I am not being “different” so much as I’m being myself, and secondly, no, I don’t feel alienated. I am not unique in my choice to be vegan. All around the world, hundreds of thousands of people have chosen to live this way, for similar or different reasons. I have a lot of friends/know a lot of people in general who are also vegetarian and vegan. Restaurants are becoming more and more aware of dietary preferences, so I can eat pretty much anywhere and find something I can eat/enjoy–even some steakhouses, believe it or not! It’s not hard, and it’s not a big deal.
Q: Cooking at home must be really hard. You must spend hours in the kitchen!
A: No, I don’t, unless I choose to (a different matter entirely). Vegan cooking can be as easy or difficult as one desires. Salads for lunch are so fast and easy, and I love classic PB & banana sandwiches. The ingredients I use are not weird, difficult to find, or foreign, nor do I have special “ways” of cooking. I steam vegetables. I cook rice. I bake bread (in a bread machine, no less!). I think cooking meat would be much harder, due to all the safety issues (i.e., food poisoning) involved.
Q: Did you become vegan as a result of your former eating disorder?
A: No, I didn’t adopt a vegan diet until a couple years after I’d stopped severely restricting. I have actually gained weight since then and feel more comfortable in my body than I ever have before. Becoming vegetarian and then vegan encouraged me to learn about nutrition, health, and cooking, which, in turn, helped me eschew negative habits. Furthermore, veganism is not about “restricting” in the slightest—it is a personal and social movement for a greater cause, including the well-being of all of humankind, fellow creatures, and Mother Earth. When I say I am following a vegan “diet,” it means the way in which I am eating as a consistent lifestyle, which is in line with my values. I do not believe in “dieting” as a quick fix to lose weight, but as a sustainable way of healthy eating that can last a lifetime.
Q: What do you think of people who eat meat?
A: I would like to emphasize that I DO NOT judge the way others choose to eat. Diet is like religion—everybody’s different, and everybody has a choice. My choosing to be vegan IS NOT meant to insult anyone, and I’m certainly not trying to rub my beliefs in others’ faces, nor am I trying to zealously convert them. My motto: I respect your choice, so please respect mine.
Have any other questions? This is your time to ask about anything–open forum!