As I’ve been living veg for 15 years now, I’ve encountered many assumptions about veganism. So I’ll be your vegan ambassador and dispel some pervasive myths out there.
1. MYTH: Vegans don’t get enough calcium.
When people think of calcium, they automatically think of dairy. However, many other foods, such as broccoli, kale, soy, are a fantastic source of calcium. Dr. Christiane Northup recently wrote an article on Huffington Post regarding the myth of dietary calcium. In it, she discusses how doctors used to think that the abundance of calcium our diets was a necessity to preventing osteoporosis. However, new studies have shown that increased calcium does not decrease the risk of bone fractures. Also, many cultures around the globe do not consume dairy products and have far less incidents of fractures than Europe and the U.S. So what does reduce fractures?? A less acidic diet (meat, dairy products, carbs). So what diet is recommended?? You guessed it…a vegan diet! Northup says going vegan even one day a week can help.
2. MYTH: Vegans don’t get enough protein.
This is the ubiquitous question that all vegetarians and vegans face. People often assume that meat is the best source of protein. Therefore, if you don’t eat meat, you must not get enough protein. But protein can be found in so many other sources besides animal products. Vegans get it from a variety of foods such as beans, tofu, soy, whole grains and nuts. And if anyone questions the efficacy of a vegan diet for protein, just talk to vegan athletes like Ironman triathlete Brendan Brazier or bodybuilder Robert Cheeke.
3. MYTH: We will make you feel guilty about eating meat.
Okay, so I certainly can’t speak for all vegans in the world. But I also cannot tell you how many people I encounter who say, “Oh you’re so nice, not anything like other vegans.” Apparently, said carnist encountered a vegan who was fired up and started preaching. Now, I’m not going to tell you that I don’t wish everyone became veg, because that would be fabulous. But I also believe that we each need to do what’s right for ourselves and not tell others what to put or not put into their bodies. Many vegetarians and vegans don’t want to make you feel bad about that hamburger or drumstick you’re eating, they just want to share their knowledge and passion.
4. MYTH: All vegans smell of patchouli and hate fashion.
While the scent of patchouli may be nice for incense, it’s not my personal perfume! I cannot tell you how many people are shocked when they discover I’m vegan, simply because I’m an obsessed beautyista. I read fashion mags, get my hair highlighted (with vegan dye thank you Aveda!), and love to wear make-up (thank the gods for Urban Decay, Bare Minerals and MAC). Now of course my shopping habits and beauty rituals differ drastically than most people. I am on a continual hunt for cute vegan shoes and dresses that aren’t made of leather or silk. But it’s become almost like a game, a challenge, a treasure hunt if you will to find great pieces. There are fab sites and lines, such as Vaute Couture (vegan & eco-friendly coats), Matt & Nat (vegan handbags), MooShoes (vegan shoes and boots) and olsen Haus (vegan shoes) dedicated to vegan fashion. Just because we live a conscientious lifestyle, doesn’t mean that me and my fellow vegan sisters want to sacrifice looking pretty.
5. MYTH: Vegans are skinny.
Okay, there’s a certain book out there (yes, I’m talking to you Skinny Bitch!) that increases the perpetuity of this myth. But I’m here to tell you that a vegan diet is not a panacea to weight loss…vegan does NOT equate skinny. In fact, while I lost weight when I became vegetarian, I actually gained weight as a vegan. Of course, munching on vegan cupcakes and getting a desk job don’t help your waistline either! Eating vegan can be far healthier than loading up on artery-clogging meat, particularly if you eat a balanced, organic diet. And once you go veg, you do become acutely aware of what you consume and put in your body, often causing you to become more health conscious. But just like the rest of society, vegans come in all shapes and sizes.
6. MYTH: Vegans are tree huggers.
While many vegans love Mother Earth, not all vegans are eco-conscious. The eco/green movement shares many ideologies with the veg and animal rights movements, particularly concerning respect for others (whether it be the earth or animals). But not all vegans recycle, compost or use reusable bags. For example, I care more about finding a cosmetic that’s vegan and cruelty-free than one that has no chemicals in it. Also, not all who live green are veg.
7. MYTH: Vegans love PETA.
Many vegetarians and vegans adore PETA for its hardcore, in your face approach to animal rights. Veg celebrities like Pam Anderson and Alec Baldwin proudly donate money and pose for them. I have a very love/hate relationship with PETA. I love what they stand for and that they educate the public regarding animal cruelty. However, they also alienate many people with their guerilla tactics and sexism, myself included. As a vegan feminist, while I understand the desire to get the message out, I cannot abide by the objectification of women’s bodies in the name of animal rights. I don’t have a problem with people posing nude. But PETA continually utilizes sexism as well as misogyny (with images of women being abused, chained and caged like the one above) to bring attention to their message. Violence against women is a serious issue. You shouldn’t slight one cause to further another. Also, not all vegans give up meat in the name of animal rights; many do so for health and/or eco issues.
8. MYTH: All vegans are white and upper class.
VegNews featured an article on veganism, race and class in America in their June ’10 issue. According to the Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG), 3% of the U.S. population (about 7.5 million people) are vegetarian and 1% (2.5 million people) are vegan. While no figures exist on the racial composition, there are definitely many vegans of color. Vegan celebs of color such as singer Erykah Badu and actress/musician Persia White, the African-American cuisine cookbook by chef Bryant Terry (Vegan Soul Kitchen) and the blogs Vegans of Color and Sistah Vegan are all testaments to the racial diversity of vegans. Then why is it viewed as an elitist white movement?? White vegans lack of inclusiveness may be excluding or alienating vegans of color. Johanna Eeva, founder of Vegans of Color, writes, “I must say that I’ve never read anything about why I should be a vegan or why I should be in favor of AR that spoke to me as a POC.” Author A. Breeze Harper (Sistah Vegan), asserts that people need to be aware of how “white privilege operates within one’s consciousness.” Regarding class, the astronomical prices at Whole Foods certainly don’t help counter the elitist image. Yet many vegans shop at the more budget-friendly Trader Joe’s or buy seasonal produce at farmers markets. In a conversation I had with author Dr. Melanie Joy, (be on the lookout for my interview with Dr. Joy!). she said that those at the forefront of the veg movement happen to be white and upper class so it appears that all vegans fit this mold, despite the reality.
9. MYTH: Vegans hate food and only eat salads.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. Many vegans are huge foodies (myself included!). Anyone who knows me knows my penchant for cooking and eating. I enjoy whipping up entrees and desserts for my friends, especially my vegan cocoa cupcakes with fudge frosting (yum!). While salads are certainly tasty, vegans enjoy a plethora of dishes. This is evident from the diversity of vegan cookbooks, websites and recipe blogs (including mine!). I have always been a culinary adventurer. But becoming vegan pushes you out of your comfort zone to explore a wider variety of ingredients and cuisines.
10. MYTH: Vegans love animals more than people.
Again, I can’t speak for all vegans. There are certainly people (carnists and veg alike) who enjoy the company of animals more than people. Animals bring us a great deal of joy. But I can tell you that many vegans and vegetarians feel just as passionately about injustice against humans (sexism, racism, genocide, poverty) as they do about inhumane treatment to animals. Animal welfare advocates just want to be sure to give a voice to the voiceless.
So here are some of the top myths. Can you think of other vegan stereotypes lurking out there?? Questions about anything I posted?? If so, be sure to let me know!