Veganism is something that, despite being a perfectly valid lifestyle choice, attracts a lot of discussion – and criticism. Most of the arguments against veganism however, are based on misconceptions or simply a lack of understanding as to why vegans live the way they do. In an attempt to clear a few things up, and defend the wonderful way of life that is veganism, I’ve debunked some of veganism’s most persistent myths.
1. Veganism is unhealthy
Any diet that is unbalanced and lacking in essential nutrients will be bad for you, and a vegan diet is not inherently unhealthy. Part of the notion that vegan diets are inadequate is rooted in the idea that meat is essential to health. While meat is a staple of the majority of Western diets, scientific research confirms that meat is not necessary in order for us to be healthy — and in fact, studies suggest the very opposite.
A balanced vegan diet provides the human body with all the nutrients it needs, no animal products required. The only supplement a vegan is required to take is vitamin B12. That doesn’t mean the vegan diet is unnatural or wrong in comparison to omnivorous diets though, because while B12 is present in animal products, it isn’t made by the animals themselves. B12 is produced by bacteria, and these bacteria are essentially harvested for vegan foods. The B12 then is used widely to fortify products such as cereals, non-dairy milks, and Marmite, which allows vegans to meet their daily B12 requirements. If the idea of using microorganisms in food seems off-putting, you probably won’t like bread, cheese, wine, or beer either.
Contrary to popular belief, the meat-free diet appears to be the healthiest; vegans and vegetarians typically have lower cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, lower rates of Type 2 diabetes, lower body mass indexes, a lower risk of death from heart disease, and lower overall cancer rates. A recent study even found that vegan blood is 8 times better at killing cancer cells.
As for the claim that vegans are weak: have a look at these vegan athletes and bodybuilders.
2. Vegans are protein deficient
One of the questions vegans are asked most frequently is also one of the most misinformed: ‘Where do you get your protein?’ Protein-rich plant foods exist in abundance; meat is not the only source of protein, and by no means is it the best. For example, black beans contain more protein than beef per 100 grams, and come with none of the cholesterol, carcinogens, or hormones that meat does.
Excellent vegan sources of protein include: green vegetables (such as kale, broccoli, or spinach), beans and pulses (like lentils, edamame, chickpeas), grains (quinoa being a complete protein!), and nuts. Also worth noting down in your mental shopping list is hemp seed — two tablespoons of this sprinkled over a meal gives you 10 whole grams of protein. Tofu — loved by some and loathed by others — is also a great protein source; firm tofu is richest in protein (and, I think, tastes the best). Even a simple vegan meal of beans, peas, and rice contains a good amount of protein, so getting the stuff doesn’t really require much thinking (or worrying).
In short, my answer to the question ‘where do you get your protein?’ is: everywhere.
3. The hormones in soya are bad for you
The claim that soya contains oestrogen, and can cause cancer and lower testosterone in men, has bounced around the internet for years. In reality, soya has no known effect on testosterone levels in men (a 2010 study confirmed this), and the hormones in the plant are not at all the same as the oestrogen produced by humans. The hormones found in soya are like plant versions of our own, called isoflavones, and cannot have the same effect on us as human hormones do.
There are, however, foods containing hormones that do have a significant effect on the human body: animal products. If the idea of consuming hormones concerns you, you may want to avoid meat and dairy; after all, animals are full of their own hormones, not to mention the additional ones they’re pumped with at farms, and you can’t get more hormone-filled than dairy — the stuff produced by a pregnant or breastfeeding, lactating, cow.
4. Soybean crops are destroying the Amazon rainforest
Yes, you’re right about that — but vegans aren’t to blame. Soy has become a billion-dollar industry, therefore in order to meet global demands for the bean, an unimaginably vast amount of land is required for soy crops. While it’s true that soy is a staple of many vegan diets — in the form of tofu and soy milk, for example — the vegan diet is responsible for very little of the soybean crops that exist globally.
Around 75 per cent of the world’s soy crops are used for animal feed. The demands of the Western diet mean that more rainforest area must be cleared to produce more feed for the massive and growing number of animals the human population wants to eat. Land and crops that could be used to feed the entire, hungry planet, are instead through animal husbandry, fed to the wealthy West.
People on vegan diets require less than a third of the land needed by someone eating meat, dairy and eggs, and animal agriculture is the leading cause of deforestation — so if we are to save the rainforest, veganism is the most logical and effective step we can take.
5. Milk is necessary and good for you
If you agree with the above statement, I would like you, for a moment, to question why we humans are the only species to drink the milk of another being. I would also like you to question why we wean human babies from human breast milk, only to begin feeding them the breast milk of another animal — a breastfeeding habit that will continue into adulthood and probably for the rest of their lives. Like humans, every other mammal’s milk is specially formulated to nourish their offspring only. Human consumption of cow’s milk therefore, is not just completely unnecessary, but research tells us that it isn’t even that good for us, either.
Despite what doctors and the girl from the Petit Filous adverts told us, milk is bad for your bones. While this may be hard to believe, given the deeply ingrained notion that milk = calcium = strong bones, please read on. Like all animal protein, milk acidifies the body, and after consuming dairy a biological correction is triggered in order to neutralise the body. Calcium is the perfect neutraliser, so to counteract the acidic effect of dairy, calcium is drawn from the body’s biggest store — the bones. Once calcium is extracted from ours bones it is lost through urination, therefore the consumption of dairy actually results in a calcium deficit. Osteoporosis rates are highest in countries that consume the most dairy; if it was true that milk is essential to healthy bones, this would hardly be the case.
In addition to this, accumulating evidence shows that consuming milk or dairy products may contribute to the risk of prostate and ovarian cancers, and autoimmune diseases. When calcium is better absorbed from beans and most greens than from milk, and with fortified non-dairy milks being widely available, there’s really no good reason to continue consuming dairy.
6. OK, meat’s bad, but free range eggs and milk are fine, right?
Nope, wrong. It’s a common belief that while meat involves killing, egg and milk production is relatively cruelty-free — but this could not be further from the truth.
Let’s start with milk. Female dairy cows are placed on what farmers call the ‘rape rack’, and are forcibly impregnated — because as we know, mammals can only produce milk when pregnant. What happens after the cow gives birth highlights how the dairy and meat industries are linked: if the calf is female, it is raised as a dairy cow and destined to live out the same fate as its mother; however, if the calf is male, it is of no use to the dairy industry, so it’s torn from its mother soon after birth and slaughtered for veal. Countless footage shows cows crying in distress for long periods of time after their offspring are taken from them, even chasing after the vans that carry their babies away. Dairy cows spend their lives being impregnated over and over again, repeatedly giving birth only to lose their offspring, and constantly being milked, until their exhausted bodies cannot continue and they are slaughtered for meat.
The egg industry isn’t much better. Similarly to dairy cows, only hens can lay eggs, therefore male chicks are seen as useless. As a result of this, male chicks are gassed, crushed, or thrown in grinders almost immediately after birth. The killing of male chicks is standard practise in the industry, and the purchasing of free-range eggs does not prevent this.
When we read ‘free-range’ on a pack of eggs, we like to imagine chicks hopping around on open land, happily pecking at food. The reality of free-range eggs could not be further from this. While free-range chickens aren’t caged, they can still spend their lives having never breathed fresh air or felt the sun’s warmth. They can still have their beaks sliced off, and they can still suffer from lung problems and sores after being forced to lie in their own filth. In America there are certain loopholes that allow farmers to prevent free-range chickens from almost never roaming outside. In short, buying free-range does not guarantee chickens even a slightly decent quality of life. When animals are being raised to serve us merely as food, why would we expect them to be treated kindly?
7. If we don’t eat livestock, they’ll overpopulate the earth
Nope. The amount of livestock that exists only exists because of supply and demand. We consume so much meat and dairy that over 50 million animals are bred and slaughtered each year to feed us. These animals will not overpopulate if we stop eating them; in fact, the effect will be quite the opposite. If we stop buying meat, demand will cease, and animals will no longer be bred to feed us. Simple.
8. Veganism is expensive
Usually, when people say vegan diets are expensive, they imagine a vegan’s fridge full of Linda McCartney sausages, meat-alternative products, and fancy nut butters. In reality, the vegan diet is only as expensive as you make it; if you like the pricier vegan products, and can afford them, then go for it, but it doesn’t have to be that way. A good vegan meal can usually cost less than £3 — think rice, chickpeas, broccoli, and a sauce. Canned foods, pasta, rice, and vegetables are among the cheapest items in a supermarket, and given that you’re no longer buying meat, eggs or dairy (usually the most expensive items), you may even have some money left over for something a bit special. The general consensus among vegans is that the vegan diet is far cheaper than an omnivorous one — so don’t let money worries get in the way of you making the change.
9. Vegans trump animal rights over human rights
This misconception is quite damaging to the vegan movement. Specifically, the idea that vegans care about animal issues more than human ones, or that vegans don’t care about human issues at all. Compassion for animals and care for humans are not mutually exclusive — vegans care about all living things, and there are many animal agriculture issues that tie-in directly with human ones. For example, animal agriculture is heavily implicated in growing crises such as climate change, world hunger, and the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, all of which have a severe impact on the lives of humans. As mentioned before, the Western diet essentially ‘hogs’ the land that could be used to feed the world’s hungriest, and this is an issue that vegans, through their diet, actively work to solve.
Now that you’ve been provided with (what I hope is) more than enough information, perhaps veganism doesn’t seem like such a bad — or crazy — thing. It’s important to put aside stereotypes and veer away from scaremongering, in order to understand and appreciate the hugely positive global change that vegans live to make.