Be prepared for all the predictable questions with answers for everything by Clea Grady. You can find part 2 with even more questions here!
Every vegan in the world has been asked this question dozens of times. When faced with the concept of a diet without animals, many people seem to completely forget about everything else that is actually classed as food. It can be difficult to do justice to the colour, variety and flavours of plant-based eating in one pithy sentence. I’ve felt I’ve ‘let the side down’ on more than one occasion. So what’s the best response?
Once upon a time I used to reply ‘I don’t eat anything with a face’, accompanied by a cheeky wink. But this was often met with a scrunched-up look of confusion, so I wondered whether it was the best retort for winning friends and influencing people. “Everything! Everything apart from animals, and anything that comes from an animal” was an option for a while, but, again, it doesn’t ‘sell’ the idea of being vegan particularly well. (Especially if the person asking can’t comprehend a meal without a slab of meat in the middle of it.) So I did a little research… Did you know it is estimated there are now 275,000 plant ingredients at our disposal? 275,000! If it’s impressive to plant eaters, imagine what it sounds like to someone who thinks of veganism as a restrictive way to live. So I’ve come up with a new answer…
Q: But what do you eat?
A: Funny you should ask that! I read the other day that there are 275,000 plant ingredients available for us to eat. When you compare that to the 40 species of animal that humans consume in various ways, it’s clear that the majority of what we all eat is vegan by default. You probably eat way more vegan food than you realise! When I stopped eating animals, I discovered all this amazing food I’d been completely missing out on. I’ve always been a foodie, but my meals are tastier and more varied now I’m vegan. Just shout if you ever want a recipe or two! (Start talking about making cheese from cashews, and jackfruit being like pulled pork etc.)
Q: How do you get enough protein?
A: The most common misconception out there is that you have to consume meat in order to get enough protein. This simply isn’t true. In fact, when you eat meat you’re simply eating the protein that the animal ate, but second-hand. Vegans – just like cows, pigs, sheep and chickens – get our protein directly from plants. So the next time someone asks you where you get your protein from, you can confidently reply “Plants! Same place your protein gets theirs!”
Q: Don’t you miss bacon?
A: Most people have never stopped to consider where the flavour in bacon actually comes from, but it’s really obvious when you think about it… It comes from plants! That distinctive smoky and/or sweet flavour is added during the curing process, so the taste that everyone raves about has nothing to do with the pig who had to die for the meat. Effectively, bacon is just smokiness, sweetness and fat, and this can be easily replicated without animals. Vegan chefs have created ‘bacon’ out of coconut and even carrot (these recipes are on Veganuary.com), and there are certain ingredients that will add that familiar taste to your meals… Smoked paprika (the same spice that gives chorizo its distinctive flavour), liquid smoke and maple syrup being the three main ones. Make your own ‘VLTs’ using coconut bacon, or buy one of the bacon-style veggie meats (like ‘Cheatin’ rashers) and supercharge your sandwich by adding avocado (one of the good fats!). I serve these up to non-vegans regularly and they always go down well. The next time someone asks you about bacon, just explain to them where the flavour really comes from and wait for the light bulb moment.
Q: What do you think these are for? (Pointing to canine teeth)
A: We may call them canines, but the small and ‘more-round-than-pointy’ teeth beside our incisors don’t exactly mirror those of a true carnivore. Take a look at a lion’s teeth, those bad boys are designed for ripping and tearing flesh. Our teeth, in stark contrast, are far better suited to an apple or a crusty baguette! There really is no comparison. Furthermore, the addition of huge canines doesn’t always equate to meat-eating in the wild. A hippopotamus is a true herbivore and has huge canine teeth. Their canines are designed for combat, as hippos are extremely territorial, and play no role whatsoever in eating. Similarly the almost exclusively herbivorous gorilla has an impressive set of canines, but a preferred diet of foliage means that their teeth have nothing at all to do with eating meat.
Q: How can you subject your children to that? / Do you force that diet on your child?
A: It’s common to hear people say you shouldn’t inflict your views on your children, forgetting perhaps that you already have (by being a parent), and that to do so is entirely normal! Children eat what they’re brought up to eat, so most vegans were brought up eating meat, as that’s what our parents gave us. And most of us would rather have known the truth about what we were eating in the first place.
There’s nothing wrong with bringing up children as vegans. A well-planned vegan diet is great for kids. There are, of course, bad vegan diets for children, in the same way there are bad meat-inclusive diets for children, so it’s important to get the nutrients right, but not to get too bogged down in the products (we have an entire section to help you out at Veganuary.com/why/nutrition). Big brand advertising has for too long led us to believe that calcium is milk and iron is meat – there are plenty of plant-based foods that give us these nutrients, too.
The British Dietetic Association says vegan diets can be suitable for people of any age. And vegan people of all ages are much less likely to suffer from campylobacter, salmonella, listeria and e.coli that infect many animal products, and can be fatal. Thanks largely to animal agriculture, antibiotic resistance to many diseases is growing. If we don’t want our children to live in a world where even minor infections cannot be treated, we need to end our reliance on meat and milk. And if we want them to have an inhabitable planet at all, then we must tackle climate change, and the biggest human-generated contributor to that is … yes, you guessed it, animal farming.