I'd like to address some of the most frequently asked questions that vegans encounter. Remember, I am doing this to be informative and educational, (with a little side of understanding and patience) so in turn, please be kind with your own thoughts and responses. This brings up a good point...I know sometimes people are unaware of how they come off when they talk, myself included, so if we could all do one thing today, it might be to become more aware of not only what we are saying, but with what tone and body language we use when we say it.
When talking to someone, you might ask yourself, How do I want this person to feel about themselves when I talk to them? I can't remember where, but I read somewhere that we should imagine that every person we encounter is wearing a sign that says "make me feel good about myself!" It really makes me think about what I say before I say it, and if you watch what happens, you'll probably find yourself telling people positive, encouraging statements instead of put-downs or negative things. Unfortunately, it also makes you aware of how much negativity is being said all the time around you. Alas, change happens one person at a time...
FAQ #1: Is it difficult to be vegan?
A lot of people ask me this, or they go ahead and say "I could never be a vegan" and start explaining why as soon as they find out I am vegan. A couple thoughts on this strange behavior. I am under no delusions that everybody (or anybody) else is vegan, so to automatically defend your own habits is not necessary. I'm not sure if it's because people think I am evaluating them when they find out I'm vegan, or if they think they have to defend their own choice of eating habits to me. I would like to say that I am not creating some awful scenario in my mind where I start to loathe the person who eats meat. When people ask about my eating choices, I see it as an opportunity to inform and educate them on why I eat what I eat and I try to see their condition as temporary, as mine once was. Everybody is just doing the best that they can, and everybody is a living being, capable of kindness and the capacity to change, and if we can't see that in each other how can we expect people to see it in themselves?
Now about how difficult it is to be vegan. It's really not difficult at all for me, and I think my vegan friends would all agree. It gets easier after time, just like doing anything else for a while: Adjusting to a new work schedule, getting in the habit of going the gym, etc etc. On the contrary, I think it is easy (and natural) because it feels good to know that you are doing the very best thing you can for yourself. I used to work for this hospital where at the end of the day, it was nearly impossible to feel good about your day. I left every day wondering what more I could have done, what else I could have done, and I never felt like I did enough. I never felt like it was a positive experience or that I made a change in anybody's life. Now imagine feeling that way about the way you feed yourself, every day. Knowing you could have treated yourself better, or been kinder to your body. We already do enough to put ourselves down mentally, we don't need to do it physically, too!
When someone asks me if it's really "difficult" to be vegan, I always wonder how "difficult" it is to suffer from the ailments we Americans put ourselves through. How difficult is it to have triple bypass surgery because you ate a diet high in saturated fats? How difficult is it to have your colon removed and have to empty your feces from a bag that comes out of the side of your abdomen because you ate animal flesh and got colon cancer? How difficult is it for the animals who endure confinement and slaughter for our dining pleasure and convenience? Still, people would rather have open heart surgery or have a breast, colon or rectum removed rather than change their diet because they think it's too difficult or drastic! Wow!
FAQ #2: How do you get your protein?
This is probably the most common question people ask after they find out I'm vegan, and after they tell me how much meat they consume. It usually goes, "Oh, you're vegan? Yeah I usually don't eat meat. Just turkey, and chicken, and fish, and occasionally veal or pork. So how do you get your protein?" The answer to this question could go on forever and ever and I could give you endless protein stats on all kinds of food, but a one word, fast answer is : Easily!
Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains and you will have surpassed your daily recommended amount of protein easily. To find out your protein needs, you can take your weight in kg (your weight in pounds divided by 2.2) and multiply it by anywhere from 0.8 to 1.8. For a small, healthy female like myself I would use 0.8. If you are pregnant, lactating, or trying to bulk up for a weight lifting competition, you could use 1.5 or 1.8. You will find that you are more than likely (like 99% more than likely) consuming 50-75% more protein than you need every day! That's huge! Why do suppose we are told that we need sooo much protein?
There is literally protein in everything we eat. Even watermelon has 1g of protein. Vital wheat gluten (seitan) has 24 grams of protein in one serving! The thought that we are not getting enough protein needs to be thrown out the window. It is so hard to find an american not getting enough protein. Kwashiorker, or protein deficiency, is only seen in countries where there is severe famine. On the contrary, eating too much protein causes kidney stones, colon cancer, and liver cancer. If you still don't believe...
Protein in legumes: G
Protein in grains: barley, buckwheat, brown rice, millet, quinoa, wild rice, rye, wheat.
(There's also nuts, seeds, and vegan protein powder that I haven't touched on.)
FAQ #3: Don't I need to drink milk to get enough calcium?
No. Dark green leafy vegetables are going to be your biggest source of calcium. Where do you think the cows get it from? Right now, you might be eating cows and drinking cow milk and getting calcium that way, but if the cow gets it from leafy greens, you could cut out the middle man and go straight to the source.
In fact, drinking cows milk actually robs your body of calcium and contributes to osteoporosis. A study funded by the National Dairy Council itself revealed that the high protein content in milk (which we are not designed to digest) actually leaches calcium from the body. Yale University discovered that the country with the highest rate of osteoporosis (america, sweden and finland) are the countries that drink cows milk. This is because we do not naturally make the enzyme lactase (essential in digesting lactose) after the first few years of life (when we are supposed to be weaned from our mother's breast.) Since we can't break down lactose, the cow's breast milk produces "lactose intolerance," and a whole host of other problems: allergies, mucous production, acne, and colon cancer. In addition, all this animal protein and calcium floating around in our system blocks iron and phosphorous absorption.
FAQ #4: I don't eat meat, but I eat fish. That's okay, right?
Fish are very sensitive creatures with a highly developed nervous system, one that we can't even begin to fathom. They can feel pain acutely, or they wouldn't have been able to survive as a species. Have you ever watched fish swim in schools and noticed how they can sense the distance between themselves and the other fish? They don't bumble around like idiots, bumping into each other.
Fishing is not a benign activity. It is hunting in the water, and it is taking a huge toll on our planet's ecosystem. We are literally emptying the oceans, seas, rivers, and lakes of fish. We are destroying and killing our mother, instead of living in harmony with her like the animals know how to do.
Next, I would like to talk about a general idea, not really a frequently asked question. The idea is that if an action has been going on "forever" it must be alright. Example: "But everyone has been eating meat and drinking milk forever. That must make it okay." Let's explore this statement.
Just because something has been going on for a long time does not make it inherently right. We used to own humans, as slaves, if we paid for them. Then we realized that this was wrong. Now we own animals, as slaves, but we are on the brink of realizing this is wrong, too.
We are taught from a young age that if the animal was raised for slaughter, it exists for our benefit, and it belongs to us. The truth is: The animal never entered into an agreement to be bought and sold. Did anyone ever ask it what it wanted? Doubt it.
You might come to a point in your life when you start questioning the world around you and wondering if what you have been told is the truth. This process, sometimes called "waking up", can be very painful and difficult. Be easy on yourself and take it slow. Do not harbor guilt or anger for others or yourself. Feel the truth, breathe it in, and let it go with each passing breath. Like I discussed earlier, you must take what you don't like in the world and change it in yourself first. Like Mahatma Gandhi suggests, we must "become the change we wish to see in the world".