While veganism is just now stepping into unprecedented levels of cultural support–at least as far as its history is concerned–there remain countless misconceptions about veganism. What veganism is, what it seeks to accomplish, the type of people who are or ought to be vegans, and cultural narratives surrounding veganism are all pieces of the puzzle. This post aims to tackle some of the most popular misconceptions about veganism and identify the truth in each situation.
MYTH: Veganism is not a nutritionally sufficient diet.
FACT: When planned and executed properly, veganism is an excellent, complete, and fun diet.
One of the biggest misconceptions about the vegan diet is it lacks sufficient nutrients and nutritional sources to be healthy long-term. Due to widespread misinformation about the nature of food itself, and the meat, dairy, and egg industries’ efforts to influence consumers towards their products, culture at large has come to believe veganism is a sham.
As we’ve noted in our podcast—and many others have spoken about as well—the American Dietetic Association reported in July 2009 that appropriately-planned vegan diets are nutritionally sound and completely healthful. The key takeaway, naturally, is “appropriately planned.” The exposure most people have to veganism and the vegan diet is, currently, sparse at best. Animal agriculture industries—who have had a “stake” in the game for centuries—don’t want to lose their profits, and as such, work to change the narrative about food whenever possible.
Add to this the lack of quality nutritional education in schools, and the average individual’s understanding about food is deeply muddled. Most public education on nutrition centers around platitudes such as implementing portion control, drinking water, and avoiding junk food. All of these practices are beneficial, but they largely miss the heart of food.
Food is, of course, a cultural and social experience. There is nothing wrong with gathering friends and family together to celebrate something, even if that means food is at the center. Unfortunately, many cultures have maintained traditional practices are the only option. Tragically, this has led to thousands of animals losing their lives, for the sake of “traditional food”, taste bud satisfaction, and holding to the status quo.
Thanks to the ingenuity, persistence, and creativity of humans, we’ve created entirely vegan products that mirror the taste, texture, and smell of animal products without any cruelty. This dawn of a new food era is ripe with satisfaction to be had; it’s simply up to existing vegans and those on the cusp of adoption to act—quickly, enthusiastically, and persistently.
We need to reinstate the characteristics that have been stripped away from food back into every aspect of its consumption. Decades of progressive food convenience services, induction of toxic ingredients, removal of social interaction around food, and more have relegated food to a product, rather than an integrated experience.
Ultimately, food carries these primary purposes:
- Being holistic nutrition and energy for the body (with medicinal applications, when appropriate)
- Serving as a deeply enjoyable sensory experience
- Bringing people together to become more whole in life
The more we can work together to reposition these values at the center of food, the more successful real food will be.
If the vegan diet is so sufficient, then why are people resistant to it, never try it, or give it a try only to quit it later, you ask? Well, there are countless reasons why, but there are a few reasons that typically rise to the top. These include:
- Misunderstanding about whole food diets, what food is designed to do, and lack of nutritional education in general
- Little to no cultural or familial support of a different diet / lifestyle
- Thinking veganism will be less enjoyable, or involve more work, than it actually does
There are many myths surrounding veganism’s feasibility, and the largest obstacle posed for most people is that they think it’s insignificant. Most people are willing to do something if there’s enough pleasure or pain associated with it, and veganism is not yet seen by most as truly valuable.
The best way to get started with the vegan diet is to follow a proven plan. Resources such as Challenge22+, Vegan Starter Kit, ADAPTT, Healthline, and Amazon are all fantastic starting points for this rapidly growing lifestyle.
MYTH: Animals like cats and dogs are intelligent, and animals like chickens and pigs are not.
FACT: Numerous scientific studies illustrate that animals such as pigs, cows, fish, and chickens have intelligence comparable to, if not superior to, cats and dogs.
The main problem here, as documented in the scientific literature, is cultural perceptions of these animals drive the actions we engage them with, which only perpetuates this faulty mental cycle. There is hardly a shortage of research on animal cognitive behavior; it is simply not openly regarded as useful, valuable, or transformational.
As a culture, particularly cultures that regard dogs and cats as higher up on the moral hierarchy, we have decided that certain animals deserve recognition, consideration, and protection, while others do not. This has been shaped by widespread cultural forces such as centuries-long animal agriculture, logical fallacies, humans’ natural desire to seek comfort, and cognitive biases, to name a few.
The way to change public perception of commodified animals’ lives is through well-constructed educational efforts, meaningful conversations, speaking up against myths, and simply living by example. Most people don’t want to change; showing them the truth in a loving manner and allowing them to make their own decisions is the only option at the end of the day.
MYTH: I will lose all friends and family if I go vegan.
FACT: Personal relationships can be maintained and even thrive, after the transition to vegan is made.
Naturally, strong emotions accompany most personal lifestyle shifts—especially if the shift is significant, and in some way affects one’s relationships with others. It is entirely understandable to feel apprehensive about changing part of your life that could influence others’ perceptions of you.
While vegans’ recommendations on how to socially transition to veganism differ, many agree on one aspect: go at a steady pace, and ask for help when needed. If you’re convicted about veganism and ready to make a change, the time is certainly now. However, going faster than you’re able to adjust to, or making changes that you’re uninformed about is generally not advisable. Be sure to plan out your meals in such a way that micronutrients are not an afterthought, and browse the Internet or ask trusted contacts for insight if you’re feeling stuck.
When making the transition to veganism, there are helpful relational truths to keep in mind:
- No one is perfect, and you don’t need to be. Veganism is not about being perfect. After all, nothing is. Veganism is about minimizing harm and unjust violence wherever possible. This includes food, clothing, cosmetics, personal hygiene products, furniture, and more. Don’t feel like you need to get everything perfect; instead, make changes where you can, and improve as you go.
- It’s often the people closest to you who resist change the most. Family and friends may not be as enthusiastic about your changes as you are, especially in the beginning. Most people like their comfort zone, and changes can feel like a threat. As long as you aren’t being rude or hostile to anyone, they shouldn’t be rude or hostile to you. If they are, end the conversation quickly, and leave the situation if you need to.
- If you’re ever faced with someone attacking or harassing you for being vegan, you always have a few options:
- Respond respectfully and try to talk them down (many people respond in the same way they are spoken to).
- Let them know you aren’t going to engage in the conversation.
- Walk away from the individual (in extreme cases, you may need to report them, but this isn’t usually necessary).
Remember: veganism is more about its public and cultural perception than anything else. Misconceptions about veganism tend to arise from:
- Misinformation in the news media
- Perpetuation of misunderstandings through circles of family and friends
- The innate human desire for confirmation bias, and other logical fallacies
In most instances, people–including friends and family–simply reject what they’re not familiar with. Whether it’s a genre of music or a deep change in lifestyle, humans are hardwired to seek out comfort zones, and automatic comfort is the opposite of being vegan. Usually people need a little bit of time to think it over, ask questions, and learn more about our world.
For your friends and family who are willing to learn more, be the resource they would want if or when they choose to go vegan. For those who try to belittle you or make fun of vegan aims, simply turn the other way and focus on people who seem to be receptive.
MYTH: To eat vegan is to downgrade taste, aroma, texture, appearance, and all the other amazing characteristics that go with eating food.
FACT: Vegan food today—whether an animal product substitute, or simply a great plant-based dish—has never been more delicious, realistic, affordable, or accessible.
A few decades ago, veganism existed, and it was not impossible then; there were simply fewer products on the market. Today, veganism has grown exponentially and consumer products have rapidly caught up. Vegan versions of pizza, hot dogs, burgers, ice cream, pie, cakes, nachos, and much, much more are readily available.
Companies such as Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, Field Roast, Gardein, Miyoko’s, Earthbalance, and JUST have offered unusually realistic vegan alternatives to common animal products. The industry understands that consumers want foods they’re familiar with, and through relentless testing and creative thinking, have offered the exact same products without any of the traditional detriments. The vegan diet, and its wealth of available variations, is therefore not about feasibility, but about people recognizing it.
MYTH: Veganism is popular now but it’s simply a passing trend, and eventually a movement that’s different or better will come along.
FACT: It’s never been easier to be vegan, year-over-year growth is more significant every time, and the core ideology of veganism (maximum reduction of harm for all species) has long been overdue.
Veganism is growing rapidly year over year. Just four years ago in 2016, it’s estimated only 0.5 percent of the United States’ population were vegans. Now, the vegan population in the U.S. is estimated at 6 percent (at minimum) – a growth of 1,100 percent. That is massive, and that’s only one country’s growth. The UK alone has seen veganism surge by 700 percent within only two years. It’s now estimated the world has over 75 million vegans with that number growing every day.
MYTH: Earlier humans ate meat, and since they did, we always will–and it’s simply part of humanity now.
FACT: Our ancestors did eat animal flesh, but they often did so out of the necessity to survive, which is completely different from new preferences, technological advancements, and cultural awakenings.
“Nature can be cruel; industrializing that cruelty is wrong.” – AnimalClock.org
One of the biggest misunderstandings about veganism–and history–is humanity’s relationship with consumed animal flesh. When confronted with new opportunities to live better based on sound scientific research, many people resort to earlier ways of living as a comfortable “solution.” What’s unfortunate about this myth is, as more information comes out about ancestral humans and their dietary habits, there’s increasing evidence that most humans have subsisted on a variety of plants above anything else.
Furthermore, the “hunter-gatherer” title for earlier humans is getting flipped on its head, too. Thanks to the research of Dr. John McDougall and others like him, much of history concerning diet involved young boys, women, and the elderly gathering food to eat, while the men fit to hunt animals did so. Obviously, this does not mean ancestral hunting was a myth, but simply involved less hunting than previously thought. As McDougall details in the video linked above, cultural forces often pervade history more than history itself. In other words, people are prone to choose who or what is deemed “important” in history only after the fact, rather than maintaining and chronicling events accurately regardless of bias.
MYTH: Even if you are vegan, you can’t be a perfect vegan. People will always want to eat animals as food, and you can’t find a perfect solution for industries like animal testing, clothing, and fashion.
FACT: Veganism is not about being perfect; it’s about being effective. You don’t need to find a solution to every last world problem to know the right answer, and put it into action. Also, more consumers than ever before are waking up to the needless suffering we force animals into, and cruelty-free alternatives for archaic industries and practices.
One of the laziest attempts at undermining veganism involves some variation of “you can’t be perfectly vegan, so why even try?” This is an attempt to sidestep veganism’s core aim, which is to reduce and prevent the suffering of animals worldwide, as far as is possible.
Naturally, vegans themselves understand that the world is not going to change overnight, industries will adjust slowly, and even then, it’s impossible to permanently eliminate all animal suffering. After all, pets are still going to get sick, animals will still die of old age, and there will still be freak accidents involving machinery and carelessness from humans. Sadly, these events cannot be avoided, but no one is screaming at vegans for preventing accidents or ill fortune (at least, no one with a heart and half a brain). But to remain stuck in these ruts of thinking completely misses the point.
Vegans don’t expect themselves or others to be perfect; we simply hope and encourage those around us to examine their values, and live by them. Having conversations about invisibly embedded cultural influences is difficult. It takes time to understand where people are coming from, listen to each other, and have a balanced conversation. Talking through important topics with grace, truth, and encouragement is one of, if not the most effective ways to speak up for the animals.
Thanks for reading our blog post! We hope you feel empowered to engage in more conversations and share the truth after learning about misconceptions about veganism.
Check out our podcast for new weekly episodes about veganism!