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How to Respond to Common Vegan Questions

02/12/2015 08:46 am ET | Updated Apr 14, 2015
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In meeting someone the other day I got a comment that many vegans may have heard from time to time: "Oh you're vegan? But you look so healthy!" I was amused of course and ended up having a good time divulging things about myself and learning about this other person as well.

If you've been a vegan long enough, chances are that you've found that the social implications of veganism can be just as complicated and frustrating as figuring out what you can eat on a day-to-day basis. The list of common questions that I have received includes things like:

1. What do you eat? Isn't being vegan hard?
2. Where do you get your protein?
3. Is blank vegan?
4. Would you eat meat if you were stranded on a desert island?
5. Isn't eating meat natural?

In response, I would say that:

1. I eat a lot of things, including fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts. I eat chocolate and snacks and junk food from time to time and I am not wasting away or deficient in nutrients. Switching to a vegan diet can be difficult at first but it really doesn't have to be.

2. I get my protein from eating grains, beans, tofu, nuts, and meat substitutes. The Vegan Resource Group has a great list of common vegan protein sources as does the Vegan Coach. The recommendation for protein calls for 1 to 1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight, so the average American female (160 pounds/72 kilograms) only needs 72-87 grams of protein and the average male (195 pounds/88 kg) needs 88-106 grams. You really do not need to eat as much protein as our meat-centric culture may lead you to think; there's quite a bit of protein in raw fruits and vegetables as well!

3. I would recommend Is It Vegan, an app to help you eliminate animal products from your diet, as well as PETA's list of accidentally vegan foods. With time it will be easy to recognize words on ingredient lists to find if something is vegan or not, though more and more products are making it easier by including vegetarian and vegan trademarks on their products.

4. Personally, I don't think it's useful to think about these hypothetical situations when the likelihood of this happening is close to zero and when an easy, harm-reducing lifestyle is available to me where I am currently.

5. Just because something is "natural" doesn't mean that it is the right or correct thing to do. There are a lot of culturally and historically "normal" activities that we as humans have participated in, but that doesn't mean that we should continue them. Humans are omnivores but we can survive and thrive successfully on a completely plant based diet.

I've found answering these questions to be annoying in the past, but now I've adopted the attitude that curiosity and interest is a good thing, so I'm open to answering whatever questions may come by me to help others understand me and to clear up any misconceptions they may have. Vegans have been stereotyped as weak, frail, pretentious, annoying, and arrogant amongst other things, though I would argue that these qualities do not apply to the majority of vegans that I know. I think it's very natural for people to make assumptions about things they do not understand, and as popular as veganism has become, there still lies an inherent mystique about it. Veganism can seem like a lifestyle that only celebrities, hippies, and health conscious yuppies adopt, but that isn't true. There isn't and shouldn't be a limiting textbook vegan mold. It's this type of belief that causes people to think that the conversion to a vegan diet means the death of their social lives as they spend their days eating rabbit food in the confines of their homes or something along those lines. The thing is, you don't need to drink wheatgrass smoothies and detox once a week. You don't have to do anything that you don't feel comfortable and happy with, which is something that applies not only to adopting a vegan lifestyle but also to life in general.

Eating is very much a social activity and people who deviate from the norm are going to attract curiosity and questions. Veganism really isn't something that should hinder your social life though; it can be an important component of your identity, but it's not the only thing that will define you as a person. If people are curious about this aspect of your life it's because they are also curious about you and want to be able to relate and connect, which are desires common to everyone.

Instead of letting this part of yourself become a burden, use it as a way to form more connection with the people around you. Go with your friends to vegan/vegan-friendly restaurants and see what new foods you can experience. Cook with people to explore diverse cuisines; go to vegan clubs and organizations to meet new friends -- there are so many doors that you can open if you just try.