Outlook: Five Myths about Vegans

Apr 20, 2011

Carol J. Adams will be online Wednesday, April 20, at 11 a.m. ET to chat about her recent Outlook piece "Five Myths about Vegans." In it she writes, "Only 3.2 percent of Americans are vegetarian, and just .5 percent fly the vegan flag, eschewing all animal products and byproducts in their kitchens and closets. But is veganism healthy? Emasculating? Difficult?"

HI. My name is Carol J. Adams. I'm the author of The Sexual Politics of Meat, Living Among Meat Eaters, How to Eat Like a Vegetarian and many other books. My website is caroljadams.com   I welcome your questions and will try to answer as many as possible!

Just wanted to share my experience as a "part-time vegan". I'm not willing to completly cut animals products out of my diet, but I plan for two of my three daily meals to be vegan. One of the best decisions I've ever made. I've lost weight and feel like I have more energy. There are many low cost vegan foods that are good sources of protein (dried beans, peanut butter, whole grains) so I've actually saved money on groceries. Just an encouragement that veganism doesn't have to be all or nothing, taking small steps will have noticeable benefits.

Thank you! As we know from the movement for "meatless Mondays," beginning to cut down on eating animals and dairy products has a very positive effect on the environment. while Mark Bittman has advised "eat vegan until dinnertime," I prefer to "eat vegan all day." But I encourage everyone to begin where they can, and discover how they feel by adding more vegetables and vegan protein to their diet.

I have heard that being a vegan is easy compared with macrobiotics - what are the differences?

I am not an expert on macrobiotics, but I understand its philosophy to be that foods can be organized into categories based on whether they are yin or yang. One's goal should be to eat a balance of these foods. Meat is considered very, well, one or the other, I am sorry I don't remember at the moment. Tomatoes, the opposite. Brown rice is considered one of the perfect foods. When I began to consider veganism in the 1970s I relied on macrobiotic cookbooks. There is much we can gain from learning how to prepare foods through macrobiotic cookbooks. Thank you for your question.

Although there might be some vegans/vegetarians for health or religious reasons, most are probably of the animal rights camp. My objections to this argument are: 1) humans can't digest grasses, so we consume it in the form of livestock; 2) in the West, almost every animal we eat is one whose wild equivalent is itself a prey animal, so eating them is not a perversion of their natural life-cycle.

Perhaps it is a perversion of our natural health cycle! Thank you for this question. In fact, since most of the animals we are consuming (probably at least 98% are factory farmed), they aren't "grass fed" either. I want to say first, that I object to the killing of animals, so even if they were fed better, I still would not want to eat them. But, what we are now feeding factory farmed animals is a far cry from what prey animals in the wild consume. Moreover, I am not fully convinced that we are meant to be predators. The first "meat" humans ate was probably the discarded remains from carnivores and insects. We don't seem to be able to process meat very well (our intestines are longer than carnivores and this is one reason we get colon cancer, meat is breaking down as it moves slowly through our body). So whether our needs are similar to the predators who consume prey animals, I am not sure. Moreover, we can live on vegan protein.

I think there are a lot of greens we can add to our diet, from dandelion greens to snow pea leaves, and the standards (kale/collards/chard) that provide the kind of nourishment our bodies need. We don't need animals to animalize greens or anything else for us, our bodies are equipped to do that and we are healthier when we do.

I babysit for two little boys ages 1.5 and 4, and they rely heavily on cow's milk in their diet. I grew up the same way, and it seems like a convenient way for children to get protein, fat and nutrients. The phytoestrogens in soymilk worry me, so is there any alternative "milk" or food item besides cow's milk and soymilk that children can consume that's comparable to the benefits of cow's milk?

Thank you for your question. We all grew up with the presumption that cow's milk was good for us. But, as vegans have pointed out, humans are the only species who continue to drink milk after infancy. And we aren't even drinking milk from our own species. If you look at a book like the recently published "Whitewash" you will see that the make up of protein to fat of cow's milk versus human milk is very very different. Cow's milk is perfect for helping calves grow, but it is not the best thing for helping children grow. Besides the fact that most milk will contain some pus in it because of the constant infection of the cow's udders, we simply don't need it. Moreover, the hormones in milk may be adversely affecting children and adults. Finally, many children often are lactose intolerant and it is not recognized, rather it is thought they are "acting out." 

Okay, that wasn't so much your question, sorry. About soy milk, first let me say, all of the negative attention to soy has caused a scare and much of it is unfounded. I trust completely the work of Jack Norris, RD, and he has done a thorough article on soy with lots of footnotes and explains how it is very healthy.  However, if you remain unconvinced, you could use almond milk, coconut milk yogurt, cashew creme instead of ricotta cheese, and make sure they are getting lots of greens, grains, vegetables and fruits. 



Thanks for your piece on myths about vegans. I'm not a vegan, but I am a vegetarian. One of the reasons that I haven't gone to a more vegan diet is that I am allergic to soy. This is in itself a wonder to people - "a vegetarian who is allergic to soy? impossible!" My reply is that the Indians have been doing it for millennia. Seriously, though, one of the mounting problems for me is the over-reliance on soy as a wonder food that can provide fiber, protein, and long life. If I want to cut back on eggs and dairy, and don't want to eat beans every day, what are my other options?

Thanks for the question... There are so many wonderful vegan cookbooks that while they have soy in them aren't overreliant on it. Beans, grains, vegetables, fruits... there are quite a variety of ways to prepare them. don't know if you would avoid garbanzo flour, but you can make a great scramble using it. I would check out the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine website for good recommendations. Also, go to the book store and look at vegan recipe books. There are so many wonderful ones. See what recipes speak to you. good luck.

Carol, although I'm an omnivore and could only give up meat if someone held a gun to my head, I can understand the ethical reasons for being a vegetarian. However, I could never give up milk, eggs, cheese, ice cream--especially cheese! It doesn't harm a chicken to take her eggs, nor does it kill a cow/goat/sheep/yak to be milked. So why vegan?

Thank you for the question, why vegan? I probably won't be able to answer this as thoroughly as I would like.

Thank you for this question, why vegan. I won't be able to be as thorough as I want, so please check out the pamphlet and other information here.

But let me say, what do you think happens to the chicken after she is done laying her eggs? She becomes chicken soup. What happens to the cows after they have been depleted and can barely walk to the slaughterhouse? They become hamburger. Chickens and cows are used twice by the animal agriculture industry--in sexual servitude, producing what I have called "feminized protein" --eggs and milk--in incredibly horrendous conditions. Cows are both pregnant and lactating at the same time; veal calves are the byproduct of the dairy industry. Male chicks are thrown into the garbage within 24 hours of birth because they can't be used to get more eggs. Chickens are crowded into cages; debeaked, unable to move, much less to stretch their wings. 

So, why vegan? I don't want to benefit from such cruelty; we don't need dairy; and I don't want to determine my diet by selfishness. 

You can make ricotta cheeses with cashew or tofu or macademia nuts; you can milks of great varieties from nuts, there is even melty vegan cheese now. 

Look at a video or two of the lives of laying hens and cows and ask yourself, why do I think my ice cream needs have to be met this way? 

thanks again

I know that Dr. Neal Barnard promotes a vegan diet as the answer to lowering blood sugar in diabetics and "reversing" diabetes, but such a diet seems very high in grains and flour (even if it is whole wheat). Isn't veganism carb-heavy? How does one keep from putting on pounds unless you only eat carrots and broccoli and the like?

Actually, because we are eating veggies, fruits, grains, and beans, we are getting fiber along with our protein. The idea that carbs are bad for you has been shown to be in itself a myth. But from everyone I have heard from, the average vegan generally loses some weight after becoming a vegan. We aren't getting all that fat in dairy and meat. Lots of recipes I prepare don't rely on grains and flour. Or I'll use quinoa or amaranth or really dynamic grains. Look at vegan cookbooks and see all the possibilities. Try How to Eat Like A Vegetarian! Thanks.

I work in a dept at a large midwestern university where vegetarians and vegans are a much higher percentage than in the general population. I have noticed that vegetarians, and especially vegans all have a particular odor - NOT BAD OR OFFENSIVE - just a different odor than others. It doesn's seem to be an artificial smell like a common perfume/deoderant/soap smell, its just more.... I guess the only description I can think of is its more "organic."

That's interesting. It is said that after World War II, when all the American servicemen were in Japan, Japanese women didn't want to date them because they smelled. The smell was caused by the meat eating, which was so much greater than the average Japanese's, especially after the food rationing in Japan during the war. There is other anecdotal evidence like this: meat eaters smell differently than vegans. I like the idea that it's "organic." (one of the answers to the comments on WaPo's website to the question of Hitler's vegetarianism was that he periodically ate vegetarian to change his body smell! (though he wasn't a vegetarian).

Is it even possible to be a soy-free vegan? I feel like so much of the fake meat is soy-based. It's absolutely frustrating.

Yes it is possible. Seitan does not use soy. But I would again say, unless you have a soy allergy, the "soy scare" is pretty inaccurate. Check out Jack Norris's webside for the full response.

But you can make seitan, you make wonderful burgers without soy, I love the variety. I can make "meat loaves" with walnuts and bread crumbs and mushrooms. I go weeks without soy, just because I am fixing other kinds of meals. The variety of milks (almond, hemp, rice, hazelnut) etc...

You can be joyfully unsoy or soy as a vegan!

It's bad enough when jokes like "vegetarian = bad hunter" imply some defensiveness on the part of the joke-tellers, who seem to wrongly take others' dietary choices personally. But even worse is when some vegetarians and vegans act defensive and apologetic about their own choices. I've encountered many who attempt to distance themselves from the attention-seekers at PETA even when no one else in the conversation made the comparison. Have you encountered that phenomenon yourself? That reminds me so much of younger women who say "I'm not a feminist, but..." and then declare support for social and legal equality of the sexes. If I point out that what they stated is the core concept of feminism, many insist that feminism is opposition to masculinity and motherhood - the straw-woman extremist caricature created by feminism's opponents. Veganism faces the same problem, where opponents make ludicrous claims such as vegans allegedly seeking to outlaw all meat consumption. How can vegetarians and vegans move the Overton window back where it belongs, not just in society but in their own minds?

Thank you. I am not sure they are exactly the same. Disowning feminism while adhering to its basic beliefs shows how the dominant culture has recuperated the successes of feminism while eviscerating feminism's basic radical insights. Disowning PETA while adhering to basic beliefs about animals not being ours to use, is different. PETA didn't introduce nor does it "own" these ideas. They precede PETA. Disowning PETA's methods is important when those methods contribute to the idea that vegans don't care about what happens to humans, or that we must put any one social cause before another. I am not defensive about PETA or apologetic for them; in fact, I believe it is because I am feminist that I must critique any of their ads that benefit from the sexual exploitation of women.

What is the best way for an athletic vegan to get ample amounts of protein in his diet?

The amount of protein you need is based on your body weight; eating a variety of grains, beans, vegetables, will help immensely. But as I am not a vegan nutritionist nor a specialist on athletics, could I ask you to google "Vegan athletes". I know there are websites devoted to this very topic, identifying the most famous vegan atheletes, discussing diet, making recommendations, etc. There are vegan protein shakes, etc. Good luck!

What about the myth of the gassy vegan? Does a vegan diet cause or contribute to a significant increase in gas or other unpleasant body odor?

I think this occurs because sometimes people introduce beans too quickly into their diet. In How to Eat Like a Vegetarian we recommend starting with a couple of tablespoons and then adding slowly to that amount. 

I find that meat eaters often take bran supplements as a way to increase fiber (or so they think) into their diet, this can cause alot of gas! And in terms of body odor, see question above. thanks.

I am not a vegetarian but I like vegetarian food. If I wanted to become vegetarian or vegan, I feel like I would have a hard time finding good food choices when going out with friends (I live in NE DC where there is a carry out on every corner). Actually, I'm having a hard time now (I'm doing a vegetarian diet to lose weight, so far so good) because the places that serve good vegetarian foods can be too costly and located in inconvenient places - meaning no parking/ close early. How can I be even a part-time vegetarian without having to carry my own food around when I decide to hang out with my friends?

Your question is more of a social question, the problem of eating out... and I want to say I have discussed this in a book, Living Among Meat Eaters. I discuss eating out with friends, because it is often the case, sadly, that meat eating friends will sabotage a vegetarian/vegan or someone trying to become one. They want to believe it is hard to change and they will make it hard for you. So, the first thing is to be clear about what your needs are and how your friends can or cannot meet them. The other thing is how to negotiate. Please check out my chapter on eating out in Living Among Meat Eaters, and while you're look at the book, check out the chapter on sabotage, too. Good luck. 

If veganism is culinary perfectionism, not just morally but health-wise, why are the people who live into their hundreds, to my knowledge (some of whom are family or friends), meat eaters? Do we have data on the longevity of true vegans?

For studies of health of vegans versus meat eaters, check out the work of Dr. Dean Ornish, Dr. Caldwell Esleystine, and Dr. Colin Campbell. What we know from their studies is that as a group, people who don't consume animal fats are healthier, are less likely to suffer from heart disease, and if, after suffering from heart disease, you change to a vegan diet, you can reverse the damage. This is compelling. Please check out their report, especially the magnificient China Study by Dr. Campbell.

You write that being a vegan is about "one simple ideal: trying to do the least harm possible." While I can understand if not particularly agree with meat and leather doing harm, I fail to see how eggs, milk, honey, wool, etc. do harm to humans or animals. Can you please elaborate?

I have partly answered this above, so please check there. But, the harvesting of these foods is not without consequences of the animals they are "harvested from." Bees often die in the collection of honey, the wool industry has been found to be very cruel, (please google vegan wool and I believe the specifics will come up), and what we do to chickens and cows would be considered a felony if it were happening to a dog or a cat. I don't want to be part of a system that perpetuates such cruelty. Thank you,.

There is a massive jump between asking your meats to be treated humanly and avoid meat altogether. In fact one could easily argue that by only buying humanely slaughtered animals, you do far greater good than a vegetarian, because you help make this business profitable, so others will start using it, thereby helping more livestock.

Well I don't think you can argue that because at this moment 98 percent of animals used for meat come from factory farms. There is no possibility to overthrow that system with substitution. Moreover, I don't believe there is such a thing as humane meat. I am against the killing of animals, I don't want to benefit from violence. I am not at all convinced that some of the larger "humane" meat farms are in any way humane. I believe humane slaughter is an oxymoron. 

Finally, we don't need to eat meat so why reform a system that we can eliminate?

Hello! Thanks for your interesting piece. I'm not vegan or vegetarian, but I limit my meat intake to once weekly. My question is about soy based products such as tofu and soy milk. I always thought they were more healthy and drank soy milk for years. But I'm trying to get pregnant, and several people have expressed concern about the hormone levels in soy products and the risk it will decrease fertility and overall is bad for health. Scary stuff once you notice soybean oil is in everything! Your thoughts?

There are alot of myths about soy; (it could have been one of my five myths). The best place to get an answer to this is at Jack Norris's website. I have posted the link above. In terms of the great soy panic in the United States we have to remember two things: some of the anti soy research was funded, apparently by meat companies, and non Western cultures have relied on soy for centuries with not only no bad effects, but actually good effects. Thanks for limiting your meat intake. I ate tofu and soymilk through two pregnancies and did fine. But do check out Jack Norris. thanks.

Do you know if most vegans insist their children also be vegans? I know one vegan who does not insist her child be one. It is her belief that the nutritional requirements for children may be different and thus she allows her child to have meat products. Yet she hopes her child will eventually become a vegan.

I think it varies. I have met lots of vegans who are raising their children vegan. If you don't believe animals should be used, I think it is good to raise children according to that belief. Of course, the push back from our culture for making that decision is very strong. People often ask, "did you give them a choice?" to which the reply is, "did you give your kids a choice between dead animals and not eating dead animals?" many kids would like to be given that choice. But I personally would feel that raising my kids vegan would be a great contribution to their health and spiritual welfare for they would know why they were eating that way. I have met vegan kids who are now grown up--they are wonderful examples of parenting by love.

A person told me that I was not a "vegan" simply because I am not averse and would eat fish (or eggs) every now and then, even as I try to follow a vegan diet. Can I call myself "vegan-ish?"

how about vegan-leaning? vegan-desiring? vegan-becoming? Being a vegan isn't just about the diet, it's about an attitude toward the world, in which we don't want to benefit from the harm or exploitation of animals. So, I am not sure you are actually "vegan-ish." I'm not trying to split hairs here, but the idea of doing less harm would mean, not eating dead fishes. 

I hunt and trap prey I then eat it raw and get my veggies from the contnets of the stomachs. My cholesterol is 135, my blood pressure is normal. My heart scans etc show no issues etc. A couple of times a month a break down and hit Mcds or grill some steaks or chicken. Vegans and vegetarians need to read Eddie Cheever's story. Eddy was a Formula 1 driver and later won the Indy 500. He was a strict vegan but found that his energy level was down compared to his competitors etc. He had nutrionists and trainers on his payroll and finally decided he needed balanced omnivore diet. As a result his energy level went up and he was more competive. His change in diet resulted in him winning Indy,

Thank you. At least you are honestly engage with where the source of your meat is coming from. I don't believe in violence against animals, however, and have met many former hunters who found as they aged they really just were going into the woods to enjoy being out in nature.

I don't know about Eddie Cheever, but that is very anecdotal. One story versus what? Lots of scientific studies suggesting otherwise. Thank you for your comments.

Is it known in history whether we had ancestors that were "vegan" and eschewed animal products?

As I recall, there was a hominid who was a vegetarian. Australopithecus robustus, I believe. 

Organizers of social events should add vegan choices for those of us who are completely against eating animals and milk products. I usually notify of my special diet when I plan to attend a social event, but if I do not then there is nothing for me to eat. Do you have any ideas to improve this situation?

I think you are doing the right thing, notifying them. When there are conferences and they don't include a vegan option, you might begin conversations with them, esp. if this is a yearly conference. 

Of course, the other thing is for conferences etc to go vegan because veganism can be the lowest common denominator , that is, it can meet the dietary rules of many different religious and cultural groups. 


As more and more people become vegans, I see a shift in this and more options are becoming available.

I've been eating a 98% vegan diet since December (I'll have something dairy based maybe once a month, and it's not nearly as satisfying as I remember). The reason for my transition is primarily health and environmental reasons (so far, my veganism is limited to food intake, haven't yet gotten to the non-food items). My question is, given all the myths about vegans not getting enough protein, what is actually the one legitimate nutrient that is typically most lacking in a vegan diet and what foods can help ensure that we receive it?

Thank you. and good luck with your continuing progress. If I were going to recommend one thing, I would recommend that vegans take vitamin B12. There are discussions about whether we get it in certain foods (tempeh, nutritional yeast) but I simply added a vegan vitamin that included B12 and don't worry about it. 

I have several vegan friends and I accept that this is a viable lifestyle choice in the modern world. That said, I believe that veganism is an affectation of a modern society. You don't find vegans in developing countries unless they are doing it for religious reasons or they are purposefully trying to emulate westerners. In the vacuum created by the decline of organized religion people try to find benchmarks by which to judge their "goodness" and the goodness of others. Some choose veganism. Veganism and vegetarianism will never be anything more than a fringe lifestyle choice. Society does not view the raising, killing and eating of animals as cruel. It never will. If some people want to create this construct to help them feel like good people, then that's fine with me but it does not, in fact, mean that they are any more compassionate than other humans. Do you disagree with my assessment in part or in whole?

I can't agree with your assessment. Let me see if I can take it apart and address different aspects of it.

Every  major religion contains at its heart a message of compassion. Vegans understand that message to extend beyond the human species. Compassion is underrated in our culture; we are working hard to help people access their own feelings of compassion. That is a good thing.

That veganism is strong in technological countries is true, but we also have in our backyard, so to speak, some of the greatest contributors to animal suffering and misery: factory farms.

In fact, there are vegans all around the world. The idea that compassion doesn't stop at the human/nonhuman animal line is a very liberating one, and, while our numbers may be small overall, but we are gaining in strength and visibility.

Perhaps the thing is not to think of it as a lifestyle but as a philosophy that asks to be enacted.  

What are your thoughts on vegans eating "fake" animal products (such as daiya cheese, meat substitutes, etc.). Do you think there is value in incorporating these into a vegan diet or just a way for vegans to reminisce about days gone by and not worth eating?

I had a very good friend, Shirley Wilkes-Johnson, who said, this isn't "fake" anything, this is the real thing! She meant, why shouldn't vegans enjoy the texture and tastes they always did. We just don't want to kill someone for that. So I don't think of them as "fake" anything. A veggie burger is a great thing--whether made of nuts, beans, tofu, or grains and veggies. It's a real food. 

"fake" meats began to be developed for followers of Ellen G. White who decided in the 19th century that Seventh Day Adventists should be vegetarian. I think it is a good thing to have these foods; people want to eat ethically, but I don't think they have to narrow their options.

Also, if it helps people stop eating cruelty, that is great.

Sometimes I enjoy a veggie dog, but most days I don't. I like having the options.



Nice to see you ahve an open mind and are not biased. Please. Obviously you don't have a clue about raising livestock. Even on large factory farms you have treat you stock humanely and keep their stress levels low. Stressed stock mean they weigh less and that means unlitmately less money in your pocket. I raise organic humanely raised grass fed lamb. I have had sheep attack my dogs and me for no reason and you do not want to be where they want to go. In the winter when I feed hay I have my collies hold the sheep off the hay. if i dont I will be hurt severely. My collies have taken down sheep to prevent me from being injured. And that hseep gets a 9mm annd becomes dog food. You really need to get out of your utopian world. Want to come out to the farm we are neutering the ram lambs this weekend.

I grew up in a farm town, I watched slaugthering of animals, I've known farmers all my life. I'm not in a utopia. I am a graduate of the "they're animals and they exist for us" frame of mind which paves the way for eating animals. 

I prefer lambs to stay alive.  

Carol, Abel was a herdsman; King David had been a shepherd; Moses had flocks, and his wife Zeporah had herded sheep with her sisters. Jesus referred to Himself as the Good Shepherd. It would seem that God gave man dominion over the animals. So why NOT eat meat?

If you are not prooftexting (God forbid) please check your Bible. Gensis 1:26 refers to dominion (though it is clear the word means something like "as the sun has dominion in the sky") and Genesis 1:29 says, what we are supposed to eat: a vegan diet. If you believe one, you have to believe the other. Whoever imagines that the meaning of dominion means cut off their sensitive beaks without any pain medicine, or take their calf away from them so that they are literally moaning for them, please let me know how you can reconcile abject cruelty with dominion. If a King's dominion were like that, all his subjects would be dead. 

Why not eat meat? Because God gave us a heart to feel with and a head to think with, and between reason and caring, I find that meat eating and dairy consumption are counter to my experience as someone who believes in the love of God.

How can you say that? All living things die. We are by evolutionary design omnivores. Why do you object to the killing of animal life over plant life? How can you separate yourself from the killing of animals that is a necessary part of our society? You live a world built upon the death of animals. You may insulate yourself but you can't separate yourself. Driving a car kills animals. Do you drive a car? Or are you only compassionate to the extent that is feasible. Your lifestyle is unnatural and no more healthy than other options. Yours is a valid option certainly but morally neutral in the grand scheme of things.

If anyone really cares about the killing of plants, then they should become a vegan because we only are responsible for the killing of plants we consume directly, whereas meat eaters requires about 15 times as much plants to be consumed by the animals before the animals themselves are then killed. 

Least harm possible means reducing whatever we can to stop the killing. 

"by evolutionary design omnivores." but what kind of omnivore? In previous centuries, people ate very little meat. Our diets have evolved faster than our bodies. And the current health of the average American shows that: high cholesterol, heart disease, colon cancer--these are all diseass of meat eating. What ever the ominovorous body is, it certainly responds better to veganism.

Least harm possible, including to ourselves. By the way, we have an enzyme to start digesting starch in our saliva...so, just how omnivorous we really are is itself debated.

I've heard of GMO's and organic soy -- but in general how safe are they to consume on a daily, meal to meal basis? Are GMO soy harmful to us in the long term? Should I only look for products that only have the "organic" label?

I prefer organic soy for many reasons. Again, let me direct you to Jack Norris's website for information on soy. thank you.

Milk is nutritious. So is meat. It is part of a balanced, healthy diet. If you choose other options, great but that doesn't make the options you don't choose poisons that will kill us if ever consumed again.

Clearly, given what i have written in my oped, I don't agree with you. What it makes is for a diet that harms the environment, the animals, and the human body. I don't see meat is a food. I see it as the decaying, dead body of an animal who would have preferred to live. 

Hi, Carol. Thanks for addressing this topic. I'm a vegetarian who is vegan every year for Lent. I describe myself as a "guilty vegetarian," because though I limit the dairy and eggs in my diet I have a hard time cutting them out completely. In particular, I've had a hard time finding vegan cheeses that are tasty when cooked. Can you recommend any types or brands?

Being a guilty vegetarian is a beginning! Everyone raves about daiya cheese and it does melt. I also encourage you to look at Chicago Soy Dairy's cheeses. They are a great outfit and have come up with some really wonderful products. I still like to make my own nutrtional yeast sauce. But between Chicago Soy Dairy and Daiya I think you may progress to unguility vegan!

Why do vegans feel that they have to preach to non-vegans so much? I work with a few vegans and because they always make snide comments about "pus in milk" and the "horrible suffering of cows" when we go out to eat, nobody wants to invite them. These guys are as self-righteous and intolerant of others as pro-lifers are. Is there some way to get them to ratchet it down a little bit? Otherwise, they're going to be exiled from our work functions.

I find that often we are quiet, and then someone starts asking us question. This often happens when we are out to eat. We earnestly start answering the questions and, voila, we are in the midst of a very unpleasant conversation. If in your case, the questions were not asked, and vegans started piping out, let me ask, do you pick restaurants that have vegan food? Often it is hard when we join meat eaters who have picked the place and there is so little we can eat. Finally, it is true, sometimes it is hard for us to reconcile what others are doing. I advise a different way in Living Among Meat Eaters. Thanks for your question. Maybe you all could try a vegan restaurant once ina while and see if you can get to know your coworkers in a different way.

Are there vegan cookbooks out there that don't try to imitate meat-based dishes and meals? I really don't like those style of recipes and would prefer to just have dishes built on the vegetables and grains and not trying to be an often times pale imitation of something else.

Yes there are so many, lot and lots. Let me send you, to begin with, to my own, How to eat like a vegetarian... We have lots of great dishes, but most importantly, we provide a chart for how to always have great meals without recipes. We build meals around vegetables, grains, beans, and sauces. We also, in the back, recommend other recipe books.  Good luck.

From a philosophical perspective I find veganism and animal rights in general to be based on a flawed premise. . .that all life is of equal value. We must destroy something to survive so vegans draw the line at plant life. Plant life is fair game. . .so to speak. But even the most ardent and observant vegans kill and consume. And there is really no way to "not benefit" from the killing of animals and still be a member of modern society so isn't the moral superiority claim just self delusion?

I don't believe you have listened to vegans then. We are saying, do the least harm possible. As I said above, if you really care about plant life, stop eating animals. That protects plants more than anything else you can do. I am not pretending I can be "pure" but least harm is my goal. I am not claiming moral superiority. Meat eaters get defensive and think we are. However, I am trying to get you and other to think about the problem of "humans above everyone else." It is literally killing the planet. 

Japan was never a high red-meat consumption nation historically. Rationing in WWII is really more incidental then cultural. In fact a select class of people were the butchers - it was not a well looked upon profession. Following the fall of the bamboo curtain, there was an embracing of western things including red meat. A 'meat-eater' type of person emerged among many groups including the Shi-shi. But historically and culturally the Japanese have not been red meat eaters.

Yes, thank you. What I was saying, it was because the GIs had eaten so much meat, that their bodies smelled differently. When my book was being translated into Japanese 20 years ago, my translator told me that over the past 25 years or so the diet  had changed, with more meat eating and as a result a rise in breast and colon cancer.

I've been an omnivore for a long time, but I'm considering a "veganish" diet. Do you have any preferred ways of getting calcium during times when dairy is omitted from my diet?

There is calcium in lots of vegan foods! Leafy greens, sesame seeds, molasses, etc. There's an entire cook book on vegan calcium rich recipes. by Bronfman I believe. The thing to remember is that the kinds of protein (meat and dairy) actually leach calcium from your body, so your calcium needs may change (lower) when you become a vegan because the leaching won't be happening. good luck.

From what I understand, the chickens that are used for eggs wouldn't be used for meat (my neighbors have chickens, and they aren't planning on killing them - would you eat those eggs?). Same for the cows used for milk. Not the same ones used for meat. They breed them differently, from what I understand.

Factory farmed chickens become chicken soup. Factory farmed cows become hamburger. 

I would not eat eggs because I don't believe I need that kind of protein, feminized protein. 

Most chickens in back yard farms still came from factory farms.

You can't get that far from factory farms. 

Good morning, I am a practicing vegetarian considering veganism (for moral reasons). The arguments against factory eggs or milk are obvious and understandable. Last summer, however, I worked on a family farm that consumed eggs and milk. The free-range, well-loved chickens produced the eggs regardless of need, and with no rooster they would never hatch. Likewise, the goats happily produced more milk than necessary for their young. This has me in a sort of philosophical loop, and I am curious to get the opinion of other mindful-eaters on the morality of free-range.

Most chickens in family farms still came from factory farms. And the male chicks were still discarded within 24 hours after birth. 

Most free-range eggs are still not completely humane (they are from large farms where the chickens are still crowded together).

That said, being vegan means, I don't want to use animal products. Free-range seems to me to be a recuperative way of trying to have the best of both worlds.

It's not like vegans are suffering from lack of options! You might try it and see what you think. Good luck.

I've been vegan for a few years now. I love it, it's awesome! I feel great and I know I am doing the right thing for the animals. But I have some concerns about my long-term health. Overall, I know my vegan diet is going to keep me healthy to an old age b/c I eat so many veggies and whole grains. But I worry about B-12 and calcium. I don't want to have a healthy heart but a feeble mind and brittle bones! I feel like there's not a lot of good science out there on the long-term effects of vegan diets. Any thoughts?


I take vitamin B12 in a vegan daily vitamin, just to not worry.

As for calcium, check out a book like Becoming Vegan. You will see how easily you are getting your calcium as long as you are eating a well balanced diet. But, keep this in mind, you also aren't eating foods that leached calcium out of your bones the way meat and dairy did. 


I always thought veganism is when a vegetarian goes from diet to lifestyle (like your examples of film or clothing). Myself, I'm a Honey Nut Cheerio addict so I'm a lost cause.

No one's a lost cause! I believe there is a vegan version, and if there isn't, someone will come up with it soon!

Some vegetarians include dairy and eggs in their diets, so vegan is also eliminating all animal products in food. thanks. 

Easy to make burgers without soy. I use rice, beans, carrots, onion, green peppers. How do you get it to stick together without eggs, though?

well, you could use arrowroot powder, Ener G Egg replacer, a little tahini or peanut butter. But also check out a great book on Veggie Burgers from The Experiment (publisher) and see other ways. 

"Chickens and cows are used twice by the animal agriculture industry--in sexual servitude, producing what I have called "feminized protein" --eggs and milk--in incredibly horrendous conditions. " So if the animals were raised in a humane manor, fed the foods they were meant to eat, etc, the ethical reasons are gone, right? Aren't our teeth proof that we are meant to be omnivores?

No, the ethical reasons aren't gone. I am against the killing of animals for food. For female animals, their exploitation is doubled. But they all end up dead. I really don't see what is so appetizing about a dead, decaying body of muscle and tissue. give me seitan any day. We might have "canine" teeths but they are nothing like canine teeth of carnivores. As Plutarch said, people have "no curved beak, no sharp talons and claws, no pointed teeth." 

and no matter what we were "meant" to be, whatever that means, in this day and age, what we are doing -- consuming animals is killing off the planet, besides the animals.

Thank you for your opinion piece and for hosting this chat. My question has to do with raising vegan children in a non-vegan world. I am a long-time vegan. My husband is an omnivore. And we are raising our daughter vegan. At first it was easy because I could breastfeed her. But now she's showing interest in the foods she sees eaten around her. For the moment, I am focusing on offering vegan substitutes (e.g., bringing homemade vegan cupcakes when we go to birthday parties), since I don't think she is ready to understand why I choose not to eat animals. But at what age do you think a child is ready to make his/her own decisions about diet? And how should I present my beliefs about animals to her in a way that she can understand?

I told my kids from the time we could talk that we didn't eat animals, and the deal was they could decide about eating animals when they had their driver's license (also they could stop piano lessons then). I always made arrangements for vegetarian food (this was quite awhile ago and they were vegetarian). Kids understand about eating animals, or they understand the reasons not to eat animals. There are alot of social pressures to conform but I liked the driver's license arrangement. By that time, neither could imagine eating a dead animal. 

Kids like being told the truth about things. They understand more than we realize and I think they don't like violence. She sounds like she's ready to be told.

Isn't B 12 the major vitamin that human beings get from red meat? I just remember my friend at the campus medical clinic mentioning that when students try to stop eating meat, that's a common problem. My friend was against not eating meat, but that if you're a regular meat eater and make the switch, you've got to be aware of the positives (like Pres. Clinton's weight lost) as well as the negatives. Maybe I'm remembering this wrong about Vitamin B 12?

There are probably a variety of ways to get b12. I am not a nutritionist. B12 is in dirt. When food wasn't as clean as it is now, we probably got b12 from dirt on our lettuce. B12 might be in tempeh and nutritional yeast, but just to be safe I take b12 in a vegan vitamin. 

It's at times like these that I want to point out the enormous negatives to eating meat, and that often meat eaters hold onto these things about veganism as ways to stay blocked. 

Thanks for the explanation to Why Not Just Vegetarian. I became vegetarian after learning where my food came from. It was supposed to be temporary, until I found humanely raised chickens and cows. It was liberating and empowering to be vegetarian. Sadly, many of us don't know how our food is really produced. I always thought honey was a gift from bees until I watched Bee Movie. The hardest part for me becoming truly vegan (I already eat mostly vegan) is using leather and wool. Finding professional, stylish vegan work shoes is harder than I expected. I bought a Kate Spade fabric handbag but it still has leather handles and trim. As a knitter, wool, cashmere, and silk dominate most yarns. It's doable, but requires greater effort. It is amazing just how much animal products infiltrate our lives. Clinique's new LaserFocus serum has cholesterol (ewww!) as an ingredient. I promptly skipped that purchase.

Yes, animal products are disseminated everywhere. Have you checked out a great website like MooShoes, re: shoes and handbags. also vegan essentials. thanks for joining in.

"Veganism faces the same problem, where opponents make ludicrous claims such as vegans allegedly seeking to outlaw all meat consumption." This sounds a lot like a strawman to me. I have *never* heard such a claim. I think what puts a lot of people off about vegans/vegetarians is two-fold: 1) it can be a lot of trouble at dinner events to have to plan a vegetarian or vegan alternative for a small group (read: usually of one) of folks. and 2) The pomposity that some vegans and vegetarians have. Unfortunately for most vegans and vegetarians, they get lumped into this classification because o a small group.

I think the perceived "pomposity" and the question of meals are probably related. 

I think meat eaters want to believe it is hard to be a vegan, and then help to make it hard for vegans to be vegaans.

It is easy to prepare foods that are vegan, too.

but, yes, it is hard to handle the social interactions. Which is why I wrote Living Among Meat Eaters

I can't imagine never having a pepperoni pizza or a cheeseburger or a juicy steak again. Not to mention having a leather purse and shoes. Surely you must miss it sometimes?

Acutally no I don't. There are vegan pizzas that actually simulate a pepperoni pizza. But really the qeustion, what part of your body is in charge? the stomach?

Carol, why do you think omnivores hate us so much? Most vegetarians and vegans I know don't preach or guilt others. Yet, I find they take great interest and enjoyment in criticizing and mocking our food choices.

In Living Among Meat eaters I advise that we should look at meat eaters as blocked vegetarians/vegans. they become defensive because at some reason they know they could change. By having arugments with us, it is easier than having an internal argument with themselves. 

Why do you discount the harm done to plants? Just because you don't understand it doesn't mean they aren't beings with inteligence.

I'm not. I'm saying, if you really care about plants, stop eating animals. that is where the most harm comes, as well as deforestation to create new places for cattle to graze. 1/3 of the land mass of this world is devoted to raising livestock. How does that help plants?

(Sorry this is not a question. But I thought local people might be interested to know). In response to the question above - being a vegetarian in NE DC - there's a very useful free booklet called "Veg DC" that lists veg-friendly restaurants in the metro-DC area. They also have a convenient website.


Just curious. If people adopt veganism, we're left with a lot of "useless" animals that don't serve much purpose - hens, cows, etc. What do you envision should happen with them? They were domesticated to be food, so can't really be released back into the wild.

this would not happen overnight. the first thing that would happen is that we would stop breeding animals. we are talking about 9 billion land animals a year being killed in the united states alone. It's not a problem that's going to happen anytime soon. 

I follow a paleo diet (meat, eggs and vegetables, few carbs), but I am uncomfortable morally eating meat. I have experimented with other diets (macrobiotic, raw, vegetarian), but notice that I feel better and have greater energy when I eat more protein and fewer carbs. Is it possible to strike this balance on a vegetarian or vegan diet? Soy products and beans do not agree with me.

I believe it is but can't go into detail here. Please check with someone like Virginia Messina a gifted nutritionist. She would be able to help you.


1:29 And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. 1:30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so. So, if you take 1:29 "to you it shall be for meat" to mean that is your food and no other food, then when 1:30 says for every beast of the earth "I have given every green herb for meant", it must mean that it is all the animals food and no other food. Yet we know animals eat other animals so therefore neither passage means you can only ean plants. If you believe one, you have to believe the other.

Just curious: how do you decide what you are going to eat? even Isaiah has a vision for a vegan world, lion lying down with the lamb. I am not trying to do anything about the lion but I can do something aobut myself.

You keep talking about the tenets of vegetarianism, and I'm curious about your opinion on where your food comes from. Do you eat produce that has been flown in from thousands of miles away? These farms often destruct the habitats of many animals and a lot of fossil fuels are used production and transport. Also regarding egg production, are you against people raising chickens in their yards for egg production? I look forward to your response.

Food miles is more complicated than that.  Yes, as you can see above, I am against chickens in back yards. Chicken sanctuaries are filling up with abandoned back yard chickens.

Re: food miles

Please check out:

Food-Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States


Summarized here by National Geographic:

Weber and colleague Scott Matthews measured the greenhouse gas emissions related to producing different types of foods—beef, fruits, vegetables, chicken, eggs, and fish—and getting them to U.S. grocery stores.

They found that beef is responsible for about one-and-a-half times more warming from greenhouse gases per household than chicken or fish, for example.

"Dietary shift can be a more effective means of lowering an average household's food-related climate footprint than 'buying local,'" the study concludes.

"Shifting less than one day per week's worth of calories from red meat and dairy products to chicken, fish, eggs, or a vegetable-based diet achieves more [greenhouse gas] reduction than buying all locally sourced food," Weber and Matthews wrote.


If I were to become vegan- what do I do with the animal products I already own, specifically clothing? Does this mean I wouldn't wear them anymore, because that seems like an awful waste to me- especially leather, wool suits, etc.

some people keep wearing them, some give them away. 

Several times during this chat, you appear to imply a connection between the unhealthy effects of meat consumption and the moral stance against eating meat, as if the first justifies the second. That reminds me uncomfortably of religious fundamentalists who view pleasure as sinful and view STDs as a righteous punishment. Why not separate the health issue from the moral issue since there's no connection between them? I would hope that most vegans who choose that diet for moral reasons would make the same choice if eating meat posed no health risk at all. And I really hope that you don't adhere to the repugnant attitude that people who die of heart attacks from, say, pork consumption are getting what they deserve.

Of course I don't believe that. I have lost family members to heart attacks. As a feminist, I see interconnections. I think it is very important that we understand and see this interconnections. I don't see the comparison with fundamentalists.

"Of course, the other thing is for conferences etc to go vegan because veganism can be the lowest common denominator , that is, it can meet the dietary rules of many different religious and cultural groups. " This seems remarkably insensitive to others who may disagree with veganism. Making everything vegan to adhere to the single-digits percentage of those who are vegan seems to go back to the tyranny of the minority that many people dislike about vegans.

everyone can enjoy veggies for a day or two at a conference. 

I see a lot of vegan recipes that call for "nutritional yeast". I'm curious to try using it in my cooking... what is it, and why use it? The nutritional stats seem somewhat high in calories and I've read warnings that you shouldn't eat too much of it, but it seems like a vegan staple. Can you explain more about this ingredient?

This is from Bob's red mill website: Nutritional yeast is grown on enriched purified cane and beet molasses under carefully controlled conditions. T6635, with the addition of vitamin B12, is an ideal vegetarian support formula and has an appealing cheese flavor.

Google it and you can get more information. It's delicious!

I like the idea of eating vegan one day a week but what should I do for breakfast? I'm a cereal and milk kind of breakfast eater. Thanks!

Use soymilk, almond milk, etc. the other thing is to try it for two weeks and see how you feel. good luck.

Thank you for your article and efforts to educate the public. I think some of the attacks targeted at you are people being defensive about their own lives. I think everyone is in a process of understanding their consumption, and learning about choices other people make might help inform us how to live healthier and better. I write a vegetarian cooking blog, and I find my friends who are traditionally meat eaters now eat vegetarian more, which is fantastic. I am raising my daughter vegetarian. My question is, do you have any suggestions on books or ways we can navigate the millions of questions we get. Her doctors and my meat eating extended family are in full support, but I worry about when she becomes school aged. By the way, I liked your earlier comment about people not giving their child the choice to be a meat eater. An addition I have is that all sorts of people are raised in certain belief systems by their families i.e. Religion, Morality, Politics. This is no different.

I'm going to send you to Living Among meat eaters. I hear from vegans and vegetarians all the time that this book was really helpful. some read it every year. Let me know what yout hink.

Just wanted to tell you that you're doing a great job fielding questions. The hardest part of being a vegan is probably fielding ridiculous, often obnoxious but usually just close-minded, questions from defensive omnivores. The emotional attachment to eating dead animals and their products is hard to break!

Thank you. And with this, I am going to say good bye. We've been doing this for about 2 hours and my fingers, though very healthy fingers, are giving out. Dear meat eaters and dairy and egg uers: I am sorry if you have raised a question I have failed to answer fully. Please consider reading an entire book on the subject rather than an oped and see what you yourself feel about the information you are getting. Or go to the websits of Mercy for Animals or Compassion for Animals. Try a few vegan meals. Thank you for letting me converse with you. Perhaps we can talk again sometime. 

In This Chat
Carol J. Adams
Carol J. Adams is the author of “The Sexual Politics of Meat” and “The Pornography of Meat.”
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