FAQs about Veganism

On this page, you will find common questions about veganism answered from a Reasoned Vegan framework. This page will be updated as more frequently asked questions come to our attention.

Why should I go vegan?
How can you be healthy as a vegan?
But aren’t we designed to eat meat?
Isn’t veganism unnatural?
Where do vegans get their protein?
Do vegans care about humans?
Didn’t God put animals on Earth for us to eat?
Isn’t veganism just another religion?
Are all vegans atheists?
Why can’t vegans just mind their own business?
Why are vegans so rude and in-your-face?
Why don’t vegans care about plants’ feelings?
Do fish feel pain?
Isn’t veganism a little extreme?
What about GMOs?
How will there be enough space for all of the crops in a vegan world?
If the world goes vegan won’t the cows, pigs and chickens go extinct (or take over)?
Don’t vegans kill more animals than meat-eaters?
What about PETA?
What do vegans think about lab-grown meat?
Are all vegans liberal?
Don’t farmers need happy cows?

Why should I go vegan?

People go vegan for many reasons, and some of those reasons are better than others. Many people go vegan because they believe it to be a healthier lifestyle. While this may be true, the jury is still out. A much more clear-cut reason to go vegan is because it reduces the suffering of animals raised to become food. That animals — including cows, pigs, chickens and fish — are capable of suffering is established scientific fact. And the reality is that factory farms — where something like 99% of meat and animal products come from — are inhumane to animals due to their necessarily cramped conditions and cruel standard practices. On top of that, all animals raised on farms for meat are killed, of course. To argue that it is okay to unnecessarily kill an animal that does not want to die, no matter how humane the process, is an arduous task. While vegans are not deathless, it is inarguable that we cause less suffering.

Another fantastic reason to go vegan is to reduce climate change. Compared to plants, the amount of resources needed to produce meat or other animal products is enormous. If you want to reduce greenhouse gases, save significant amounts of water, and help animals, there really is no better way than to go vegan.

A more appropriate question, therefore, is Why shouldn’t you go vegan?


How can you be healthy as a vegan?

It’s a strange quirk that people seem to either believe vegans are extremely healthy or extremely unhealthy. Veganism is more of a lifestyle than a diet. It does not dictate how much of your daily intake of calories must be carbohydrates, fat, or protein. And it does not command you to eat only vegetables and avoid processed foods. In other words, your balance of macro- and micronutrients is up to you. Some vegans eat 40 bananas a day — a rather excessive amount of sugar, to be sure — while other vegans follow a Keto diet. In this way, it’s sort of like owning a car: there are various types of gasoline you can put in the tank, but most will get you from point A to point B. Veganism is one type of gasoline, and it gets the job done. It’s probably not the absolute best option for your car, but then again it could be. With that said, it’s important to remember that supplementation of B12 and Omega-3s is vital to staying healthy as a vegan. It’s probably a good idea for just about everyone to supplement these micronutrients, but vegans do tend to be more deficient in them than the rest of the population.

Many people are concerned about protein, but the truth is that as long as you eat enough calories, it’s nearly impossible to not get enough of it (see Where do vegans get their protein? Below for more on this).

So, how to be healthy as a vegan is not much different from how to be healthy as a non-vegan: avoid processed foods and sugar where possible, and supplement as necessary.


But aren’t we designed to eat meat?

The term “designed” is a source of confusion here. This suggests, incorrectly, that evolution “designs” things. Instead, evolution is a continuous process that attunes species to their environment; it never creates a final product. There is no “design,” there is only adaptation. Some vegans argue that humans are “100% herbivore,” but the reality is that we began cooking and eating meat approximately one million years ago and can clearly obtain nutrients and calories from it. However, the fact remains that we can still obtain energy and nutrients from plants, which may be what we relied on before our cavemen ancestors discovered fire. It’s conceivable that, had we stopped eating plants altogether for one million years after this new invention, we’d have significant problems trying to eat plants exclusively. But that’s not what happened and, of course, obtaining our energy from plants works just fine.

So we are not “designed” to eat meat. We are not “designed” at all, in fact. We adapted to eat meat, something that may have aided us in evolving our large brains by virtue of allowing us to consume a significant amount of calories all at once (something we have no problem with today on a vegan diet, thanks to grocery stores). But we can also do just fine by only eating plants and supplementing as needed. Lastly, it’s important to note that what we evolved to do, or what comes naturally to us, is often times in conflict with what we should do.


Isn’t veganism unnatural?

Some vegans, like Gary Yourofsky, make the bold claim that humans are meant to eat a vegan diet. However, this is a murky area that we prefer not to wade into as it does not diminish the ethical imperative of veganism. Our ancestors may have been vegetarians; in fact, it’s virtually guaranteed to be the case if you go back far enough in our evolutionary tree. At some point, we were probably part of a species that did not consume other animals. But that really doesn’t matter. Approximately one million years ago, we began to cook and consume meat. Evolution is slow, but a million years is a long time. Simply put, we’ve adapted to obtain energy from meat, but it doesn’t mean that we must do so. Veganism may have been the default back when our ancestors weren’t exactly human. It’s possible that eating meat was “unnatural” when we invented fire, but it’s tough to argue that it’s not natural now. Again, it’s not important. We do many unnatural things, like drive cars and use toilets. Most of those unnatural things are preferable to the natural alternative.

It is understable to be concerned with what is “natural” and “unnatural” when it comes to health and diet. By pointing out that many things we do are unnatural, we don’t intend to suggest that you chow down on hunks of limestone. To be sure, there are better and worse sources of nutrition, and it makes sense to want to eat what is “natural.” But for at least as long as we’ve been consuming meat, we’ve also been consuming plants. We know that we can obtain calories and nutrients from plants. And we know that we can actually exclude meat entirely and do just fine – just ask any reputable dietetic organization out there.


Where do vegans get their protein?

This is always a favorite. Vegans, just like non-vegans, get their protein from food — plants in particular. Animals who are turned into meat also eat plants. When people eat meat, they are eating what (typically) vegan animals turned plants into: muscle and fat tissue (among other things). Therefore, non-vegans are filtering their protein through another animal, while vegans are going straight to the source. It’s true that meat is a far denser source of protein than most plants, however there are many vegan meat products that give the animal-based stuff a run for its money. On the other hand, the concern about protein and veganism is largely unfounded. Getting adequate levels of protein is neither completely impossible, nor entirely effortless. It quickly becomes second nature, but we recommend new vegans give some thought to eating protein rich foods on a daily basis. It’s especially important to emphasize legumes in your diet, a category of foods including beans, chickpeas, peanuts, peas and lentils. These foods tend to be rich in the amino acid lysine, which you could easily fall short of on a vegan diet that excludes these foods.

Getting an adequate intake of lysine may be a handy rule of thumb as to whether or not you’re getting adequate protein levels overall, but this hardly means you need to worry about “complete proteins” or “protein combining.”

The idea of “complete proteins” is that because some plants are deficient in one or more of the essential amino acids, you should be careful to combine foods whose amino acids complement one another. This sounds a lot scarier than it is. The reality is that, because amino acids consumed in the morning can be complemented by amino acids consumed later on in the day, and because plants are often deficient in one or more amino acids differentially, you’d have to make an effort to avoid certain amino acids in order for this to become a problem, with legumes and lysine being the exception.

Indeed, there are many vegan athletes who have no problems in the protein department; don’t believe us? Just ask Patrik Baboumian, a record-breaking vegan strongman.


Do vegans care about humans?

Of course. Vegans are, in general, compassionate people. This is what leads us to reduce the suffering of animals and advocate that others follow suit. We also tend to help humans more than the average non-vegan does; humans are animals, too, after all. Many of us believe that humans are the more privileged of all the species and that we should prioritize accordingly. However, some vegans such as Gary Yourofsky are openly misanthropic, but they are in the minority. And again, with humans being animals, it doesn’t make much sense for a vegan to also be a misanthrope. Many vegans care about animals just as much as humans; some believe animals are more worthy of concern than humans; still others believe humans may be more capable of suffering than animals, but that animals can suffer and we should avoid causing it whenever possible. Vegans who don’t care about humans — or at least say that they don’t — are in very short supply. The best response when someone accuses us vegans of not caring about people? “We don’t eat humans, either.”


Didn’t God put animals on Earth for us to eat?

To be up front, the three of us are atheists, finding the evidence for God — and the Christian one, no less — to be in short supply. Nevertheless, many people still believe in the God of Jesus and point to the bible to support the idea that he provided us animals to do with them what we wish. This verse is often offered as evidence:

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground. (Gen 1:26).

However, this verse does not spell out the type of dominion God intended for us to keep over animals. It is certainly possible to argue from a Christian perspective that we should be benevolent rulers, rather than exploitative dictators. The bible makes constant use of animal metaphors and Genesis later refers to “the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth” (9:16). Furthermore, the ethics of Christianity are often concerned with protecting the weak and downtrodden. This is not to say that the bible makes a slam-dunk case for veganism, but merely to point out that many interpretations are possible. For more information, Matthew Scully makes a compelling case for veganism from a Christian perspective in his book Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals and the Call to Mercy, which we reviewed here.

But regardless of how one interprets scripture, there are many things the bible permits, or even requires, that we do not do because they are abhorrent. For example, the bible says nothing of slavery. It also requires the stoning of gay people, adulterers, and atheists, which nobody does anymore. So Christians categorize biblical verses into two lists: those which remain wise, and those which we have outgrown. The stoning, for most people at least, falls into the latter category. The former category, often times, is for actions that are unethical but which we seek justifications to continuing doing. The Biblical verse (Genesis 1:26-28) that some believe allows us to treat animals however we like ought to be moved to the latter.

We should note that there is a glaring contradiction in God’s creation of the universe if Genesis 1:26-28 is to be interpreted as allowing us to use animals as we wish. Why would every species of animal be capable of suffering if their only purpose is to be used by us? It seems that God unnecessarily installed the pain module in the very same livestock that we consume en masse. A more compassionate God would have created a universe wherein the only sentient creatures are us humans. Perhaps this is why many Christians believe that animals cannot feel pain, despite all the evidence to the contrary. The extent to which a religion is anthropocentric is the degree to which it is unkind to animals.

God did not put animals on Earth for us to eat because God probably does not exist. And if you believe he does exist, consider that you, like most people, have eschewed many unsavory biblical verses, and should perhaps throw this one away, too, or otherwise reinterpret it.


Isn’t veganism just another religion?

No. Religion is most closely associated with belief in the supernatural; many vegans are atheists and, therefore, do not believe in the supernatural. Religions can also be atheistic, consisting of principles and symbolism, but it’s not obvious where veganism fits into that. It is true that vegans sometimes act pious, self-righteous, and in pursuit of purity, but this need not be the case, and we believe it is in the end harmful to the cause. In fact, there are many vegans who are not at all this way, it’s just far less likely that you’ll hear about them. Jordan Peterson has referred to veganism as a secular religion, but it’s not clear what he means by that. Science, not faith, is what drives us vegans to commit to an ethical lifestyle.


Are all vegans atheists?

No. Veganism is a big tent. There are many ways to arrive at the conclusion that veganism is the lifestyle you want to lead. Veganism is compatible with virtually any moral or religious framework; however, there does seem to be a higher proportion of atheists and skeptics in the vegan community than in the general population. Eating meat is not a sacrament of any religion we’re aware of and vegetarianism is widely practiced by religious communities around the world.  Jains and Seventh-Day Adventists, for example, often follow vegetarian or vegan diets, most of the major religions encourage vegetarianism on certain holy days, and veganism or vegetarianism is often associated with holy figures.

The apparent higher proportion of atheists and skeptics in the vegan community than in the general population may have to do with Peter Singer, an early hero of the vegan movement, promoting the lifestyle from a secular, utilitarian perspective. It may also have to do with atheists thinking through the consequences of evolution, which recognizes all living creatures as part of one family tree. Or it could have more to do with sociological and psychological factors related to the types of people drawn to this movement. In any case, very few ideologies or moral philosophies preclude veganism.


Why can’t vegans just mind their own business?

It’s understandable that people do not like to be told that what they are doing is ethically unjustifiable. But to ask vegans to mind their own business is somewhat like asking a pro-life protester outside of an abortion clinic to do the same. Vegans and anti-abortion activists alike believe that what we are doing is attempting to reduce suffering in the world. Whatever your viewpoint on abortion, both sides of the debate recognize the sincerity of the pro-life protester’s moral conviction. We all speak up — or acknowledge that we should — when we see unethical behavior. The problem is that non-vegans often don’t find their behavior unethical. When vegans are asked to mind our own business, we are being told that what we oppose is not unethical. This is a way for non-vegans to avoid a discussion of the scientific reality of the suffering of farm animals that are turned into food. To be sure, there are more and less helpful ways of pushing for a vegan world — generally, the more in-your-face the advocacy, the less effective — but to ask us to keep it all to ourselves is to avoid a much-needed debate.


Why are vegans so rude and in-your-face?

This is a stereotype. The most visible vegans, such as those affiliated with PETA, do tend to garner the most public attention with their antics. We believe the in-your-face tactics are unhelpful, even harmful at times. We believe less people go vegan the more confrontational vegans are in their advocacy. With that said, many people believe vegans are being rude and in-your-face when they simply aren’t. Sometimes, people attribute internally-provoked feelings of guilt to an external cause, such as a vegan who walked in the room and reminded them, however subtly or unintentionally, that they contribute to animal suffering on a daily basis. It’s unfair to blame vegans for this. To address the stereotype aspect, consider this question: if someone is vegan and not what you consider “rude” and “in-your-face” about it, might you be far less likely to learn that they are vegan?


Why don’t vegans care about plants’ feelings?

This is another fun one. Non-vegans like to bring up plants having feelings as a supposed trump card, pointing to studies on chemical reactions in plants as indicators, somehow, that plants are conscious and capable of feeling pain. This is quite an absurd line of argument. In fact, I don’t think that anyone who tries this really believes it. On the most basic level, no species of plant has a brain, a necessary prerequisite for experiencing suffering — or anything, for that matter. So they do not have feelings in any real sense. Second, non-vegans actually consume more plants than vegans do. This is simple math: feeding plants to animals results in a fewer number of calories (in the form of meat or other animal products) than eating those plants directly. This is because, far from being robots that produce only meat, animals also need to divert energy to fueling their brain and all other bodily functions. This means that one calorie an animal consumes in the form of a plant results in just a fraction of a calorie in the form of meat or other animal products. Eating the plants directly, on the other hand, results in no such energy loss. Therefore, if one cares about plants’ nonexistent “feelings” (and does not wish to starve to death), being vegan would still be the more ethical choice.


Do fish feel pain?

This is a matter of debate. For example, this article argues that fish do not feel pain, while this more recent article claims that they do. These sorts of studies involve numerous different behavioral measures that indicate whether an animal is experiencing pain. Avoidance of a painful stimulus is one way to demonstrate some capacity for suffering. But these experiments have to be quite intricate and subtle in order to measure what they are meant to measure, and as with any scientific field there is debate over how to interpret various findings. We believe fish are likely capable of feeling pain and, at the very least, the right thing to do is to avoid eating them just in case.


Isn’t veganism a little extreme?

We don’t believe so, but it depends on how one defines “extreme.” Is veganism “extremely” different from the norm? Of course, but that doesn’t really say anything about ethics. Vegetarianism is more moderate, but animal products such as milk and eggs may involve just as much suffering — if not more — than meat. Vegetarianism is likely more ethical than the typical American diet. But to the extent that vegetarians simply replace meat products with other animal products, it may not reduce one’s contribution to animal suffering much at all. Veganism is really the most friendly toward animals and the environment — but that’s not to say one can’t go further if they so wish. To call veganism “extreme” is to marginalize those of us who are making an effort; it is not much of an argument.


What about GMOs?

Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are a contentious topic in the vegan world. However, it’s probably fair to say that most vegans are neutral to GMOs. Simply put, they have the potential to solve world hunger. This is not to say that there aren’t problems with companies like Monsanto, because there are, but the fears about GMO foods are unfounded. To oppose GMOs is to oppose efforts to feed the world, and that does not deserve much patience.


How will there be enough space for all of the crops in a vegan world?

A vegan world would not have enormous farms and pastures for farm animals. Such a world would also not feed the majority of crops — as we do — to those same livestock, which produce a fraction of the calories they consume in the form of meat and animal products. In other words, a vegan world would not require more space for crops; to the contrary, it would require far less space than we currently use. This would not be a problem.


If the world goes vegan won’t the cows, pigs and chickens go extinct (or take over)?

It’s curious that non-vegans ask this question, as if the only answer to a concern that these species will go extinct is to continue to breed them, raise them in harrowing conditions, and then kill and eat them. People also argue that if we just release all livestock overnight, they’ll take over the world and cause serious problems. Though the outcomes are largely opposite, the claim is basically the same: suddenly releasing millions of animals would cause serious problems. This is true, of course. But nobody is proposing that we suddenly release millions of animals. A vegan world will not come about so swiftly, as much as many of us may wish that to be the case. A more realistic scenario is that consumption of meat and animal products will gradually decline. Farmers will respond by raising fewer animals. Farms that suddenly shut down as they can no longer afford to operate may find animal sanctuaries knocking on their door with offers to take some of them. People could take them in as pets, allowing them to live out their lives in much kinder conditions. And yes, some could also be released into the wild without causing too much of a problem. There are many ways to attenuate such an issue, but it’s unlikely to be an issue anyway, since the world is not going to go vegan overnight.


Don’t vegans kill more animals than meat-eaters?

The impetus for this question is typically the observation that small mammals such as rodents and rabbits are often killed during the harvesting of crops. It’s important, as a result, that vegans keep in mind that we are not deathless. By existing, we cause animals to die, but we should do what we can to make that number as small as is practical. However, as pointed out in previous answers, it’s a fact that vegans require less plants. This is because animals raised for food eat plants, and only a fraction of the calories that they eat are turned into meat. By eating plants directly, vegans cause less plants to be harvested, less livestock to be killed, and less resources to be used. To add to this, because vegans cause less plants to be harvested, we in turn cause less animals to be killed as a result of such harvesting. Therefore, the more ethical decision once again is to go vegan.


What about PETA?

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is a divisive group among vegans. It is also what people think of when they think of vegans. So their actions really rub off on us in the form of stereotypes — particularly the stereotype about being preachy, rude, and in-your-face. PETA is probably responsible for a significant portion of vegans’ decision to avoid animal products. With that said, they have probably also turned away at least as many people from veganism. This is because they are often opportunistic, confrontational, overly-emotional, and often times rather pedantic in their vegan advocacy. PETA deserves a lot of criticism, and most that they get is fair. Again, the preachy and in-your-face PETA-types are the ones you hear about and are most likely to associate vegans with, but the reality is that there are many vegans out there who do not like PETA or their tactics. Instead, they wish to lead by example, and prefer to calmly and logically explain the ethical imperative of veganism to people who are willing to listen. That’s what we call Reasoned Veganism.


What do vegans think about lab-grown meat?

Cultured meat — or the more appetizing term “clean meat” — will almost certainly change animal agriculture for the better. It is now becoming possible to produce millions of hamburgers without harming a single cow. It’s currently quite expensive, but the price is declining rapidly. We should expect to see clean meat on shelves within the next couple of years. That is extremely exciting.

It will also cause somewhat of an identity crisis in the vegan community. If I eat clean meat, am I no longer vegan? In a strict sense, veganism is the avoidance of all animal products. But more reasonable definitions of veganism make central the question of suffering. Cruelty-free animal products — such as clean meat — would be included in such a definition. Because ethics is the most important aspect of veganism, we believe this broader definition to be far more rational than the rigid, purity-focused, almost religious-like, strict definition. Forgive us for some naked optimism, but it is possible for these cruelty-free meats and animal products to completely replace the current cruelty-laden meats and animal products. Perhaps when such alternatives become available, the horrors and needless harms of animal agriculture will become apparent, and we will shun those who continue to support it.

Some vegans are against clean meat, and it’s unclear why that is. We are against any concept of veganism that emulates a religion, and we promote endlessly a Reasoned Veganism that puts ethics front and center. Therefore, we see no problem with clean meat, and are anxious for its inevitable disruption of animal agriculture.


Are all vegans liberal?

Not all vegans swing left politically, but it’s clearly true that people who are vegan tend to be liberals. This is to be expected. Research in moral psychology has shown that liberals tend to concern themselves more with avoiding harm, whereas conservatives value loyalty, sanctity, authority, and other moral foundations more than liberals do. This doesn’t mean, however, that conservatives don’t value the avoidance of harm; in fact, they seem to value it just as much as liberals do. But liberals have only that one moral sense and, as a result, dedicate far more time and brainpower to avoiding causing harm to others (and increasing the well-being of others). So it not only makes sense that leftists are over represented among the vegan population, but also that some conservative vegans exist.


Don’t farmers need happy cows?

It’s commonly claimed that, because animals who experience significant stress can produce less meat or byproducts, then farmers must be invested in their livestock’s happiness and comfort. Therefore, the argument goes, animal agriculture can’t be as bad as vegans claim.

This is wrong for multiple reasons. Let’s grant that a stressed animal is less profitable for a farmer than a comfortable one, all else being equal. The fact remains that many of the horrors of animal agriculture are a result of standard practices — not sadistic farmers beating their animals. These standard practices include: gestation crates, battery cages, debeaking, tail docking, and branding. Each of these, perhaps with the exception of branding, are experienced by most animals of the relevant species on factory farms.

And each of these standard practices serves the function of reducing costs or increasing profits for farmers. Providing small spaces for animals to occupy is probably the most clear-cut economic decision for farmers, who are struggling as it is to pay their bills. Expanding those enclosures or stalls is a significant and costly undertaking, and it’s one that could easily expose them to losing their edge over the competition.

Therefore, even if it’s the case that unhappy animals produce less than they otherwise would, farmers are forced to create conditions in which animals suffer. In other words, any loss of revenue that results from having stressed animals is compensated for through the implementation of the same standard practices that cause said stress.

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