Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Top Ten Frequently Repeated, Often Illogical and Always Convenient Myths Repeated to Vegans

Revisiting my previous post, I wanted to share some of the common myths and conceits that are repeated to vegans as if they were truth. I am doing this sort of as a favor to those who repeat them because, honestly, guys, you probably don’t realize the regularity with which we hear them. And when we hear them, it’s all we can do sometimes to be patient and not roll our eyes. You don’t want to be someone who causes excessive internal eye-rolling, right? There are many, many more myths than the ones listed here and many subsets of the ones I have, but you get the idea. We’ve heard it all before.

1. Vegan food is expensive.

First I have to ask: compared to what? Compared to fast food? Well, yes, compared to dollar menus of hamburgers and fries, it is more costly on the surface, but the expenses of illness and obesity more than offsets this. Time spent off of work waiting in doctor’s offices, scanning drugstore shelves for anti-constipation remedies, or getting arterial stents inserted is expensive.

The next question is if vegan food is truly expensive compared to meat and animal products. Quite simply, it’s not.

The average price for a pound of ground beef in July of this year was $3.085. The price for a pound of dried organic black beans was $1.99 at Whole Foods. One cooks down and the other expands with cooking. The poorest people of the world are often nearly vegan by default. Let’s look at what they eat: Legumes. Grains. Seasonal fruits and vegetables. Fresh herbs. Nuts and seeds. They are not eating organic, heirloom goji berries at $15.99 an ounce. They are eating simple peasant food that is grown close to home because that is the least expensive and most accessible. In our own country during the Depression, we canned and froze the harvest to make food less costly. The notion that vegan food is more expensive than animal foods is simply not fact-based. It does cost more on the surface to be discerning about what we put in our bodies but it is far more expensive down the road to be unwell. Consider eating whole, unprocessed foods another form of health insurance.  

Please note that none of this is even considering the expenses our whole society takes on in cleaning up the ecological mess of animal agriculture. 

2. Caring for animals prevents us from caring about people.

This is a false dichotomy born of an absolutist perspective. If one looks at the world through an either/or lens, it’s a natural conclusion that advocating for some means that we cannot advocate for others. In truth, compassionate people are compassionate people. Does someone who kicks his dog have more of a reservoir of compassion for people than someone who doesn’t kick his dog? We don’t turn compassion on or off like a faucet and we are not born with a finite supply of it. The greater empathy you feel for others, the more empathy you will produce. It is more like a muscle than a supply. I would be far more trusting of someone’s willingness to care for others who has demonstrated an ability to empathize and take courageous action on another’s behalf. The people who feel we need to carefully parse our compassion? Nah. Not so much.

3. Vegans are in a cult/engage in “group-think.”

Hee. This one is especially amusing to me.

Anyone who knows anything about vegans knows that you ask five of us the same question, you are likely to get five different opinions (or maybe 18 different opinions), some that may profoundly differ from one another. We will go to the mat on topics as seemingly benign as to whether we will date non-vegans and go for the jugular on the topic of what we feed our cats. The array of topics on which we will loudly disagree is truly spectacular, almost a renewable resource: whether to wear our old leather and wool items or give them away; whether or not we will eat at restaurants that serve meat; whether vegans are allowed to be motivated by health concerns over their ethical convictions; whether we support incremental animal welfare measures or most assuredly do not. This is just the tip of the iceberg. There is no shortage of topics for us to vehemently disagree with one another on and there never will be. We have no central leader, no agreed upon strategy and, honestly, no overarching goal. One thing vegans would agree upon is that we do not believe that it’s our right to abuse and kill animals. From there on out, though, all bets are off.

4. We have to be 100% impeccably vegan about everything our bodies come in contact with or else we are hypocrites.

You know what? We lived in a flawed world. We live in a violent world built upon exploitative systems. Have you noticed? There is animal-derived stearic acid in car tires: even if you don’t drive, it’s in bike tires. Gelatin is used to make the non-digital films people see. Those beautiful vegan cookbooks? Most likely, they are held together with casein in glue. We get it.

We didn’t create this mess and actually, we’re the ones trying to get us out of it. The reason why there are animal-derived components in so much is because of the conceit that animals are ours to use as we wish and because, well, after eating whatever we can off of their bodies, there is a lot left over for people to make money off of still. We’re trying to create a world in which we do not exploit others. We are not there yet and the world is a complicated beast with many tentacles wrapped around various forms of exploitation. We’re not going to extricate ourselves overnight but at least the vegans are trying our best to minimize harm. Could you say the same? 

5. Historically, there has never been a vegan culture.

Ergo? And? We are blazing trails, not creating historical reenactments.

There was never a Christian culture before Christianity. There was never a culture of feminism before pioneers created it. There was never an ecological movement until people started it. We are not limited by the past: thankfully we have self-determination. While those who are yoked to the past keep coming up with nonsensical excuses, vegans are actively creating our own burgeoning culture that can make a difference now and benefit future generations. What is more exciting and promising, having our future hemmed in by history or boldly creating one ourselves?

6. If the world went vegan, what would we do with all those animals not used for food?

This is where people really start grasping at straws.

First of all, why do you suddenly care about the tenability or sustainability of caring for billions of animals at once? Were you concerned before about the giant, leaking fecal lagoons, dead zones in the ocean, air pollution and horrific wastefulness of animal agriculture? (And, oh, bonus points for gullibility if you think that the magic wand of organic agriculture would make the giant footprint of massive animal agriculture disappear. Ta da!)

Second, who on earth said that the world would go vegan overnight? Is that at all likely? What vegans are working for at best is a world that is shifting away from animal agriculture and even the most optimistic, power-of-positive-thinking, cheerful herbivore knows that this would occur gradually. Of course. The idea that we would wake up one morning after the Vegan Revolution to chickens all over our front yards, turkeys in our trees, and cows taking over the boulevards is absurd.

What would happen to all the liberated animals if they are not born, bred and killed for our interests? Well, something tells me that we have oodles of time to figure this out. One idea: as demand eventually decreases and fewer animals are bred in order to be made into food, the populations would decrease. As populations decrease, we need less of the massive amount of land that is currently earmarked for monocropping soy, corn, and wheat that is fed to all the animals in confinement. Perhaps this land could be freed up for some of the animals to live out their lives in peace. I’m not saying that I have the answers but I am saying that we don’t need them yet. Because it’s not going to be overnight, that much is certain.

7. What about all the SOY?! Vegans eat too much soy and that is destroying the environment.

Okay, is it honestly logical that vegans, checking in (very optimistically) at about 2.5% of the population, are creating all this demand for soy? All those damn Boca burgers? Seriously? You know who is responsible for the monocropping of soy? Omnivores. Omnivores eat the billions of “food animals” who consume all that soy in their feed. So if you are really, truly concerned about the environmental implications of soy, it’s simple. Do what I do: go vegan and limit your soy consumption. Easy peasy. And contrary to common opinion, vegans do not all eat tofu nuggets dipped in dairy-free mayo with a side of soy jerky. I buy tofu maybe twice a month. Could the omnivores say that they limit their soy consumption to this extent? (Oh, plus it’s totally not an ethical argument. Do not be misled by this one.)

8. The life and death of a cow and the life and death of a tomato are roughly equivalent.

Oy vey. Science was never my topic but I will give it a shot here.

One has veins and arteries. One doesn’t. One has a central nervous system. One doesn’t. One has a spinal cord with nerve endings. One doesn’t. One has a body designed by evolution and natural selection to avoid pain and suffering. One doesn’t. One has a thalamus. One doesn’t. One has a limbic system. One doesn’t.

Further, one is forcibly impregnated. One isn’t. One has babies who are taken from her shortly after birth. One doesn't. One calls out for them after they are taken. One doesn’t. One is de-horned, branded, and castrated without anesthesia. One isn’t. One has the proven capacity for emotionally bonding with her offspring and others. One hasn’t. One demonstrably suffers using an empirical checklist of physical and observational yardsticks. One doesn’t.

If you don’t believe in evolution and your beliefs tend toward Creationism, a Great Creator, Gaia or a combination thereof, perhaps you can tell me why your compassionate creator designed beings with a proven capacity to suffer and a clear desire to avoid said suffering only to give them no possibility of escaping that pain. What was the purpose of that? Where is the intelligent design or benevolence in that? I would never believe in a creator who would be so cruel as to imbue such deeply exploited beings with sentience and emotions only to have them needlessly suffer.  

One bleeds. One cries out. One writhes in pain. Making cows and tomatoes (or chickens and pears or any other animal-plant combination) peers in the capacity to feel and suffer shows how willing some omnivores are to suspend critical thinking in order to justify their habits.

9. Our bodies evolved to eat meat.

Evolution is an ongoing process. It is not static. There is plenty to contradict the notion that we are designed to eat meat (our teeth made for chewing rather than tearing, our small mouths and jaws, our lack of claws, our long, pouched long intestines) but I am not going to get into that. Evolution is, well, evolving, and thankfully we have some choice in the matter. The fact that we can live healthfully and abundantly without animal-based foods is all I need to know.

10. Native Americans showed their respect and gratitude for the meat they ate. I am doing the same.

I think that cherry-picking from various cultures in order to imbue one’s habits with pseudo-spiritual values is really exploitative and self-serving. Here are some other things native cultures have done: left their sick, disabled, wounded and unwanted to die; gone hungry when food wasn’t plentiful; pooped in holes in the ground. And on and on and on. How many other “Native American” habits do you maintain? Or do you just maintain the ones that make you feel that your comfortable habits are spiritual in nature rather than entitlements? 
If you want to feel respect and gratitude for me, don’t kill and eat me. If killing me is how you show respect and gratitude, well, then I’d rather not have it. I will just prefer sovereignty and compassion, thanks. If you have to invoke some quasi-spiritual convictions that you keep handy for justifying your habits, I’d say that this is evidence of hypocrisy and, ultimately, disrespect for the cultures you claim to respect.

What else have you got?


  1. I agree with all the points made here except:

    #1 i disagree. it is more expensive in the west. yes in third world countries it's less expensive but your target audience is not those living in third world countries therefore to say it's not expensive is misleading- at least for the general public. in the long run it is however less expensive since you don't have to worry about such expensive medical bills due to eating too much micky D's

    #3 i agree to a point. however i feel there are many overly zealous vegans that act just as bad as zealous republican's in the US.

    #5 it appears you think that humans were never vegan historically speaking. read Gen 1:29- the diet given to the first humans. whether or not you believe in the judeo-christian God. you must say it a vary compelling argument for vegans.

    #10. again i semi agree. i believe the native americans did respect and show gratitude for their meat. they killed animals quickly and not to inflict pain (yeah i know there is no such thing as humane killing) and they used all the animal wisely. besides the obvious health issues associated with meat meating. my main "beef" with meat eating is the gluttonous way it's done in the west and the disgusting manner they kill and treat the animals. i don't think we should pass judgement on other cultures as long as there is no exploitation involved.

    1. For number 1, do not confuse "the West" with "the US". Coming from a European country where we don't have dirt-cheap meat, veganism is much, much cheaper if you don't buy analogs. I.e., buy lentils and rice and things. In fact, when I was in University, a lot of omni students would never cook meat at home but have it at their parents place on weekends because it is so expensive.

  2. Hi, Anonymous. Thank you for sharing your views. I am going to have to respectfully disagree. :)

    If you eat foods that are as close to their natural forms as you can, in other words, unprocessed, it is less expensive. I can make a great meal out of bulk grains, dried beans, vegetables from my garden and so forth for about a dollar a person. The most expensive food in the grocery store is meat. I think that it is very economical if you do it right. You can also, though, as I said, eat from the dollar menus. This brings on all kinds of costs, as we both noted.

    On the next point, I will agree that engaged, critical thinking is often in limited supply across the board. I have been involved with different progressive, political communities since I was 16, though, and I never met one that argued as much as the vegans. :D

    On to your next point, well, it may be referenced but does that mean that people followed it? I am very familiar with Genesis 1:29 and I tell people about it when they tell me that God gave us some special covenant with the animals, an agreement that it was okay to eat them. Besides all this, weren't the Essene's vegan? Oh, and the whole point here is that it isn't relevant to me whether or not there was a vegan culture historically. What matters to me is that we can do it now.

    On the last point, this wasn't intended to criticize Native Americans but the people who cherry-pick what suits them from native cultures. I find that despicable and exploitative, really.

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

  3. Excellent article! On the topic of of Native Americans; here's a very interesting article 'Native Americans and Vegetarianism' written by a part Choctaw woman.

  4. Good read and thank you for it. I do disagree on one small point though. On #3, I would say that the only thing all vegans agree on is that we personally won't eat animal products. People may have different reasons for this, and some might believe it's okay to kill animals for other reasons, or for others to kill and eat them (although I hope we could all agree we don't have a right to abuse them). Anyway, in the end, all vegans can really only agree that we're vegans, and actually, now that I write this sentence, I'm thinking we might not even all agree on that either because we can disagree over the very definition of "vegan." Does it only include diet, or does it include attire? Does it include honey? What about yeast, which some consider to be an animal? So maybe there's really nothing that 100% of vegans can agree on.

  5. Thank you, "Unknown." I will look into that article. I appreciate it!

  6. See, "Anonymous," it's exactly that thought process that kept me from saying that we all abstain from animal products. It is not so cut-and-dried for some. Some vegans wear their leather shoes until they wear out; some eat bee products but otherwise avoid animal products. Some people don't think you are vegan if you will eat food that is cooked on an all-purpose grill. I think that even with the statement that we do not use animal products, there are still a mountain of things to disagree on, as you seem to have discovered on your own. :D

  7. EXCELLENT, EXCELLENT, EXCELLENT article!!! I really dug it!! As to your #1 about the expensive of vegan food, I was at the premiere of Forks Over Knives where Rip Esselstyn's response to a question about the expense was "How much do rice & beans cost?" I loved that answer!
    As to your 3# about veganism asa a cult or "group-think" you may enjoy my post called "Veganism Is Not A Religion" under the "Articles" category on my website

  8. Great article. I'd just like to add something a friend of mine pointed out a while back, which falls under the "world isn't perfect" point: that animals and insects are often killed in the harvesting of grains and vegetables, either by pesticides or machinery or what not...

  9. I have nothing against Vegans, they can eat whatever they like, but dislike when some (and they are few) judge me for being a meat eater. I suppose in some countries eating meat supports an industry where many animals are forced to live in tiny pens, injected with growth hormones and fed all sorts of junk. My case is entirely different. I grew up on a farm where cattle were raised on wild pastures. They have 5000 ha to roam on and come and go as they please. Every year a small portion of these animals are sold to the parlor for cash and an even smaller portion is slaughtered to serve our daily needs. Where I live, water is scarce. To grow crops is very expensive and so is importing it. I cannot eat grass which can grow easily in this climate, but the bovid can. I have access to that energy in the grass via the bovid. When someone attacks me for causing global warming for eating meat, I say, consider this: to grow crops, you have to clear large areas of natural vegetation/habitats to make way for plant types that we can digest(the energy loss in conversion from plant to animal is greatest) - we spray pesticides, herbicides and all sorts of substances that leach into waterways that affect aquatic environments too. Cattle can utilise natural vegetation (at least in my case) and displace relatively fewer wild animals/insects (although when over-grazing occurs they too cause great damage). Now I say this not to try and prove that Vegans cause habitat destruction more than meateaters do, but to point out that there are several demensions on the matter and that eating meat is not neccissarily the worst on an ecological/environmental perspective. I think, that whether or not we will eat more meat or plants in the future is immaterial if we do not adress the root of the problem: over population and general gluttony. Eventually, even if we all become herbivores, the space available for us to cultivate land is limited. I do think that as we are already over populated, it would be best for the world if most people became vegetarian/vegan - but I think there can be exceptions.

  10. A myth I often encounter, probably too obvious to have mentioned is in being vegan/vegetarian, there isn't any enjoyment in food. A lot of my peers don't consider this lifestyle solely based on this reason, its sad.

  11. lol last anonymous i agree completely but i have a hard time proving them wrong since i enjoy bland food. :) i aggree completly with the article and #8 was really well written good job! thats a point that really gets to me! i allso hate it whene ppl say that animals a made to serve us.

  12. 5. Historically, there has never been a vegan culture. WRONG!!
    There has been vegan cultures in many parts of the world. You should do some research before writing such stuff. Because there are still vegan tribes and communities living around the world.
    But non-vegan and quick to point out they are not vegan anymore just because a few of them have started eating meat or dairy.
    One of them is Brok-pa of The Himalayas. It was only after Buddhist(who eat meat) and Muslim influence(Invasion) did that region start eating meat. An Indian newspaper had this online on their website. But I think it was remove as a lot of people may have complained based on a research done by a person on that entire region AND NOT on the particular tribe and did not take into account their history and testimonies. Its not surprising because even vegans have "enthusiastically" quoted this research when the links were posted.
    They did not bother to understand that the entire are has Muslims Buddhists living who eat meat.
    Please read.

    Also the Oran Asli tribes of Malaysia are vegan.(Yet again a few of them have started eating meat due to modern/external influence)
    There is a Kohl Tribe who live in the Forests of Easter Orissa(eastern India) who are Raw Vegan. Not only Vegan.

    Markus Rothkranz Speaks about various raw vegan tribes in Africa who live only on raw fruits and have never been sick a day in their life. Their ancestry goes back to more than 5000 years.
    Also there is a vegan community in Papua New Guinea who live solely on roots.(yes there are others who eat a little fish, but this particular tribe only lives on roots).
    Then The Gladiators of Rome were vegan.

    I think you should do more research before actually accepting such arguments as valid and then trying to argue against it.
    You argument against is good, but the claim that historically there are never been a vegan culture is simply untrue.

    My own native place when I went on a cycle expedition some 18 years ago. I found it so hard to get tea(with milk) because people simply did not own cows. Only the rich owned cows. Other were naturally vegan.
    The sweets till today are made of coconut milk.(but now being fast replaced my cows milk because of convenience).

    Even though there are meat eating communities(influenced by Christians and Muslims and Hunting communities) the meat they eat can hardly be called a culture.
    Some of them only eat meat once or twice a year which in any science will not support them nutritionally.
    The vegetarian communities have been naturally vegan for years.
    There are many places in India where Milk was never consumed for thousands of years.
    The milk consumption only started due to the "White revolution"(a program started by the Indian govt and the Dairy industry) where they switched to plastic bags for packing milk and the aim was to make milk reach each and every village.
    My own friends never got milk regularly I remember one of college mates being poor that they never drank tea or coffee only when they had a guest they would get milk from the shop.
    Nobody in his area would regularly buy milk. Ironically 5 years alter when the "White revolution" hit his area he became the milk dealer and he told me in less than 2 years each and ever house was purchasing atleast 1 packet of milk.
    This was a very backward area and it seems the first thing they did as soon as they got money diet-wise was to start drinking milk and eating more meat.!!!.

  13. Great article! Maybe you have seen the "Vegan Myths Debunked" song that my partner and I made?

    If you haven't, try it out if you like

  14. Love this article. I couldn't agree more with #10 someone with an anthropology degree. Do people even know what they mean when they say "Native Americans?" This word encompasses thousands and thousands of different tribes with varying beliefs and practices. Some of these tribes were incredibly violent and warring. Some were peaceful. Some barely ate any meat. Some ate more. There's plenty of indigenous tribes around the world that ate little or no meat. There's also some tribes that made regular practice of wife beating. Encompassing all indigenous tribes as more spiritual or respectful by assumption, and pretending to follow that part makes me crazy.

  15. I think the point that was being made earlier about Gen1:29 is that it supports the idea that God originally intended humans to be vegan. It was after the flood that GOd then told humans they could eat animals as well.

    From Genesis 1
    29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

    From Genesis 9
    9 Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. 2 The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. 3 Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.

    I'm an athiest vegan myself, but do we really have to sneer at Christians as ridiculous for quoting the Bible in support of veganism? All humans are pretty ridiculous really, in one way or another.

  16. What is wrong with pooping in a hole in the ground!? I think that is way better than what we do now. Yeah, don't step in a fresh hole. But other than that it is direct fertilization and with a bit of right circumstances a new tree or plant starts.

  17. The previous comment was meant to be a response to the first comment that claimed that in "the West" veganism is more expensive.

  18. This is great! Thank you for sharing. Maybe I can email this directly to detractors in the future. I also like the name of your blog - as a fellow vegan feminist, I look forward to checking out more of your posts :)

  19. Thank you, Veggy Christian! I appreciate it.

  20. Hi, Debby Sunshine (I love your name)! Thanks for your comments and I look forward to reading your blog. You are right: veganism does not have to be expensive. Illness almost always is costly, though.

  21. Thank you, Anonymous. You right: animals are killed in the harvesting of grains. This is very sad. More grain is used to feed the animals we ultimately kill for our food, though, so eliminating the "middle man" is a humane choice even from this perspective. We can all only do our best. Finding justifications because the world isn't perfect isn't being proactive about creating positive change.

  22. Thank you, Boskind. I will respectfully disagree because a large percentage of the plants grown, by and large, to feed the massive amount of "live stock" people eat each year - and the pesticides and chemicals that are indeed leaching into our waterways are due to our insatiable desire for animal protein. The U.N., hardly a radical environmental group, has called animal agriculture the single biggest cause of water pollution, water scarcity, global warming, etc. This is not new. People want to think that their diet is the exception. The problem is that nearly everyone thinks this way and behaves accordingly. I agree that there is harm inflicted in nearly everything human's touch but this becomes a justification for destructive habits. We *all* need to minimize harm, that's for sure.

  23. Rawraj, if you will read what I wrote, you will see that it does not matter to me whether there was a vegan culture historically or not. The point is that we can do it now. That is the beginning and end of my argument. If scattered tribes here and there were vegan, well, good on them! :)

  24. Thank you, Ivory! We are big fans of your song in our house! Thank you guys for doing that. What fun!

  25. Oh, Anonymous, thank you so much! It drives me bonkers when people create this cartoonish image of "all Native Americans" as one tribe, probably looking like that guy from the anti-pollution campaign in the 1970s. Makes me twitchy!

  26. Hi, Quiet Vegan - thank you. I'm not sure who was sneering at Christian vegans, though...

  27. Thanks, Anonymous! Nothing is wrong with pooping in a hole, per se. What I am referring to is cherry-picking attributes one likes from "Native American culture" to imbue one's life with pseudo-spirituality.

  28. Thank you, Anonymous! In the U.S., thankfully, it is still darn inexpensive to eat simple, wholesome plant foods, too.

  29. Thank you, JJJ! Nice to meet you!

  30. Could I just ad that most companies who provide soy for people are very ethical? I think the soy I eat is French as well as carbon-neutrally produced (but I dont't have a packet in my refrigerator so I can't check. It's non gm and organic, the only thing I feel guilty about is the plastic packet. I eat it twice a week, and twice a week tempeh. And it was good to read that all vegans disagree. I find I am as likely to agree with some meat eaters as with some vegans. But those meat eaters often turn at least vegetarian after seeing me eat. Because it looks so good ;). And deep down a lot of people feel uneasy about it. That's where the aggressive comments probably come from, but they still make me sad!

  31. Hey Marla, This is a wonderful article and I really appreciate this websites goal to spread the word about veganism and feminism. I hear meat eaters mention these things all the time, and it is incredibly tiresome. I most often hear the misconception about vegans lacking protein. This article is a great resource to share with people who have the wrong idea about being vegan. This article I read about exposing vegan myths is interesting as well, it's another good resource for a person who is considering veganism to check out. I will most definitely be sharing your article with my carnivore friends on my Facebook page. Thank you so much for writing this :) Keep it up!


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