4 misconceptions about veganism and vegans

There are tons of misconceptions and prejudices about veganism and vegans, here are four that seem to keep popping up:

1. Vegans eat only salad
There’s so much plant-based foods out there, and so much you can do with these foods, still many people believe vegans eat only salad. Vegans eat tons of vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts and seeds, but also plant-based meats, cheeses, yoghurt, ice-creams etc. Contrary to what many people believe being vegan is hardly limiting. I write about vegan foods in the ongoing “What do vegans eat?”-series.

2. Veganism is a diet
Many people have during the years thought I’m a vegan as a way of keeping myself slim and healthy, that it’s a diet just as any other. But veganism is not a diet, for most vegans it’s a lifestyle that includes so much more than just eating healthy food. It’s an ethical decision made out of compassion for animals and humans and a concern for the environment. That it’s healthy is more of an extra plus for most vegans.

3. Vegans are weak and skinny
I’m not a very big person, and some people give veganism the credit for that. And maybe it plays a role in the fact that I don’t really gain weight even though I eat more than a lot of people who I know, but far from all vegans are skinny. Being vegan doesn’t either mean that you are weak, there are a lot of vegan athletes out there (not to forget the world’s strongest man is a vegan!), and building muscle mass on a vegan diet is not really a problem.

4. It’s difficult to be vegan
Just as any life change, becoming vegan is hard. You have to change habits and routines and learn new ways. You have to encounter social situations and answer questions. But once you’re over the initial phase, it gets easier, and eventually it’s not hard at all. For me, the difficulties were never really a big concern, even as a new vegan, because the reason I chose to do it was so much bigger than me. If I would have done it for myself only, maybe I would not have stuck to it, but since I’m doing it for a bigger cause (animals, humans and environment) it’s so much easier.

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Who said vegans need to be weak and skinny?

So the news about Patrik Baboumian,  the vegan strongman who lifted the record-breaking 550 kg at Toronto’s Vegetarian Food Festival last weekend, has been all over the place recently. I always get happy when people break stereotypes about veganism, such as the one that vegans are always weak and skinny, and that you need to eat meat to be big and muscular. It’s simply not true, and Patrik Baboumian is the latest one to show us that. You can be big and strong and at the same time compassionate, they don’t contradict each other.

Baboumian said about his awakening to what we do towards animals: “One day, I just thought, if you see a bird with a broken leg, you really have the urge to do something about it and help the bird. Then, at the same time, you go to a restaurant and eat a chicken or something. It doesn’t make any sense.

Cow’s milk is not the source of calcium

If someone would ask you where you get calcium from, you would most likely answer cow’s milk. We are told to drink cow’s milk to get our calcium, and it almost seems like there is no other source of this nutrient. That’s of course not true.

Calcium is a mineral that can be found in the ground. The cow’s natural feed is grass, so she gets the calcium through the grass and passes it on to her baby through her milk. In other words, calcium  is not derived from the cow’s milk itself but from the ground, which means that we don’t need to drink cow’s milk or eat other dairy products to get calcium, even though persistent advertisement from the dairy industry has led us to believe that. We might as well get the calcium straight from the source through plants.

Plants rich in calcium are for example:
Broccoli
Tofu
Garlic
Sesame seeds, almonds, brazil nuts
Green leafy vegetables such as turnip, kale, mustard,  collard greens, dandelion greens, spinach

If you’re on a plant-based diet, the amount of calcium that you need is also less than if you eat a lot of animal-based protein. This is because a diet based on a lot of animal protein will actually lead to that your body uses a lot of the calcium you take in. Animal protein is very acidic, and to balance this your body will withdraw calcium from you bones, so to keep you bones healthy you then have to consume higher amounts of calcium. Because of this, getting you calcium mainly from dairy products, as the recommendations today say, is quite contra productive, since the dairy products themselves are high in acidic animal protein.

So stop obsessing over drinking those glasses of milk every day and start getting your calcium from plants instead, folks!

Do we need veganism when there are ecologically raised animals?

A few days ago I ended up reading the comments of a random blog, through checking the reviews of a book. The comments (and the post) discussed the trustworthiness of the China Study, and some comments were made about vegans and veganism.

One person commented that there is no longer a need for the term “ethical veganism” because there are ecologically raised animals today. Other comments also mentioned “humane” meat and stated that if vegans really cared about ethics they would eat this and “stop complaining”.

These people have certainly not understood what ethical veganism is about (and possibly not either what the actual difference between ecologically and non-ecologically raised animals – mainly their feed, not so much the way they are treated), because the problem with animals raised for consumption does not go away because you change their feed or “treat them well”. They are still our slaves and they still suffer, because the situation and environment we put them in is not their natural one. Even if animals are raised ecologically, they are still kept in the same kind of places, their bodies are still abused, their children are still taken away from them and they are still not seen as the living beings they are but as ways to make money.

So yes, the term “ethical veganism” is very much needed. Possibly even more because of statements like the ones these people made, because a lot of people have a very wrong idea of how an animal is “treated well”. If you treat someone well it should be on this beings terms, not on yours. If it is on yours, the being is a slave. And being a slave is not to be treated well. It doesn’t matter if you are walking on two legs or four, if you have wings, fins or arms, it’s still wrong.

I’m not perfect

Veganism is not about being perfect, it is not about keeping yourself “clean” from animal products, and it is certainly not about being better than other people. At least it shouldn’t be, and I hope that there are very few vegans that have this as their goal. For me being vegan is simply about saying no to something that you don’t approve of, to refuse to support something you think is wrong.

There are people out there who like to point out things that I don’t do well, things that other vegans don’t do well, or pointing out flaws that the vegan lifestyle has. Of course the vegan lifestyle is not perfect,  and vegans in general are not perfect either. I am certainly not perfect, but I don’t either claim to be. Just because it is not a perfect lifestyle that solve all problems, doesn’t mean that it is not a good lifestyle or that it is something that we shouldn’t follow or support.

We will never be perfect. That is not what it should be about, and I don’t want people to believe that that is what I’m striving for. Because I’m not. Yes, it would be great if I could be perfect, if I could do exactly everything right, if I could just know the perfect way of saving this horribly lost world that we live in. I can’t do that. But just because I can’t do everything, doesn’t mean I will not try to do anything at all.

I will try to do the best I can. Sometimes I will fail, sometimes I will do things that are wrong or things that I’m not proud of afterwards, but I will not stop trying to do what I believe is right. I don’t give up and close my eyes to everything that is wrong just because I can’t be perfect, and no one should.