What’s the beef with veganism?

Our contributor dispels misconceptions about vegans

Vegans don’t eat any animal products, making vegetables an important part of their diet.
Vegans don’t eat any animal products, making vegetables an important part of their diet.

Stephany Doucette, ArtSci ’15

I’m worried that I won’t have enough to eat this Thanksgiving.

I’m a vegan, and it’s not just the turkey I’ll be missing, but also the pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, stovetop stuffing, ‘creamed’ spinach, candied yams and rice pudding.

It’s the first North American holiday I’m missing while here in Lyon, France, and my exchange program has set up a get-together for the approximately 60 Ontario students currently going to school in the Rhône Alps region. To combat our homesickness, a turkey dinner will be provided.

As the holiday approaches, I’ve been looking for recipes that I can make without an oven in my residence. The most common question I’ve gotten while here in France is, “what do you eat?”

One of the biggest misconceptions about vegans is that we don’t get enough protein. In North America, it’s easy to maintain a diet like a meat-eater’s, with vegan versions of meat, butter and dairy products, and even egg substitutes for baking.

Something liberating about France is that there aren’t as many processed meat substitutes to rely on. I began experimenting with beans and lentils, combining them with market-fresh vegetables and artisan breads with grains and seeds in them.

A vegan diet can be a very healthy one, though it does require you to be very conscious of what nutrition is in the food you eat. It also requires a lot of attention to ingredients when buying food, and especially going out to eat.

But this mindfulness towards what you eat isn’t only done by vegans. There are tons of people who refuse to eat lamb and veal, or choose free-range eggs because of the conditions in which animals are kept. Some people choose to eat mostly organic food because of the various impacts of pesticides ― the list goes on and on.

There are even French citizens who refuse to eat foie gras, a French delicacy, because of the force-feeding process that’s used.

Many people choose to restrict their diets, but in my opinion, vegans are particularly stigmatized, likely because they choose to eliminate so many popular foods from their diet. And because they eliminate so much from their diet, people have decided that vegans think they’re better than everyone else.

I will admit that being vegan takes a lot of conviction. It’s similar to a religion in that you have to believe in the validity of what you’re doing for it to work for you.

Because of this, there are people who are very passionate about their beliefs. With anything people feel strongly about, there’s a chance of a conversation on the topic turning into a heated debate.

One problem I have is sounding haughty when talking about the vegan lifestyle. It’s hard to say something like: “I could drive an SUV and you could bike everywhere and I’d still have less of a negative impact on the environment than you,” without sounding arrogant towards the meat-eater you’re speaking with.

Like with any strong conviction, it’s hard to express yourself in an unbiased way, and everyone does so differently, some to the detriment of their cause.

From my experience, there also tends to be a complete unwillingness for many omnivores to listen to anything about being vegan. I’ve had people ask me why I’m vegan, and then become offended when I tell them facts about the lifestyle.

I think it’s also hard to for some people to hear about veganism because it seems like such a good choice, but also one that would be impossible to follow.

I'd been vegetarian since age 11, and decided to go vegan about two and a half years ago. I made the choice to be a vegan after watching a video on factory farming. I'd seen films about meat production before, but this touched on dairy and eggs, fur farming and poaching. What I saw seemed terrible.

A couple of people I knew were doing a week or month long "vegan challenge," which involves eating a vegan diet for just a short amount of time to see what it's like. When I first entertained the thought of becoming vegan, I told myself I'd just try it out for two weeks and see how I felt after that. I survived, and found it really interesting and exciting, so I decided that I could make it a permanent decision.

Even if it seems like a friend can see where you’re coming from, they sometimes get frustrated when you can’t find something to eat while out with them. But the reality is that it can be very difficult for vegans to find an option they can eat ― a fact that is especially true in France.

Most days, I’ve gone hungry until we come back to our residence building, instead of dragging my friends around to get fries from an overly expensive Quick Burger or McDonald’s, or look for a Subway (yes, they have a vegan option in Europe, too ― it’s called a “steak végétarien” in France). Luckily though, I have friends here that would wander around with me if I asked them to.

I’m trying to dispel some stigmas about being vegan. We get plenty of protein, it’s an ethical decision that requires a conscious effort when buying food, we’re not all rude and it’s not impossible, even in Europe.

So, next time you meet a vegan, instead of asking them what they can possibly eat, ask them for a great recipe or about the weather, or really about anything. But you don’t need to concern yourself with what nutrients are in their diet.


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