Vegans are frequently asked various questions ranging from food, to health, to ethics and beyond. Sometimes these questions come from people who are genuinely interested, other times they come from people who are looking to “catch vegans out” in order to justify their own choices. For example, if they can get a vegan to admit they’d kill and eat an animal if they were stranded on a desert island, this somehow makes it okay for the person asking the question to consume animal products for pleasure, when they could easily choose a vegan option that doesn’t involve the killing of animals. Either way, it is good to have some sensible answers to these questions you are likely to encounter. Even if the person asking you is not genuinely interested in animal rights and veganism, there may be other people listening who might be, and giving sensible answers can really get people thinking seriously about veganism. Below we have provided some questions and arguments vegans frequently encounter and some quick possible responses. At the end, we have also provided some links to further sources that give answers to commonly asked questions about veganism and animal rights.
If you were stranded on a desert island would you eat meat?
Of course in this extreme and extremely unlikely situation some vegans may kill an animal, however, in the same situation people may also kill other people for food. This does not make it any more acceptable to kill humans for food when there is no requirement to do so, just as it does not make it more acceptable to kill animals for food when there is no requirement to do so.
Don’t you care about all the plants you are killing as a vegan?
Plants lack the central nervous system to feel pain so are not sentient like animals. If the person asking this question actually cares about plants (unlikely), a vegan diet actually is responsible for consuming fewer plants than an omnivorous one. Animal agriculture is very inefficient – it takes a lot of grain to be fed to animals to produce only a small amount of animal flesh (see “Why Vegan?” environment section).
Animals are killed in the production of plant-based foods, so why bother avoiding animal products?
As was mentioned in the last question, a vegan diet actually consumes fewer plant-based foods than an omnivorous one. And consuming foods that may incidentally lead to some animals being killed is certainly very different from directly contributed to animals deaths by eating their carcasses and by-products. Obviously vegans would be in favour of measures to avoid the incidental killing of animals to produce food. For more responses to this question, see here.
Where do you get your protein?
Too much protein is the problem in our society, rather than not enough. Overall, omnivores get way too much protein and vegans get a little bit too much. So vegans having a diet lower in protein actually brings them closer (though still usually over) to the ideal amount of protein. Protein should be the last nutrient you worry about, rather than the first.
But cows need to be milked.
All that vegans need to do to counter this is to simply ask ‘why?’. Cows need to be milked because they are impregnated and have their calf taken away from them, who is then killed for veal. Milk comes from a grieving mother. See the Why Vegan? For animals section for more on this.
Why not just strive for better treatment for the animals we consume?
The “humane” products people consume do not guarantee significantly better treatment than factory farmed or caged animal products – see the section ‘The Free-Range Myth’ on the Peaceful Prairie website: peacefulprairie.org. Even in some hypothetical situation where “humane” meat, dairy and egg products actually did significantly improve treatment and conditions, we are still placing our enjoyment of consuming animal products above the lives of animals. See the Why Vegan? For animals section for more on this.
Other animals kill each other for food, so why can’t we?
Other animals kill each other out of necessity, we kill animals for pleasure – so there is a big difference. Predators in the wild will not survive without killing other animals, whereas it is easy for humans to survive and thrive on a vegan diet.
I’m opposed to “frivolous” uses of animals such as for entertainment, but consuming animal products is different.
Animal products involve a similar amount of suffering to less accepted uses of animals – they suffer from pain, fear, confinement, sadness and of course they are slaughtered. Animal products are just as unnecessary as less accepted practises towards animals – they can all only be justified by the pleasure we get from their use. This is shown by the growing number of healthy vegans, as well as by organisations such as The American Dietetic Association. See the Why Vegan? For your health section for more on this.
Why won’t you make an exception and eat the meal I’ve made for you?
People would not expect someone who is allergic to dairy to eat dairy products, just as vegans should not be expected eat products they are not comfortable consuming.
What do you eat?
Most vegans eat a huge variety of food, from really obvious ones such as: fruit, vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts etc to not so obvious ones that many non-vegans might not think of eg: muffins, pancakes, burgers, pies, pizza, sausage rolls, popcorn, ice-cream, nachos…and so the list could go on and on.
I can’t focus on animals when there is so much human suffering.
What is consuming animals doing to address human suffering? Slaughterhouses are horrible places and the violence inflicted on animals inside slaughterhouses often flows into violence and drug abuse in wider society. It is very easy to be a vegan and not contribute to animal suffering in your daily life, while still attempting to reduce human suffering.
I eat animals because I can.
There are all kinds of horrible things human beings are capable of; this does not mean that we should. Whether we can do something is totally separate to whether we should.
Eating animals is traditional – we’ve always done it.
Although this argument has been used throughout history to justify so many different forms of oppression, it is lucky that not everyone accepted this argument. Otherwise we’d still have institutionalised slavery, only males voting and so on. If tradition causes suffering, it should be challenged, rather than blindly accepted.
You’re so brave and strong to make such a big sacrifice by going vegan – being a vegan must be so hard.
Rather than veganism being the most people can do to take animal interests seriously, it is actually the least. Once you oppose animal exploitation, the least you can do to oppose this exploitation is to not directly participate in this exploitation by demanding products of exploitation. Going vegan is not actually that difficult and can be done by anyone regardless of age, income etc. There are so many foods that can be eaten, clothes that can be worn, and entertainment to watch that does not involve animals.
The animal is already dead so why not eat the meat?
Of course it is true that the animal on the plate is already dead, but why has it been killed? It has been killed because people demand animal products. By refusing to eat or otherwise consume animal products, vegans send the message that it is not acceptable to kill animals for pleasure and reduce the demand for animal products (which means fewer animals are killed).
Animals don’t feel pain.
Of course anyone who has lived with a companion animal knows this is totally ridiculous. From your companion animal alone, this sentience is clear, you can see that the animal has an individual personality, feels pain, excitement, fear, enjoyment etc. Although most people don’t live with animals such as cows and pigs, if you spent even a few minutes with these animals it is clear that their sentience is similarly obvious.
All the vegans I’ve ever seen are thin, pail and sickly.
Vegans come in all shapes and sizes. It is very easy to get all the nutrients you need on a vegan diet. Of course, it is likely that there are some vegans out there who fit the description of being thin, pail and sickly, just as there are plenty of omnivores out there who would fit that description. There are also many, many vegans who don’t fit this description, for example, check out www.veganbodybuilding.com.
Don’t you miss “insert animal product”?
There are many vegans who do not miss animal products – quite the opposite. When you choose to see your meal as a someone, rather than a something, you’ll probably find you’re your perspective of the food product changes. What is clear though, whether vegans miss animal products or not, they have made a choice that they will not make an animal suffer fear, pain and death simply to satisfy their taste when there are an endless amount of great tasting vegan foods to choose from.
Is (human) breast milk/semen vegan?
Yes – with these “animal products” there is consent and nobody is exploited in these products. Hypothetically, if a group of female humans was forced to be confined, continually made pregnant, have their babies taken away from them and killed, and continually milked to serve other people (what happens to dairy cows), of course this would not be ethical. However, a mother voluntarily giving milk to her own baby is not – just as a cow feeding her own baby cow milk is not unethical.
What’s wrong with honey?
Bees produce honey for bees, just as cows produce milk for cows. It is only through a speciesist logic that we can assume that it is acceptable for us to steal the honey from bees. Honey, just like cow’s milk, is an obvious example of exploitation – selfishly using an animal for our own ends when we have no need at all to do so.
What about insects?
Firstly, even if insects shouldn’t be provided with the right not to be used, this does not compromise our obligation to animals such as cows, pigs, chickens, cats and dogs. Insect sentience is less clear than in other animals, however, why not give insects the “benefit of the doubt”? While some harm to insects may be inevitable (like accidentally stepping on ants), there is suffering caused to insects that we can easily avoid (such as avoiding products such as honey, silk and cochineal).
What about “pests” such as cane toads?
Even if it was acceptable to kill “pests” such cane toads for environmental reasons, this would not make it any more acceptable to kill animals such as pigs, cows and chickens who are bred so we can eat them and their products.
What about indigenous people living traditionally? They kill animals.
This has nothing to do with whether or not it is acceptable for us to use and kill animals in Western societies. Indigenous people living traditionally and killing animals (a very small number compared to current Western consumption) is very different to people living in Western societies and buying dairy milk from one aisle rather than buying soy milk from the next, or buying meat from one aisle, rather than walking to the next aisle and buying mock meat/tofu/lentils/chickpeas etc.
I don’t want to eat a diet high in soy/I’m allergic to soy.
A vegan diet does not have to contain high amounts of soy, or even soy at all. It is easy to get all the nutrients you need on a vegan diet while consuming very little soy, or no soy at all. There are so many other plant-based foods that contain protein, iron and other nutrients found in soy.
Veganism is too expensive.
Yes, some vegan foods are expensive, such as some mock meats and other processed foods, however, even these are likely to be cheaper than “humane” animal products. We do not need to eat these foods to get all the nutrients we need and there are so many cheap vegan foods – fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, etc. It is easy to get all the nutrients you need as a vegan on a low-income.
Where do you get your iron?
There are many plant-based foods that are rich in iron (chickpeas, lentils, nuts etc). Consuming foods or drinks with vitamin C in conjunction with iron-rich foods can increase the absorption of iron.
Further resources for FAQs about veganism and animal rights:
Just google ‘vegan faqs’ for a huge amount of resources to help you come up with answers to the questions you are likely to get from friends, family and colleagues. Here are some sources we’d like to specifically recommend:
- But You Kill Ants by John Waddell provides answers to 100 objections to veganism and vegetarianism. You can buy this book at sites such as crueltyfreeshop.com.au – just click on ‘books/dvds’ then ‘Non-fiction’.
- The Vegetarian: Food for Thought podcast has many episodes that explore these commonly asked questions: http://www.compassionatecooks.com/podcast.htm