Some frequently asked questions
Is veganism healthy? Humans can be very healthy on a plant-based diet, but not if it’s a diet of only vegan potato chips. As with all changes to your diet, you should consider that you’ll need to plan what you eat and consult a vegan-friendly doctor or other health professional if you have concerns.[ii]
What are good, plant-based sources of B12, iron, zinc, calcium and protein? Typically, all of these dietary needs can be met with plant-based foods and fortified non-dairy, vegan milks (e.g, soy, rice, nut milks) or other fortified foods. Some cereals also have high percentages of daily nutritional requirements. See the Additional Resources section for more information.
Is animal agriculture necessary for the environment? It’s not. Many human societies have gotten along fine without agriculture altogether, and it’s simple to grow plants using vegan permaculture. Institutionalized animal use is not necessary for the environment, and in fact, intensive animal agriculture is a key source of pollution.[iii]
Is veganism compatible with human rights? Yes. The animal rights position applies to human beings as well (humans are animals, too) and animal rights activists should oppose human animal slavery as much as nonhuman animal slavery.[iv]
Can’t I just be vegetarian? By continuing to use animal products, vegetarians still contribute to the substantial exploitation and suffering of nonhuman animals. Furthermore, there is no meaningful moral difference between milk and meat. Cows and hens are still killed when they are no longer “useful” (i.e. no longer profitable enough) and using them at all reflects their legal status as property. Taking the rights of animals seriously means adopting veganism.[v]
Are free range animal products acceptable? No, “free range”, “free run”, “humane”, “cage-free” or other similarly marketed animal products still involve animal exploitation and suffering, and so, are not vegan.[vi]
What about wool, silk, leather and other products? Vegans don’t use animal products when it is possible and practical to avoid doing so. That goes for silk, wool, leather, glycerin, animal-derived mono- and diglycerides and other avoidable animal products.
Is honey acceptable? No, bees are animals, bees produce honey, and honey is, therefore, an animal product. Vegans do not exploit animals and so do not use bee products, including royal jelly, beeswax, propolis or other bee products.
What about sugar? Refined cane sugars are sometimes bleached with animal bone charcoal. Many manufacturers are phasing out this process. If in doubt contact the company. Organic cane sugar, beet sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, agave syrup, brown rice syrup, maple syrup and stevia are some alternatives to bleached cane sugar.
What are “micro-ingredients” and what about shared equipment? Foods are often produced intentionally with small amounts of animal products in them. Many foods have certain amounts of unintentional animal matter in them (typically insects, dairy from shared factory equipment, etc.). Veganism is not a matter of personal purity; but it includes avoiding acts that contribute to the demand for animal exploitation and suffering. It is typically excusable to eat products produced on shared factory equipment. It is typically not excusable to eat products that are intentionally produced with animal-based ingredients, even in small amounts.
What are common animal-derived ingredients? Not all animal ingredients are obviously named. For example, whey, casein, albumen, propolis, Vitamin D3, and l-cysteine are all animal-derived. Mono- and diglycerides, glycerine, stearates, and other ingredients may be animal derived depending on the source. Best to check with the manufacturer to determine if a product is vegan.
Are medications or medical procedures acceptable? Animals, including human beings, have an interest in avoiding pain and continuing their lives. Veganism doesn’t mean martyring oneself due to medical issues that require drugs currently only made using animal testing and/or animal ingredients. If there are vegan alternatives to medications with animal ingredients or to those tested on animals, then use the alternatives if it is advisable to do so. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor questions. But it is generally considered excusable to use medications or medical procedures when it’s not possible or practical to avoid them. It is, however, sometimes possible and practical to avoid medications with unnecessary animal ingredients. Look into compounding pharmacies to have medications prepared without the lactose, gelatin or other animal-derived ingredients that may normally be in your medication.[vii]
Are cosmetics, cleaning and personal care products tested on nonhuman animals acceptable? For the most part, you should avoid products that are tested on animals if it’s possible and practical to do so. But keep in mind that some types of products must be tested by law, and that in some places even the municipal water supply has been tested on animals. Vegans avoid unnecessary animal-tested products. Water is necessary, Mr. Clean is not. You should avoid, for example, household cleaners, soaps, shampoos, toothpastes, deodorants, makeup and other products tested on animals or containing animal ingredients. Check your local health food store for vegan products. Vinegar and baking soda make good, vegan alternatives to nonvegan household cleaners, and even to some personal care products.
What about the circus, zoos, horseback riding, flea circuses, guard dogs, seeing eye dogs and so on? Zoos, circuses, films with live animal “actors”, hayrides, horseback riding, flea circuses and other forms of animal use involve the exploitation of animals and are generally not acceptable to vegans. It doesn’t matter whether the animal involved gets some pleasure from the activity or not; those types of arguments miss the point. Horses can exercise without carrying a human on their back, dogs can play games with their guardians without being entered in competitions or shows, and so on. The point is that animals cannot consent to be used, and so, their use is morally wrong for the same reasons that child labor, even if the child were to enjoy it, would be morally wrong.[viii]
But aren’t plants, bacteria or fungi sentient? There is no evidence that plants (e.g. tomatoes), bacteria (e.g. non-dairy yogurt cultures) or fungi (e.g. yeast, mushrooms) are sentient in terms of their capability to feel pain, suffer or experience exploitation. They do not have any nerves, central nervous systems or brains the way that animals do.[ix]
What about companion animals? Helping to adopt and to care for a domesticated nonhuman animal already in existence is one of the most important things you can do for them. However, the “pet” industry is morally wrong. Vegans should not contribute to bringing new domesticated animals into existence (e.g. buying animals from breeders or “pet” stores, breeding them yourself, and so on), but giving a home and good care to a domesticated animal in need is the morally right thing to do. If you cannot adopt a nonhuman yourself, consider volunteering for a no-kill shelter or making a donation to an abolitionist animal sanctuary.[x]
Do I have to be vegan while traveling? Yes. Veganism is increasingly common internationally. Find local vegan alternatives wherever you go, and remember to plan ahead.
Yes, yes, but what about alcohol? Many alcohols are vegan. Beer, wine and spirits are sometimes filtered with bone char, isinglass, albumen or other animal products. Consult the producer or do an online search to see if a reliable source has already determined if a product is vegan. Barnivore is one online resource to consult.
Do I have to be anti-abortion to be vegan? Of course not. Taking seriously all animals’ rights not to be used as property includes taking seriously a human woman’s right not to be used as an incubator against her will.[xi]
Are the concepts of veganism and animal rights intolerant and elitist? No. Feminists are critical of rape, and they should be. Anti-racists are critical of lynchings, and they should be. Abolitionist vegans are critical of unnecessary animal use, and they should be. No rational person believes that the abolition of human slavery during the nineteenth century was ‘intolerant’ or ‘elitist’ toward plantation owners, and neither is the abolition of nonhuman animal slavery ‘intolerant’ or ‘elitist’ toward those who still use animals today.
Oh, no! I have a question not covered!! If you are not sure about whether to use an animal for labor or to use an animal product, start by assuming that all animal use is not justified or excusable. There are exceptions when it is necessary and the use is impossible or impractical to avoid (e.g., even sidewalks, bus, bike or car tires can be made with animal products, serious medications, etc). But it is important to understand that you should also avoid all uses that you reasonably can. Be sure to see the endnotes to this document, the Additional Resources section as well as http://www.abolitionistapproach.com/faqs/
Where can I find more vegan alternatives for food, cleaning and hygiene products?
For food, your local grocery store may carry alternatives. If not, your local health food store will. If you don’t have a local health food store and your grocery doesn’t carry alternatives, you can always buy products online and have them shipped to you, or make them yourself. Keep in mind that fresh produce, grains and legumes are healthy, inexpensive and easy to procure, and can usually form the basis of a balanced vegan diet on their own. Common alternatives for dairy include soy, almond, cashew, oat and rice milks, as well as soy ice cream, rice ice cream, soy yogurt and several brands of vegan cheeses. Common alternatives for meats include seitan (wheat meat), tempeh, tofu, vegan burgers, vegan hotdogs, etc. Common alternatives for eggs include tofu (for scramble, “eggless” salad, etc.), and flax seed, bananas, or powdered egg replacer for baking. Vegan cleaning products and personal care products can be found at most health food stores. For cleaning products, vinegar, baking soda and other natural cleaners can also be very effective and inexpensive, without leaving chemical residues. For cosmetics and personal hygiene products, use the Internet to find out which local brands provide vegan alternatives (and you can also use vinegar and baking soda for such things as washing hair and brushing teeth – really!).
Where can I learn more about vegan cooking?
There are many vegan cookbooks on the market, available from Amazon and other online book sellers, as well as many vegan cooking blogs, Web sites with product information, lists of vegan alchohol and recipe databases on the Internet. Some handy ones:
*Please note, these sites are provided for your reference only, and their mention is not an endorsement of all of their business practices, products, management, and so on, nor is their mention an endorsement of every position each author or blog may express. Not all people who self-identify as “vegans” believe that veganism is a moral imperative (although they should).
I’m ready! But how will I deal with difficult social situations as the picture of politeness??
As a new vegan, it may feel difficult to deal with certain tense social situations. That’s normal. Being vegan is easy, but dealing with non-vegans isn’t always. This guide provides a few helpful tips, but always remember that being firm but polite in standing up for your values is the best way to behave yourself socially. If other people don’t understand that, they’re the ones being rude. Veganism is not weird, difficult, elitist, intolerant or extreme. It’s nontraditional, but it’s also compassionate, and often healthy and environmentally friendly.
How do I tell my parents, spouse, coworkers or children that I’m vegan and how do I deal with family/friends? Forthrightly. Just explain that you take the right of nonhuman animals not to be used as property seriously, and that veganism is the simplest and easiest way for you to do so. It’s sometimes emotionally difficult to refuse food made with animal products from friends and relatives. Just be firm but polite, offer to bring your own vegan dish, to do some cooking, to share recipes, and do your best to be patient when educating others about veganism.
How should I answer questions if I’m unsure about the answers? Honestly. If someone asks a question to which you don’t know the answer, just tell them that you don’t know the answer to that question. Ask them why they want to know, and then tell them what you do know: that animals are sentient and have a right not to be used as property, that veganism is important to that, and so on.
How do I respond to rude remarks or tell someone to stop pestering me with dumb questions? Politely. Many people will ask you a lot of silly questions: “If animals eat meat, why can’t we??” Some people will be outright rude: “For every steak you don’t eat, I’m going to eat three!” Sometimes questions are sincere, but sometimes, they reflect an intolerant and oafish (no offense to oafs) effort to make fun of your beliefs. There’s no reason to give them the negative attention they’re seeking from you. Sometimes the best approach is simply to ask politely why they aren’t vegan. Turn the conversation to your advantage without responding to rudeness with more rudeness.
What is most important to know is that these challenges are only small impediments on your road to change. If anyone can change, you can.
Where can I go to find additional resources?
For additional dietary and nutrition information, your best sources are books devoted to plant-based nutrition written by health professionals, not the Internet. Some suggestions include Becoming Vegan* by Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina and T. Colin Campbell’s The China Study.* If you have any concerns, consult with a doctor or other health professional (preferably one familiar with veganism; most general practitioners receive very little training in nutrition and some may be misinformed about it just like other people).
For online communities, there are many other online communities, but Vegan Freaks and the Abolitionist Approach are among the best and most welcoming of vegans who take animal rights seriously. For more information about how you can help nonhuman animals if you cannot adopt (or even if you can, but want to help other nonhuman animals as well), please visit Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary Web site at www.peacefulprairie.org. To learn more about animal rights and veganism, please visit abolitionistapproach.com or animalemancipation.com.
*Again, these suggestions are provided for your reference only, and their mention is not an endorsement of every position each author may express.
Next in this Guide:
[iii] Desrochers, Pierre and Hiroko Shimzu. “Yes We Have No Bananas: A Critique of the Food Miles Perspective.” Mercatus Policy Series Policy Primer, No. 8. Arlington, VA: Mercatus Center at George Mason University, October 2008.
The paper is also available electronically: