Five Myths About Going Vegetarian or Vegan

by: Mariann Devlin

I know a lot of people who respect the ethical decision to be a vegetarian or vegan but don’t believe they can actually do it. Not true! As someone who first dedicated herself to vegetarianism when she was 12 (unsuccessfully), and as a relatively new vegan, let me take this opportunity to dispell some common myths about going meat or dairy free.

1. You Can’t Eat Meat and Dairy

You’re not going to hear this from many vegetarians or vegans, but you’ll hear this advice from me. It’s also my first piece of advice — because its the most important.

If you’re having an excruciating craving for a cheeseburger, just eat the damn thing. The worst thing you can do, if you’re trying to go 100% veg, is make your lifestyle feel like a painful deprivation. It’s why it took me over a decade to get to a place where I felt my diet was ethically sound. Since I was twelve, I’d go through periods where I’d vow to never touch meat again — but when I caved into my cravings, I treated it like a relapse. That is, I binged and gave up on vegetarianism entirely.

I heard about a vegetarian who eats one meat dish every weekend to keep herself from going crazy. My hat’s off to you, madame. It takes a strong character to admit your own limitations.

We don’t hand out gold metals to the vegetarian who is most veg (at least, I hope nobody does that, because they’d seriously need to get a life). It’s about cutting back on the economic demand for meat and dairy. One less burger, one less reason to kill a cow for its part. With that said, sometimes if we don’t indulge our cravings we’ll do what I used to: give up.

Plus, did you know Tropicana Orange Juice isn’t vegetarian? It contains fish gelatin. Chances are, even those who profess to be 100% veg probably aren’t. So, don’t feel bad for letting go every once in a while. It’s better to try and fail sometimes, then throw your hands up completely.

2. It’s Expensive

(Note: I don’t live in a food desert, thank my privilege, so I understand that the advice I’m giving is only useful if you have access to a variety of different grocery stores.)

I don’t live anywhere near a Whole Foods, nor would I want to spend that much money on food even if I did. I do, however, live next to an Aldi’s and two independently-owned markets that sell cheap produce, and I’ve learned that being a vegan can be inexpensive if you’re willing to make two grocery shopping trips instead of one.

It’s a myth that to be vegan, you have to spend an insane amount of money just to have a full meal. A lot of small grocery stores sell cheap produce, and if they don’t, Aldi’s or Target can assist you in buying inexpensive frozen, dark green vegetables that you can (and should) eat with frequency. Spinach, brocolli, kale, collard greens and the standard dark leaf salads are my staples, and I’ve found them at ridiculously cheap prices at stores like Morse Market and Devon Market in Rogers Park. These places also tend to sell super cheap tofu. I get mine for $1.49 at Devon. Find out if your neighborhood has similar stores!

Certain vegetarian and vegan staples are cheap, too. Peanut butter and beans/legumes (chickpeas and black beans are my favorite) are some of the most inexpensive foods you can buy and are very versatile. I smear peanut butter on everything. As for beans, you can throw them in salads, make soups out of them, or wrap them up in a tortilla if you’re strapped for time. Vegans can still eat tacos, man.

3. It’s Unhealthy

Neither is meat-eating, for that matter. What’s unhealthy is not making conscious decisions about what and how much you eat. Vegans are generally more heart-healthy than meat and dairy eaters, but the key is to make sure you get enough protein and iron lest you turn into a pale-faced anemic. It’s also important to eat enough. You can’t subsist solely on apples and salads with olive oil dressing.

However, if you’re cognizant about eating well, note this: by including protein and iron rich foods into your new diet, you will be healthier than the average American. Your cholesterol will plummet, and you’ll be consuming more healthy fats like omega-3s, instead of saturated or trans fats.

Who knows, maybe you’ll even lose an inch or two from your waistline without even trying!

4. You’ll Be A Social Outcast

I hate being a bummer to my friends. The worst thing about being a vegetarian isn’t that I’m not eating yummy foods, but the looks on my friends’ faces when they remember I don’t eat meat or dairy. “Oh, we can’t go to this deep dish pizza place, ‘cuz what about Mariann?”

It’s called french fries and a side salad. Yeah, it’s not the most exciting dinner choice but it beats either packing a peanut butter sandwich or sitting at home. I don’t know of a single restaurant in Chicago that doesn’t sell some sort of fried vegetable.

Going back to my first piece of advice, there’s nothing wrong with just eating a slice of that pizza every once in a while. If I’m in a communal eating situation, where someone’s ordered a table full of Korean BBQ nom-noms or if I’m at a conference and there’s a tray of free cream-filled donuts in front of me, you can bet I’m going to feign an ethical struggle — only to snatch one of those suckers up.

It makes my lifestyle bearable for the next day.

5. Vegetarianism and veganism are ethically-sound choices, but so is just cutting back.

Even if you’re not committed to cutting most meat or dairy out of your diet, the advice I’ve given can work for anyone whose interested in at least scaling back, for health or ethical reasons. Good luck!


Mariann Devlin is a journalism school graduate from Loyola University. She’s a reporter for Patch.com, and a volunteer contributor to Streetwise magazine, a publication dedicated to ending homelessness. Originally from Anchorage, Alaska, Mariann moved to Chicago four years ago and still complains incessantly about the cold winters.

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9 responses to “Five Myths About Going Vegetarian or Vegan

  1. Yikes, sorry, but if you eat meat once a week, you’re not a vegetarian. =/ There are millions of people who manage to live – and thrive, and compete, and flourish – without eating meat, or dairy, or eggs. Please respect us by not co-opting our group’s name.

    As a vegan, I am happy and welcoming to those who reduce their meat consumption. That’s great! I hope those people can eventually move on to living cruelty-free. But they are not vegetarians until they do so.

  2. On a brighter note, I’ve found the best way for me to be a vegan ambassador is to cook for people. Cupcakes, cookies, pies, and home-cooked dinners with friends all work to dispel the myth of veganism as being all rabbit food, boring, or a fun-killer. The Post Punk Kitchen’s cookbooks are ALL invaluable!

  3. @Meg: I hear what you are saying, and I challenge this only because I find it it intriguing: what about a dietary choice makes a “group”? I have always been interested in the politics of dietary choice. I find that vegetarianism and veganism are politicized in a way, that they become a part of identity. I can think of at least 10 people I know that have “vegan” in their “about me” on facebook. What does a dietary choice do to co-opt one’s identity? What would be so offensive about someone identifying as vegan and allowing themselves a burger every once in a while? Why does dietary choice have to be dichotomous and non-fluid? We challenge this with gender and sexuality, maybe we should try to do the same with diet?

  4. @Mariann: I also wanted to say that I commend you for acknowledging your privilege in terms of not living in a food dessert, and the ability to have a vegan diet. I think this is an important point that is so often missed. Also, I would like to add that I think someones that people ignore the importance of food and culture and ethnic foods when advocating that “everyone should be vegan.” As Meg pointed out, food can act as an ambassador, it can build community. This is true for communities that exist with their culture.

  5. Vegetarianism is more often a health choice than veganism. A survey of vegans performed last year (the link escapes me right now) found that over 90% of vegans chose their diet for primarily ethical reasons, while health and environmental concerns were cited as important but not a defining factor. Veganism has *always* been an ideology and a political movement – the term itself was coined by the Vegan Society (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vegan_Society), which has had a clear meaning of the term since inception. You can read the very first newsletter here: http://www.ukveggie.com/vegan_news/

    The issue I have with non-vegans using the term as an identifier is twofold. One, it introduces unnecessary complications in defining the term. The word vegan is great because it completely defines the ideology of veganism: Avoiding and abstaining from all animal products as much as possible, in order to reduce suffering. When I say “vegan,” one can understand that that word means that I don’t eat or use meat, fish, dairy, honey, horse glue, blood, insect shells, and so on. It has utility and easily encapsulates a diet and ideology that can be confusing to explain.

    Two, it can send extremely confusing messages to those who are unfamiliar with vegans. On vegan message boards, it’s *incredibly* common to see gripes about clueless omnivores saying things like, “You’re vegan? You can still have chicken broth, right?” “Jimmy says he’s a vegan but he had a hamburger with us after the game. I guess vegans really are hypocrites, they can’t even stick to their ethics!” “Veganism is too hard, see all these people who break from it!”

    When one understands the history of the word “vegan,” one understands why it’s not ideologically sound to claim one is vegan but still participate in torture and murder, no matter how infrequently. The vegan community doesn’t shun those who slip up – we all have mistakes, deal with depression, move to veg-inhospitable areas. It happens. But it’s poor form to utilize a word which defines a firm ethical stance when one is still actively engaging in the inhumane and horrifying processes one claims to be against.

  6. Ethical decisions, though, are fluid- and so are the words groups use to identify themselves. As Tracey said, we allow for flexibility and freedom in the ways we identify ourselves according to gender and sex. That’s not to say that veganism isN’T different- but arguing that it has a particular etymology that should remain unchanged and immutable isn’t a very compelling argument to me. Especially since I identify as vegan and I just gave this advice to people who are new to the diet. (Plus, not every strict vegan does it for ethical reasons. Vegan Society clearly doesn’t have a monopoly on the motivation behind people’s eating decisions.)

    I’d also argue that in some cases, the most ethical decision is also the fluid one- especially when it comes to addiction. (And meat is an addiction, which I think a lot of vegans and vegetarians ought to be sympathetic about). What ends up happening is people tell themselves- after caving in- that they should just give up because they can’t go 100 percent. That to cave in means they CAN’T be a vegetarian, that they can’t be included within a group that believes it to be a highly ethical choice- which means we have one more person who throws their hands up and goes back to eating unethically with regularity. In fact, Peter Singer himself has eased up on this very point PRECISELY because he’s a utilitarian ethicist.

  7. BTW, Meg- I do want to say this: I think that the work that radical vegans do is invaluable to the movement, and its a stance that I prefer. Because the ethics of altering your perception of animals as wholly Other- and thus refusing to question the use, abuse, and killing of them- requires people like you to radically denounce it, and seek to stamp it out entirely.

    So, if my essay or my responses seem to lack an appreciation for that- I apologize. The biggest reason that I chose to be vegan and not simply vegetarian is because of a radical belief that animals are not for our use, period- not even if they’re “treated well” in organic, free-range farms. For me, though, I just want everyone who believes in the ethics of vegetarianism and veganism to feel included in that fight- even those who fail at giving it up entirely.

    Hope that makes sense!

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