Common Misconceptions surrounding a vegan lifestyle.
written by Famke
During the few months that I have been vegan, and the 2 years prior that I was vegetarian, I have encountered many people that did not understand why I do not consume animal products. When trying to explain and show them the facts surrounding animal cruelty, sustainability, consumption and other reasons for not consuming animal products, I often ended up having a discussion. Many times, these discussions are paired with uninformed and oblivious statements and assumptions, from people who might claim that not eating meat is bad or unhealthy, or who simply disregard the facts that you present them with.
This article is the first of two parts that will address some of the most common misconceptions fellow vegans and I have encountered, why there are actually misconceptions, followed by some responses that you might be able to use in your next discussion. Don’t worry, if you read this and you are a meat eater, this is not a personal attack, but it might still answer some questions you have about veganism.
The one I probably come across most often:
“One person going vegan won’t make a difference.”
Just one person going vegan does not make a difference. However, a noticeable change never stops with just one person, it starts with one person. Change has to begin somewhere; look at our history. The abolition of slavery started with one person, the women’s right movement started with one person, Black Lives Matter started with one person, but one person became many people sharing the same beliefs that originated from that first person. This snowball effect does not just work for societal injustice, it works for fighting climate change, and it works for veganism. Our personal decision of going vegan might inspire others to eat less meat, use less animal products and create a change in demand on the market.
Ultimately, this is the most important change caused by the snowball effect; the gradual decline in demand and supply of animal products. We, as consumers and citizens, do not pollute with what we eat or the products we use, we pollute with our money. As soon as an animal product is bought, whether this is by one person or many people, this is seen as something that is being demanded. A demand which producers of animal products then have to supply. A demand leading to more artificial insemination, more calves being taken away from their mother so that their mothers can be milked, more male calves being killed. In short, demand leads to more animal cruelty just so we can eat a piece of meat and drink some milk.
This snowball effect, as you might expect, then also works the other way around. If more people go vegan, or reduce their meat intake by for example incorporating meatless mondays or by eating vegetarian/vegan twice a week, there will be a noticeable change in the demand for animal products, followed by a noticeable change in supply. This change in supply and demand is where the biggest difference lies, which will be followed by a lower production of animal products, less pollution accompanying this production, and of course less animal cruelty. If you live in the Netherlands and go grocery shopping at supermarkets like Albert Heijn, Jumbo, Coop or possibly any chain supermarket, you might have already noticed the shelves filled with meat replacement products or the (many) vegan replacements now offered for cheese and other dairy products. 5 years ago, half of the animal product replacements now offered, did not even exist yet! Even in your local supermarket you can see the clear change in supply and demand.
So, to come back to the misconception, yes, one person going vegan does make a difference and it will hopefully be followed by more people going vegan, making an even bigger difference.
Another misconception that often follows the previous one, especially focused on the change in supply and demand is this:
“Where do you propose we leave all the animals if we suddenly produce less meat?”
This question, posed to me more times than you’d expect, can be followed by stating that we could not just release the animals into the wild, “What would they eat?”, “How would it impact the natural order of things?”, “Would we have cows in our streets?”, and many more of these questions. The key to answering this misconception is, like aforementioned, understanding that “animal agriculture runs on a system of supply and demand”. If the change described above would happen on a larger skill than it does now, if the whole world would go vegan, it would be a gradual transition. Not every single person would go vegan overnight, similarly, the production of animal products would not stop overnight. Similar to manufacturers not producing products they cannot sell, farmers would not breed animals that they could not profit from, because this would simply not be economically viable. Simply put, if animal products are not demanded, they are not produced. If less meat is demanded, less animals are bred and less animals are milked or slaughtered. Therefore, if the whole world would gradually go vegan, we would have barely any animals left to release into the wild. So there is no question of having to put the animals somewhere if we simply stop eating meat.
Another question that adds onto this idea of supply and demand is:
“If the animal is already slaughtered, you might as well eat it.”
I cannot emphasise this enough, if the animal is already slaughtered (which of course we wish to prevent), the only change we can still make is not buying it. Again, the supply and demand market that determines what is and is not produced, in turn means we pollute with our money when we do or do not buy something. Meaning, that if we use our money consciously, spending it on vegan products rather than animal products, it will make the biggest change we could possibly make as a consumer and citizen.
A better question then would be “If the animal product is already bought, why not just eat it?” If I see someone, like my parents or roommates, buying animal products but not eating it, I would rather eat it than letting it go to waste. Of course, this works the same with products like any type of soap, shampoo, makeup, clothing, and anything that adds onto already existing demand. Letting things go to waste, throwing away clothing and products that can be mended, or buying products first hand when they are also available second hand, are all ways in which we add to demand and pollution.
Moreover, my knowledge on what kind of effect my money can have, has made it morally impossible for me to even buy animal products or new clothing. Some food that I have eaten and loved for such a long time, I can no longer buy with a clear conscience because I discovered it contains animal products. While this might of course not be the case for everyone, it shows the impact of consciously handling what you do and do not buy.
Continuing the trend of buying, there are also some misconception surrounding the price tag of veganism, which is the following:
“Veganism is only for the rich.”
This is both a misconception and a truth. Both sides should be addressed. Veganism is something that has become very present in Western countries and living here often offers us the choice of not just vegan or non-vegan products, but simply a wide array of any products. However, in underdeveloped countries, as we have termed it from the developed “Western gaze”, people often do not have such choices, or even the money to buy different food than for example rice and chicken. While the situation of each individual is different, a vegan lifestyle and having the funds to choose for this lifestyle, is almost a luxury in underdeveloped countries, one that can only be afforded by those with enough funds for it. So, in this sense, yes, veganism is only for the rich. However, shifting our perspective to solely the developed West, a place where we actually have the luxury to choose what we eat and adapt our diet to our likings and beliefs, veganism is actually not only for the rich.
Of course, even in our western societies, there are still people and families with insufficient funds to buy vegan food (which of course can be more pricey) or even to buy food in general, having to rely on food banks or homeless shelters. To respond to this misconception we therefore have to look more closely to the personal situation of the individual.
Me, as a 20 year old student, renting a room in Rotterdam, with no job and just a meager loan, am very much able to afford a vegan lifestyle. Of course vegan replacements can sometimes be a bit more expensive, but when paying attention to what you buy and using your money smart, you can get a lot of good products for very little money. Moreover, if we compare vegan replacements to the average steak or piece of fresh salmon, for which you can easily pay between four and ten euros (sometimes even more), we definitely could not deem veganism a more expensive lifestyle than an omnivore lifestyle. Especially, when considering that the more novel and fancy meat replacements are not necessary to a healthy vegan lifestyle. This lifestyle is not about replacing traditionally non-vegan foods, but about reinventing what you eat. Instead of contiuing to seek out replacements of traditional food or food that you were used to, you could include more lentils, beans and greens in your diet, which is a much cheaper but just as nutritious option.
Even looking at what we spend on clothes, a vegan lifestyle is accessible for anyone with the patience to buy second hand clothing. Varying from shops, second hand clothing can be extremely cheap, depending of course on your style. If you are not a huge fan of second hand clothing, there are still so many local (in the Netherlands or Europe) stores that produce clothes in a sustainable way, often just as expensive as the usual fast fashion brand such as H&M, Zara, Mango, etc.
You could argue that vegan soap and shampoo is more expensive than non-vegan products, however in this case we should also take into account the sustainability of these products. Often vegan soap and shampoo is produced, shipped and packaged in a very sustainable way. Moreover, the natural products in these products do not damage your drainage nor pollute the waters they might end up in. Another, final, bonus is of course the natural products used are a lot better for your hair and skin. They are often filled with vitamins and do not damage your hair like the chemicals and additional nonsense often added to non-vegan or natural soap. So yes, looking at the price of vegan soap compared to non-vegan soap, or sustainable clothing compared to fast fashion, it is more expensive. However, looking at the total price of the pollution of our world, we pay a lot more when buying non-vegan or non-sustainable products.
With any non-vegan, non-biological, non-sustainable and non-natural product, we pay so much more than just the money that we use to buy it, even more than the impact we have on the supply and demand of products, we pay for harming our earth. So, you might find veganism a bit expensive, but the overall price we pay for it, is almost nothing compared to what we pay for non-vegan products.
Next time you encounter someone who questions your vegan lifestyle or who is in the mood to spark up a heated conversation, hopefully this article will offer you the solution. Did you enjoy reading this? Then do not forget to check back for part 2! Can't wait? Check out our other blogposts, many of which go into depth on similar misconceptions.