Julia O’Reilly looks behind some of the preconceived notions that surround veganism.

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VEGANISM is misunderstood. It’s tied up in harmful myths and stigma. Simply put it’s a philosophy with the aim of excluding all forms of exploitation and cruelty to animals for food, clothing or any other purpose. Responses to practicing veganism tend to play out in similar fashions, with six claims resurfacing time and time again.

A vegan diet is not healthy

A vegan diet has been linked to declining rates of heart disease and cancer and lower cholesterol. Regardless some still use the food pyramid as an illustration of how a vegan diet is lacking. Yet three-quarters of the world population’s ability to digest lactose reduces greatly post infancy. 90% of adults in some Asian countries are lactose intolerant.

Considering this, the food pyramid is misleading. It’s an out of date template that doesn’t correspond with what we currently know about nutrition.

We learned in school that drinking milk is the best source of calcium but we absorb twice the amount through eating dark green veg like kale and spinach. Nutrients found in animal products come largely from plants those animals ingest. It should be a case of cutting out the middle man.

“Dairy cows are artificially inseminated so that they stay pregnant and lactating almost all the time.”

Furthermore, the hackneyed notion of the skeletal vegan mirthlessly chewing raw broccoli is no more. Olympic athletes, bodybuilders and ultra-marathon runners are doing it. So too do Venus and Serena Williams. Its food for thought for the next time you hear the dreaded words: “yeah but where do you get your protein?”

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Cows need to be milked and chickens lay eggs. This is not harmful.

This is not exactly the case. Dairy cows are artificially inseminated so that they stay pregnant and lactating almost all the time. This is not natural. Worse it’s inherently cruel. Cows are not designed to be our milk fountains.

While it’s true that chickens lay eggs, you can’t humanely mass produce eggs for human consumption. Both free range and battery hens suffer similarly brief and traumatic lives. Useless to the industry, millions of day-old male chicks are put into grinders. They serve no purpose. However brutal, is this fate much worse than that of their sisters?

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Vegan food is expensive

Eating a plant-based diet is by no means more expensive than eating meat. Meat is expensive to produce and that expense is shared with consumers. Often the cheapest option on a menu is the veggie or vegan one. Grains, vegetables and fruit are not expensive but relying on processed vegan foods is. Regardless of cost- what price your soul?

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Vegans eat soy which is bad for the environment

The ethics surrounding raising and culling animals for consumption is seen by some as being the circle of life. Yet the environmental benefits of veganism are impossible to dispute.

No discussion on climate change is complete without discussing the damage caused by the meat industry. It’s not just one of the greatest sources of greenhouse gases, but grazing land occupies 26% of the earth’s ice-free surface. Feed crop production uses one-third of all arable land.

“Destroying the environment to feed animals we raise to feed ourselves is senseless.”

Yet soy production gets a lot of attention. Indeed its production causes mass deforestation and has detrimental effects on the environment. Millions of hectares are destroyed every year to make room for soy. For sure it’s a vegan staple but it’s also found in deli meats and mayonnaise. More pertinently, 75% of soy produced in 2013/14 was used to feed livestock. Destroying the environment to feed animals we raise to feed ourselves is senseless.

The number of wild animals is predicted to fall by two-thirds by 2020. Habitats are being destroyed by over-farming and logging. Furthermore, unsustainable fishing and hunting have resulted in over 300 mammal species being eaten into extinction.

But there’s hope. Awareness among young people as to how meat consumption effects the environment has risen from 8% in 2007 to 40% in 2013.

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Vegans hate meat

The ‘but meat is delicious’ argument is a commonly heard rebuttal that’s difficult to counter and something with which most vegans would heartily agree. This is the key to vegan accessibility. Maybe, and this is a jump, vegans aren’t so different from others. Maybe they aren’t born with numbed taste buds. It’s the honest admission that while meat tastes damn good, yet still people chose to go without, makes the dietary leap seem a little less big.

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Vegan food is bland

Despite what some may think, vegan food doesn’t mean rabbit food. When successfully carried out, the focus shifts from what foods are being lost – like meat and dairy – to all those that are gained. Moving away from the Irish standard of meat and three veg, veganism introduces flavour, variation and excitement to our diets.

At the end of the day, if being vegan makes someone healthier, benefits the environment and is kinder to animals then let’s leave the guff behind.