Big gatherings in the summertime can be something to look forward to – but when you’re the only vegetarian/vegan among carnivores it can fill you with dread. These get-togethers require mental preparation because of course, as a non-meat eater what you put on your plate is everybody’s business. The Daily Vox put together a quick guide for the vegetarians and vegans on surviving the inevitable questions meateaters ask.
1. “But if you love the animals, why are you eating all their food?”
For some reason meateaters find this question hysterical – and if you’re vegetarian/vegan you’ve heard it at least 39 times before.
Well here’s the clapback. It takes way more grain, land and even water to fatten an animal for a serving of meat than it does to grow the same number of calories in the form of grain that is eaten directly.
Livestock farming requires a vast amount of land: both for the animals themselves and to grow the large quantities of food required to feed them. The high demand for animal products contributes to mass deforestation. You’ll be interested to know that even though soybeans are considered part of meat-free diets, 83% of the global soybean production is used for animal feed, a less food-efficient use than its direct consumption.
Feeding grain to livestock is not food efficient. A recent National Geographic report on the global food system says that for every 100 calories of grain we feed animals, we get only about 40 new calories of milk, 22 calories of eggs, 12 of chicken, 10 of pork, or 3 of beef. This means there’s a mass food wastage. Actually, decreasing animal product consumption in developed countries would likely mean a more efficient world food system.
Meat eaters should back off right about now.
2. “If you care so much about pain and suffering, what about vegetables? Vegetables have feelings too!”
Oh no, the poor cherry tomato that was murdered to make this salad!
If it hasn’t occurred to you by now, it’s very un-PC to forgo meat. It’s so un-PC that you might find yourself in the absurd situation of having a conversation about plant pain at a braai.
There’s a growing number of (mostly disreputable) articles that say plants have complex communication systems that release gases equivalent to them crying out in pain and that they can hear themselves being eaten. Botanist Daniel Chamovitz who wrote What A Plant Knows says that plants aren’t cognisant and don’t have pain receptors. Plants have specific nerve cells called mechanoreceptors which are pressure receptors that allow them to know when they’re being touched or moved. Basically, plants are living things and you can kill them, but they just don’t have the capacity to care.
It all comes down to basic biology: Plants don’t have brains or nervous systems with which to feel pain. But animals do. We know for sure that animals feel pain and that all mammals share the same nervous system, neurochemicals, perceptions, and emotions and can communicate physical suffering. Reptiles, amphibians, and fish also have the neuroanatomy necessary to perceive pain even though its difficult to tell because they can’t make facial expressions like mammals and many don’t even have eyelids.
Besides, what’s the point of that comment? Do you suddenly care about feelings? Do you want non-meat eaters to starve? Do you have a pet cactus?
3. “If you don’t eat meat, you will have a protein deficiency and die.”
People seem pretty obsessed with protein and for some reason believe that the only sources of protein can be derived from animals. Newsflash, plants have protein too!
Protein is super important for building, maintaining, and repairing tissues in the body. Amino acids, building blocks of protein, can either be synthesised by the body or ingested from food. Our bodies can only make 11 of the 20 different amino acids we need. The remaining nine essential amino acids must be obtained from the diet.
Animal protein sources are considered complete sources of protein because they contain all of the essential amino acids we need. Plant protein sources are considered incomplete because they lack one or more of the essential amino acids our bodies need. Vegans/vegetarians have to combine plant-based proteins to make sure they get the correct balance of amino acids. Some plant-based protein sources are black beans, broccoli, chickpeas, lentils, peanut butter, quinoa, spinach, tempeh, tofu. The list is pretty long, actually.
But too much protein is bad for you and can lead to illnesses like osteoporosis and heart disease. An excess of red meat in particular is associated with heart disease and stroke. American biochemist Thomas Colin Campbell and his son Thomas Campbell II famously published The China study which looks nutrition and the correlation between animal protein and the growth of cancer. According to the study, too much animal protein like casein which comes from cows’ milk increases the chances of cancer.
In short: we’re good, y’all.
Good luck handling the fireside commentary herbivores!