When I decided to adopt a vegan lifestyle, one of the first concerns I read about was vegans not getting enough vitamins–protein, B-12, iron, etc… There are many variations of the “How do you get your protein?” question.
Let me put the basic fears to rest first: there is not a single vitamin, mineral, or nutrient that comes from an animal source that can not also be derived from a plant source.
Even if my vegan diet made me a little deficient in one vitamin or another, is this really a concern for non-vegans? When I ate meat and cheese, I ate basically the same foods day in and day out. My diet was as predictable as snow in Alaska. For me, I had meat and cheese at every meal. Breakfast: sausage and eggs, cream cheese bagel (or a sausage McMuffin with Cheese). Lunch: Hamburger with cheese, and fries (or a couple Double Decker supremes). Dinner: Steak and cheesy mashed potatoes (or pizza). If I had greens, they were always the same greens: iceberg or Romaine lettuce, spinach, green beans, and maybe parsley.
As a vegan, my diet has expanded far beyond my old eating habits. I have found more diversity and pleasure in food than I ever thought possible. Now, I eat things I never would have considered trying on my former diet. Breakfast: fruit smoothie with flax seed, cashews, and raw oats with Agave nectar. Lunch: Grilled tofu and avocado with brown rice. Dinner: Kale or Arugula with orzo, heirloom tomatoes, and nutritional yeast flakes.
Those foods and many others would never have made it into my former diet. The way I ate before, I would never have heard of things like Lychee, Quinoa, or Chia seeds. I ate burgers, steak, and kabobs–that was pretty much as exotic as it got.
Vegans listen with wry cynicism when curious mono-food culture friends suddenly become arm-chair nutrition experts.
I understand when someone asks, “How do you get your protein?” they have probably never asked themselves the same question. Most non-vegans believe protein comes from beef, which is not a very good protein source. Spinach has more protein than steak. I think when someone asks about protein or feigns concern over vitamins, it is not really because they are interested in becoming vegan (which is fine; I probably did not ask them to). I think it is more because people are fearful of what veganism stands for and are interested in defending their NOT being vegan. “How do you get your protein?” is another way of asking, “How can I keep eating what I want and have no guilt about it? How can I get away with it? How can I keep doing what I want to do instead of what is being presented as a better choice?”.
It is okay. Vegans are used to it; we usually think it is humorous.
Instead of reacting from fear and defensiveness, though, just remember if you decide to live a vegan lifestyle and it turns out being vegan is just not for you, or you really do become deficient in a vitamin that you have probably never checked to find out if you are deficient in already… well, it is not like losing an arm. You can go back to being non-vegan anytime and catch up on all the steak and cheese you missed.
For me, I make the choice to be (or stay) vegan each time I eat. The beauty of being vegan is that it IS a choice, and each meal, I am choosing my health and choosing not to cause pain and suffering to my fellow animals. It is a choice to stand for me, for my values. I love it; I love that I get to choose standing for ME every time I eat. If I were suddenly to become deficient in a vitamin or decided I could not live this way, though, I could always just go to McDonald’s.
The fact is, if I went back to my former eating habits, I would be getting a lot fewer vitamins and much less variety in my diet than I do as a vegan. I wouldn’t enjoy all the great new foods and tasty ways to create exotic meals that I have found. I wouldn’t enjoy the weight I lost, the alertness I gained, or the peaceful living that comes with my vegan lifestyle. To me, it is a no-brainer. Being vegan is a powerful choice and one I am happy to make at each (happy) meal.