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Desert island chicken

In this section you'll find some of the things non-vegans might say, and ideas on how to respond. I'm not saying that meat eaters are all out to humiliate you or refute veganism, but even here in open-minded Brighton I have been asked some right daft questions! Don't be intimidated by challenging enquiries that you haven't previously formulated a response to. You don't have to justify your eating habits any more than anyone else, but a bit of vegan advocacy goes a long way. If you're unsure about the answer to a question you've been posed, just say so. You can always do a little research and resume the conversation another time. The answer I always have to hand to the big question: "Why don't you eat animals?" is simply, "I'm healthy, happy, and enjoy tasty food without consuming animal producs. Therefore, I can't justify the use of animals."

You and a chicken on a desert island: would you starve?

If the chicken was a hen, I could eat her eggs while we waited for the search party. I'd be constipated and downing a lot of cholesterol. Might be a bit boring too. But better a fortnight of eggs than a few days of roast chicken, with nowhere to refrigerate leftovers. I'd catch fish too, if I had no choice. However, if I was stranded with a cock (male chicken - steady on!), and had no other food source, I'd have to eat him. Whether he would eat me, as a fellow omnivore, were he 30ft tall, is another daft scenario to ponder.

Like any animal, I don't want to die. If I only had access to animal flesh I would eat it to survive. Humans are not carnivores, though, and a pure meat diet would make me ill and eventually kill me.

What about leather and wool? Aren't they just by-products of the meat industry?

I think it's wrong to wear leather, fur, wool, and silk; I don't buy any products made from animals (a vegan doesn't 'use' any animal products). Much has been made of fur over the years, but it's not uncommon to encounter folk who are outraged by the idea of a fur coat, while wool and leather are frequently worn. Wool is not a byproduct of sheep farming and amounts to 5-10% of profit. Leather is a big earner too, bringing in 600 million in the UK from the dead bodies of beef and dairy cows. Wearing animals is all part of the same big machine that puts parts of them on your plate.

A few weeks into veganism it occurred to me that I was wearing animals. I hadn't thought about it when I was vegetarian, and it wasn't the first thing that entered my head upon becoming vegan. I felt uncomfortable wearing animal items I already owned and, not wanting to waste them, took a belt and a few other things to a charity shop. Some new vegetarians and vegans choose to continue to wear clothes made from animals until the items wear out, but commit to buying animal-free replacements. You have to weigh up how you feel about your existing wardrobe against other factors, chiefly your budget.

You might need to shop around and do some research but I've certainly found some great footwear, belts, jumpers, jackets etc. that are animal free and I've not had to compromise on how I want to look and feel. A quick tip for casual footwear is to go for Vans or Converse brands: many of their shoes are incidentally vegan, being canvas-based.

If you own a carnivorous pet then you have to buy meat. How is choosing to own a pet that eats meat any different from choosing to buy meat for you to eat? And doesn't treating animals as possessions go against vegan principles?

I'm still not completely sure how I feel on all aspects of companion animals, especially when you factor in guide dogs and other assistance animals who make an incredible difference to the lives of disabled people. The concept of 'animal ownership' is problematic for a vegan, who likely believes that animals are not commodities and shouldn't be human property. I'm against the breeding of animals for our use. In purebreds, certain traits that we deem desirable have been encouraged via successive selective breeding, sometimes to the detriment of the animal's health. But I think giving an unwanted animal a home, who would otherwise be killed, is a wonderful and compassionate thing to do.

I would not choose a carnivorous companion animal because, even if I had the money to buy it posh organic meat, I'd still be supporting an industry that I am opposed to. On the other hand, cat domestication goes back thousands of years. They're here and they need loving homes. It's not compassionate to deny existing animals our care. Rescuing and sharing my home with an unwanted omnivorous animal whose nutritional requirements are guaranteed to be met by plant sources, is something that could be a rewarding part of my future (I don't have a big enough home or the facilities at the moment).

Cats are obligate carnivores, which means they have to eat meat and their nutritional needs cannot be fulfilled via plant foods. Although dogs have a clear meat-focussed heritage, they are very adaptable and can eat plant foods. I remember when I was a kid seeing Mum giving the dogs rice and leftover veggies with their usual feed. They wolfed it down.
Several vegetarian and vegan feeds and supplements are available for both cats and dogs that promise all the nutrients they need to be healthy. While dogs seem fine, I've heard stories from vegans about cats becoming ill on plant-based feeds and supplements. It is arguably cruel to deny an obligate carnivorous animal meat.
Dogs, having omnivorous leanings, are perhaps a more comfortable fit for a vegan household. The pooch on your sofa is a far cry from a wild wolf with its survival behaviours and dependence on unreliable food sources.
It's worth remembering that commercial animal foods are made from the same meat that is sold to humans, albeit the crappy, recovered stuff. It contains the same hormones and chemicals.

I grew up surrounded by dogs and it's clear to me that the relationship between man and dog can be enjoyable and rewarding for both. My parents have had several rescue animals over the years and gave them loving homes, plenty of exercise, veterinary care, and plenty of good food. My childhood was enriched by the friendship of dogs and I'm sure they had as much fun playing in the garden together as I did. As a bullied teen, the dog was the first to show his concern by resting his head on my knee and looking up at me, putting boisterous play to one side as if he knew I was upset. No exploitation there - just friendship.

Why would a vegan want faux meat products? Aren't vegans disgusted by meat? Isn't it a bit of a cop out?

I've only ever met one vegetarian who didn't eat meat because he hated the taste and texture of it. He'd simply never enjoyed it, even as a child. His parents would try to hide minced beef inside pasta shells or would stir small chicken pieces into vegetables, out of fears over his development. The majority of people ditch animal products because they think that animals are not ours to use and abuse, not because they hate the taste. Much as my kitchen has changed for the better, I don't mind admitting that I love the taste of meat, cheese, boiled eggs, and creamy dairy products. I miss the salty, savoury taste, and dense texture of meat. If it and dairy products were plants and didn't have any negative health implications, then I'd still be tucking in. But they aren't, and they do. In walks faux meat, soy cream, fake cheese, egg free mayo, and the rest. Such products form a very small part of my diet, but I sometimes miss sausage sandwiches and chicken burgers, and there are some pretty convincing plant-based solutions that hit the spot. On the flipside of this, I've met several meat eaters who are terribly squeamish when handling raw meat and terrified of food poisoning, furiously scrubbing their chopping boards afterwards with antibacterial cleaning products. They hate the idea that the bloody slab came from an animal and don't want to linger on the topic. Curiously, they don't make the logical switch to plant-based alternatives.

Faux meat can be a helpful stepping stone for a new vegetarian or vegan who isn't necessarily a big fan of cooking, or who simply misses meat and its traditional prominence on the plate. I encourage getting a good vegan recipe book and trying something new, but there's nothing wrong with bangers and mash occasionally. You're no less committed a vegan for missing meat or wanting to directly replace it with something similar. Faux meat is made from plants, so it's not a cop out. It's cruelty-free, cholesterol-free, can be a useful protein source, and doesn't come loaded with chemicals, but go on... give my bean burger recipe a go! New flavours and textures will take your mind off meat and open your kitchen to a bigger, tastier, and more nutritious range of foods.

If you're not keen on faux meats but miss the dense texture and savoury taste of the real thing, try a firm tofu or tofu sausage such as those in Taifun's range. All the health benefits of tofu, but perfect for a cheeky sausage sarnie, smothered in tomato sauce. They're lovely cold too. For a meaty sandwich filling, I like to fry slices of firm tofu in toasted sesame oil until both sides are golden. Then splash some soy sauce on top (or a little made up stock) and remove from the heat. The tofu will soak up the liquid. Lovely cold the next day in a wholemeal roll with salad and hummus.

But we have canine teeth; we're meant to eat meat. We're carnivores. Hear me roar!

Human beings are omnivorous and have not always had, or were designed to have, a meat-focussed menu. Earlier humans ate much more plant protein than we do today. A quick look at The China Study reveals that the higher the intake of animal products in the diet, the more susceptible to a range of diseases and complaints we are, such as heart disease, obesity, diabetes, particular cancers, and osteoporosis. Humans can meet all their nutritional needs via plant foods, and thrive; carnivores need meat to survive because they cannot digest plants or get all the nutrients they need from them. A pure meat diet, raw or cooked, would not satisfy our nutritional requirements, leaving us constipated and sluggish. It would make us ill and eventually kill us.

It's worth noting that obligate carnivores don't get the health problems from eating meat that we do, e.g. cats don't get clogged arteries from eating lots of saturated fat and cholesterol. Also, ever tried tearing through cow hide with your teeth or fingernails? Those canines of yours are hardly razor-sharp gnashers, and most of our teeth are flat, for grinding down plant matter. We're not equipped to catch and kill animals unless we use tools - unlike true carnivores - and can only deal with meat by preparing and cooking it first (raw or undercooked meat can lead to food poisoning, which isn't something that bothers lions!). We're not naturally carnivorous scavengers either, since eating decaying flesh and leftover innards would make us ill. Carnivores have shorter digestive systems than ours and more stomach acid, allowing for the fast processing of large amounts of meat. Herbivores have longer digestive tracts to facilitate the processing of smaller, more frequent plant feedings.

What about all the tiny bugs you squash and breath in? Also, yeast is alive!

Sometimes I accidentally crush spiders, and moths die in my home all the time. I also ran over a rabbit once while driving. Still vegan. The world isn't perfect and being vegan isn't about being perfect either. I was prescribed medication this year that had gelatine in it. I had to take the course or risk my health. I wrote to the manufacturer with my feedback and discovered that they also make an animal-free version that the hospital should have provided. Mistakes happen.

Life is important, wherever you find it and in whatever form, but comparing yeast - a single-celled microorganism, a fungus - to a sentient and intelligent pig, is a bit silly and a distraction from the horrors of animal food industries.

Even honey? But they're just insects.

I avoid foods and goods that come from animals. Vegans extend this to insects. Bees have complex social structures and behaviours, and I prefer to let them get on with their lives without puffing smoke at them, pinching their natural food source, clipping their queen's wings, artificially inseminating her, and killing and replacing her when she becomes less fertile. Besides, honey is bee vomit. Non-animal, non-vomit alternatives such as agave nectar, golden syrup, and maple syrup, are delicious. Honey and alternatives are essentially liquid sugar though, so use sparingly.

What about pest control in food production?

There will always be clashes when different species rub shoulders. If we didn't try to keep rats out of our food supply, for example, then we'd all get ill. They pee on everything and spread disease. Pest control is a necessary evil to protect our health. I'm not an expert, but I imagine that securing food properly so that animals can't get into it is key to food safety and reduces the need to kill. Cullings, based around thinly disguised business interests or the hollow appeasement of farmers, are another matter.

But you kill plants. Isn't that wrong too? Don't cabbages scream when they're harvested?

It is true that everything we eat is or was alive.

Not all plants are destroyed when harvested. The roots of some plants are left in the ground so that the stem can grow back. Harvesting nuts and seeds doesn't kill the plants they come from. In fact, some plants rely on their fruit being eaten by wildlife in order to spread their seeds far and wide.

Pain response in humans and animals lets us know we're being harmed and allows us to get away from the source of that harm. Plants don't perceive, or escape from, harm or danger. Plants don't have a central nervous system and they don't have brains. If they do feel pain or chat about the weather, they are operating at a level that's far beyond human perception or science. Realistically though, it's a bit daft to compare a cabbage to a sentient and intelligent animal that feels pain and distress.

A vegetable, such as spinach, doesn't run away, feel pain, or complain about being turned into a salad. It contains many nutrients that are important to human health, such as calcium and iron, and nothing harmful; a perfect food for a compassionate and health-seeking human being.

Your diet must be so limited. I couldn't survive on lettuce.

I've found that my diet has become more varied and exciting since I became vegan. I've rediscovered cookery and been introduced to foods - and shops - that I'd never tried before. What starts out as finding replacements for meat soon becomes a completely different way of looking at food. See the What do you eat section for a broader exploration of this topic.

Why not eat organic meat and dairy? Don't organic animals have happy, outdoor lives?

Organic farming means higher welfare standards for the animals, it's true. It also means that the routine feeding of antibiotics is forbidden and animals are guaranteed a level of veterinary care if they become ill or injured (factory farmed animals never set eyes on a vet).

But organic animals still march to the slaughterhouse, long before their lives would otherwise end. The male chicks in organic egg production still get killed on day one as a 'byproduct'. Male calves from organic dairy herds don't have it any better than non-organic calves, facing slaughter or being shipped overseas for veal.

Organic animals don't want to die any more than factory farmed animals or the animals you share you home with. They don't need to die so that we can have tasty and nourishing food.

I do buy organic vegan food when I can because I want to avoid the chemicals sprayed on non-organic fruit and veg (you can't completely wash it off).

But animals kill animals. Why can't I eat meat when a fox does?

A fox is a wild animal that hunts other wild animals in order to survive. It has a very different relationship with its environment and food than we do: a harmony and balance that's a far cry from the mass abuse of animals that is the human invention of factory farming. We are not wild animals, nor are we carnivores, and we don't need to eat meat to get all the nutrients our bodies need.

What would happen to all the animals if the world gave up meat today? We'd be overrun by a crazy cow stampede!

Animals in farms exist only because people want to eat meat and dairy products. They are not captured wild animals but are the product of successive selective breeding to develop traits deemed desirable to the industry. They don't much resemble their wild ancestors.

If the demand for animal products declined, so too would animal farming until, eventually, there wouldn't be any. Some cultures have less choice and control over what they eat and are more dependent on animal protein than others. For them, switching to veganism isn't a simple case of writing a different shopping list, and I don't pretend that we could all just give up animal products today. The problem isn't veganism as a concept, but fundamental issues around worldwide food availability and distribution.

A sudden worldwide switch to veganism isn't going to happen, but if it did most existing farm animals would be killed. Keeping them into old age would be expensive and present negative environmental impacts.

Fish don't count. I know vegetarians who eat fish.

Fish don't have expressive, human-like qualities like mammals do, which is why some dismiss them as little more than swimming plants. While you might find plenty of people who think a puppy or piglet is cute and cuddly and can look happy or sad, few would claim the same of a haddock. But just because we find fish harder to relate to doesn't mean they don't feel pain, have complex behaviours and social interactions, and face massive distress when they're pulled out of the ocean and tossed onto the deck. Fish, like us, don't want to die. Not all fish get to swim freely before they are killed either, with growing numbers raised in crowded, diseased waters on fish farms. Read more about fish here.

Someone who chooses to eat fish while eschewing meat is a pescatarian.

What about people and their problems? There are plenty of good causes that need support.

I care about people too. My other website has offered advice and support to young gay people for thirteen years.

I think the issues surrounding veganism affect people at a fundamental level. We're talking about human health, the exploitation of immigrant workers in animal industries, feeding the hungry, and the health of our increasingly strained planet. Veganism is intrinsically linked to factors affecting people, and isn't just about saving pigs.

Human beings are at the top of the food chain. I can eat what I like. It's my right. Dammit!

I think it's everyone's right to have enough food to eat and clean water to drink. We're lucky here in the UK because, finances permitting, we can walk into any number of a vast array of shops and pick up exactly what we feel like eating. I don't think we have the right though, by virtue of being human, to munch on anything we like, regardless of the cost to animals, other people, the planet, and the health of our families. A compassionate shopper will base their food choices on factors that go beyond what they fancy for dinner.

Veganism shouldn't be forced on children by their parents.

A child growing up in a vegan house, enjoying tasty and nutritious vegan food that meets all their needs, is hardly cause to phone the NSPCC. I think any level-headed vegan parent would be accepting - though not necessarily delighted - if their child wanted to try animal foods when old enough to express an interest. Vegan parents should do their research to ensure they are providing adequate nutrition for their children, since the needs of a growing child are different from that of an adult.

Children aren't raised in morally neutral environments. It's natural and normal for parents to raise their children by their own values and ethics. The opposite approach would be like suggesting parents with a faith raise their children in a religiously neutral environment, leaving the kids at home when they go to church or sending them to their room when the vicar pops round for tea.

Pregnant vegans should eat meat and dairy throughout pregnancy and until their child is weaned, or the child won't develop normally.

All pregnant women should arm themselves with a firm understanding of nutrition, and take extra care while pregnant to ensure they're getting everything their baby needs to develop properly. Vegan expectant and breast feeding mums should pay special attention to ensuring adequate vitamin B12 intake.

Since she can get all her body needs from plant sources, a vegan mother who's done her research can have a healthy baby that thrives.

What would happen if we didn't take milk from dairy cows? Surely they'd be uncomfortable, like not being able to pee!

Milk would dry up if it wasn't taken, as it does in humans. A cow's milk would be consumed by her calf if we didn't take it away, and she wouldn't produce milk in the first place if she didn't have a calf. Cows have not evolved naturally to produce ten times more milk than their calf can drink and to be dependent on human beings to milk them.

We're the only mammals that drink milk past weaning - and that of another species. Nutritionally, cow's milk doesn't suit the requirements of human infants, hence the need to add powdered formula. Milk comes with a cocktail of 35 different hormones and 11 growth factors, saturated fat, an EU-permissible pus content, and is linked to childhood diabetes, breast and prostate cancer, and arthritis, amongst other ailments, and 75% of us have problems digesting it. It's great stuff, if you're a baby cow.

Check out my information about calcium and why dairy products are not the best source.

Don't you have to be a good cook to be vegan? Don't you need lots of time to prepare meals? I'm a busy working person/parent, like what they talk about on those telly ads.

You certainly have to take a step away from a reliance on ready meals and Quorn, but you don't need to become Jamie Oliver. You can cook simple, delicious meals in well under an hour. When you think that oven chips take 20-25 mins, it shouldn't be too steep a proposition to wait another 10 for your quickie casserole.

Plant-based foods tends to last longer in the fridge, so you can reheat meals for days later. I've gotten into the habit of preparing food at the weekend and freezing it, so my evening meals during the working week are very quick and easy, but I don't have to resort to junk or convenience foods.

I consider cooking to be an important and fundamental life skill that creates true control over what you are eating, and puts you at the frontline in safeguarding your health. It's well worth nailing down a few simple kitchen skills. It doesn't have to be complicated, expensive, or a work or art. Check out some of my cheap and easy recipes.

Veganism is expensive and not realistic for those on a low income.

Veganism isn't a hobby for the privileged. A vegan diet can be achieved on your current food budget. But you need to cook! A diet that relies on prepared and convenience food will hammer your wallet, but that's the case for meat eaters too. Meat, fish and cheese are expensive, so you may even find that you save money on a vegan diet. Please see my What do you eat section where I talk about what I eat, suggest useful ingredients for the larder, and list some cheap and easy recipes.

Isn't vegan food bland and boring?

I always liked the simple taste of meat, but the flavour of your average supermarket chicken is pretty bland these days. It's the salt and pepper, herbs and spices, the splash of red or white, that injects flavour into a meal, and all that stuff is plants. With access to a varied larder of exciting flavours, I don't feel I'm missing out because I don't have a chicken breast to sprinkle things on.

If everyone was vegan we'd have lots of unemployed butchers, dairy farmers, egg packers etc.

We'd still need people to produce food. If we didn't need butchers, we'd need more people to grow crops and make plant-based foods. Factory farms are designed to produce the most meat with the least staff and effort, meaning low-skilled, easily-replaced workers. We might find, getting back to more traditional farming methods that utilise and respect the land properly, that there would be more jobs and opportunities to gain valuable skills.

Don't lecture me.

Okay. But I would love to talk about it if you were interested. It's often meat eaters who broach the subject, though. I've been apologised to on several occasions when someone has ordered the steak. It's not about me: it's about the cow.