Whether you’ve been vegan for a week or a lifetime, undoubtedly someone has asked you if your plant-based diet is unhealthy. Or maybe you’ve had a coworker tell you that plants have feelings, too. Whatever the case, nearly every vegan has encountered a person whose attitudes towards plant-based living are firmly stuck in the Eisenhower administration. To help combat some of the misguided vegan stereotypes, we’re showing how five of these outdated beliefs are as relevant today as a rotary phone.
1. “All vegans are treehuggers”
Yes, countercultural hippies during the 1960s were among the first to widely embrace vegetarianism by choosing a more humane, sustainable diet. While these plant-based pioneers paved the way for today’s vegans, we remain stuck with the image of unkempt, wild-haired, tie-dye-wearing hippies who have to combine macrobiotic proteins to survive. Times have changed, but many people’s distorted perceptions haven’t. Maybe knowing that there are vegans in every walk of life—from United States Senator (D-NJ) Cory Booker and pop megastar Miley Cyrus to string theory physicist Brian Greene—would change the minds of people still stuck in the recent past.
2. “Vegans are wispy weaklings”
While studies show that vegans generally weigh less than carnivores, the “weakling” label is misleading thanks to the array of vegan athletes crushing it in every professional sport. You want strength? There’s UFC fighter Nate Diaz, former NFL defensive end David Carter, and world-class weightlifter Patrik Baboumian. How about speed and endurance? We’ve got Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis, Ironman champion John Joseph, and ultramarathoner Scott Jurek. These—and many other ultra-fit vegans too numerous to mention—prove that you don’t need to eat meat to excel in sports.
3. “Being vegan means you’re angry”
It’s okay to be outraged by the animal suffering, human disease, and environmental destruction that eating meat causes. That said, being angry regarding injustice does not mean that vegans are angry people. Nevertheless, many carnivores seem to think that all vegans routinely scream “meat is murder!” in people’s faces and throw red paint on women’s fur coats every day. Of course, that’s simply not the case. Instead, many vegans live much like everyone else, (ie, treating others politely and respectfully). For example, celebrities such as actress Ellen Page, talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, and hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons might speak out publicly against cruelty to animals, but they do so with dignity and grace and not anger.
4. “Vegans are know-it-alls”
The notion of vegans as moralistic finger-waggers who turn their noses up at the rest of the world is another stereotype to which meat-eaters seem particularly attached. Maybe that’s why so many of them try to knock us off the high-horses they think we ride by claiming things such as how we don’t get enough protein, God gave humans “dominion” over the animals, and plants suffer, too. The mere fact that we don’t eat animals seems to trigger many people’s defensiveness, guilt, and resistance to the issues we raise. Savvy animal activists understand this, and acknowledge the validity of these emotional responses. Matt Ball, executive director of Vegan Outreach, offers this advice to activists: “Don’t argue. Offer information, and be honest and humble … Don’t be self-righteous. No one is perfect; no one has all the answers.”
5. “There’s no humor in veganism”
Many meat-eaters seem to relish roasting vegans, and author Carol Adams suggests this is because they feel threatened and use humor as a defense mechanism. In her book Living Among Meat Eaters: The Vegetarian’s Survival Guide, Adams writes, “One teenager described this form of joking that greeted her vegetarianism. At some point, she realized, these people were making fun of her to make themselves look better.” Fortunately, comedic vegans such as talk show host Bill Maher, Jackass star Steve-O, and “Bizzaro” cartoonist Dan Piraro make people laugh without making fun of animals’ suffering or people’s compassionate choices.