“Where Do You Get Your Protein?” And Other Fun Questions

Recently we had our first vegan Thanksgiving.  And guess what?   We ate pretty dadgum good. Not a shred of meat, a drop of dairy, or a smidgen of egg, and we celebrated like most, with thoughtful preparation of a variety of dishes that both maximize nutrients and celebrate the bounty of the harvest.  Without meat and meat by-products, we threw out all the old standbys and tapped into a network of other vegans for the new holiday standard.

If the Thanksgiving feast could be done vegan-style, then I’m in, full-tilt.

Most challenging for me hasn’t been the change in diet but rather the questions and comments that fly once someone catches wind that, not only I, but also my kids and husband have adopted the vegan, full-compassion lifestyle.  It has certainly been enlightening.  And fun.  Here are a few of my favorites, with my most practiced responses.

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1.  “How do you dine out?  I’ll bet you make exceptions.”

We do, some, but only for the kids.  My husband and I don’t ever, however, as it defeats the purpose of protesting through personal choice; we simply have the staff “make something” that works.  I ask every waitstaff at a new dining location, “What do you have besides salad that is not cooked with any animal products?” and if they can’t point to something on the menu, or offer to whip a quickie up just for us, we walk out and eat somewhere else.   Even if they don’t get our business, at least another person is touched by veganism.  Deed done.

Dining out in the heart of meat-eating America does pretty much suck.  Once, a self-proclaimed vegan friend ordered cheese enchiladas with refried beans (probably cooked with pork) and rice right after we just discussed how hard it is eating out as a vegan.  My meal was more thoughtful, if less filling — tortilla chips and a big bowl of pico de gallo.  (By the way, the $1 tip cost me more than my meal.)

2.   “Where do you get your protein?”  

Same place as gorillas and elephants do.  Really.  Leaves and the parts of the plant above the ground (besides the fruit) are the plants’ factory, where it makes food from sunlight. These parts are chock full of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, and bulk fiber.  And protein.  Yep. Leaves. Flower stalks. Stems. Eat a lot of these and I swear you’ll never be lacking.  Go ahead.  Look up broccoli, dandelion, collards, turnips and greens, beets and greens, and any edible leguminous plant in a nutrition index.  See for yourself.

3.  “Don’t you have to eat a lot of beans?”

Nope. Legumes and grains are indeed excellent protein sources, but not entirely required where a varied diet already exists. But we still eat ’em anyway, because they’re delicious. When prepared properly (many must be soaked or even fermented before consumption), they are high in fiber, and contain minerals and essential amino acids.  My favorites are split peas and lentils, mostly because I don’t have to remember to soak them overnight first.  They cook in less than an hour.

4.  “I see you drinking green drinks sometimes.  What is it?”

As a boost to times of extra activity (tennis matches, working out, hard yard labor), my husband and I both supplement with vegetable-based protein (spirulina, hemp, rice, or pea) that can easily be shaken with water into drink form when we need it.  It’s quick, bio-ready, and it works.  How many 185-lb 50-somethings do you know that can deadlift nearly twice his weight in free weights several days per week?  I know one.  He lives in my house, eats my salads, and sleeps in my bed.

5.  “How do you stay so skinny?”

Plants don’t make you fat.  It’s the not-plants that do that job.  I’m the same size as when I married my husband nearly 20 years ago before squeezing out four kids. I’m 10 pounds over my high school graduation weight.  Certainly, genes have something to do with it, both my parents were skinny.  Truth is, I don’t eat a lot of junk food or processed foods.  I literally salivate over nicely arranged salads and bowls of steamed greens.  Olive oil and fresh garlic with toast is my “chocolate sauce.”  A healthy metabolism is fueled by plants and exercise.

6.  “If you were already mostly vegetarian already, why go vegan?”

Because it starts the conversation of why we have mindlessly turned living, breathing, beings into widgets just to satiate our taste bud.  Those who want to know more, ask. Those who don’t, keep the curtains closed.  (Wouldn’t want to ruin that willful ignorance.)

7.  “Do you even like tofu?  It has, like, no taste.”

Au contraire, mon ami, and the Asians are onto something.  We love tofu, and miso, and tempeh, but it is not the bulk of our diet — greens are.  To make our own tofu, we first soak organic soybeans almost to sprouting (required to release the anti-nutrient, phytic acid) and use the electronic kitchen slave for all the work.  As a bonus, we get a bit of milk to drink (we prefer half-and-half soy and almond) and the leftover strained pulp (okara) is a great filler for baking no-egg vegan brownies.  It save us the cost of an organic tofu cake from the grocery, which may or may not have been fermented properly for consumption.  Tofu can be eaten plain, in soups, stir-fried, roasted, grilled, or any number of ways.  It’s just yummy.

8.  “Aren’t you worried about getting complete protein?”

No.  You might be referring to essential and non-essential amino acids.  Again, it is eating a varied diet that fills these voids, not so much making sure you eat this food with that every time, every day.  Here is a nicely compiled list, and even before we became vegan, we were already eating nearly all of the items on it regularly if not seasonally.  Meat-eating Americans don’t even have to think about it.  They are spoiled in getting complete protein by eating meat or eggs because (guess what?) the animal gets them in the plants they eat, served up in the form of sacrificed flesh.  We’re just cutting out the middle man and all the energy, land, and water resources that go into “growing” it.

9.  “Being vegan is too much work.  How do you live without cheese?”

Yes it is, but that’s okay.  Oh, and easy cheesy on the second one.  (Just why is it that humans do not drink human milk anyway?  I digress.)  Unless you are in a position to humanely raise or hunt, then slaughter and process your own meat, or harvest the eggs and milk from your own animals, like it or not — even if you buy just one organic, factory-farmed egg — you are part of the problem. The animal welfare issue is paled by the larger, more nefarious environmental concerns the industry also carries with it.   Buyers, beware. Change starts with you.

10.  “Come on.  Chickens, pigs, cows, they’re just animals.  They’re not humans.”

Yes, exactly, living breathing animals. And no one (even the wackiest PETA rep) is claiming that they are even on the same plane as humans.  But if we can live healthy, productive lives without bringing harm to others, why wouldn’t we?

* * *

What’s the craziest question you’ve been asked as a vegan?

The most common?  How do you respond?

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12 thoughts on ““Where Do You Get Your Protein?” And Other Fun Questions

  1. I love this post. I was a vegetarian for many years and would like to move my family to that over the next few years. I really loved it. And i got so annoyed at these types of questions that I would try to come up with the ridiculous but honest ways to answer so they would leave me alone.

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    1. At first, I too was annoyed. Now that I’ve got my “game” on, I look forward to even more challenging questions! (Reading books on the subject or against the subject also helps.) Though I try not to wear it on my sleeve, selective sarcasm serves me well sometimes.

      I do try to answer with a smile, with joy in my heart, and go easy on the queasy (animal welfare part). Usually once someone sees Food Inc. on their own, the heart takes over. I continue to be amazed at how many folks have no idea how it is that meat winds up in those nice, pretty saran-wrapped packages in the grocery.

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  2. Bravo! So much goodness in this post my dear. You are really making me reconsider your soy milk maker. I’ve been making hemp milk in my blendtec. It’s instant and delicious, but my hubby and kids don’t love it as much as I do. Guess what! I’m 2 weeks away from my Vegan Anniversary! WOOHOO! Love your guts 🙂

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    1. Aw, love your guts too, woman! I look forward to my vegan anniversary. In many ways, all that has been important to me up to now (raising kids, gardening, volunteering at their school) made veganism a shoe-in. It really does fit.

      Soy has a distinct flavor, and when mixed with almond milk makes for a delicious cold breakfast cereal (something I’m not inclined to eat anyway). We’ve never bought hemp milk to drink, but I do shake it into my tennis drink. The soymilk maker is sooooo worth the $100. We’ve already made it back in milk and tofu savings.

      PS — I have Jean-Francois (in a comment on another blog post here) to thank for finding you. You are a gem! And a delight. Anyone whose dog is also vegan is my kinda chick. 🙂

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  3. Love this! I am a vegetarian who leans vegan about two meals a day, so I can relate to just about everything on here. When eating in a restaurant, I am completely dismayed by the lack of vegetarian/vegan options. Thankfully, Chicago has tons of options but when I travel, the menus are usually a sorry sight.

    As for the thinness, I had a nutrition professor who used to say, “Fruits and vegetables fill you up before they fill you out” and it has really stuck with me. Fiberlicious fruits and veggies fill you up the way your stomach was intended to be full…so you simply won’t overeat them. You eat until your full and you stop. Not to mention that even if you did eat double the recommended portions, they are still very low in calories for the amount of nutrients they provide. For this obese nation, it’s a wonder more people don’t switch to veganism.

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    1. You are so very right. My husband was always munching on this and that, and I always told him that perhaps he wasn’t getting enough FOOD — nutrition, that is, NOT calories. He saw me, not munching all throughout the day, rather eating sensible and delicious meals full of bulk fiber and micro-nutrients. I was never hungry after a nice salad. And I was eating practically vegan before the official switch.

      Since getting on board, he has remained the same weight, but his six-pack abs and obliques are back, and the nagging little tire he’s had on his lower backside for 15 years has disappeared. Yes. DISAPPEARED. 🙂

      Now he’s totally convinced. It’s nice not to nag anymore (at least not on him…I still do on my kids).

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    2. Oh, and yes. Veganism is the answer for obesity. But only through a doctor’s careful eye. Most overweight people are also seriously malnourished, and just like a malnourished gaunt child, the switch to healthful eating must be done systematically.

      Woo hoo!! Being the only skinny people in the room (as we occasionally are as a family) and having others watch us choose the green stuff on the buffet table is worth it all. I know some people wonder, even if they don’t directly ask.

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