Sam Turnbull, a cookbook author and creator of the blog It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken, has been vegan since 2012. Though she grew up with a diet heavy in meat, these days she can’t imagine ever ditching her plant-based diet.
“Going vegan made me healthier, leaner, more energetic and just overall happier,” she told HuffPost. “Gone were the days of feeling bloated after eating, of having a sensitive stomach, of getting drowsy mid-afternoon, of unbuttoning my jeans after meals, and of feeling guilty and grossed out when I thought about what my dinner really was.”
Turnbull loves her vegan diet, but she still encounters a lot of confusion around veganism. Though more and more Americans are trying plant-based meat-substitutes, going entirely vegan is still a rare choice; in the U.S., 4% of people identify as vegetarian and only 1% as vegan, according to a 2023 Gallup poll.
Depending on which part of the country you’re in, if you say you’re vegan at a dinner party, it’s not uncommon to encounter quizzical looks and, sometimes, plain-out rude questions and comments: “Why do vegans eat Beyond burgers and other mock meats if you hate it so much?” “Do you have a protein deficiency because of your diet?” “Oh, more meat for me, then!”
Other times, restaurants might forget about vegans entirely, or leave plant-based customers with one paltry option: A boring side salad.
To counter some of that confusion, Turnbull and other vegans share some of the most frustrating misconceptions or experiences that come with being vegan.
Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.
1. There’s an assumption that all vegans are preachy.
“Most people just don’t get veganism. They think it’s an extreme diet, and that vegans are preachy. And often people try to look for faults in veganism, when in reality, vegans are just trying to do their best to limit animal cruelty, reduce their footprint on the environment, and to improve their own health. Even if someone isn’t vegan, you’d hope that they could at least respect our efforts.” ― Turnbull
2. It’s tough to find restaurants that are inclusive to vegans, not just vegetarians.
“The rise of vegan restaurants over the past decade has been a game changer and a significant step forward for both vegans and animals. Walking into a vegan restaurant isn’t just exciting for vegans; it’s a sigh of relief knowing that we don’t have to wade through a menu hoping for a good vegan option. That said, many mainstream restaurants still lag behind. Vegetarian options are often the default, yet they’re typically laden with cheese, milk or eggs. Here’s the thing: if restaurants made one really amazing vegan option (beyond a salad) vegetarians and vegans could eat it. Yet some restaurants still haven’t embraced this idea or are slow to recognise the growing demand for great vegan dishes. ― Erin Wysocarski, creator of the blog Olives for Dinner
3. Now that plant-based meat substitutes are common, you hear questions like “If you don’t like meat, why do you eat mock products?”
“One major frustration about being vegan is the question or comment most people ask, that’s usually something along the lines of: ‘I don’t understand why vegans give up dairy, eggs and meat just to replicate dairy, eggs and meat. If you hate it so much, then stop trying to replicate it.’ I wish people would understand that many vegans, myself included, didn’t give up those things because we were disgusted by it or didn’t find it appetising.
Besides that, it’s just easier to call something vegan chicken rather than jackfruit and seitan drumsticks. Imagine if you’d just transitioned to a vegan or plant-based diet and you were searching online for vegan recipes. If you were looking for a vegan chicken recipe, chances are you’d search ‘vegan chicken’ instead of [jackfruit or seitan]. I try to deal with these questions by being open minded and reminding people that I’m not forcing my diet on anyone; I just want to give alternatives to those who might be looking for them.” ― Ashley Hankins, a cookbook author and creator of the blog Eat Figs Not Pigs
4. When you shop, you realise milk is in almost everything.
“It’s so hard to find items without milk! From salt and vinegar potato chips, to bars of dark chocolate, to crackers, to granola bars, to hot sauce, to jars of minced garlic, it’s in everything. I’ve found it hidden in the most random products. You really can’t purchase anything without carefully reading the ingredients. This is not only frustrating for vegans but also really weird that brands are doing that since the vast majority of the population is lactose intolerant.” ― Turnbull
5. People assume that a vegan diet is expensive and that’s why they avoid it.
“There’s a belief that there’s only one way to eat a vegan diet: expensively. I think it stems from people only focusing on only certain types of meals and pricey vegan substitutes for meats, milk and cheese. But there are several world cuisines that are vegan-friendly and don’t rely on vegan substitutes. Most of those cuisines rely on whole foods like beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, tofu and more and many of these are cheaper or similarly priced to other ingredients.” ― Richa Hingle, a vegan cookbook author and creator of the blog Vegan Richa
6. It can be annoying to deal with holier-than-thou vegans
“For me, the most frustrating thing about being vegan is other vegans, at least from time to time! I grew up vegetarian in the ’80s and ’90s so I’ve encountered lots of opinions about my diet from omnivores. I have my reasons for being vegan, so this doesn’t bother me greatly. However, the vegan scene has been a rather tough nut to crack. I’ve found that other vegans sometimes have such prescriptive ideas about what it actually means to be a vegan, that the whole scene can feel like a rather exclusive members club. Ironically, I think this ends up deterring most people from giving veganism a try because they become preoccupied with the idea of ‘gold star veganism,’ rather than doing what they can to cut down on animal products.
I’ve learned to deal with this by remembering that there is no such thing as a perfect vegan. Personally I believe there are as many different ways to be a vegan as there are vegans, and through my recipe development and cookbooks, I try to encourage people to find joy and comfort in vegan cooking, rather than becoming concerned about perfection. It’s surely better to have a hundred imperfect vegans than one perfect one!” ― Richard Makin, a vegan cook and creator of the blog School Night Vegan
7. Sometimes people think that “being vegan” is your whole personality.
“You would think that not being able to eat your favourite meat and cheese-laden food would be the most challenging and frustrating thing when you become vegan. For me, though, it’s people and social situations, especially as someone who doesn’t particularly enjoy being the centre of attention. Being introduced as ‘the vegan,’ navigating food-related social events like weddings, parties, work lunches, summer BBQs and dinner invitations, and being bombarded with questions, jokes, preconceptions and sometimes even hostility is so tough.” ― Melanie McDonald, the author of “Vegan Comfort Cooking” and the creator of the blog A Virtual Vegan
8. It’s hard to understand and talk to animal lovers who still eat animals.
“I don’t think I’m the only vegan who deals with cognitive dissonance when I talk to ’animal lovers” who eat meat. People say they love animals and dislike animal cruelty when they literally pay someone to kill animals and then eat them. They feel outrage over people eating dog meat when they eat animals themselves, or they coo over cute lambs in a field then eat a lamb’s leg for Easter dinner. It’s incredibly frustrating and even harder when it’s friends and loved ones and we have to listen to their bizarre justifications. Learning to emotionally detach and remembering that I was once like this myself before I made the connection really helps.” ― McDonald
9. There’s a belief that you can’t honour your family’s cultural dishes if you’re vegan.
“I was born in the Philippines and raised in a Filipino household and even though I’ve been vegan for nearly a decade, my family still has a hard time grasping the concept that I don’t eat meat. I’m sure many different cultures can relate to this! I deal with this by veganising my family’s traditional dishes and recipes and offering to cook for them. I love being able to call my mom or my Lola (my grandma), and ask them for their adobo or pancit recipes, and then tweak them to fit my vegan diet. I think there’s a huge misconception that you give up a bit of your culture if you go vegan but I don’t think that’s true at all. On the contrary, I actually think going vegan has brought me closer to my Filipino heritage since I’ve learned to cook Filipino dishes that I probably would have never bothered learning to cook before!” ― Hankins
10. The “Oh, so you just eat rabbit food?” jokes get annoying, too.
“Encountering people who have a very limited view of what vegan food is and can be (and then have strong opinions about it!) is my big frustration. I have met people who think vegan food is just rabbit food and insist that humans cannot survive on a vegan diet, as well as people who think that plant-based substitutes are all artificially-made poison. There’s diversity in vegan food and a deep tradition within many cultures of creating naturally plant-based food that is nourishing, delicious and satisfying. Depending on the openness of the person, I try to explain that and point to some of my favourite recipes. If they seem set in their viewpoints, I just move on with my day.” ― Nisha Vora, the creator of the blog Rainbow Plant Life