Mary Allen is a plant-based marathoner and lifestyle blogger who has heard the following more times than she can count. Catch her at plantnasty.com and on Instagram.
1. Wow, veganism seems really extreme.
That depends on your definition of extreme. The 135-mile Badwater ultramarathon through Death Valley is extreme. When vegan superathlete Scott Jurek broke the record for traversing the Appalachian trail (he hiked all 2,189 miles in 46 days, 8 hours, and 7 minutes), that was pretty extreme. In 2013, Janette Murray-Wakelin and Alan Murray, a raw vegan couple in their sixties, broke the world record for most consecutive marathons (366 in a row!). Impressive. Extreme. Nothing could be milder than sticking to fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and legumes and just skipping the animal products. Eating plants only seems intense and a little fringe because, frankly, the only thing stronger than vegan athletes is social norms.
2. Veganism is fine for girls, but…
When are we going to kick the idea that eating meat is a metric for manliness? The meat industry has been strengthening and capitalizing on this stereotype for years with a battery of extremely sexist ad campaigns. (If you’re looking for some light bedtime reading on the connection between meat-eating and the patriarchy, check out The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory by Carol J. Adams.) Surely in this grocery store era, where we forage for food in neat, fluorescent-lit aisles, we can drop wistful notions about hunter-gatherer gender roles. In fact, the saturated fat and cholesterol in animal products has been linked with erectile dysfunction, and no one runs faster or farther when their heart is gummed up with cholesterol.
View on Instagram
3. So where do you get your protein?
Ah yes, this question. The easy answer is “beans, seeds, nuts, legumes, and greens.” (Did you know that a cup of lentils has about 18 grams of protein, the equivalent of the protein in three hardboiled eggs?) What few people know is that the average American male gets nearly double the recommended 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, while the average American female gets about 1.5 times as much protein as recommended. And, contrary to popular belief, excessive consumption of protein isn’t necessarily healthy. To get really nitty-gritty about it, diets high in animal protein are associated with higher levels of the cancer-promoting IGF-1 hormone. Actual protein deficiency is super rare in the U.S. — if you’re eating enough calories, chances are you’re getting enough protein. Yet somehow, high-protein ice creams and protein-infused vodka (?!?) are making money off our deep faith in protein as an almighty health food. At the end of the day, I love a good legume, but I don’t stress about protein.
4. I just can’t get full on salad.
Veganism does not, has never, and will never equal saladism. (Don’t get me wrong: Salads are dope, but a big burrito with black beans, brown rice, sautéed peppers and onions, cilantro, and a generous dollop of guacamole is also thoroughly vegan.) My plate is so much more defined by variety and by incredible flavors than it is by the elimination of animal products. The spices, the seasonings, and the sauces are what make food delicious anyway. Meat is so often simply a vehicle for other flavors. IMHO, few things are as decadent — or filling — as a big platter of falafel, roasted eggplant, and creamy hummus with fattoush and a warm, fresh-baked pita.
View on Instagram
5. Aren’t you afraid it will make you weak?
That thought did cross my mind when I was new to veganism, but then I learned about athletes like Fiona Oakes, a triple world record holder for marathon running, and Carl Lewis, a nine-time Olympic gold medalist in track and field who was named “World Athlete of the Century” by the International Athletic Foundation at the 1999 World Athletics Gala in Monaco. Not bad for a vegan. Team USA’s only male weight lifter at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Kendrick Farris, is vegan. Ultrarunner and duathlete Laura Kline has been vegan for 11 years and she has a habit of running (and winning) 50-kilometer races. Listening to vegan ultrarunner Rich Roll’s podcast ultimately convinced me to take the leap to veganism. And in my own (much less splashy) experience, I dropped over 17 minutes off my marathon time when I adopted a plant-based diet. In conclusion, no: zero fears of weakness here.
View on Instagram
6. You must need to take a lot of supplements if you don’t eat meat.
Like us, farm animals get their vitamins and minerals from the food they eat. Eating a plant-based diet is just skipping the middleman. Some people load up on iron by eating steak. I opt for dark leafy greens and nuts instead. My training season means heaping plates of spinach, chard, beets, sweet potatoes, blueberries and beyond (#eattherainbow, folks!). In fact, the pigments that make plants so colorful are actually important nutrients themselves. For instance, the orange color of carrots and apricots comes from alpha- and beta-carotene, precursors to vitamin A. Blueberries are blue because of antioxidants called anthocyanins, which seem to do a stellar job of protecting against cognitive decline. But the berry is greater than the sum of its parts: whole blueberries are more neuroprotective than the isolated anthocyanins. Whether or not you decide to take supplements is between you, your doctor, and GNC. But I guarantee you that “Let food be thy medicine” is advice with no expiration date.
7. Veganism is just too expensive.
Steer clear of the juice bars and it’ll be okay. Yes, veganism can be expensive — and so can eating meat and cheese. The real cost difference is in eating well rather than eating whatever. If you care about eating healthful, high quality food, plants are the cheapest way to go. (Compare the cost of an antibiotic-free, grass-fed steak with the cost of broccoli, beans, and whole grains like oats and brown rice.) This makes sense from a resource standpoint, since it’s inherently less efficient to feed crops to other animals so that we can one day eat these animals. We would save a lot of water, cropland, misery, and money if we just ate closer to the earth. Veganism gets a bad rap for being elitist and exclusionary, but the fewer animals we eat, the more people we can feed.
When it comes to most animal products, we don’t see the real cost. The price tag for meat, eggs, and dairy is artificially low due to disproportionate government subsidies to those industries and to the corn and soy industries that support them. And the price we do see still excludes the environmental cost of these products. A 2016 Oxford study calculated that beef would need to be taxed at 40 percent to offset its contribution to climate change. That’s to say nothing of the externalized expenses of health care required by years of eating diets low in fiber and high in saturated fat and cholesterol. Meat is a more expensive habit than we realize.
View on Instagram
8. But milk is so good for your bones!
Our notion that milk is an essential health food has its roots in the ads and government policies created to handle the US dairy surplus in the wake of World War I. The iconic government-funded “Got Milk?” campaign has recruited everyone from Harrison Ford to Kermit the Frog to remind us that milk is good for our bones and vital to human health. Yet research indicates that milk consumption does not protect against bone fractures. Eating fruits and vegetables, by contrast, goes hand in hand with bone health. Dark leafy greens, beans, and fruit are rich in the calcium, magnesium, and vitamin K we need for strong bones — and these don’t come with the dose of hormones and saturated fat found in dairy.
9. I could never give up cheese.
Oh man. Yeah, I thought that too. I hated running, and I loved cheese. And steak. And scrambled eggs. But we define our tastes and our habits — not the other way around. What we choose to eat today is what we end up desiring tomorrow. As athletes, we train our bodies. As eaters, we train our tastes. We all know this to be true anecdotally: Wine, coffee, oysters, olives, and more are said to be “acquired tastes.” But this effect isn’t just psychological. We’re starting to understand how the bacteria in our digestive tracts — our gut microbiomes — influence mood, behavior, and cravings. The kinds of bacteria in your gut are determined by the food that you eat, and determine what you want to eat next: It’s a feedback loop. If you want to try going vegan, just give it a few weeks. Take it from a former carnivore: You may find it feels easier — and better — to kick the cheese habit than you ever imagined.
- The Health and Beauty Benefits of Green Vegetables
- Millennial Women Want More Green Beauty Products
- 35 Cruelty-Free Makeup Brushes We Love
- 1 1. Wow, veganism seems really extreme.
- 2 2. Veganism is fine for girls, but…
- 3 3. So where do you get your protein?
- 4 4. I just can’t get full on salad.
- 5 5. Aren’t you afraid it will make you weak?
- 6 6. You must need to take a lot of supplements if you don’t eat meat.
- 7 7. Veganism is just too expensive.
- 8 8. But milk is so good for your bones!
- 9 9. I could never give up cheese.