Being a Vegetarian FAQ
Please select from the list below to see the answers to frequently asked questions on that topic. Got a question about being a vegetarian that isn’t on our list? Please contact us to let us know!
How can I be sure I’m getting enough iron, protein, calcium, etc.?
Plant-based foods are loaded with nutrients including ample protein, iron, calcium, vitamin D, iodine, omega-3 fatty acids, and zinc. Vegans require a reliable source of vitamin B12. The key to health is simple. Include a wide variety of different foods in your diet – no one food source is nutritionally complete by itself. See our vegetarian nutrition page for specific information on which foods contain the above nutrients.
It is the position of Dietitians of Canada and the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.
Should I eliminate meat entirely to get the health benefits of a vegetarian diet?
Whether or not you feel you need to be entirely plant-based to receive optimal health benefits, making the decision to go entirely vegan can make it much easier to maintain a healthy diet. By committing to being vegan you won’t easily give in to temptations, especially during the difficult initial transition period. After a couple of months, your taste buds will change and your desire for meat will most likely diminish. Saying, “I am vegan“ provides an excellent excuse to tell friends and family, when explaining why you can no longer indulge in their meaty meals. Furthermore, as a vegan you will be seen by others as an example of healthy positive change, and there will be a load off your mind and conscience knowing your diet no longer contributes to animal suffering and death.
Are vegetarian diets healthy for all people?
Studies show that overall, vegetarians who eat varied, low-fat diets stand a much better chance of living longer, healthier lives than their meat-eating counterparts. But there are a few reasons why a vegetarian may appear to be unhealthy: Poor eating, sleeping or exercising habits will affect someone whether they eat meat or not. Or the person may be a recent vegetarian who is still recovering from many years of eating a diet heavy on animal foods. The mind can also play a roll through the power of belief. Someone who has a strong belief that they need meat, may feel unhealthy if they go without meat for a while.
Is seafood healthy?
Contrary to popular belief, fish is not a health food. Fish flesh contains toxins from the water that fish live in, and those toxins get passed on to people who eat fish. Fish raised on farms are given antibiotics, which are also passed on to consumers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 325,000 people in the U.S. get sick or die every year from eating contaminated fish and other sea animals. Even if you could be sure that the fish you eat were free of chemicals, the flesh of some sea animals, especially shrimps and scallops, contains even more cholesterol than beef!
As an alternative, you can enjoy seaweeds (such as nori and dulse), and flax oil is an excellent source of omega-3.
I’ve heard others ask if animals kill other animals for food, so why shouldn’t we?
Most animals who kill for food could not survive if they didn’t, but that is not the case for humans. In fact, we would be better off if we didn’t eat meat. Many animals, including some of our closest primate relatives, are vegetarians. We should look to them, rather than to carnivores, as models of healthy eating.
The animals have to die sometime, so what’s wrong with eating them?
People die, too, but that doesn’t give someone the right to kill them or cause them a lifetime of suffering.
Don’t farmers have to treat their animals well so they’ll produce more meat, milk or eggs?
Animals on factory farms gain weight, lay eggs, or produce milk not because they are well cared for, but because their bodies have been manipulated with medications, hormones, genetics, and management techniques. In addition, animals raised for food are slaughtered when they are extremely young, usually before disease and misery decimate them. Factory farmers raise such huge numbers of animals for food that it is less expensive for them to absorb some losses than it is for them to provide humane conditions.
What about fish?
The definition of vegetarian also means not eating seafood. There are many excellent reasons to forgo foods that involve killing fish. The oceans are being overfished, coral reefs are being destroyed and sensitive sea floors are getting raked with drag nets. Many species are threatened, including dolphins, seabirds and turtles that get snagged in the nets. Also fish feel pain, they just lack vocal chords to express it. You can still enjoy seaweeds (such as nori and dulse), and flax oil is an excellent source of omega-3.
What will we do with all the chickens, cows, and pigs if everyone becomes a vegetarian?
It is unrealistic to expect that everyone will stop eating animals overnight. As the demand for meat decreases, fewer animals will be raised for food. Farmers will stop breeding so many animals and will turn to other types of agriculture. When there are fewer of these animals, they will be able to live more natural lives.
If everyone became vegetarian, many animals would never even be born. Isn’t that worse for them?
Life on factory farms is so miserable that it is hard to imagine that we are doing animals a favour by bringing them into that type of existence and then confining them, tormenting them, and slaughtering them.
From an ecological point of view domesticated animals displace wild animals. Every piece of agricultural land used for feed crops or pasture has a history of being a natural ecosystem supporting wildlife. Less farm animals raised for food would free up land that could be converted back into forests, grasslands and wetlands.
If everyone replaced meat with vegetarian foods, wouldn’t we need just as much farm land?
In North America most of the farmland would no longer be needed if there was a significant move to vegetarian diets. Farm animals must be fed a lot of food to put on the weight necessary for edible flesh. As is the case for people, animals are naturally inefficient because much of their food is converted into energy for movement, excreted as manure, or used for the growth of body parts not eaten by people. Very little can become direct edible weight gain. For example, cattle excrete 40 kilograms of manure for every kilogram of edible beef produced.
Isn’t the manure used for fertilizer?
The meat industry makes an effort to utilize some of the byproducts, but because of the huge numbers of animals slaughtered, this can be a challenge. Farmers prefer to use easy-to-spread chemical fertilizers instead of trucking manure over long distances from factory-style animal farms. On hog-raising operations in the U.S., only about one sixth of manure is utilized. In Canada, the stench from industrial pig farms has caused a huge problem for neighbours. Excess animal waste often ends up in rivers and groundwater where it contributes to nitrogen, phosphorus and nitrate pollution.
The animals are already dead – shouldn’t we use their skins?
The animals are dead only because there is a demand for their flesh and skin. If the demand decreases, fewer animals will be killed. You can “vote” for compassion every time you shop, simply by refusing to support industries that hurt animals and choosing humane alternatives instead.
Isn’t leather better for the environment than synthetics?
As a renewable resource, leather seems like it should be green, but unfortunately this is not the case. Leather products are loaded with chemicals to keep them from decomposing in the buyer’s closet, and leather production pollutes the environment and squanders precious resources.
Formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives, and various oils, dyes, and finishes-some of them cyanide-based-are used to turn animal skins into finished leather goods. Most leather produced in North America is chrome-tanned. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, all wastes containing chromium are hazardous. Tannery effluent also contains large amounts of other pollutants, such as lime sludge, sulfides, and acids.
Huge amounts of fossil fuels are consumed in livestock production, much of it for fertilizers to grow feed crops. By contrast, synthetic wearables account for a much smaller fraction of petroleum use.
Don’t synthetic shoes make your feet sweat?
Some of the newest synthetics are actually superior to real skins. For example, Chlorenol (called Durabuck by Nike), which is used in athletic and hiking shoes, is an innovative new material that “breathes,” stretches around the foot with the same “give” as leather, and provides great support. You can also find nice shoes made from canvas or hemp.
What am I supposed to do with the leather I already have?
Once you learn about what happens to animals in the leather industry, you may decide to shed their skins for good. But not everyone can afford to throw out all their old clothes and buy an entirely new cruelty-free wardrobe all at once. Some people go leather-free overnight; others gradually replace leather goods with animal-friendly gear. Do what feels right to you.
Where can I find non-leather alternatives?
Check out our Leather & Alternatives page for plenty of suggestions and links. The page also includes more information about what’s wrong with leather.
What exactly is a vegetarian?
Vegetarians don’t eat the flesh of any animals be they mammals, birds or fish. In addition Vegans don’t eat any animal products such as milk, cheese and eggs. Lacto-ovo-vegetarians include dairy products and eggs as part of their diet.
Note: For the purposes of our Veg Guide, restaurants are classified as vegan if they have no meat, fish, eggs, or dairy (except the option of cream for coffee or cheese as an optional garnish) on the menu. Honey is not taken into consideration.
Do vegans eat honey?
Honey is not vegan according to the Vegan Society’s official definition. Honey can be substituted with maple syrup, rice syrup or agave nectar. Some people who identify with being vegan still eat honey.
Do these words derive from the word “vegetable”?
Actually, the word vegetarian, coined by the founders of the British Vegetarian Society in 1842, comes from the Latin word vegetus, meaning “whole, sound, fresh, or lively.”
The word “vegan” was invented by Donald Watson, founder of The Vegan Society. It contains the first three and last two letters of “vegetarian” – “the beginning and end of vegetarian.” It is pronounced: “vee-gun.”
How many vegetarians are there?
According to the Dietitians of Canada and the American Dietetic Association’s June 2003 Vegetarian Position Paper , approximately 4% of Canadian adults (900,000 people) and 2.5% of adults in the United States (4.8 million people) consistently follow vegetarian diets. Slightly less than 1% of those polled were vegans. But 20 to 25% of adults in the United States report that they eat four or more meatless meals weekly or “usually or sometimes maintain a vegetarian diet.”
Interest in vegetarian eating is on the rise. According to a 2005 Mintel food service report, the value of vegetarian-specific foods such as soymilk, veggie burgers and frozen vegetarian entrees has increased by 64% since 2000 (or 45% in constant 2005 dollars). Sales in 2005 were worth $1.2 billion, and are project to hit $1.7 billion by 2010.
What about clothing such as leather, down and wool?
People become vegetarian or vegan for different reasons and some draw the line at food. Some go a step further and stop wearing leather, down or wool. Others continue to wear such clothing until it wears out, then they replace it with animal-free alternatives.
Those practicing a full vegan lifestyle endeavour to live lives which do not cause any suffering at all to animals, or exploit animals in any way. This normally involves ceasing to eat or wear any animal products such as leather, wool, silk and down. Entertainment that confines or exploits animals such as circuses, rodeos and zoos is usually avoided. PETA has an excellent website on how to live a vegan lifestyle.
What does macrobiotic mean?
Foods are classified according to the ancient Chinese principle of Yin and Yang, the idea being to achieve a Yin-Yang balance in the diet. The foods that are avoided in this diet include all processed foods, meat and dairy products, and refined flours and sugars.
For more information see:
Wikipedia’s definition (includes links)
The Macrobiotic Diet (July 1999 Lifelines Newsletter, includes two recipes)
Yin and Yang: The macrobiotic way (May/June ’95 Lifelines, includes recipes)
What is a raw foods diet?
Raw and living food diets include fruits, vegetables, sprouts, nuts, seeds, grains, and sea vegetables. Food is eaten whole or processed by juicing or dehydrating, but never at temperatures over 116 degrees F. This preserves their enzymes and nutrient values. Most raw foodists soak/sprout nuts, seeds and grains before consuming them. For more information about a raw food diet and some excellent links for resources see our raw foods page .
Fruitarians go a step further, and only live on nuts and fruits which can be harvested without causing damage to the plant.
What is a freegan?
Freegans get free food by pulling it out of the trash. Freegans say they find ample amounts of clean, edible food in the garbage of restaurants, grocery stores, and other food-related industries, and this allows them to avoid spending money on products that exploit resources, workers and animals. They prevent edible food from contributing to landfills. They may or may not be technically vegan. For more information see Freeganism at Wikipedia and freegan.info.
Who is the Toronto Vegetarian Association?
Founded in 1945, the Toronto Vegetarian Association (TVA) is Toronto’s go-to resource for all things veg. We are a registered charity, whose mission is to inspire people to choose a healthier, greener, more compassionate lifestyle through plant-based eating. For more information, visit the About Us tab on Veg.ca.
What does TVA do?
We host North America’s largest Veg Food Fest, we publish Toronto’s Veg Guide of restaurants, bakeries, natural food stores, and other related businesses. We provide information and support through outreach at community events, festivals and tradeshows. We also encourage the veggie-curious through our 7-Day Veggie Challenge program. Our members and volunteers also organize other great events, social outings and more. Visit this page to learn more about our events and programs.
Can I join TVA?
Membership with TVA is an all-access pass to exclusive vegetarian deals and discounts, exciting events, and expert information about all things veg in the Toronto area. For only $25, you can join today and start taking advantage of member-only discounts at more than 115 locations across the Toronto area. Learn more about membership, here.
How do you protect emails and other personal contact details?
• Vegan Outreach – They have an excellent page of vegan FAQs including the sticky question of honey and insects.
• International Vegetarian Union – They have a very thorough list of vegetarian FAQs divided into sections.