Vegan Australia often receives queries about veganism from students and other interested people. Below we answer some of the most common questions we hear. If your question is not answered here, please try the VegResources digital vegan welcome packet or let us know.
- What is veganism?
- What is a vegan?
- What is Vegan Australia, what are its aims, what does it do?
- How many vegans are there in Australia?
- What impact does veganism have on animals' lives?
- How many animals are used in Australia for food?
- Is the life of an animal just as important as a human's?
- Are products made with bacteria or yeast vegan?
Health and nutrition
- What are vegan diets?
- Can a vegan diet be nutritionally healthy?
- What are the effects of a balanced vegan diet on human health?
- Can eating meat cause cancer?
- Does eating a healthy vegan diet reduce the risk of chronic disease?
- What are the effects of animal production and consumption on the human mind?
- Can everyone can be vegan, even if they have health issues?
- What foods are richest in protein/iron/fibre/calcium?
- What about meat and dairy substitutes?
- What are the risks of consuming a vegan diet?
- How does animal agriculture affect the environment?
- What changes would you like to see in the animal agriculture industry?
- What are some of the main benefits of living a vegan lifestyle?
- What are some tips for non-vegans who are wanting to try being vegan?
- Are there any difficulties in going vegan?
- Is eating vegan expensive?
- Where can I get vegan pamphlets to give to my friends or for a stall.
- Do you think being vegan is becoming a lot more popular because of social media?
- Should everyone become vegan?
- Will showing people the horrors of animal agriculture change their attitudes and behaviour?
- Is the way the vegan lifestyle portrayed in the media the same as it actually is?
- What are some tips for vegans who are subject to victimisation?
- What are some opposing points of view to veganism?
- Where can I learn more?
What is veganism?
Veganism is defined as "a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose". In other words, veganism is the idea that we should avoid unnecessary suffering of animals, as much as possible. Whenever we have a choice to avoid harming animals, we should do so.
Veganism is the understanding that animals: value their own lives and bodies; have an interest in continuing their existence, avoiding suffering and seeking pleasure; and have the right to be treated with respect and justice and not as commodities or property.
Find out more about why animals matter.
What is a vegan?
A vegan is someone who actively strives to bring about a world where animals are not used by humans for food, clothing, entertainment or any other purpose. Vegans put this into practice in their daily lives by eating a diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, nuts, seeds and other plant foods and by not wearing or using any animal products.
Sometimes people use 'vegan' to describe someone who eats a plant-based diet. Veganism is much more than that - it means respecting animals by not using them in any way.
What is Vegan Australia, what are its aims, what does it do?
Vegan Australia is an animal rights organisation which campaigns nationally for veganism. For full details see our About us page. The aims of Vegan Australia are given in our Vision and Mission statements. Vegan Australia aims to effectively promote veganism through a broad range of activities as listed in our What we do page. If you agree with our principles please help us by volunteering or becoming a supporter.
How many vegans are there in Australia?
Unfortunately statistics about the number of vegans in Australia are very sporadic. Based on early data from the National Nutrition Survey and other studies we estimate that about 2% of Australians are vegan. This is approximately 500,000 people. A more recent survey found that there are almost 2.5 million Australians whose diet is all or almost all vegetarian and that almost 10 million Australians are eating less red meat. Other statistics can be found in our article Business case for vegan options in non-vegan restaurants.
What impact does veganism have on animals' lives?
The everyday use of animals for food, clothing, entertainment, etc, causes them immense suffering and takes away the only life they have. By going vegan, you no longer contribute to this. One person going vegan can save hundreds of animals.
How many animals are used in Australia for food?
Every year in Australia, about 600 million animals are bred, raised and killed for food. This number includes about 500 million 'meat' chickens 34 million lambs, 15 million cattle, 12 million 'egg' hens, 12 million unwanted male chicks, 8 million ducks, 7 million sheep, 5 million turkeys and 5 million pigs. References at Aussie Farms.
Is the life of an animal just as important as a human's?
Whatever we may think about this question, it is not a requirement of veganism. We don't need to assume it to be true to know that animals can suffer, which is the important similarity between humans and non-human animals. If we could live happy and health lives without harming others, why wouldn't we?
Are products made with bacteria or yeast vegan?
Yes. Veganism is about avoiding causing harm to animals, where 'animals' are defined as being all vertebrates and multicellular invertebrates. Bacteria and yeast (a kind of fungi, like mushrooms) are single-celled organisms and are not part of the animal kingdom. Like plants, they are not sentient and they do not feel pain. Bacteria are crucial to human life and in fact the average human's body contains trillions of bacteria and fungi, more than the number of cells. So yes, assuming they don't contain any animal products, foods made with bacteria or yeast, such as bread, beer, wine, kimchi, soy sauce, Vegemite and kombucha, are vegan. Note that commercial dry yeasts often contain an emulsifier (E491), which may be from animal origin. In this case, check the label for a vegan statement or contact the manufacturer.
Health and nutrition
What are vegan diets?
Vegan diets are those that include fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, beans, tofu, herbs, spices, mushrooms, minerals, microorganisms and other foods that are not from animals. Vegan diets can contain whole foods, such as these, or foods that are processed to various extents, such as the meat and dairy substitutes that are now becoming more readily available.
A balanced plant based diet consisting of a wide variety of nutritious whole foods is one of the healthiest ways to live. Some processed vegan foods can be less nutritious and can contain higher amounts of salt and oil. These should be eaten in moderation.
Can a vegan diet be nutritionally healthy?
Yes. Vegan diets can be healthy and nutritionally adequate and are appropriate for individuals of all ages, supplying all essential nutrients. This is confirmed by Australia's top health body in the Australian Dietary Guidelines. You can find a short summary in our media release "Government recognises vegan diet as viable option for all Australians".
The only nutrient that must be obtained by supplementing is vitamin B12. This can be obtained either using supplements or eating foods fortified with B12. For more information, see "What every vegan should know about B12".
What are the effects of a balanced vegan diet on human health?
Eating a balanced, whole food vegan diet can be very beneficial to your health and could help you live a longer, healthier life and significantly reduce your risk of falling victim to many of the serious health threats facing Australians today, including heart disease, stroke, cancer, obesity and diabetes.
Find out more about why an increasing number of nutritionists and health professionals are acknowledging that animal products are harmful to our health.
Can eating meat cause cancer?
Eating a meat-based diet, particularly one that includes processed meat, can increase your risk of cancer. Read more about cancer and processed meat here.
The World Health Organisation has declared that processed meat is "carcinogenic to humans" and "eating processed meat causes colorectal (bowel) cancer". It may also cause cancers of the oesophagus, lung, stomach and prostate.
The World Health Organisation has also declared that red meat is probably carcinogenic to humans, saying that there is a link between eating red meat and developing colorectal cancer and also possibly pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer.
Does eating a healthy vegan diet reduce the risk of chronic disease?
People who consume no animal products enjoy the highest level of protection against chronic diseases such as obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, metabolic syndrome and cancer. In fact a plant based diet can even reverse chronic disease. Read more about a way forward for chronic disease here.
What are the effects of animal production and consumption on the human mind?
There are many ways that animal use negatively affects society and the human mind.
The massive scale of producing and consuming countless tortured animals every day requires the desensitisation of billions of children and adults around the world. This in turn sows the seeds of human violence, war, poverty and despair. Read this short extract from the book "The World Peace Diet".
Also see articles on the link between animal rights and human rights, the mental distress of slaughterhouse workers, the cognitive dissonance of meat eaters and how fruit and vegies can make you happier.
Can everyone can be vegan, even if they have health issues?
What foods are richest in protein/iron/fibre/calcium?
You don't need to worry too much about individual nutrients as long as you are eating a wide variety of nutritious foods from the four food groups as given in the Australian Dietary Guidelines:
- fruits and vegetables
- wholegrain cereals
- tofu, nuts, seeds, legumes and beans
- dairy alternatives
Find out more about vegan nutrition.
What about meat and dairy substitutes?
In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in the availability of alternatives to animal products. These include vegan versions of sausages, burger patties, mince meat, bacon, cheese, milk, yogurt, butter and many more and are available in all supermarkets.
These can be a great way for people to transition to a vegan diet. In cooking, these can be used exactly as their non-vegan equivalents. However, some of the "meat" products can be highly processed and so these should be eaten in moderation, as part of a balanced, whole food vegan diet.
What are the risks of consuming a vegan diet?
Perhaps the question should be what are the risks of consuming a meat-based diet, as these diets can significantly increase your risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, obesity and diabetes.
No matter what diet you have, you need to ensure you get all essential nutrients, otherwise deficiencies can occur. The fact that more than 60 per cent of Australians use some type of supplement shows that many people struggle to get all their nutrients through food.
A whole food vegan diet has plenty of essential fibre, most vitamins and minerals, micronutrients and phytonutrients - better than other diets for these nutrients. However there are some nutrients that you have to put more thought into. These include vitamin B12 and omega 3, as well as to a lesser extent iron and calcium. Regarding protein, it is almost impossible not to get enough protein if you are eating sufficient calories.
On a whole food vegan diet, the only nutrient that must be obtained by supplementing is vitamin B12. This can be obtained either using supplements or eating foods fortified with B12. For more information, see "What every vegan should know about B12".
To learn how to obtain enough omega-3, iron and calcium on a vegan diet see our article Nutrients in a vegan diet.
How does animal agriculture affect the environment?
The havoc caused to the world environment by the billions of animals we breed, raise and kill for food each year is huge. The United Nations has identified animal agriculture as 'one of the most significant contributors to today's most serious environmental problems', including global warming, loss of fresh water, rainforest destruction, spreading deserts, air and water pollution, acid rain, soil erosion and loss of habitat. Vast areas of forest are cleared to grow crops to feed farmed animals. The methane produced by these animals is the largest single cause of global warming, larger than all transport worldwide. Large quantities of excrement produced by animal industries leak into rivers and oceans as pollution.
Read more about how to help the environment and how animal agriculture is a major cause of climate change. Other topics on how animal agriculture damages the environment include: land clearing for animal agriculture kills native animals, the Great Barrier Reef, climate change (submission) and case for phasing out animal agriculture (submission).
A worldwide move to a vegan diet will help reverse global warming and help many other environmental problems.
What changes would you like to see in the animal agriculture industry?
Our goal is the end of exploitation of all animals. Animal agriculture, whether for flesh, milk, eggs, leather, wool or any other animal product causes suffering and death of the animals. So we would like the agriculture industry to move away from using animals completely. This would involve major changes in the way land is used, but should not affect the overall food production of Australia. A lot of land is used to grow plant feed for animals, and much of this could be used to grow plants for direct human consumption. Currently about half of the Australian land mass is used for animal grazing. When farmed animals are removed from this land, some of it could be used for carbon farming (sequestering carbon dioxide) by regrowing vegetation and enriching the soil, some for restoration of rangelands and some could be returned to Aboriginal ownership and control. Land currently used for dairy production is often in very fertile areas and much could be readily converted to plant production.
What are some of the main benefits of living a vegan lifestyle?
The main benefit of veganism is the reduction in suffering of farmed animals. Each person who becomes vegan saves hundreds of animals from short, painful lives. Other benefits include reducing green house gas emissions, improving other environmental problems and making the world a fairer place by reducing the grain fed to animals thus making it more available to the millions of starving people. There are also health benefits for people who eat balanced vegan diets, including a reduction in the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, obesity, and diabetes.
Veganism is good for animals, good for the environment and good for us.
What are some tips for non-vegans who are wanting to try being vegan?
Are there any difficulties in going vegan?
Some people find that the hardest thing about becoming vegan is dealing with family, friends and colleagues who do not understand the ethics of veganism and try to undermine them. This is often fuelled by negative myths about a vegan diet. You can ease any resistance you may get from your family by doing your research. Learn as much as you can about vegan health and make sure you get enough B12, omega-3, and iron. See the article Social Pressure 'Hardest Part' Of Veganism.
In most cultures eating meat and other animal products is a central part of many activities. This can present difficulties to new vegans who have to deal with the opposition, and sometimes ridicule, of people they are close to. But they should remember that traditions change, and do so all the time. Cultural activities can be adapted and can be enjoyed without using animals. For example, the important things about the tradition of Christmas, such as spending time with loved ones, does not require the flesh of turkeys or any other animals. The kind of food eaten should not be a cause of conflict.
Socialising with other vegans is a great way to avoid feeling isolated. There are vegan clubs and societies in many cities and some towns. Search for them on Facebook or Meetup (or start your own group) and know that there are vegans everywhere! You can meet other vegans in person at one of the many events listed in Vegan Australia's comprehensive vegan events listing.
Is eating vegan expensive?
Eating vegan can be very inexpensive. Most whole plant foods, such as grains, legumes, beans, fruit, vegetables, herbs, spices, nuts and seeds are very cheap.
Some 'alternative' products, such as vegan sausages, burgers, mince and cheese, can be more expensive. These are processed products and are not necessary in a vegan diet. Recently, prices of these have been coming down rapidly and other 'alternatives', such as plant milks and yogurt, are already cheap.
Check out our guide to living vegan on a budget and our vegan grocery guide for tips on inexpensive eating. Note also that vegan menu items in restaurants are often cheaper than most non-vegan options.
Where can I get vegan pamphlets to give to my friends or for a stall.
You can get information like this from your local vegan organisation or you can download and print one of the many excellent "vegan starter kits" available. You can also order paper copies of some of these online. See our list of vegan starter kits for a great selection. The first two listed, the ALV Vegan Easy booklet and the PETA Vegan Starter Kit are both very useful resources.
Do you think being vegan is becoming a lot more popular because of social media?
Yes. Before social media, it was more difficult for people to hear about veganism, especially about how much animals suffer in the animal agriculture industry. But now new vegans often talk about what they have learned on social media which then inspires others to find out more. Also, vegan groups on Facebook are multiplying very quickly with numbers growing all the time.
Should everyone become vegan?
Wherever possible, yes. Since humans do not need to consume any animal products to be healthy, people who have access to sufficient vegan foods should become vegan. Most people in Australia obtain their food from supermarkets and so have easy access to plenty of inexpensive, nutritious plant foods. Most people have access to non-animal clothing and no one needs to use animals as entertainment.
Will showing people the horrors of animal agriculture change their attitudes and behaviour?
Yes. Surveys show that 99% of Australians are against animal cruelty. So we believe that when they are made aware of the suffering of animals used in the agriculture industry, they will align their behaviour with their beliefs and go vegan. The impact of public awareness campaigns, such as The Cube of Truth street outreach, shows that once people become aware of the how farmed animals are treated, they are willing to look into going vegan. This is especially true of young people.
Is the way the vegan lifestyle portrayed in the media the same as it actually is?
There are many kinds of vegans, some even top athletes, sports stars and celebrities. The media often describes vegans as compassionate, caring people. Of course, sometimes low grade media falls back on incorrect stereotypes, such as vegans being weak and pasty, or violent and extreme. If you hear that, then you know the 'journalist' did not do their research.
What are some tips for vegans who are subject to victimisation?
Some vegans find themselves being attacked for their beliefs and actions. This can be very upsetting and if you do not feel safe in the situation, you can leave. No one should make you feel bad for standing up for what you think is right.
If people are concerned about your health, you can ease any resistance from your family by doing your research. Learn as much as you can about vegan health and make sure you get enough B12, omega-3, and iron. You can also learn about the horrors of the Australian animal agriculture industry and let people know what you have learned. See also the article Social Pressure 'Hardest Part' Of Veganism.
What are some opposing points of view to veganism?
There have been many attempts to find fault with the idea that we should try to live without causing suffering to others as much as possible. You will find many of these, with answers, in the book But You Kill Ants. In addition, Your Vegan Fallacy is also an excellent website which aims to correct misconceptions about veganism. Finally, this list of medals by Vegan Sidekick, has a quick response to many counter arguments.
Where can I learn more?
Learning 'everything' about veganism, animals, health, nutrition, the environment, etc, can seem daunting at first. There is a small book that has answers to many of the questions you may have. You can read it here: But You Kill Ants. It answers 101 questions about veganism, covering questions like "Where do you get your protein?" to nonsense like "If animals weren't meant to be eaten, why are they made out of meat?"