Can you answer my questions about the vegan lifestyle?

Growing up around cattle my whole life, I’ve never really been concerned about vegan lifestyles, I just wasn’t inquisitive enough I suppose. However, after watching clips from Oprah’s show on going vegan, I discovered I had LOTS of questions!

So, I did what any normal person would do… I Googled it.

It seems that there are several different views on going vegan– some seem to believe you can’t use any animals products produced in a way that cause harm to the animals, therefore steak would be out of the question. Others think that if no harm is caused, as a vegan, one should be able to consume the product– Google’s example: free range eggs.

Then there was also the question of honey– are insects considered animals? Does producing and harvesting honey cause harm to the bees? Is honey a vegan product?

After all this searching I left feeling more confused than when I started… so I have a question are there vegans out there that are willing to answer questions about their diet?

Now, don’t think because this is an agriculture blog that I’m going to try to change your opinion–that’s not why I’m asking. I understand folks chose to be vegan just like I chose to consume meat. I just honestly want to know about the diet and the choices related to the lifestyle?

For instance, on Oprah’s show I noticed a lot of the vegan foods looked highly processed. Is that the norm? Do y’all eat a lot of fresh fruits and veggies? If so, are they organic?

I was also curious about peanuts. Coming from a peanut farm, I’m always interested to know who consumes our products. Since peanuts are legumes are they a big part of a vegan diet?

My last question is related to animal products in non-food products–clothes, cosmetics, medicines… how do these fit in a vegan lifestyle? Are there “animal free” options?

If you could help me out with these questions I would greatly appreciate it! I’d love to discuss it in the comment section below, on twitter (@jillianWEGL) or by e-mail.

And hey, if you have questions for me and my diet, I’m willing to answer them too!

Hope to chat with ya soon,

Jillian

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About Jillian

Hey y'all! I'm a Florida farm girl in love with an Alabama farmer. I enjoy traveling, playing basketball, writing poetry and watching Auburn football. War Eagle!
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30 Responses to Can you answer my questions about the vegan lifestyle?

  1. Garet says:

    Hi there! I’ve made the switch to eating mostly vegan over the past year, so I think I have some insight to share.

    Not every vegan eats alike, so some do eat a lot of processed foods while others do not. I try to avoid processed foods, and I eat fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, and grains. I also try to eat organic foods. Then again, I eat vegan mostly for the health benefits it gives me.

    I think vegans that are more focused on ending animal cruelty, rather than their own health, are the ones that are more likely to be eating all the processed foods and meat substitutes.

    I do eat peanut butter sometimes, but I wouldn’t say it is any bigger a part of my diet now as a vegan, as it was before when I wasn’t eating like this.

    Honey isn’t vegan if you go by the traditional definition of veganism, because insects are animals. I suppose then I am not 100% vegan because currently I am comfortable eating honey.

    And as for clothes and stuff, vegans don’t like to use any kind of product containing animal products. There’s animal free options out there, you just have to know what to look for.

    • Jillian says:

      Thanks for the insight, Garet! I have another question if you have time. How do you find out if something is “completely vegan?” From what I’ve read not all ingredients are always listed on the label.

      • shortystylee says:

        “Completely vegan” depends on how far you extend the ideaolgy. If you think about it too hard, even when vegetables are grown there are animals that are killed (example: tractors running over a chipmunk/frog/etc).

        There is a lot of Googling ingredients to find out their source. The less processed your food is, but more easily you can be assured that it is vegan (ex: you buy broccoli and it doesn’t need an ingredients label).

  2. Kim Forgey says:

    My friend, The South Dakota Cowgirl, heard about your questions and thought maybe I could answer them for you. (I DVRed Oprah’s show on going vegan but have not watched it yet)
    I grew up on a farm and raised cattle myself, was a fisherman and hunter. My family still has the farm and now it’s a pheasant hunting preserve. I was vegan for five years and recently changed my diet to “just picky.”
    I’m working on answers to your questions, I keep writing and writing! I may have to break it down to parts.

  3. Kim Forgey says:

    I went vegan for two reasons, one being when I would prepare a piece of meat(Elk) or fish, I had to clean this off and that off and this off until it was down to nothing, and I figured why eat it if I don’t seem to like it. The other reason was that I have fibromyalgia, a brain/muscle disease. I’ve had it my whole life but was finally diagnosed and cutting out dairy was a health benefit to me.
    Vegan means no animal or animal derived products. Which would be everything from honey to wearing leather to products tested on animals. However, you can vary it how you want and still be respected by most vegans. The idea being, “at least you are trying and every little bit helps.” Helping; animals, your body, the environment. Strict vegan follows the rules exactly, every day. I was vegan, being a cowgirl I used nylon or hand me down tack and 2nd hand boots. I did allow honey because I felt the bees weren’t being damaged in anyway, but then I would think about how it’s really just “bee poop” and wouldn’t eat it anyway. I also did not eat eggs or dairy, I like to bake so I can answer your questions on vegan baking anytime.
    Products like soap and lotion and make up, a vegan really has to research, first you look for “not tested on animals” then you look at the ingredients. Beeswax, lanolin, silk powder, carmine (red pigment from crushed beetles) just a couple that are not vegan. Some companies make all vegan products like Beauty Without Cruelty.

  4. Kim Forgey says:

    Being vegan does not always mean healthy. A person could live off pop and potato chips and be vegan. There are a lot of processed foods that are vegan versions of non-vegan products. So there is a difference from being vegan and being healthy. If a person is thinking of “going vegan” then they need to ask themselves what is their goal.
    If it is to be healthy then their diet should start with vegetables (preferably organic) then add whole grains, beans and fruit. Eating things in their simplest form. Choosing agave nectar or brown rice syrup over sugar (refined with bone char) and high fructose corn syrup. If you want to eat local, then you could add grass fed beef (or wild game) and cage free eggs. The reason being they eat from the earth as they should and are not raised in cages or feedlots, or given hormones and “meal” ranging from corn to scraps off the cutting room floor. Dairy from cows that are grass fed and spend most of their time in the sunshine, that are not bred to produce milk and the calves destroyed or used as veal.
    This is not considered vegan but to some would be considered healthy.

    Vegetarian is when no animal is harmed. They believe eggs and milk products are okay since they animals are not killed in the process. Then some vegetarians consider fish to be okay, but technically it is not.

    Peanuts! They are a huge part of the vegan diet. A great protein source and the perfect go-to ingredient when you are not cooking from your home. Peanuts and beans are a staple in vegan and vegetarian diets.

  5. Kim Forgey says:

    Being vegan now is much easier I think then in the past, there are so many higher quality meat replacements on the market that taste great. Gardein, http://www.gardein.com/index.php is a great product and one that I use quite often. I am recently married and my husband will eat Gardein and he doesn’t miss the real thing. I’m not fond of soy milk but Blue Diamond makes almond milk called Almond Breeze and the original unsweetened is delish! Tofutti brand makes Better then Cream Cheese and Better then Sour Cream, a person cannot tell the difference.
    I recently went from being “vegan” to being “just picky” because I live in a rural area and have to travel or order online to get the products I want (I used to run a health food store so that made it easier), and it is easier on my family to not have separate food for me all the time. I have added back beef, bison, wild game, and seafood but I still will not eat chicken or turkey. I added dairy back in and it was really messing up my skin so I try not to have dairy still. I do not eat eggs but if they are baked in something I may or may not eat them. I still avoid gelatin and prefer my vegan marshmallows but will eat candy made from gelatin at times, usually until I remember what exactly it’s made of then can’t stomach it anymore.
    When I was vegan, my body functioned quite nicely, and my skin was great! Now it is not so much and I miss it, I try to follow vegan when I can but am not strict about it now.

    I hope I have answered some of your questions, I would be happy to answer any more you might have. I think since I wasn’t always vegan, used to raise cattle, and have eaten just about everything (bear, alligator, frog) that I can offer a unique perspective.

  6. Kim Forgey says:

    how to find out if something is completely vegan: PETA actually has great lists of vegan ingredients and ingredients that are not vegan. But their are also vegan storefronts that do the work for you and only list vegan products. Veganessentials.com is a great one.
    I also have a book called Animal Ingredients A to Z that is a great resource.

    • Jillian says:

      WOW!!! Thanks for all the information! I do have two questions:

      Why doesn’t high fructose corn syrup make the vegan list? Is it something to do with the processing?

      I’m a bit confused by the dairy cow illustration. Can you elaborate? I know that some calves are bottle fed, transitioned into dry feeds and added into herds and others are used for veal… but from your statement it sounds as if there’s a third option for the calves. I’m just confused–can you clarify what you mean?

      Thank you for all your help! I am learning a lot and think it’s pretty unique that there’s a cowgirl vegan out there! ;)

  7. shortystylee says:

    Jillian: First, I’d like to say that I think you take a great stance on veganism for an omnivore. There are many people who simply relegate vegans to the ‘crazy hippie tree hugger’ group.

    I’m not vegan and I never have been. One of my goals for this year is to eat less animal products. I currently eat meat (not counting eggs/dairy) maybe 3 or so times a week and when I do, it is only meat that I have bought directly from a farmer whose practices I can agree with. I am also slightly lactose-intolerant, so I don’t consume much dairy to began with.

    My definition of something as vegan, like when I tag a post on my blog as such, is a very strict definition: no animal products, including honey & gelatin. I don’t include sugar, since I am currently unaware if my sugar was made with bone char or not. Basically, I my definition asks whether the animal was exploited for that food product.

    Honey: I consider honey as being non-vegan, but it is vegetarian.

    Highly processed ‘vegan’ foods: You can be vegan and eat very highly processed crappy food. You can also be an omnivore and eat minimally processed healthy food. It goes both ways.

    Fruits & Veggies: Yes, yes, and yes. To me, I try to buy as much of my veggies as locally as possible and eat in season. I feel organic is important, but that Organic (with a capital O) is not as important. I’m sure you know how difficult it is for farms to become certified Organic and many cannot afford all the red tape and costs. It is most important to talk to your farmers about their growing practices.

    Peanuts Definitely vegan, although cashews, walnuts, and almonds seem to be used much more, to make substitutes for white creamy sauces and pestos.

    Non-food Products: There are many companies that cater exclusively to a vegan consumer base with regards to clothing and shoes (some are really cute too!). Cosmetics can be vegan as well. Some vegans follow only the food route and some go the whole way, choosing vegan clothing, etc.

    If you have any questions, just let me know :)

    Thanks,
    Jessica

    • Jillian says:

      Well, I must admit that some of the things I found on Google made me want to classify vegans in the “crazy hippie tree hugger” group…but then I got to thinking. I know often websites that Google sites as “reliable” locations for agriculture information aren’t worth the screens they appear on. Some make farmers and ranchers seem like cold blooded killers (and we’re not!) Since I’ve experienced that as an ag producer, I figured the same problem was there for vegans. That’s why I’m am so excited that so many people have taken me up on this discussion! I feel like I’m getting better opinions and information instead of political or social agendas.

      Thank you for the clarification on the terms! I agree with you– diets are what you make of them.

      Though our farm produces more commodity products (products that are sold in the global market rather than to individuals for consumption) I love the fact that folks are interested in how food and fiber (and meat if it’s your thing) are produced.

      Thanks for the response, Jessica!

  8. Kim Forgey says:

    high fructose corn syrup is vegan, not considered healthy since is just super concentrated sugar
    white sugar is not always vegan as they use bone char to refine it in most cases

  9. Kim Forgey says:

    dairy cows. in some instances the calves are aborted or killed because they are useless to the operation, they just get the cows pregnant to keep producing milk. In some cases the females are kept but the males are discarded. This is where your conscious decision comes in, in an ideal dairy farm the cows would graze peacefully the majority of the time and the calves would be nursed by their mothers and then enter the herd. So a person would want to know where their dairy comes from.
    I did just watch the oprah episode, great show. I was very impressed with Cargill and its unfortunate that all slaughterhouses are not like that.

    • Will Gilmer says:

      Kim, I am an Alabama dairyman and the situation you have described (aborting & killing calves) is not one I am familiar with. I would be interested in knowing where this activity is taking place, because it certainly isn’t commonplace within the dairy industry.
      My family…and all other dairies I know of…either raise bull calves for beef or sell them to other farmers to do the same. Doing so requires that the bulls are provided with a clean, comfortable living environment and that their nutritional needs are met.
      Also, a cow will produce less milk if it aborts its fetus instead of giving birth to a full term calf. The only situation I know of in which abortion is induced is when the pregnant cow/heifer’s health is in jeopardy. In most instances, this would happen if a bull impregnated a heifer that was too young/small to safely carry a calf to full term. If that were the case, the abortion would generally be induced w/i a couple of weeks of conception, well before the heifer would begin lactating.
      If you are interested in learning more about how my family manages our dairy herd, please visit our website gilmerdairyfarm.com. We also have 70+ videos on YouTube, many of which focus on herd management.
      Thank you for an opportunity to engage in meaningful, though-provoking dialogue…a rarity on the internet these days!

      • Jillian says:

        Thanks for your insight, Will!

      • Kim Forgey says:

        Will
        I honestly cannot say where that is happening, i know its either information i got from PETA regarding factory farms or something i picked up from seminars I attended when I was managing a health food store. It was a few years ago and i have a terrible memory. Im not a big PETA fan but i appreciate that if there are to be extremes, both sides are covered.
        Its nice to hear there are still family dairy farms out there, ones like yours we need to support.
        like I said before, I try to avoid dairy because my body does better without it, but many people are fine with it and the hope is they get their products from family farms and not corporate farms where cows dont see grass or sunshine.
        If you are looking for some interesting reading, might I suggest, Mad Cowboy by Howard Lyman
        and it is great that we can have a civil conversation about this topic, we all must work together

    • Jillian says:

      Sorry it took me so long to reply, Kim! I’ve never heard of that but I’m not very involved in the dairy industry. I’m trying to chase down one of my former professors to see if he’s heard of it. I’ll let you know what I find out!

    • Jillian says:

      Hi Kim! Sorry it took so long for me to reply!

      I managed to get up with my Animal Sciences professor. His responses mirrored Will’s. He had never heard of dairy producers aborting calves because the hormone changes needed to produce milk would be disrupted–the mama would actually need to go through the birthing process to stimulate drop down (where the mama’s bag fills up with milk).The process is similar to humans giving birth, deciding not to breast feed and using formula for their children.

      On the account of killing calves, it’s not common or accepted practice. He said there was a stir about 20 years ago when a few farms in the North did not have the money to transport the calves to sell and killed young bull calves because they could not afford to feed them or carry them to the sale. It was a sad situation that was looked down upon in the industry.

      The current options for calves nowadays is introduction to the herd or selling for veal or beef production.

  10. Kim Forgey says:

    I agree with Jessica, and yes Jillian you have a great stance on this topic. I never tell people to be vegan or what to eat, but when they ask me about it I hope they go away with an awareness of where their food comes from.
    And all the support we can give the farmer/rancher that produces in an earth-sustaining way and animal friendly way where they look to the future and not just trying to turn a fast buck, is needed.
    It is a forum such as this where good things get accomplished.

    • Jillian says:

      I appreciate y’all being so willing to talk about it! It’s easy to get defensive about things when folks are passionate about them–I’m glad this worked out and that people felt comfortable enough to discuss their opinions.

  11. Kim Forgey says:

    Will
    Love your website, i may have to edopt a cow for my nieces and nephews
    Kudos for all your good work!

  12. Kristyn says:

    Hi Jillian!
    I heard about your blog because one of my friends/co-workers knows you and she thought I should read this since I’ve been vegetarian/vegan for five years. Hopefully my response isn’t too repetitive of other responses.

    I stopped eating meat when I was thirteen because I no longer wanted my diet to support such cruelty if it was not necessary and a year later I cut out eggs, dairy, and honey after accepting that if I was going to stand up and say I’m against cruelty to animals then by eating these things I’m being a hypocrite. I’m not saying I feel the same way about small family farms or hunting as I do the mass production of animals and animal products as food but since it is not necessary for me to eat these creatures for survival I don’t. About the processed food thing, I don’t think it’s a staple in the vast majority of vegan’s diets…at least I hope not. Usually “transition foods” (i.e. faux meats and cheeses) that are very processed are eaten a lot when someone first changes their lifestyle then not as much when they start loving fruits, vegetables, and grains and they know how to cook them to make them taste amazing (this is why being vegan can be super cheap, grains and fresh produce aren’t expensive in comparison to steak!). When it comes to clothes, yes we avoid purchasing leather or wool because once again even though it’s not being eaten it is unnecessary cruelty. Honey – no most vegans don’t eat it because bees are animals and we don’t support the inhumane treatment of bees in mass production. Peanuts – really all on preference. I LOVE peanut butter and it’s a great source of protein (something most omnivores don’t think we get enough of which in a varied diet you should be getting all of your nutrients) so I eat quite a bit of it. I also only purchase beauty products/soaps/etc. that are not tested on animals and do not contain any animal by-products which really isn’t something that’s hard to find as veganism and the whole “green” movement become more popular. I think that covers it. If you have anymore questions feel free to ask!

    • Jillian says:

      Hi Kristyn! Thank you for your response!
      I understand that a lot of folks have chosen the vegan lifestyle because of a sensitivity to animal cruelty–and I’m cool with that. I would just encourage folks to learn more about animal production, often the factory farms that folks talk about are really family farms that merely sell to large company that markets the product under a brand name.
      Aside from that, I am really excited about what veganism means for the produce and organic industry! I see where this movement is awesome for folks who want to get to know local producers and their practices—and I’m all about local! (I didn’t know what “canned beans” were till I moved away from home–we grew our own!) If it’s of help to you, I know there are a few local farmers that specialize in “naturally grown” produce (note-not certified organic…yet). If that’s something that’s of interest to you let me know and I’ll forward you their information!
      Thanks again for taking time to chat!

  13. Robert says:

    Not sure if the answer to, if bees are animals are not has been answered yet, but yes Bees and all other insects are taxonomically animals.

    For curiostity sakes animal is the latin derivative of anim (breath) + alis (air) from dictionary.com

    Bees are also related to ants, both in hymenoptera order.

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