When I first became a vegan I would get really defensive when people would question my diet. To me, I couldn’t understand why anybody would be so concerned with what I was eating when I gave zero f*cks about their diet. Over time, though, I realized that people were asking me questions mainly out of pure interest and not to be judgmental. In the United States the meat and dairy industry drives billions of dollars of revenue every year. Things like meat and cheese have been a common staple in American households for hundreds of years, so to come across someone who doesn’t eat either of these things is an uncommon occurrence. Once I changed my way of thinking, I became less defensive when people would question me and more excited about “vegucating” them.

Here are the top 5 questions I get asked often which will hopefully help to answer some common questions for the non-vegans out there:

1.) “Wait so you don’t eat meat? Well then how do you get your protein?”

I think one of the most common misconceptions about being vegan is that you are protein deprived. In fact, it is relatively easy for someone to meet their protein requirements on a plant-based diet considering vegetables, grains, beans, nuts and seeds can provide all the essential amino acids that one requires. In the Western Diet, the average American usually consumes double the amount of protein that their body needs (the average person only requires 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight). The problem with this is that most of the protein coming from animal fat also comes with a high amount of saturated fat. A good example of plant versus animal protein is 100 grams of black beans compared to 100g grams of beef. Black beans surpass beef in the high protein, high iron, and low fat departments, plus they contain zero carcinogens, hormones, and antibiotics.

2.) “You can eat fish, though, right?”

Simply stated, vegans don’t eat anything that comes from something that has eyeballs. Therefore, no meat or fish nor any of their byproducts (think cheese, dairy, beef broths, eggs, gelatin, whey). There are also hidden animal ingredients in foods that we may not be aware of. For example, carmine is a powder made from crushed red cochineal beetles and is used to dye things such as candy, yogurts, and ice cream red. Another surprising one is Guinness beer which contains Isinglass, a chemical that is found in fish bladders. Then there is L-cysteine, made from duck feathers and hog hair, which is found in common bread products.

I know the thought of all of the hidden animal byproducts in everyday foods may seem overwhelming, but just know that these are all bits of information that you learn over time by educating yourself. In an ideal world, you should be able to recognize all ingredients listed on a package of a food that you are eating. If you don’t, a quick Google search will tell you all the info you need to know.

3.) “It must be hard going out to eat, huh?”

When I first became a vegan 10 years ago it was much harder to order a vegan meal at a restaurant than it is nowadays. Plant-based diets are much more accepted now than they were ten years ago, and celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres, Carrie Underwood, Mike Tyson, Ariana Grande and Liam Hemsworth have made going vegan a “cool” thing to do. There are even vegan restaurants that non-vegans love, such as byChole, a vegan fast-food restaurant serving mainstream fare such as burgers, french fries, ice cream, and salads. Ben and Jerry’s created a fantastic, delicious line of almond-milk based products that they spent a few years perfecting before launching their product to ensure that it tasted as close to “real” ice cream as possible.

When it comes to going out to dinner, I have never had trouble ordering something vegan. Popular restaurants such as PF Changs, Olive Garden, Chipotle, Cheesecake Factory, and Yard House all offer designated vegan options. However, if you don’t see any plant-based items on the menu, chefs are usually happy to modify ingredients when you let them know that you are vegan. For example, when I go to a Mexican restaurant I order vegetable fajitas without cheese or sour cream and ask if the beans have lard in them and if the rice is made with chicken or beef broth (if so, I refrain). At an Italian restaurant I will get a whole wheat pasta with no butter, and marina sauce and vegetables. Chinese restaurants are super easy to order at because they pretty much always have tofu on their menu, which I will get with a brown rice and vegetable dish. If you have dinner plans, you can always look at the menu ahead of time and call and ask what you can order that is vegan.

4.) “Does it bother you if I eat a burger in front of you?”

This is a question I have answered multiple times but it still makes me laugh. In short, NO I will not be offended if you eat a burger in front of me. Nor will I get offended if you tell me that you have a different religion, political party preference, or favorite color than I. Because who you are is who you are, and who I am is who I am. What works for me may not work for you and vice versa, and I am ok with that.

5.) “If you don’t drink milk than how do you get your calcium?”

I love to answer this question first with a question, “Did you know humans are the only mammals that drink another mammals milk?” Think about it, as babies, we consume our mother’s milk for the first year or so of life so that we can get the nutrients to thrive before we are able to consume solid food. Cows drink their mother’s milk for about 9-12 months and grow to become 1,500 lbs (average female) to 2,400 lbs (average male) in weight. SO, why would we as humans want to drink another animal’s milk that is meant to help their offspring grow to be over a thousand pounds in weight?! Well, because the dairy industry drives billions of dollars of revenue every year. We have been tricked into thinking we NEED dairy for strong bones (hello bullshit Food Pyramid and “Got Milk?” ads). The truth is, there are much better options for calcium than dairy which comes from plants. Dark green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, kale, cabbage and watercress are excellent sources of calcium. Dried fruits, nuts, seeds, peas, beans and lentils are some other great options.

Just like humans, cows are not meant to lactate their whole life.

Therefore, all the “organic milk” people are drinking is just a buzz word to get us to believe what we are buying is somewhat humane. The truth is, dairy cows live a life of misery.  Starting when they are about two years old, cows are artificially inseminated over and over again so that they can keep producing milk. After birth, instead of nurturing her baby with her milk, the mother and baby are separated (which causes massive amounts of stress to both animals) so that the milk can be used for human consumption. The majority of their life is spent in cramped pens, hooked up to machines, suffering from various infections and gastric distress caused by their diet and living conditions. Cows are usually pumped with growth hormones which causes their udders to become large and irritated, often leading to bacterial infections. Hair on udders can allow more bacteria to grow, making them harder to clean. Because of this, “Udder Flaming” is a commonly used process the involves torching the cows udders to burn off the hair. Let me just ask you this- how would you feel if someone put a torch to your nipple? EXACTLY. Needless to say, just remember, with whatever dollar you spend on dairy and meat, you are supporting an industry pocketing billions of dollars every year by torturing and abusing animals. There are plenty of healthier milk options listed below which are tasty AND nutritious.