The Protein-Starved Vegan Myth

Particularly around the holidays, I am frequently asked what I eat or make instead of a Thanksgiving turkey or a Christmas ham. It’s a legitimate question, for a couple of reasons. Because holiday meals are traditionally based around a roasted meat, most people are curious as to what I make as a meat substitute. I grew up with this very same tradition, so I can relate to how odd it would seem to not have a meat centerpiece at the holiday gathering.

It was admittedly strange for the first few years. After all, food has a very emotional component. Plus, I’ve stressed out my fair share of the dinner hosts over the years when they found out a vegetarian (or later, a vegan) was coming to dinner. The first time I met my mother-in-law was for Thanksgiving, and she was at a loss as to what to make for me, skeptical that my answer of “Just the sides will be more than enough” wasn’t very convincing. Even though I got used to just eating side dishes at holiday gatherings and making a meat dish for the omnivores when I was the host, I have to say I was pretty excited the first time I found a Tofurky. Yes, it’s a real thing, and pretty tasty at that! I even have some omnivore friends who prefer it to turkey.

Another reason people want to know what I eat is because of the prevailing myth that vegetarians–and especially vegans–are protein-starved creatures. So if I’m not partaking in my share of turkey or ham, where’s the protein coming from? Bottom line- I eat a sufficient amount of protein. How? There are two parts to this answer.

A great marinade transforms ordinary tofu into something delectable. Plus it's all not considered processed since it's literally just soy beans.

A great marinade transforms tofu into something delectable. Plus it’s literally just soy beans.

First, most American adults get too much protein. One of the biggest driving factors behind this protein glut is government funding for the meat and dairy industry. (There’s a great book on this called Meatonomics, if you’re interested. As a nerdy academic who writes on the global food economy, of course I just had to read it.)

Second, a lot of times junk-food vegans give plant-based eaters a bad name. They want to give up animal products, but subsist solely on processed garbage. Of course they’re going to be not only protein, but also nutrient-deficient. Instead, a plant-based diet provides more than enough protein when based on a diversified range of beans, grains, nuts, seeds, and even vegetables. (You can read more about this in the Change 4: Fat is Not the Enemy, (Or is it?) section if you want a refresher on proteins.)

Since I moved to a low-carbohydrate regimen, I eat more analog meats than when I was eating grains and a lot more beans. But it’s a trade-off I feel is worth making, since I feel much better. Plus, over time I’ve learned to make a lot more low-carbohydrate protein-based foods myself, so I depend less on processed stuff.

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