Please Explain: Veganism and Vegetarianism

Friday, April 19, 2013

farmers market, produce, vegetables, groceries Vegetables on display at the farmers market at Bowling Green on July 19. (Brigid Bergin/WNYC)

We’re talking about vegetarianism and veganism on this week’s Food Friday Please Explain. Joining us: Amanda Cohen, Chef and owner of the restaurant Dirty Candy and author of Dirt Candy: A Cookbook: Flavor-Forward Food from the Upstart New York City Vegetarian Restaurant; food historian Andy Smith; and Rynn Berry, the historical advisor to the North American Vegetarian Society and the author of a number of books including The Vegan Guide to New York City. They’ll explain the basics of vegan and vegetarian diets and how you can cut meat and animal products from your diet without sacrificing nutrition or taste.


Rynn Berry, Amanda Cohen and Andy Smith

Comments [34]

Ruby F. from Brooklyn, NY

This was one of the weakest programs I've heard from Leonard Lopate. The guests could not suggest a single recipe or answer a basic question about vegan sources of vitamin B12. Plus, Leonard could not hide his disdain for the subject and thus did not push for specifics. In the future, let me strongly recommend Isa Chandra, co-author of Veginomican with a terrific website called the Post-punk Kitchen, or Chef Bryant Terry, author of Soul Food Vegan who does great community-based work as well. Please have knowledgeable guests interested in nutrition and making vegan/ vegetarian diets more accessible. You don't have to be vegan to learn something from that diet's approach, and the show was a missed opportunity to facilitate a thoughtful conversation.

Jun. 24 2013 01:30 PM
alice in LALA land from usa

as far as cats are concerned i think back to an animal planet program where a woman was arrested for animal cruelty.. know why? she fed her cats a vegan diet.. know what happened.. they were all blind.. so feed you cats vegan foods.. watch them suffer and is always amazing to me that people who live in a land of plenty and have the $$ to buy whatever they want and can "choose" a diet have little idea that there are children in this country that go to bed every night hungry,, what luxury we discuss what we eat ..instead of IF we can eat

Apr. 20 2013 11:02 AM
Sheila and her cats from NJ

I'm completely floored by the number of people who think that growing vast amounts of plant food is more "humane" than growing both plants and animals to feed people. First of all, cattle & sheep & pigs can eat plants that cannot be a direct source of human nutrition, such as grass, and that can graze on land that is not suitable for growingt crops. Even feedlot steers spent their first several months of life nursing onb their dams & grazing on pasture. Also, when cattle are given "corn" in a feedlot, it's not the sweet corn we eat on the cob, but a hard corn, and they eat the entire above-ground part of the plant.

Second, what about the vast numbers of birds & mammals displaced or killed by preparing cropland and harvesting vegetables & grain? The vegans who don't want to harm animals purpose-bred & grown for food obviously don't know an/or don't care about the wild critters!

Third, the people who think we are "exploiting" bees by eating honey must also avoid eating most tree crops, since they are pollinated by bees.

We also now have the "humane meat" movement which is also distorting what's left of the natural lives of food animals. Chicken processors are now touting the vegetarian diets eaten by their birds. So what if "natural" chickens scratch around in the dirt eating bugs, worms, small mammals -- and EACH OTHER? People want to think of chickens as peace-loving vegetarians that don't kill and cannibalize their own species.

And I just saw an item about a certain processor's pigs being given a vegetarian diet, too. People, pigs are nasty, vicious omnivores that will eat small animals, birds and eggs, and if you aren't careful raising them, they will eat YOU, too. Babe and Wilbur are complte fantasies, don't you know...

Apr. 19 2013 11:42 PM

Some people may thrive on a vegan diet. Others may thrive on a diet at the opposite end of the spectrum, i.e., a "paleo"-carnivore. There may very well be some who even /require/ one or the other of these /extremes/. But for most people, the ideal, sensible diet will far /somewhere/ BETWEEN the extremes of the spectrum (and, according to Michael Pollan* and many others, the ideal is /closer/ to the /vegan/ end than the paleo-carnivore end of the spectrum)

We are, after all, /omnivores/.

*("Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.")

Apr. 19 2013 02:36 PM
Amy from Manhattan

First: D.H., I completely agree. I had 2 cats in the 1980s-90s, & for a while I fed them a canned pet food that wasn't vegetarian but claimed to be natural & suitable for both dogs & cats. They developed heart problems, & in 1 of them this led to epilepsy, which improved some but lasted the rest of her life. The vet told me that *no* food that was suitable for dogs could also be good for cats, which have much higher requirements for taurine, an amino acid found only (or at least only in sufficient quantities) in meat. Please, if you have cats, *don't* try to feed them a vegetarian diet.

Michele, I was on hold for most of the segment, hoping to ask about animal vs. vegetarian rennet. It seems likely to me that the calves that are the source of the rennet are the same calves raised for veal in horrible conditions. I check the ingredients when I buy cheese, but in a restaurant or at a catered or potluck meal it's often not possible to find out, so I avoid dishes w/cheese in those settings.

For those who mentioned Daiya cheese, I'm leery of the titanium dioxide they use for coloring. Their labeling calls it "a naturally occurring mineral," but plenty of naturally occurring minerals aren't necessarily safe to eat, & I don't think artificial coloring is necessary in non-dairy cheeses.

Apr. 19 2013 02:19 PM

Michele from NYC (1:52 p.m.) is correct about rennet and this is but one of many examples of why 'vegetarian' does not automatically equal 'kosher'.

'Vegan' does not automatically equate to kosher, either.

(And "gluten-free" does not automatically equate to "`hametz"-free (kosher for Passover))

Regarding pets, /cats/, at least, are /obligate/ carnivores; the idea that any feline could thrive on anything less than a nearly completely meat-based diet sounds preposterous.* (Though it is said that ideally, at least, cats should get some /grass/ in their diet. Hence, the wheat grass plants that are marketed for cat owners.)

Dogs may be somewhat more omnivorous but it seems to me that only someone blinded by ideology could fail to see how utterly unnatural a meat-free diet would be for any canine. (There's a reason the teeth that are ideally suited for chewing meat are called "canines"...)

(Of course, I'm sure that concerns over the purity and wholesomeness of commercial pet food are well-founded.)

(*Almost as preposterous as, say, claiming that /buggery/ is anything less than the inherently gruesome, brutal, anatomically, physiologically, and hygienically unsound act that it /empirically/ is. The lengths that the human animal will go to twist /reality/ to fit /agenda/...)

Apr. 19 2013 02:16 PM
Ciro from Garfield, NJ

When I grew up in Little Italy, in our 1st Gen Sicilian enclave, most of our family meals were vegetarian based. Pasta with a variety of vegetables, and/or beans. The only animal ingredient was a sprinkle of grated cheese. It was called "Peasant Food"! Meat was a luxury, which we ate maybe twice a week - fish on Friday.

If vegetarian converts want to fit into the family dinner scene, they could learn to cook some of these simple meals to share with others, and have a plate of meat for those who would feel "deprived".

Apr. 19 2013 02:05 PM

I've been a vegan for 7 years (since I was 16) and went vegetarian when I was 9. I was lucky enough that my parents and brother all converted shortly after I did.
We all occasionally take B12 supplements and are tested regularly, and have never had any B12 or protein deficiencies.
It is very possible to thrive if you eat a healthy, whole- foods vegan diet.

Apr. 19 2013 02:04 PM
D.H. from West Orange, NJ

I am totally for folks eating a vegetarian or vegan diet, but please leave your cat out of your decision. Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they will become sick without a significant level of protein in their diets. You can make a dog into a vegetarian, but please don't try that with your cat. That way leads unhappy, unhealthy cats, at the very least.

Apr. 19 2013 02:01 PM
Amy from Manhattan

There are commercially available egg substitutes available. Most people who don't cook professionally probably don't want to make their own from scratch.

Apr. 19 2013 01:58 PM
Jennifer from Manhattan

I've been a vegetarian for over 20 years and turned vegan 1 & 1/2 years ago. Cooking vegan is easy, you just need to do a little research and try out some recipes. I love making quinoa burgers as well as eggplant parmesan with daiya vegan cheese over spaghetti squash.

Apr. 19 2013 01:58 PM
Jacinta from Ridgewood, NY

I'm also a lifelong vegetarian, and for most of my life vegan, and my family was really poor--we were on food stamps & welfare--so it's definitely possible. It was a priority to my mother, and while challenging, she made it happen.

I recommend Veganomicon as an excellent cookbook, baking without eggs isn't as difficult as most people would think, and Daiya vegan cheese is really good!

Apr. 19 2013 01:56 PM
clynnec from Brooklyn

I'd love to hear about mushrooms! Big mushroom fan over here, and I wonder about their nutrient content, etc. for rounding out a vegetarian/vegan diet. Also, morel season is upon us! Stock up now!

Apr. 19 2013 01:54 PM
nina from Jackson Heights

I'm a vegetarian and occasional pescetarian (long story), but my husband and daughter are not, they are committed carnivores. I cook dinner for our family almost every night and blog about it. I find it's not really that difficult to cook for meat eaters and vegetarians at the same time. I even have a "non-pasta vegetarian mains" category on my blog's recipe index.

Apr. 19 2013 01:54 PM
Amy from Manhattan

On how affordable a veggie diet is, is it possible that the food supply system *in the US* does make it harder to afford it?

Apr. 19 2013 01:54 PM
Michele from NYC

When Lenny asked why dairy products may not be considered vegetarian, a guest
neglected to say that the rennet in cheese is actually made from the stomachs of
calves. This would not be considered vegetarian because they need to kill the calf
for the product.

Apr. 19 2013 01:52 PM
Martha from NYC

I was teenage vegetarian and my brother teased me unmercifully. Now I'm an omnivore -- but try to only eat ethically raised meat, dairy, and eggs; organic/local fruits and vegetables, etc.. Now my brother's a hardcore vegetarian -- but guess who has the better blood pressure and cholesterol! (He eats much more processed food (faux meat, margarine) than I do).

Apr. 19 2013 01:52 PM
Amy from Manhattan

I know someone who researches honey producers to check whether they use humanitarian practices in their beekeeping (like *how* they use the smoke/what kind they use & whether they leave any of the honey for the bees or take it all & give them sugar water to eat, which he says doesn't supply adequate nutrition).

Apr. 19 2013 01:50 PM
Alanna from Brooklyn

I tried to eat vegetarian a couple years ago and found out (the hard way) that I am allergic to soy and almonds. Soy seems to be a staple in the vegetarian diet. Is there anything as substantial as a substitute?

Apr. 19 2013 01:47 PM
Cynthia Herzegovitch from East Harlem NYC

Greek cookbooks have alot. Mostly as we who are Eastern Orthodox (if you follow the ecclesiastical calendar) have about 180 days a year that we eat veggitarian, plus until relatively recently not as much access to meat.

Many of them are vegan as well since some people follow more strictly than others.


Apr. 19 2013 01:45 PM
Amy from Manhattan

People who think vegetarian food is boring are probably overcooking it (especially greens!). There's plenty of opportunity to be creative in vegetarian cooking.

Apr. 19 2013 01:43 PM
Linda Griggs from LES

I thought vegetarians and vegans lived longer because they were generally more proactive about their health. For example they keep their weight down.

Apr. 19 2013 01:43 PM
Kim from Harlem, NY

I turned on the segment late, but in time to hear one of the speakers evoke Linneaus' taxonomies to suggest that humans are not inevitably omnivores/meat eaters. Please use Linneaus with some caution. This is the same person who saw my ancestors as "negligent" and lesser than white Europeans. Not inclined to see him as guidance in human behavior.

Otherwise, I very important segment. Will listen to the full version online.

Apr. 19 2013 01:38 PM
Kira from Manhattan

I have been on a journey to vegetarianism my entire life. Based on natural inclination, I stopped eating pork and red meat at the age of 11 and poultry the following year. I continued eating some fish until I was 25 and since then I've been inching closer to veganism. The longer I live as a vegetarian, the more I realize the impact of the meat industry in the world, as well as it's negative health impacts, especially because of the way we raise animals in the west, with a corn based diet and hormones etc. I don't think that everyone can be a vegetarian or vegan - and not everyone who doesn't eat animal products is healthier. But it works for me and has worked for 20 years.

Apr. 19 2013 01:37 PM
Jenny D

I have become vegetarian after reading L. Tolstoy's description of slaughter houses while still living in Siberia. After 10 years I am now vegan and NYC is definitely the best city to be one. In Russia and other less vegan friendly countries being full-time vegan is near to impossible even though a lot of people are vegans during lent and other fasts.

Apr. 19 2013 01:34 PM
Ashlee Piper from Chicago, IL

It's wonderful to see this dialogue happening! And for those who are interested in learning more about how to healthfully and simply transition to a more plant-based diet in a supportive environment, Vegucated offers a Schoolhouse Online Community that is free and has 1,300 others who are transitioning all helping one another. With the right support system and advice, being vegan is easy, healthy, economical, and joyful.

We also publish authoritative guides on transitioning here: where we cover everything from vegan dating to parenting to grocery shopping.

Thank you again for bringing attention to this wonderful conversation and way of life!

Apr. 19 2013 01:34 PM
Henry from Manhattan

Thank you for granting some airtime to veganism and vegetarianism in such a casual and informative segment like Please Explain.

Apr. 19 2013 01:23 PM
Nicole from Chicago

I've been vegan for about six years now and as soon as I started, I realized I had more energy and spring in my step. I could never see myself eating meat again, especially now that I realize what horrendous cruelty goes into producing it. Living, breathing animals are treated like mere machines, crammed into tiny filthy metal crates their entire lives - most of them will never see sunlight, feel grass under their feet, or run. How disturbing is that? If this was happening to dogs or cats people would be outraged, but if it's farmed animals, people want to remain in the dark about it. Please consider adopting a healthy and compassionate vegetarian or vegan diet if you don't want to support cruelty.

Apr. 19 2013 01:20 PM

It’s never been easier to adopt a healthy and compassionate veg diet. You can now find veg versions of every animal product – including veggie burgers, soy milk, and dairy-free ice cream – at nearly every grocery store and restaurant.

This is what made me veg ->

There is not a single federal law provides protection to farmed animals during their lives on factory farms – meaning billions of animals are subjected to extreme confinement, painful mutilations without any painkillers, abusive handling, and cruel slaughter in this county. If meat producers subjected dogs and cats to the array of standard abuses they inflict on farmed animals, they could be arrested and jailed on grounds of animal cruelty. As a civilized society it is our moral obligation to protect all animals from needless cruelty. The most powerful choice that compassionate consumers can make to protect these animals from suffering is to reduce their consumption of them (start by cutting out chickens) and their products or go totally vegetarian/vegan.

Apr. 19 2013 01:12 PM
Liz from New Jersey

Going vegan is easy (this coming from a former meat & cheese lovin' lady)! After watching Forks Over Knives and seeing undercover footage by Mercy For Animals, many of my friends and family made the switch. There are plenty of resources online such as hundreds of recipes on, and the incredible 30 Day Vegan Challenge is a wonderful resource as well by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau. Enjoy!

Apr. 19 2013 01:06 PM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

RavenAndCrow , thanks, the good Dr.G has no idea that colon cancer and prostate cancer is associated with meat eating. May be this guy is a shill for the cancer industrial complex.

Apr. 19 2013 12:37 PM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

Dr. G, eat that meat every day and get cancer sooner then later.
You obviously don’t know much about early Cro-Magnon humans. Whose main diet was roots, barriers, and other planet life with some small amounts of meat. Mostly small game. Not steaks and links all day and every day.

Apr. 19 2013 12:21 PM

Dr G—if you ARE a real doctor—first off, you're wrong about there not being any plant-based sources of B12. Secondly, to each their own and all, but in terms of sustainability, it's a pretty tough sell to say that we can feed more people with animals who are reliant on a plant-based diet than just feeding the world's people the plants themselves. The only way to rely on animals for food on such a massive level requires a highly industrialized, unhealthy, and cruel factory farming model, which most everyone with any sense is not in favor of these days.

But more to the essential point, many of us, this writer included, choose a vegan diet because we think to not do so is unnecessarily cruel to the world's animals. I've personally been vegan for about 16 years and I consider myself wildly healthy (my *real* doctor agrees wholeheartedly). And we have many female vegan friends who have gone through a very healthy pregnancy and remained vegan. It's just a matter of getting used to the diet and listening to what you body needs. Turns out, it really doesn't need to have largely defenseless, mostly factory "farmed", entirely voiceless animals killed for it to be healthy. 100% true.

Who was it that said ""The measure of a civilization is how it treats its weakest members"? Animals pretty clearly fall into that category and that's one of the many reasons we're vegan in our household.

Apr. 19 2013 12:19 PM
Dr G

Humans have evolved eating animal products for 3 millions years, and we should still be eating a "paleo" type diet. We don't have the enzymes to properly digest grains, dairy and beans. They should not be part of a human diet. They are the source of many chronic inflammatory conditions, from migraines, acne, allergies, intestinal diseases, and obesity.

Certain very essential nutrients are only found naturally in animal products, like vitamin B12

It is more economically sustainable than the "government subsidized grain-centric food production."

Apr. 19 2013 11:10 AM

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