Today’s post is by contributing writer Shiri Raz, PhD candidate at Bar-Ilhan University in Israel.

One of the most frustrating experiences a vegan undergoes is having to deal with the endless deluge of questions from society, from their meat-eating friends and family, questions that do not focus on the moral aspect of the decision they have made.

“Once I realized the real price animals pay for my lifestyle, I stopped consuming meat, milk, cheese and eggs,” says Diana, 25 years old, who has been a vegan for about six months. “I didn’t need any further explanation. The suffering to which I was exposed was enough for me to decide to make the change, but for some reason, for my friends, it wasn’t. They ask me so many questions: about nutrition, ecology, economics and whatnot. I don’t have enough information to really answer questions in all these areas. After every such conversation, I find myself searching and reading professional articles to be able to hold up my end of the conversation. It’s frustrating and exhausting.”

Any vegan will tell you that Diana’s struggle is a common one. It starts with a vegan’s disappointment upon realizing that the awful truths leading them to this dramatic change are not enough to lead their peers to the same conclusion. It then continues when they are barraged with questions about their choice, questions that rarely deal with the morality and ethics of veganism. To respond to these questions, the vegan realizes that she has to become knowledgeable about many areas of life that are related to veganism in one way or another.

First of all, many vegans feel they have to become familiar with all of the horrors entailed in the various industries, and know all the horrible practices in use, to explain their simple choice to avoid eggs, milk, or meat. For example, to answer the question, “What is the problem with eggs?,” a vegan carries the unbearable awareness that male chicks are thrown upon birth into massive shredders, and that hens are electrified to death when they are two years old. Or, to answer the question “Why not milk?,” vegans have to know that a cow’s milk is intended for her calf but is stolen via the routine and horrifying practice of separating the calf from the mother immediately upon birth.

Vegans must also have a working knowledge of biochemistry to rebut qualms raised about hormones in soy, and to know the difference between estrogen and phytoestrogen. The former is a sex hormone found in the milk of every lactating mother – whether human, cow, or goat – and the latter is an estrogen-like molecule that exists in soy, and, contrary to popular misconception, does not increase the risk of breast cancer (on the contrary: it activates estrogen receptors of the ERb type, which actually prevent the disease).

As if this weren’t enough, vegans must also be closely familiar with data from the famous UN report, “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” as they are frequently faced with the provocative question: “Don’t you feel sorry about the field rabbits that are killed to grow your lettuce?” The report warns that the meat, dairy and egg industries are the leading causes of environmental and climatic damage to the planet, as they are a significant cause of soil destruction, climate change, air pollution, water scarcity and pollution, and loss of biodiversity. According to the report, some 70% of the world’s agricultural land is used for the animal feed industry. To put it simply, for every three fields designated for growing plant foods there are seven fields designated for growing animal foods – meaning omnivores are responsible for the deaths of more than twice the number of field rabbits as their vegan counterparts. The report also reveals that the water used in the production of beef is ten times greater than the amount of water consumed to grow plant food of the same caloric value. Data from this report also helps vegans answer the question – “What about the children starving in Africa?”

But in battling myths and preconceptions, it’s not only data and ecology a vegan has to know. To refute claims about vegan diets being nutritionally lacking, the vegan has to know that despite the myths, a well-balanced vegan diet has no shortage of vitamins and minerals. The only possible deficiency may be in vitamin B-12, which is extracted from bacteria found in the soil, which cannot be consumed without taking supplements, given the fact that we all wash the vegetables we eat and avoid drinking contaminated and unpurified water. For this reason, most farm animals are also fed B12 as a supplement.

Then there are, of course, the claims for bias: “What about the children in the sweatshops in Asia? The refugees in Syria?” To respond to these, a vegan has to know how to say that veganism is the choice to avoid harming another being, and we are all responsible, at the very least, for refraining from harm to others. They should point out the obvious – that veganism is, among other things, an act of compassion. Therefore, many vegans have a natural compassion for humans, and donate their time and energy to other worthy causes that also include helping human beings. There are plenty of sources for this information, in books, lectures, and internet movies.

But while all these may help new vegans get tools and answers to the many questions that concern their family and friends so they can conduct productive dialog on the issues, they cannot cure the repressed and tormenting pain accompanying the realization that basic morality is not at the forefront of their relatives’ minds. Nor can they give Diana and other vegans a satisfactory explanation for the only question that each and every human should be asking: “How can I stop taking an active part in this great suffering?” For some reason, this obvious question is the one question that is too rarely asked.

Shiri Raz – PhD candidate; psychoanalysis and hermeneutics program at Bar-Ilan University, Israel. Shiri focuses her research on the psychoanalytic and linguistic aspects of people’s mental attitudes toward the consumption and use of animal-based products.

Shiri serves as a therapist for couples and individuals, specializing in work with vegans and mixed couples (vegans and non-vegans) in Israel and worldwide (through video chats). She is an animal rights activist, academic lecturer, resident lecturer for the Vegan Friendly association’s educational program and for the Animals Now (non-profit) organization, and a public speaker.