Veganism 101

A shot from veg fest, three white containers of delicious vegan take-out food fill the frame; waffles, samosas and fruit salad.

Veganism is a philosophy and lifestyle which seeks to exclude all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.

There are many reasons why people embrace this lifestyle, and we celebrate them all - from human health and social justice to animal welfare and environmental impacts.

At VegTO, we support each other at all stages of our vegan journey and want to see you thrive in this lifestyle. We created this Veganism 101 section to help you do just that.


Who is VegTO?

Founded in 1945, VegTO is Toronto’s go-to resource for all things veg. We are a registered charity, whose mission is to inspire people to choose a healthier, greener, more compassionate lifestyle through plant-based eating. For more information, visit our What We Do page.

What does VegTO do?

We host North America’s largest Veg Food Fest, we publish Toronto’s Veg Guide of restaurants, bakeries, natural food stores, and other related businesses. We also partner with local businesses to offer our members discounts and special offers at over 80 vegan-friendly businesses. Our staff and volunteers also organize other great events, social outings, and more. Visit our What We Do to learn more about our events and programs.

Can I join VegTO?

Membership with VegTO is an all-access pass to exclusive vegan deals and discounts at more than 80 locations across the Toronto area, exciting events, inspiration for vegan lifestyles, and insider information on all this veg in the Toronto area and beyond. Most of all, for just $25/year, you become a part of our growing community of passionate and compassionate members who support each other at all stages of their vegan journey. We are all in this together! Visit our Members page to learn more.

What is your privacy policy?

We are a registered charity and do not engage in trading or selling your information. E-mail communications will always include an identification of the sender and an “Unsubscribe” option. We will only contact you about the information that you have signed up for. See our Privacy Policy for full details.

Health & Nutrition

Should I eliminate meat entirely to get the health benefits of a vegan diet?

Whether or not you feel you need to be entirely plant-based to receive optimal health benefits, deciding to go vegan can make it much easier to maintain a healthy diet. You won't easily give in to temptations by committing to being vegan, especially during the difficult initial transition period. After a couple of months, your taste buds will change, and your desire for meat will most likely diminish. Saying, "I am vegan," provides an excellent excuse to tell friends and family when explaining why you can no longer indulge in their meaty meals. Furthermore, as a vegan, you will be seen by others as an example of healthy, positive change, and there will be a load off your mind and conscience knowing your diet no longer contributes to animal suffering and death.

How can I be sure I’m getting enough iron, protein, calcium, etc.?

Plant-based foods are brimming with nutrients, protein, iron, calcium, vitamin D, iodine, omega-3 fatty acids, and zinc. The key to health is simple. Include a wide variety of different foods in your diet and a reliable source of vitamin B12. No one food source is nutritionally complete by itself. See our vegetarian nutrition page for specific information on which foods contain the above nutrients. The position of Dietiians of Canada and the American Dietetic Association is that appropriately planned vegan diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and provide health benefits in preventing and treating certain diseases.

Are vegan diets healthy for all people?

Studies show that vegans who eat varied, low-fat diets stand a much better chance of living longer, healthier lives than their meat-eating counterparts. But there are a few reasons why a vegan may appear to be unhealthy: Poor eating, sleeping, or exercising habits will affect someone whether they eat meat or not. Or the person may be a recent vegetarian who is still recovering from many years of eating a diet heavy on animal foods. The mind can also play a role through the power of belief. For example, someone who firmly believes that they need meat may feel unhealthy if they go without meat for a while.

Is seafood healthy?

Contrary to popular belief, fish is not a health food. Fish flesh contains toxins from the water that fish live in, and those toxins get passed on to people who eat fish. In addition, fish raised on farms are given antibiotics, which are also passed on to consumers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 325,000 people in the U.S. get sick or die every year from eating contaminated fish and other sea animals. Even if you could be sure that the fish you eat is free of chemicals, the flesh of some sea animals, especially shrimps and scallops, contains even more cholesterol than beef!As an alternative, you can enjoy seaweeds (such as nori and dulse), and flax oil is an excellent source of omega-3.

Where can I learn more about vegan and vegetarian nutrition?

Check out this blog post for more information on staying nutrtious and healthy on a plant-focused diet.

I’ve heard others ask if animals kill other animals for food, so why shouldn’t we?

Most animals who kill for food could not survive if they didn’t, but that is not the case for humans. We would be better off if we didn’t eat meat. Many animals, including some of our closest primate relatives, are vegetarians. We should look to them, rather than to carnivores, as models of healthy eating.

The animals have to die sometime, so what’s wrong with eating them?

People die too, but that doesn’t give someone the right to kill them or cause them a lifetime of suffering.

Don’t farmers have to treat their animals well so they’ll produce more meat, milk, or eggs?

Animals on factory farms gain weight, lay eggs, or produce milk not because they are well cared for but because their bodies have been manipulated with medications, hormones, genetics, and management techniques. Animals raised for food are slaughtered when they are young before disease and misery decimate them. Factory farmers grow such huge numbers of animals for food that it is less expensive to absorb some losses than it is for them to provide humane conditions.

What about fish?

There are many excellent reasons to forgo foods that involve killing fish. The oceans are overfished, coral reefs are being destroyed, and sensitive sea floors are getting raked with drag nets. Many species are threatened, including dolphins, seabirds, and turtles that get snagged in the nets. Also, fish feel pain though they lack the vocal cords to express it. You can still enjoy seaweeds (such as nori and dulse), and flax oil is an excellent source of omega-3.



What will we do with all the chickens, cows, and pigs if everyone becomes a vegan?

It is unrealistic to expect that everyone will stop eating animals overnight. As the demand for meat decreases, fewer animals will be raised for food which means farmers will stop breeding so many animals and turn to other agriculture types. When there are fewer of these animals, they will be able to live more natural lives.

If everyone became vegan, many animals would never even be born. Isn’t that worse for them?

Life on factory farms is so miserable that it is hard to imagine that we are doing animals a favour by bringing them into that type of existence and then confining them, tormenting them, and slaughtering them. From an ecological point of view, domesticated animals displace wild animals. Every piece of agricultural land used for feed crops or pasture has a history of being a natural ecosystem supporting wildlife. Fewer farm animals raised for food would free up land that could be converted back into forests, grasslands, and wetlands.

If everyone replaced meat with vegan foods, wouldn’t we need just as much farmland?

In North America, most farmland would no longer be needed if there were a significant move to vegan diets. This is because farm animals must be fed a lot of food to put on the weight necessary for edible flesh. As is the case for people, animals are naturally inefficient because much of their food is converted into energy for movement, excreted as manure, or used to grow body parts not eaten by people. As a result, very little can become direct edible weight gain. For example, cattle excrete 40 kilograms of manure for every kilogram of edible beef produced.

Isn’t the manure used for fertilizer?

The meat industry makes an effort to utilize some of the byproducts, but this can be a challenge because of the enormous numbers of animals slaughtered. Farmers prefer to use easy-to-spread chemical fertilizers instead of trucking manure over long distances from factory-style animal farms. On hog-raising operations in the U.S., only about one-sixth of manure is utilized. In Canada, the stench from industrial pig farms has caused a considerable problem for neighbours. Excess animal waste often ends up in rivers and groundwater, contributing to nitrogen, phosphorus, and nitrate pollution.

lifestyle & leather

Do vegans eat honey?

Honey is not vegan, according to the Vegan Society’s official definition. You can substitute honey with maple syrup, rice syrup, or agave nectar.

How many vegans are there?

According to the Dietitians of Canada and the American Dietetic Association’s June 2003 Vegetarian Position Paper, approximately 4% of Canadian adults (900,000 people) and 2.5% of adults in the United States (4.8 million people) consistently follow vegetarian diets. Slightly less than 1% of those polled were vegans. However, interest in vegetarian eating is rising, with 20 to 25% of adults in the United States reporting eating four or more meatless meals weekly or “usually or sometimes maintain a vegetarian diet.” According to a 2005 Mintel food service report, the value of vegetarian-specific foods such as soymilk, veggie burgers, and frozen vegetarian entrees has increased by 64% since 2000 (or 45% in constant 2005 dollars). According to a 2021 poll VegTO conducted with Angus Reid, about 4% of Ontarians identify as vegan, and 4% identify as vegetarians.

What about clothing such as leather, down, and wool?

People become vegan for different reasons. Some draw the line at food, and some go further by not wearing leather, down, or wool. Others continue to wear such clothing until it wears out, replacing it with animal-free alternatives. Those practising a fully vegan lifestyle endeavour to live lives that do not cause any suffering at all to animals, or exploit animals in any way. This involves ceasing to eat or wear animal products such as leather, wool, silk, and down. Entertainment that confines or exploits animals, such as circuses, rodeos, and zoos, are usually avoided.

What does macrobiotic mean?

Foods are classified according to the ancient Chinese principle of Yin and Yang, the idea being to achieve a Yin-Yang balance in the diet. The foods that are avoided in this diet include all processed foods, meat, and dairy products, and refined flours and sugars.

What is a raw food diet?

Raw and living food diets include fruits, vegetables, sprouts, nuts, seeds, grains, and sea vegetables. Food is eaten whole or processed by juicing or dehydrating, but never at temperatures over 116 degrees F. This preserves its enzymes and nutrient values. Most raw foodists soak/sprout nuts, seeds, and grains before consuming them. For more information about a raw food diet and some excellent links for resources see our raw foods page. Fruitarians go a step further and only live on nuts and fruits which can be harvested without causing damage to the plant.