And no, it doesn't involve eating a daily block of tofu.
At some point or another. It’s a fact of life, as inevitable as daylight savings or taxes. It doesn’t tend to be a popular question among vegans, mostly because we get tired of answering and also because the question is often laced with a touch of incredulity and concern, as if at any moment we might begin wasting in front of the inquirer’s uneasy eyes.
I’ve handled the question with varying degrees of elegance. Back when I first went vegan, I handled it defensively. “Protein is a really overstated nutrient, ” I’d allege; or, “protein deficiency has never been reported in this country”; or “broccoli actually has much more protein than chicken.” (That last bit is totally untrue.)
Nowadays, I actually enjoy getting asked “the protein question” because it gives me a chance to talk about nutrition (which I love) and because I can admit that it’s a perfectly reasonable question. Most of us grew up with the standard protein/starch/vegetable trio on our plates. And most of the time—unless your mom or dad was a vegetarian—that protein was of the animal variety. It’s not too outrageous to wonder what vegans do instead.
The fact of the matter is that yes, it’s relatively easy to get the protein you need if you’re eating a well-rounded, calorically adequate plant-based diet. And no, protein deficiency isn’t common in the Western world.
That said, it’s plenty easy to skimp on protein—not enough to court a deficiency, per se, but enough to leave you feeling dissatisfied or hungry after mealtimes. New vegans who don’t give any thought to protein at all (or dismiss thinking about protein as unnecessary) might find themselves doing what I did in my very early days, which was to be a pasta-tarian and salad-tarian—nary a bean in sight.