Wow, it’s been QUITE a while since I’ve posted a Tuesday Thoughts-themed article! When I first started this little series, I really dove headfirst into everything that swam in my mind and didn’t really hesitate on my candor. Of course, I always try to be as respectful as I possibly can, and I think I manage to do so very well.
Anyways, onto today’s topic: ex-vegans. Former vegans. People who once identified as a member of the vegan community, but no longer do, and have reversed their diets and abstinence from animal products. Similarly to anything having to do with social security or the ethics of palm oil, I never bothered to take a stance on this subject. It’s simply much too controversial, complicated, and personal for me to have a concrete opinion. But there are a few questions about former vegans that almost everyone within and outside of the vegan community pose: Why do these individuals even release themselves from this lifestyle anyways? Why are ex-vegans hated so much by the community? Most of all, what does this mean for veganism as a movement?
For some context, there are a decent amount of articles, videos, and other publications of anecdotal insights on how veganism affected their lives and why it somehow didn’t work for them. To this day, just as many people, if not more, are ditching their vegan ways as many as there are choosing veganism. With that being said, when someone steps forward and declares their exit from veganism, it is seen as a great loss to the vegan community because there is one more person that has decided against the movement.
So why are former vegans such a big deal? Well, they aren’t like the mainstream. It is one thing to say that you tried veganism, but failed because of convenience or taste. It is another to say that you were a vegan, but shed off the label because you no longer identify with the claims of veganism regarding health, environmental sustainability, and/or ethics. Or, maybe you still identify with these factors, but have consciously chosen another path for personal reasons. Maybe veganism tainted one’s relationship with food. Maybe veganism tainted one’s relationship with other people. Maybe veganism tainted one’s relationship with the environment. The latter sounds ironic, but it is indeed possible.
There is no denying that veganism has its consequences. In some ways, you do spend more money, whether on cruelty-free beauty products and other household commodities that are not found at a local drugstore, or specialty veggie burgers that cost a fortune at grocery stores. A vegan diet can be socially complicated as well. Happy hour is no longer second nature since most alcoholic beverages aren’t vegan (I consciously don’t drink for my own choice, but I know many legal vegans who have experienced this situation). Finding vegan options at restaurants during outings may pose a great challenge. Your family may feel almost betrayed because you no longer eat home-cooked meals that are meat-based and such. Don’t even get me started on those who try to debate with you on why veganism is ethically wrong.
But let’s break this down step-by-step. Place yourself in someone else’s shoes. You live on a tight budget. Groceries often consist of the same foods: beans, rice, potatoes, oats, frozen vegetables, frozen fruits, a carton or two of soy milk, some seasonings, and other miscellaneous ingredients. In your area, there are absolutely no vegan restaurants, and when you do eat out, you either resort to French fries and side salads or you have to call or e-mail the staff in advance about your dietary needs. You have a job where you are surrounded by donuts in the break room. Your coworkers tease you because you don’t snack with them. Or, say you go to school where the cafeteria is basically a fast-food joint. Your classmates give you a hard time, all because they think you’re weird. Back at home, your family pretty much ostracize you at the dinner table. They wave a chicken wing in your face, attempting to tantalize you into taking a bite. When you refuse, they try to convince you that you need animal protein for nutrition. Any response you convey gets shut down by ultimate ignorance or refusal to listen. By yourself, you take your multi and B12 while scrolling through forums of fellow vegans who live on the opposite side of the world. Sadly, this scenario is true for too many. How would you feel if you lived in an environment like that? How would you feel if people treated you this way? How would you feel if you had to eat the same foods every single day, knowing that someone will point a finger and laugh?
My three problems with many of these former vegans comprise of several patterns I see:
- They follow a confirmation bias. Basically, the information they seek aims to justify what they want to hear, which is that a vegan diet doesn’t work. Worse, they might just do some mental gymnastics and concoct a really weird and elementary conclusion that condones meat consumption.
- Some promises are broken too soon. Unfortunately, most ex-vegans just eat as many animal products as is recommended by the government, which is far too many, according to the nutritional consensus. These former vegans claim that they will stick to grass-fed beef and ethically sourced fish or eggs, but then dig into a Big Mac the next day, the following day, and so forth.
- Few–not all–paint veganism negatively, whether shaming vegan influencers or complaining how “nutritionally deficient” the diet is, plus about any other hardships they never disclosed while they were vegan. What if former vegans had an even bigger footprint on the Internet? Non-vegans will turn to these anecdotes for evidence to continue eating the way they do. One story–ONE STORY–about a former vegan’s transition back to an omnivorous diet can shut down all means of searching up the hundreds of credible, reliable, and extensively written sources that encourage a vegan lifestyle.
Enjoying pizza with mozzarella cheese at a party might strike of more importance than the less-than-poor living conditions of a cow in factory farming. Trying some home-cooked stew with meat-based broth might be more mentally alleviating than saving the life of a chicken. That’s fine. It’s solely up to the individual to justify this. But just like almost anything else that we do in daily consumerism, it’s an act of selfishness. Think about it. How many times have you bought a clothing item from a brand that fuels off of sweatshops? How many times have you bought some soap that contains palm oil, a very unsustainable vegetable oil that costs the deforestation and destruction of thousands and thousands of homes for wildlife? All of the choices we make can either be done at the expense of others or not. There’s less morale in picking the first. Simple as that.
Ultimately, I have no reason to despise ex-vegans, but I also have no reason to agree with them. If someone truly identified with veganism, they would find almost any way possible to make it work or stick to at least an 80-99% plant-based diet. Even consuming a nearly plant-based diet minus a serving of seafood or eggs once or twice a week, along with some animal-based vitamins and minerals in fortified foods makes such a huge difference. It’s really sad to me. It’s really sad, because I understand why. Some businesses intentionally make it difficult for people to live a vegan lifestyle.
Before I close this off, this is a message to the vegan community that needs to be iterated over and over again: please do not treat an ex-vegan as if he or she is a monster or was never a true vegan in the first place. It hurts the individual and the vegan community as a whole. Losing a vegan isn’t positive at all, but that doesn’t mean we should inflict our dissatisfaction on this person. How do we look to others if we do this? On another note, we have to consider what we have built into our foundation. If our beliefs look unreliable, then we have to look into more credible sources, and not just pseudoscience. Yes, that includes the idea that we can get our B12 from the sun, cooked food is toxic, and low fat a day keeps the doctor away (luckily, I think that we have evolved past this myth). I’ll take two heaping scoops of sunflower seed butter, please.
Lastly, if you are currently a vegan and are rethinking your choices about living cruelty-free, please reconsider your departure from this lifestyle. Research updated evidence about the scientific consensus on veganism. Talk to somebody with a credible background in nutrition (I’m talking registered dietitians, NOT doctors, nutritionists, or random online influencers who follow pseudoscience). Talk to people who are vegan to learn some tips on how to save money or get along with non-vegans. Be careful about opening up to non-vegans because they can manipulate you into ditching veganism too quickly. Even consider taking a blood test to check your nutrient levels. Finally, remember that for every vegan on the planet, there are fifteen to twenty non-vegans. If you want to ditch the label, that’s absolutely fine. Sometimes, the label itself is the weight of your troubles, not the lifestyle. But if you do decide to take a break, I highly recommend that you revisit this lifestyle after some time. You came here for a good reason. Find another to stick with it.