Lately (again) some ex-“vegans” are in the media proclaiming their love of eating animals. The usual reason for them going back to exploiting animals, though they still maintain their love for them, is they listened to their bodies and their bodies told them that they must eat animals or they will perish. Or something very close.
Sometimes their bodies talk to them by making them lethargic and hungry all the time; other times their bodies speak to them in their dreams and tell them to eat the flesh, muscle, and tissues of cows. Seriously. That’s some sound medical science, right there.
If I listened to my body, I’d subsist on tequila, chocolate, and vegan cupcakes. Luckily, I also have an intellect and a heart, one of which advises me to have a well-rounded diet, and the other advises me not to take the lives or property of fellow sentient individuals. If I listened to my dreams, well, that would be a nightmare.
And what is it with the ex-“vegans” who eat the flesh of a person and are magically cured of whatever plagued them? I hate to inform you, but there is no Vitamin Meat. Let’s keep in mind that obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and high cholesterol are all at epidemic levels in the United States. Let’s also keep in mind that at best one percent of the population is vegan. I think it’s fair to say that eating meat, dairy, and eggs does not equate to being healthy.
Literally every week some plant-based diet blogger goes public, declaring that they were wrong, eating animals is awesome, and not unethical. Or they are careful to point out that now they only eat happy meat now.
Of course the media jumps all over stories of ex-“vegans” because it fills their desire to paint veganism as unrealistic, unachievable for mere mortals, extreme, wacky, unhealthy, you name it. And they really sink their teeth into stories where the hero happens to directly blame veganism for their eating disorders.
One ex-“vegan,” whom I shall call The Blonde Exploiting Animals for Money and Fame, went on a long juice fast and felt great, so she decided to become “vegan,” i.e. eat a plant-based diet. And because she was young and attractive, she got a lot of attention online and realized she could make money off of the backs of animals by selling t-shirts. She ate a plant-based diet for one year. Then, when her body told her to eat animals again, she went to the media, painting herself as a victim of veganism: veganism caused her eating disorder.
I must make two things very clear. First, veganism is not a diet. Veganism is “a way of living which excludes all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, the animal kingdom” that recognizes that nonhuman animals have the right to bodily autonomy and the freedom to not be oppressed or exploited by others. Second, eating disorders are very serious and prevalent mental illnesses in our culture. I do not in any way want to minimize how destructive they can be to the person with the disorder and those who love them.
It’s clear from reading her blog that she had an eating disorder well before she ever started eating a plant-based diet, and like most of these highly vocal ex-“vegans,” ate an extremely restrictive plant-based diet. They are very forthcoming about this fact, because they believe that restrictive diets are purer, cleaner, more perfect.
Guess what? This fixation on perfection and purity ultimately becomes onerous, tiring, annoying. It becomes hard to maintain. No wonder when they “listened to their body,” it told them to eat a damn cupcake and move on. It’s not veganism’s fault, it’s these bizarrely strict, out-of-balance diets that exclude so much of the variety, diversity, and fun of vegan foods.
I view this as a symptom of exaggerating the health benefits of plant-based diets. When we focus on weight loss, clear skin, shiny hair, detox, increased energy, great sexual prowess, perfect health including never getting cancer, heart disease, diabetes, or other chronic diseases, when we say eating a plant-based diet will make you attractive and popular and help you live to be a hundred years old, we make it very attractive to people with orthorexia, body dysmorphia, or low self-esteem. (Who the hell wants to live to one hundred? I digress.)
And lets face it, the health and vanity angle is pretty much all we hear about in the culture about veganism – certainly not the ethical position.
We must also look at the dozens if not hundreds of “vegan” and plant-based diet “gurus” who help to perpetuate these exaggerated health claims and distract us from the ethical message. Some have no initials after their names indicating any education or training, and others have multiple initials but are still out to demonize vegan food. You see them everywhere, from social media, to health webinars, to VegFests, to your email inboxes. They are the ones touting a plant-based diet that is highly restrictive. No oil, sugar, or salt. Gluten is the devil. Soy will give you man boobs, or breast cancer. Cooked food is poison. Green smoothies are bad for you. Fat will kill you. Nuts will kill you. You must cleanse. You must juice. You must fast. You must do 80/10/10. You must pay for my coaching, my books, DVDs, cooking classes, weekend intensives, etc.
What all of these gurus have in common, aside from making money off of people’s vulnerabilities, is that that they perpetuate the idea of their brand of restrictive diet as the perfect diet, the magical diet that will turn you into a supermodel, help you find the perfect mate, shield you from disease forever, and more.
When the gurus, ex-“vegan” bloggers, and those who follow restrictive diets publicly shame perfectly good and sometimes healthy foods, they create a lot of confusion about what is vegan and what is not. Mentoring people for The Thinking Vegan, I have seen this confusion firsthand. Is gluten vegan? Yes. Is oil vegan? Yes. Can I eat processed foods? Yes.
Ethical vegans, who may or may not care about reaching perfect levels of health or having a bikini body, frequently endure attacks for eating processed foods, oil, cooked food, baked goods, etc. We’re accused of harming the movement unless we look a certain way. I’ve covered this topic multiple times and don’t need to revisit it here.
The last thing we want to do as vegans and activists is to give the impression that a plant-based diet is highly restrictive. The average person already perceives our diets as restrictive just from omitting animal products. As an ethical vegan, I don’t give a shit what you eat, as long as you aren’t eating animal products. What you eat or don’t eat is your business and should remain that way. It’s important for us to stay focused on the nonhuman animals who are confined, tortured, mutilated and killed for people’s tastes, pleasure and traditions: not health claims, demonizing perfectly good foods, and perpetuating restrictive diets.