So Long Vegan Part 2: My Concerns with a Movement
A few days ago I published So Long Vegan: Part 1, all about why I am no longer vegan. The response included even more angry pro-vegan comments than I had anticipated…which made me even more convinced that I wanted to write a second part to it. This part is all about my concerns with the vegan movement. Unfortunately, what started as something so positive has now turned into a judgmental, sect-like group. There are so many reasons why I absolutely loved following a vegan diet, and if I were perfectly healthy I really would keep it up, but I have chosen to put my health first, and at this point in my life, veganism isn’t for me. On top of my personal wellbeing, there are a few issues I have with the vegan movement. Here they are.
The vegan community
One of my biggest criticisms of the vegan movement in general, is what the vegan community has become. This movement had such great intentions and it had the potential of being a beautifully inspiring group, open to teaching the world about the benefits of eating plant-based foods, and standing against the unethical treatment of animals. Instead it has taken a radically different turn. Much of the vegan community does not focus on teaching and inspiring meat-eaters, but rather bashing, shaming and bullying others.
It would be naive of me not to expect some negative responses and criticism to my previous blog post, however the amount of hateful comments I received did nothing but make me want to distance myself even more from the entire community.
What shocked me even more than the hateful comments, were the personal messages I received. So many girls wrote to me opening up about their personal health concerns from following a vegan diet. So many of these girls wanted to make veganism work. They wanted to take a stand against animal agriculture and loved the idea of thriving on plants alone, but had to take a step back when health concerns arose, and reintroduced animal proteins into their diet. The worst part was how these girls felt ashamed and embarrassed to do so. Most didn’t even feel comfortable to admit their dietary shift publicly. How has this community driven so many of us to feel guilty for taking care of ourselves?
I initially went vegan primarily to care for my personal health. It’s as if in today’s world, taking care of one’s own wellbeing is considered blameworthy. We tend to simplify things by categorizing them as “good” or “bad” and taking care of yourself is “selfish” and therefore “bad”. With the vegan movement in particular, despite considerable focus on compassion, there seems to be a lack of empathy shown to other human beings and their personal choices to care for their health.
Veganism feeding restriction
Another concern I have with veganism as a movement is the reason why many turn to this diet in the first place. I really don’t want to generalize here, but many, even so-called “ethical vegans” I have spoken to, previously had disordered eating habits. Many claim that turning towards a vegan diet has helped “cure their relationship with food”, and although this might be true for many, I’ve seen numerous girls turn to veganism as a way of fuelling their restrictive tendencies.
One can use ethical justifications to redirect one’s own dietary insecurities onto an external issue; the problem seems more manageable if it’s without rather than within. Meanwhile, the rigidity of a vegan diet satisfies the unhealthy need for maintaining “control”.
Zooming in on restrictive plant-based eating has led many to feel like they have overcome their disordered relationship with food, when in reality this just serves as a distraction; they are still subject to a set of rules of what they can and cannot eat. It is my sense that this might be why some channel personal frustration into anger and hostility towards those who don’t subscribe to the same lifestyle.
The societal need for a label
Among the many messages I received from girls going through a similar switch as me, one in particular stuck out. A friend of mine admitted that she felt stuck to the label of “vegan”, somewhat consumed by it, and the idea of letting it go altogether was scary.
We’re now so caught up the need to have a label for everything that even the label-less are now labeled “flexitarian”. Like what does flexitarian even mean?? Just means like… I eat food I guess. “Human” would be equally appropriate.
Our need for labels does not only breed segregation, division, competition and in some cases conflict, but also stands in the way of our personal identity. Somewhere along the track we’ve lost our ability to accept ourselves as unique, complex beings, and turned to the simplicity of being defined by a tag.
What if we were more than just the diet we subscribe to?!?! How wild would that be! What if our values, our experiences, beliefs, attitude and humour actually said more about us than if we opted for Soy in our latte rather than Skim?! Maybe it’s time for us to let go of this wild obsession with being labeled a “this” or a “that” and accept each other in all our beautiful inherent complexity.
What if it isn’t all or nothing?
I never once craved anything outside of my plant-based regimen when I was vegan. The thought of sneaking in a little non-vegan treat honestly never even crossed my mind. I will admit however that since taking a step back from veganism, I have enjoyed a crazy new sense of liberty, as if a completely new world just opened up to me. I was so accustomed to living in my vegan bubble, that I didn’t even notice how restrictive it really was.
Now I’m in no ways saying I’m enjoying T-bone steak for breakfast, lunch and dinner, honestly in my daily life I mostly chose plant-based foods since it’s what I prefer, but what bothers me a lot about the vegan movement is the rigidity of it all. It seems to be very all or nothing, black or white. If you’re vegan 99% of the time, you’re not allowed to sport the label at all, in fact you’re alienated from the whole community.
Where I see this as a concern personally would be when I travel. I’m all for keeping a healthy, organic, plant-rich diet, but as well as being a health-freak and fitness lover, I also happen to love travelling. I love discovering new cultures, so naturally I love trying new foods. When I’m at home, I’m all about that salad life, but you know what, if I’m going to be travelling with locals in Thailand, bring on the street-made PadThai. The enjoyment and culturally enriching experience of travelling restriction-less with an open mind, in my opinion, also has significant value.
It’s this rigidity that makes the vegan movement seem unappealing to outsiders. If it was suggested to them to try eating as plant-based as possible, and that decreasing meat intake from daily to weekly will make a great difference on our world as we know it, then maybe more people would try.
To the ethical vegans: I understand where you’re coming from. My question is whether it’s better to get as many people on board as possible, decreasing their animal product consumption by 70%, or focusing on an “all or nothing” approach, getting very few people interested at all.
The concept of balance is often seen as an excuse for “caving in”, but what I’ve come to understand is that following a completely balanced diet may be the hardest one yet. It’s about understanding context, and making informed decisions depending on what is truly right for you in that moment.