The huge number of people going vegan inevitably mean some fail. Charlotte Willis investigates...
Sworn vegans who make the decision to eat animal products again fill our newsfeeds with exposés and add fuel to the fire of reluctant omnivores. What, as a community, can we do about revert-vegans?
Revert-Vegan. Noun. Someone who previously followed a vegan lifestyle, who decides to consume animal products on a regular basis, labelling themselves omnivorous, flexitarian or vegetarian.
I totally made that definition up. Turns out there’s no dictionary entry for revert vegan. It’s surprising, seeing as recently we were inundated with news that this runner, that YouTube-er and a singer/rapper are no longer living their best ethical lives.
Naturally, when you discover that your close friends, co-workers or family members have decided to try Veganuary or adopt a plant-based lifestyle, you’ll be bitterly disappointed when they order a chicken club the next time you see them. It’s a sinking feeling, leaving you wondering what went wrong? Did they not try the latest non-chicken burrito? Bet they didn’t use oat milk in their coffees or subscribe to the podcast you suggested. Or, maybe, just maybe, if you’d have shown them Vego Bars…
One decision, many repercussions
Hearing about a failed vegan is a sad and frustrating concept, which is made even worse when the individuals are prominent figures in your conscious circle of influencers, advocates and notable names.
The mass media are keen to pick up on just about anyone with over 50,000 followers who claims to be vegan, and are even more receptive and vocal when it comes to exposing them as revert-vegans. It can be a very bitter pill to swallow for those of us who are trying to change people’s opinions about veganism.
We all know how damaging the plant-based stereotypes can be. The mass media love to hold onto the belief that all vegans are, of course, still battling with protein deficiency, dying of B12-related exhaustion, secretly craving bacon sandwiches and hugging trees in our bamboo sliders. It’s a hard life eh?
So when a well-known vegan individual decides to return to omnivorous ways, the press are hot on their tails to expose veganism as an unrealistic, non-sustainable and faddy dietary choice adopted for January and January only, culminating in an unrelenting cycle of meat-feasting and regret come February.
I wonder if these individuals consider the impact of their decision? News stories reach the hands of individuals who may indeed be on the cusp of making the decision to give veganism a try. Such is society that the majority of us tend to take what we read in the papers and headlines or hear from influential individuals, as gospel.
These messages lead society into further confusion about whether veganism is beneficial or achievable, adding yet another fire for the vegan community to fight against.
Revert-vegans could be argued to have a knock-on effect of influencing hundreds of people not to bother with veganism.
Why go back?
Videos of a revert-vegan decision (akin to a confessional video) breed comments such as “Just remember you can never be pure enough for these cult members. It is never enough” and “I did a vegan fast earlier this year and it was tough”. These videos often touch on very personal, individual stories about why veganism didn’t work for certain people. It is important to note that the overwhelming majority of these decisions emanate from a self-confessed, health-centric perspective.
Revert-vegans will often claim that the diet made them lack in some sort of nutrient, or that eating plants induced some sort of health complaint such as migraines, dizziness or lack of concentration. Others may state that veganism made them obsess over their foods, or become preoccupied with their calorie/weight/nutrient intake.
For certain individuals, going vegan can be a challenge. You may spend the first few months making sure you’re eating enough, trialling your way through various meals, foods and dishes in order to maintain motivation and ensure optimum nutrient intake. But there’s plenty of advice out there.
Just visit nutritionfacts.org, check out The Vegan Society or follow some awesome vegan blogs to see fantastic examples of how nourishing a vegan diet can be. Those with health complaints, either physical or mental, should not, in my opinion, look to veganism as a cure, but rather seek advice from professionals in the field before attempting any lifestyle changes.
Veganism is not a doctor’s prescription destined to provide immortality, nor is it something which one decides to flit in and out of.
Veganism, when followed correctly, ensuring that your nutrition and intentions are in check, is a sustainable and health-affirming diet that culminates in ethical awareness for both the animals and the planet – a concept which is often lost in the self-focused confessions of revert-vegans. It is doubtful that you’d hear, for example, a revert vegan saying “I just couldn’t go on saving animals. The thought of animals being alive and healthy, not having a horrific existence full of pain and suffering, was just too much to bear.” I doubt one gets many subscriptions or likes for such reasoning.
Reasons to revert to an omnivorous lifestyle are often extremely personal to the individual’s own experiences, which cannot and should not be generalised to veganism as a whole.
We need to be receptive
As with any struggling vegan, as a community we need to remain vigilant and receptive to the tribulations of potential revert-vegans. If we notice a fellow vegan who seems to be wavering, the most effective way to prevent a revert-vegan is to offer your time.
Lend an ear to a vegan in need, offer to help resolve any potential problems or issues they may be having, and point them in the direction of some useful advice.
Another brilliant way to help prevent revert-vegans is to remind the individual of the reasons behind their initial decision to live their ethical lifestyle. Be it animals, the planet or their health, help expand their reasoning by suggesting documentaries, blogs or podcasts that may help to clarify difficult decisions.
Judgement is not the way forward
Revert-vegans can make current vegans pretty mad, and rightly so (just ask Hench Herbivore, legend that he is). We’re all out here trying to achieve the same goal – to eat and live with compassion for all not one, when in comes news of a brand new revert-vegan. Shocked and disappointed, we’re all quick to jump into the comments section, offering our opinions and words of disgust on the matter.
The internet breeds comment wars, and can lead to hurtful discussions on veganism between individuals. I propose instead that we adopt more of a compassionate approach to revert-vegans.
Rather than offering our judgement, revert vegans deserve to be reminded of their reasoning behind going vegan. Perhaps with more encouragement to re-evaluate their new decision, and practical, positive ways to get around their health ailments or issues outlined in their reasoning behind reverting.
Above all, we must remind ourselves that revert-vegans once made the choice to give veganism a try and have decided not to continue their journey. Taking note of their initial reasoning, diet choices and ultimately failings, is important so that in future we look for similar warning signs in others who may be struggling, and help where possible.
Charlotte is a freelance journalist and health writer who has worked with the Vegan Society and other online vegan publications. Her fields of expertise include nutrition, holistic healthcare, mindfulness and fitness.