My Vegan Journey: A Retrospective
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My Vegan Journey: A Retrospective

As an on-off vegan for a decade, I am now looking back and trying to analyze the diet and philosophy.

My Vegan Journey: A Retrospective

It is my opinion that veganism is a harmful ideology. When I refer to "veganism," I am not referring to eating a plant-based diet. Choosing to abstain from consuming animal products is not veganism – and vegans would ardently agree. Veganism is, by definition, not a diet, it is a utilitarian philosophy encouraging humans to reduce the amount of animal suffering in the world (but only as far as is "practicable and possible"). Vegans do not only abstain from animal foods but all animal products, including those used in clothing, cosmetics, and medicine. Vegans also oppose any industries that they assert contribute to animal suffering and/or animal exploitation, such as zoos, aquariums, rodeos, circuses, horse racing, cockfighting, and medical testing (vivisection). Vegans are of course opposed to hunting.

Nowadays, vegans strive to be activists. It is no longer enough to quietly eat rice and beans and keep it to yourself. You are expected to proselytize and expose non-vegans to the "truth." You are expected to regularly expose yourself to depictions of animal cruelty, whether in the form of grisly documentaries such as "Earthlings," "Dominion," and "Land of Hope and Glory," or by attending animal 'saves,' which entail haranguing factory farmworkers outside of slaughterhouses and attempting to comfort the animals before they are sent to their deaths. Some vegans take the "Liberation Pledge," which entails refusing to sit at any table where animals or their byproducts are being consumed. The Pledge may prevent vegans from attending weddings, graduations, funerals, parties, or other social gatherings. The Pledge may prevent vegans from eating in restaurants or in other people's homes. None of this is regarded as extreme in the vegan community, rather, it is upheld as noble and admirable. If you are a vegan but not an activist, it is common to be lambasted for your selfishness. If you eat your Beyond Burger without telling non-vegans about the horrors of animal husbandry, you are liable to be decried as "dietary vegan" (i.e., not really vegan) or a "fad vegan." After all, the stakes are higher than ever. Animals are dying this very second, as you read this. So how can you sit there idly, eating your banana, without doing your duty?

When I was nearing the end of my vegan journey, I was finishing graduate school in the United Kingdom. I was miserable, malnourished, and starving. Like most end-stage vegans, I had a raging sugar addiction. I was living off of soy, chocolate, bananas, starchy vegetables, and pasta. I was exhausted from having to meticulously plan and cook all of my meals, as vegan options were not always available on-the-go. If the shops were closed or I was too exhausted to cook a meal from scratch, I'd reach for two or three bananas, a handful of potato chips, and some hazelnuts. Almost every night I'd go to bed hungry.

Up until this point – the very end stage of my journey – I'd thrived on a clean whole food plant-based diet, enthusiastically whipping up beet and spinach smoothies, falafel wraps, hearty butternut squash soups and pumpkin stews, huge bodacious salads topped with hummus and hemp seeds and lemon juice – and I made sure to eat meat substitutes very sparingly. I took B12 supplements every two days, along with turmeric, ginger, and garlic supplements – after all, I'd read somewhere in a vegan journal that garlic was a "sterilizing" herb. Other vegans argued that garlic was a neurotoxin and not to be regarded as an edible substance.

If I tell any vegans about the difficulties I faced, they will respond that I "didn't do it right." I scoff at such a notion. I was a health-obsessed vegan – in fact, my initial motivation for going vegan was almost entirely health-based. I did my research, I filled up on carbs and vegan protein, I ate until I felt full, I didn't deprive myself. And I felt great at first. This is a common sentiment among ex-vegans: It's great at first.

It's great until it's not.

Those first couple of months, that first year, you'll feel invincible. You'll feel light, pure, and clean. For anyone with neurotic or obsessive habits, being a whole foods vegan is the perfect excuse to micromanage your life even further. I met multiple people during my vegan tenure who relished finding more and more creative ways to further restrict their food intake: soy-free, nut-free, seed-free, carb-free, gluten-free, seasonal, alkaline, anti-inflammatory, raw, fruitarian, raw 'til 4, and 80-10-10 (80% of calories from carbs, 10% from protein, and 10% from fat). There was also tons of detoxing, no matter which vegan circle I moved in. At one point I witnessed vegans happily consuming bentonite clay, anticipating that it would relieve their filthy bodies of all impurities left behind by years of blasphemous meat consumption. If they weren't eating bentonite clay, they were eating nothing. Water fasting was touted as means to "reset" and "shock" the body, jolting it back into its rightful state – the state it was supposed to be in before the introduction of meat.

As a whole foods plant-based vegan who cared about the environment, veganism was traumatic. It was torture. I have never felt worse mentally, physically, or socially. In a textbook cult-like fashion, I denied and downplayed my suffering in pursuit of arbitrary moral purity. I trained myself to never question dissenting views or to deny them outright. I knew that over 80% of vegetarians and vegans returned to meat-eating. I knew that the vast majority of vegans "cheated," indulging themselves on dairy, eggs, and meat when nobody was looking and nobody was asking. I didn't question this – I dutifully trained myself to pretend these things didn't happen, because turning your back on veganism meant you were never vegan. It didn't matter if your health suffered, if you were dealing with grief, if you were in crisis. If you went back to consuming animal foods, you were an apostate, a carnist, a corpse-cruncher. You were immediately disregarded and thrown out.

Veganism is a full-time exercise in self-brainwashing, and it is exhausting. You must work overtime convincing yourself that the eating habits shared by 99% of the global population are unnatural and that eating 30 bananas a day is natural (it's called going to "banana island," look it up). You must tell yourself that regular foods don't look, taste, or smell appealing, even though they do. You must get used to asking if a restaurant's bread is vegan, or if their salad dressing contains dairy, or if the veggie burger is cooked on the same grill as the beef burger (and 90% of the time, it is). You must convince yourself that an Impossible Burger appears appetizing and a beef burger disgusting, even though both look identical -- the Impossible Burger even "bleeds," thanks to the presence of an iron-containing molecule. If you want to be a Double Plus Good Vegan, you will not ask yourself why vegans seek to replicate bones, blood, and viscera in their burgers. You will instead feign disgust at the idea of a "bloody" vegan burger, even though regular people (vegan and non-vegan) clearly find it appealing. With that said, it is no secret that veganism entails preemptively shielding yourself from any arguments that point out the numerous gaping, glaring hypocrisies inherent in the ideology.

As defined in 1944 by the founder of veganism, Donald Watson: "Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude — as far as is possible and practicable — all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans, and the environment."

The very definition of veganism is hypocritical. "As far as is possible and practicable" can allow for virtually any form of "acceptable" animal exploitation. Under this definition, the Inuit and the Maasai are vegan, since they do not have immediate access to supermarket shelves stocked with Gardein and Veganaise. Anyone requiring animal-derived medical intervention to survive, including insulin, aspirin, or cattle cartilage used for heart surgery – may consider themselves vegan. Anyone who consumes animal products out of "necessity," may consider themselves vegan. Anyone can call themselves vegan so long as they are not harming animals more than "necessary." What is the "necessary" amount of suffering acceptable to inflict upon animals, anyway? Don't ask vegans this question; they will never answer it.

The vast majority of vegans live in urban inner cities far away from farms or wildlife. Contrary to vegan propaganda, the nation of India does not have any thriving vegan population, including Jains, who consume dairy. Gandhi himself could not thrive on a strictly vegan diet and did not recommend it to anyone. From my anecdotal experience, pretty much all vegans eventually cheat, accidentally or intentionally. All vegans at some point consume non-vegan medicine or participate in activities that directly harm the environment or kill animals (driving, lawnmowing, swatting insects). All modern farming and agricultural practices harm and kill animals. 35% of the world's food crops are pollinated by bees. Modern electronics and houses are made with animal products. Companion animals harm other animals by eating animal-based foods or by hunting small birds and rodents. This doesn't take into account the schools of veganism that decry all pet ownership as unethical, and, in the cases of working animals, denounce it as animal slavery. Plastic harms animals and the environment, yet all vegan specialty items are packaged in plastic. Vegan leather is plastic. Vegan fur is plastic. Vegans drive on roads and bridges constructed using animal-based coagulants and which directly impede upon animal habitats. All human activity harms animals. Meanwhile, animals in the wild suffer and die horribly, by the billions, every single day. Therefore, veganism does not decrease animal suffering in any way – the animals uneaten by vegans simply remain uneaten, and more than likely go to waste.

The only vegans who admit that veganism harms animals and the environment are those in favor of the total annihilation of the global population. Their ideology, in my opinion, represents the logical conclusion of veganism: The only vegan world is no world at all.

Because of the amorphous definition of veganism, and because the vast majority of vegans oppose the destruction of humanity and the natural world, veganism amounts to little more than a narcissistic, masochistic purity spiral.

Vegans are aware of this and they incorporate it into their daily flagellation sessions. It is a full-time exercise in doublethink. Accidentally eating peanut butter that contains 0.005% micrograms of animal-derived vitamin D is OK because it wasn't intentional (yet many vegans will argue that "intentions" matter not to the abused animals) but accidentally buying a non-vegan product – and not throwing it out immediately – is wrong and sinful. Entranced by the spell of veganism, I performed these rituals many times. A pre-packaged tabbouleh salad contained traces of egg powder? A granola bar contained honey? Into the trash it went – leaving my wallet and my stomach empty – no questions asked. As I continued on this path, gradually becoming less and less enamored with the vegan raison d'etre, I felt sillier and sillier denying myself perfectly good fruit just because it may or may not have been sprayed with beeswax. I felt like an absolute buffoon, dripping with privilege, for throwing out perfectly good cosmetics and shampoo, going hungry if Marks and Spencer had run out of vegetable sandwiches, or stuffing my face with French fries and salad whenever anyone invited me out to eat.

Freeganism seemed, to me, like a viable option for consuming meat without guilt. After all, veganism is primarily a boycott wherein practitioners "vote with their dollars" to avoid directly funding the meat and dairy industries. Freeganism is a boycott against capitalism that encourages dumpster diving and stealing. Now, stealing is unsustainable and illegal, so this was not a possibility that I entertained, but I did wonder if vegan freegans could theoretically consume perfectly good animal foods destined for dumpsters from cafes, restaurants, and supermarkets. Why not simply partake of non-vegan leftovers that would otherwise go to waste? To my chagrin, dumpster diving for non-vegan foods was discouraged. For the vegan ideologue, it was better that perfectly good food went to waste rather than nourish anyone – even those in need. This is because vegans arbitrarily declare that animals and animal products are not food, thus nobody should be permitted to eat them. Of course, animals and animal products are food, and they can and should be enjoyed. Yet vegans regard meat as inedible as a pile of sawdust or a puddle of oil.

The backlash against vegan dumpster-diving and leftover-scavenging baffled me. It was my understanding that veganism supported environmentalism and efforts to be low-waste. This was a complete and obvious contradiction, and for no sensible reason at all. And no vegan could explain why it was unethical to eat leftover meat from a plate, a barbeque, or a rotisserie. The only explanation offered was that "it's not vegan" or "animal products aren't food." I quickly realized that veganism was more preoccupied with remaining pure than reducing harm. And, in any event, veganism reduces no harm at all. No animals are saved when perfectly edible food gets thrown into landfills.

Vegans are comfortable with hypocrisy when it suits their worldview. It is unethical to eat beef from a local farm 10 miles away, but it is perfectly acceptable to eat off-season bananas all year round that are transported from 200 miles away. It is not good to eat eggs from a backyard hen, but it is good to eat a Just Egg, which contains none of the nutrition found in an egg, costs over 10x as much as an egg, and is packaged in a hard plastic bottle.

Vegans rely a great deal on processed meat and dairy substitutes. While many of these meat analogs are admittedly quite delicious, they lack the nutritional properties inherent in animal products and fail to adequately satisfy. Vegans eat these foods because they crave animal products, but they try not to openly admit to that. The more I continued on my path and relied on vegan meat substitutes such as tofu (processed soy), tempeh (fermented processed soy), and seitan (wheat gluten), the more I wondered why I felt so absolutely terrible, so exhausted, so sick. Was stuffing my face with GMO soy and wheat gluten really better than just eating an egg? It wasn't as though I had a fatal egg allergy, or as if all eggs had suddenly ceased to exist. I had simply brainwashed myself into believing that an egg was not food.

This brings me to a phenomenon I repeatedly observed: Vegan masochism – wasting, weight loss, orthorexia, visibly suffering, all in the name of the noble cause of animal rights. Vegans who were visibly pale, underweight, malnourished, and fatigued would "power through," insisting that they were just "adjusting," and that at some point they'd start feeling great. I came across raw fruitarians who were clearly suffering, sickly, and lethargic, but insisted that they'd never felt better. I can't recall how many times I simply wanted to ask them why they were doing this to themselves, and remind them that zero farm animals were being saved by their masochism. Curiously enough, when I was mingling in raw circles, I did speak to quite a few raw vegans who only ate raw plant foods in the summer, or every once in a while – in other words, they normally ate meat and animal products. They were not vegan, but they still called themselves vegan while moving in raw food circles.

This all seemed consistent with what I'd experienced thus far: Vegans are overwhelmingly dishonest about their dietary habits. The vast majority of vegans are not vegan, and you have no reason to believe anyone who claims to be vegan. The vast majority of vegans will at some point consume a granola bar with trace amounts of dairy. I met many vegans who consumed honey, considering it "runoff" and not a product of exploitation, and referred to themselves as "beegans." I met even more vegans who insisted that they didn't beat themselves up for making "mistakes" or "slipping up" every now and again. It seems vegans face two logical conclusions: Remain truthful to the ideology and gradually suffer through physical deterioration, or find excuses to go back to eating animal products. Because vegans care more about living up to the impossible ideals of their ideology, the ones who do sneak animal products simply pretend they don't. Several vegan celebrities have opened up about "cheating," – Miley Cyrus, Ellen DeGeneres, Grimes, and Jared Leto, for starters – and they have all been quickly excommunicated from the movement. This is why most vegans just lie. I knew several vegans who occasionally consumed meat, dairy, or eggs. I knew several raw vegans who also included raw meat and raw milk in their dietary regiments. When I finally stopped being vegan and became a vegetarian, I did not announce it to the world. Many people still thought I was eating vegan, even though I wasn't. And I gladly let them go on believing that.

This is why many studies suggest that there is no way to reliably test the long-term effects of plant-based eating on populations – because anyone can claim to be vegan, and vegans appear to have wildly different standards for personal purity across the board.

Purity spiraling is the death knell of veganism. Nobody can live up to the insanely strict expectations demanded by the lifestyle and thus practically nobody does. Vegans can tell themselves that gorging on sugar, stimulants, processed plant oil, and processed soy all day is healthy but observable reality suggests otherwise. If being vegan was was so blissfully great and sustainable, far more than 1% of the population would be identifying as vegan after 50 years of increasingly visible vegan activism. If being vegan was so easy and wonderful, there wouldn't be such outrageous numbers of ex-vegans or so-called vegans admitting to "cheating" and "slipping up." If being vegan was so healthy, most long-term vegans wouldn't look so gaunt, undernourished, and sickly. Vegans cannot even reliably argue that meat is unhealthy – it is an established fact that processed meat is unhealthy – hotdogs, sausages, bacon, lunchmeats – but the research agrees that all processed food is unhealthy. And most vegans are using processed food as a staple of their diet. This is why most people who go vegan don't make it five years, and people eating even more restrictive diets, such as a raw vegan diet, rarely make it to a year.

I'll conclude by reiterating that I believe plant-based eating is a great option if it works for you. All bodies are different, and some people will fare better in the absence of animal foods than others. Clearly, there are some people who really do enjoy living vegan and do not find it restrictive or stressful. I only argue that this is not the case for the vast majority of so-called vegans. Most vegans do not end up being vegans for life.

So, even though there obviously are people who can and do thrive on a plant-based diet, this is not applicable to the global majority – and vegans need to stop pretending that it is. Most people won't feel better if they only eat plants, and most people especially won't feel better if they try to live vegan. They won't feel happier if they have to send back a noodle dish because it was made with fish sauce or fried in the same wok as a meat dish. They won't feel healthy and refreshed eating nothing but French fries, salad, and beans if they go to a restaurant (or staying home if they've taken the Liberation Pledge). They won't enjoy going hungry at social events that don't provide a vegan option or having to always remember to bring their own snacks everywhere. Most people won't feel good about inevitably straining friendships and relationships. Most people who suffer from mental illness will not enjoy introducing another potential source of anxiety into their lives. Most people recovering from eating disorders will risk relapse if they attempt to restrict their diets. Most people who attempt to live vegan will eventually face mental, physical, and social anguish. And something as basic as food shouldn't be a source of stress, aggravation, and restriction.

A vegan world is not possible – not even hypothetically – so why force yourself to jump through hoops pretending otherwise? No animals are saved just because some people choose to make their lives more difficult. Eating should be a joy, not an obstacle. Eating should be natural. In fact, it should be the most natural thing in the world.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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