One major problem that afflicts the vegan and vegetarian community is the sheer number of us that return to consuming animal products. Some research indicates that 84% of vegetarians and vegans return to consuming meat. Vegans make up just 0.5% of the population; 70% of us quit. The number of ex-vegetarians is several times the number of current vegetarians — ditto for vegans.
Now, anyone who has ever mentioned their veganism or vegetarianism knows that people often respond with a somewhat-unbelievable “Oh, I tried that once for a week,” followed by a fill-in-the-blank reason for giving it up. I suspect that many of the ex-vegans and vegetarians that make up the large percentages mentioned above fall into this category: they gave it a try, kinda, and they thought they were going to die after 6 hours. “Not for me,” they exclaim triumphantly.
Nevertheless, we do have to face the reality that at the same time that there are enormous barriers to people going vegan in the first place, most of us, once we’re there, end up going back. That’s a huge problem. Part of the reason likely stems from the perception that we vegans are bullies, something Scout discussed in a recent post.
I also wonder how much more we could learn from digging deeper into the factors that correlate with sticking with veganism versus ditching it. I imagine that those who go vegan for ethical or ecological reasons — and not solely health reasons — are an order of magnitude more likely to stick with it for the long haul. If true, this is another reason we should be honest about why going vegan for health isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Another factor — and I am basing this solely on anecdotal evidence, so take it with a grain of salt — is that it seems the more preachy one is about being vegan or vegetarian, the less likely they are to remain so.
One of my favorite podcasts is called Uhh Yeah Dude. It’s a comedy podcast by Seth Romatelli and Jonathan Larroquette. They’ve been around for over a decade for a reason; their weekly episodes are a reliably splendid combination of wholesome and hilarious. They frequently mention vegetarianism and veganism; despite the fact that they typically bring it up in the course of telling a joke, it’s always done in a way that passively or actively endorses it or is neutral at the very least.
If you start from episode one — recorded way back in February of 2006 — you’ll notice that Jonathon brings up vegetarianism in just about every episode. And he’ll always bring it up in relation to himself. “Now, I wouldn’t eat that because I’m a vegetarian, but…” is a frequent response to an odd food item Seth brings up. As you progress through the episodes, Jonathan stops bringing up vegetarianism; it’s later revealed that he went back to eating meat following a hot minute of veganism.
Meanwhile Seth, whose diet is a little less clear at the beginning, was also a vegetarian around this time and — as of today — has been vegan for probably at least ten years. Not once (at least not in any episodes that I’ve listened to) has Seth ventured to openly discuss how he is vegan and his reasons for doing so. In fact, Seth will often speak of meat products in a tone that conveys an almost-not-even-sarcastic manner. I half expect the next episode I consume to feature a ten minute diatribe on how awesome Slim Jims are; it’s funny because it’s Seth saying it, and you know he doesn’t mean it.
This is all a long-winded way of saying that because of this and other experiences, I am led to believe there is a trend among vegans where those who opt into the lifestyle and who end up quitting days or weeks later may also be the most outspoken. This is detrimental for two reasons: it causes people to think of vegans as preachy and veganism as unfeasible. (No offense, Jonathan — I love you almost as much as I love Seth.)
So, I feel that this group of people — those that go vegan for a short stint and are excessively outspoken and seemingly insecure about it — inflict real damage on the cause, and we should aim to reduce this group of people as much as we can.
This is yet another reason we should take criticism of vegans seriously, temper our expectations, meet people where they’re at, and remember that less animal products are preferable to the standard American diet. We are not going to get the world to go vegan over night, so we have to be tactful.