Why Most Ex-Vegans Weren’t Ethical Vegans

If you’ve been vegan for more than, say, a day, you’ve probably heard someone — in reaction to finding out that you’re vegan — proclaim that they used to be vegan. Often what they mean is they were vegan for a day or a week just for fun, or that they had a PB&J once, but sometimes you’ll come across people who were vegan for years.

There are many, many ex-vegans around. Studies have shown that a very high percentage — 84% according to Faunalytics — of vegans and vegetarians abandon their diet. And only slightly more than half stuck to it for under a year.

But according to this same study, nearly 60% were motivated solely by health. That is, they thought going vegan would make them healthier. Yet most current vegetarians and vegans polled had multiple motives: health, animal welfare, environment, etc. So it seems that being motivated to go vegan purely for health reasons turns veganism into a mere diet, to be tried and failed like most diets.

As we’ve discussed before, health is one of the pillars of veganism — but it’s probably the weakest one. People who go vegan for ethical and/or environmental concerns have a plethora of facts fortifying this decision; people who do it for health reasons do not. Veganism might be superior to other diets, but most likely it is not. Nutrition research, fraught with conflicts of interest, poor methods, and unwarranted conclusions, is a huge vulnerability for these folks: new scientific findings, rigorous or otherwise, could lead these people to abandon veganism any any moment.

In parallel to this, I want to describe something peculiar I’ve noticed with just about every former vegan and vegetarian I’ve ever interacted with: they hardly care about reducing their intake of meat and animal products.

If I had to abandon veganism, or even vegetarianism, for any reason at all, my ethics would dictate that I eat the smallest amount of meat and animal products that I could get away with. Of course, I’m not planning on becoming an ex-vegan ever, but if I had to, it wouldn’t make any sense at all to throw ethics out the window.

Yet ex-vegans tend to no longer consider the ethics of their consumption. In fact, I suspect that most of them never took the ethical imperative of veganism seriously at all. I would surmise that they went vegan because they were sold on the idea that it’s a fountain of youth, guaranteed to cure all their ailments. They found that this did not happen, so abandoned veganism altogether. So they, like many people, consume meat and animal products for their three meals a day, only thinking about veganism when someone else brings it up — and only then as a health intervention they once tried and failed.

This is another problem of making unwarranted claims about veganism that are not held up by the evidence, featured in documentaries like What The Health and (I suspect) Gamechangers. While it’s better for the animals to have people go vegan for any reason — even a not-great-one — what isn’t good is having hundreds of thousands or a million ex-vegans walking around with an incorrect view of the purpose of veganism, consuming just as much meat and animal products as they did before they tried veganism. I suspect that this turns many people away from veganism altogether, meaning that these ex-vegans are influencing potential future-vegans to drop their curiosity. Any benefit of these ex-vegans having been vegan for a period of time may be wiped out by the negative associations with veganism they instill in the formerly vegan-curious.

Fewer ex-vegans is yet another reason we should de-emphasize health and promote arguments for veganism on the basis of ethics — this is bulletproof.

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