The Vegan Bubble

With the popularity and promotion of pop vegan diet fads there has been a relatively recent inflation of the vegan population. Many are going vegan for reasons other than animal concerns and vegan advocates will say “We all have different reasons”. For the animals, this is a wrong approach. They say, “less animals will be killed with more vegans” and for the sake of argument I’ll give them that. I argue though that these are short-term unsustainable gains.

An artificial inflation of vegan numbers does not guarantee that progress will be made for the idea that animals deserve fair treatment. When I say “artificial” I mean by using ploys of veganism that leave the person without the tool necessary to develop their own parallel beliefs on the matter. This comes in the form as I have described in my specious rhetoric post. The “by any means necessary” attitude to gaining vegan numbers is inflating a bubble that will eventually blow up leaving a mess of a vegan movement. The damage-control-limited-resource tactics to getting people vegan will only cost more when the movement requires a bail out. The already limited and taxed leaders will have to address the growing numbers of vocal failed vegans and the shift from one fallacious diet that doesn’t use animals to another that revels in it (i.e. paleo).

Critical thinking will be an important tool to bail out the movement. What we have going on now is despicable behavior by a population who claim the moral high ground. They speak of compassion, peace and justice but when confronted by an ex-vegan (or even vegans who don’t “do enough”) they unleash a special kind of vitriol for these apostates. Instead of addressing the concerns and opening up dialog these ex-vegans get the worst of treatment, which is par for the course for cult-like groups who fear scrutiny. That should be a red flag.

Will vegans still use or tolerate pseudoscientific spiritual mumbo jumbo when it is used against them? It’s not uncommon to see leaders and groups claiming to be ethical vegans foremost to promote any cause if it happens to be “animal free”. Be it rawfood, Skinny Bitch, The World Peace Diet, macrobiotic, ayervedic or dozens of other supernatural newage nonsensical creeds they won’t skip a beat fawning over and promoting those ideas in a sloppy spurious attempt to promote and justify their own. Will the reasons for veganism finally matter when the same reasons betray the cause? Or will vegans admit defeat and join the rest of the apostates on their quest for the next diet fad?

Signs of imminent bubble burst are showing in the number of vegan bloggers who are closing down shop and starting new non-vegan blogs as they leave veganism. Just today The Voracious Vegan (soon will be Voracious Eats) admits: A Vegan No More. It didn’t start, nor will it stop there. Vegans have been dropping like flies and Let Them Eat Meat has been lapping them up (as paleo dieters tend to do). Ex-vegan stories have their own special section on that site and the list continues to grow. If veganism had its own story straight a majority of these stories wouldn’t even exist or at least be explainable. Many of them do happen to be textbook cases of anecdotal or pseudoscience fails but they shouldn’t be dismissed so lightly. Veganism has about the same credibility as these stories so the playing field is quite level.

Can veganism even have relevancy towards animal justice? If so, you think they would have figured it out by now. So far it tends to jealously claim the moral high ground with vegans clamoring for the very tippy top to secure their own righteousness. Anybody else who doesn’t commit such devotion is excluded from the club. Meanwhile the ideas of justice for nonhumans are left to wither. Veganism is a dusty and dry doctrine suffering from it’s own toxic dogma. It’s time to let it go and get real again, for the animals[1].

[1]”for the animals” is a common phrase vegans use to justify, cajole, demean or congratulate other vegans. It is one of the few times you’ll hear them invoke the animal cause.

11 comments to The Vegan Bubble

  • Marla

    So then, what, Dave? I have tried again and again to understand your fairly recent gripe with vegans and much does seem to revolve around what you refer to as pseudo-science. I agree that dogma and sloppy/faulty thinking is not the path toward sound outreach, but I have a few problems with your approach. For one, what may be “New Age” pseudo-science to you is thousands of years old in another culture. Ayurveda, while you might not agree with its tenets, is not “New Age”: it is perhaps as old as Western medicine or older. (I do not practice Ayurveda, for what it’s worth.) The fact that there are different approaches and modalities around does not mean that one is The Answer, but it is possible that what indigenous people of other cultures has some real and measurable merit. I think you are showing a clear Western medical bias by dismissing anything that doesn’t fall under that umbrella. Yes, I am all for proof and research but I do not throw the baby out with the bath water, either. You may think that it’s woo-woo nonsense but when I was pregnant and my fetus was breech, I tried all the recommended methods of getting him in the right position. There is a point on the baby toe that acupuncturists have known about for thousands of years: when needles are applied here, the baby is more likely to flip. I do not know the science behind it but that was what worked. Could I prove it? No. Could it have been a coincidence? Absolutely! (Although that “coincidence” didn’t work with any of the other approaches I’d been trying for weeks.) If I went in with a “fetus flipping” prescription to Walgreen’s, though, and it happened to be successful, could I prove that was it, either? Would it only be seen as legitimately attributive if I’d had the successful flip occurred after medication? This is a bias.

    I think the point is that we don’t need to be dogmatic EITHER way and people who refuse to entertain the idea that something outside of the Proven Western Medical Model can work too not only are being absolutists and dogmatic, but are revealing a prejudice. Not every culture has evolved like ours, not every culture has access to the same technology as ours, not every culture has the same VALUES as ours.

    Next, why is veganism being conflated with specious health claims? I know that there are those who will make ridiculous claims, and, trust me, I was angry time and time again when I had a skin condition it seemed like every flipping raw foodist wanted to diagnose as being the result of me not being raw. I see this problem and I stay away from dogmatic people of every stripe. But to claim that such a flawed approach is inherent in veganism is wrong, I think. The idea that vegans are cult-like is silly to me. I see my fellow vegans about once a month at our local potluck and I communicate over email and Facebook but in no way do I or ANY of the other vegans I know receive directives and threats from some sort of vegan Big Brother like you’re trying to imply. That’s an irresponsible claim, Dave, I’m sorry. I think for myself: so do my MANY other vegan friends. We argue and disagree all the time. Life goes on. You should know this. We have a community, one you might not want to have much to do with anymore, but of course we are going to be influenced by and influence each other. That’s what our species does. For the record, though, I have no little black book of Vegan Rules and Regulations. I have never woken up to a seitan-based horse’s head in my bed if I’ve run afoul of the vegan mafia that I’ve somehow managed to elude all these years. Yes, I know those newbie vegans who can be hard to take with their self-righteousness and revolutionary zeal. I know them and I’ve been one. It didn’t last long, though.

    I also know that there are crazies among our population and I do everything I can to dissociate from them. There are too many balanced, joyful and creative vegans far more worthy of my time and the crazies are vastly outnumbered anyway. To imply that vegans are a bunch of cult-like, tinfoil-wearing, pupil-dilated menacing maniacs is just a little far-fetched, Dave, especially as one who wants to espouse reason and sound judgment.

    You know I still love you, of course. But since you’re being honest, well, here’s my honesty extended back…

  • Marla,

    Thanks for your comment, it’s a common concern for many and I’ll do my best to address it here.

    Defining what “New Age” is is about as useless as arguing what “veganism” is apparently. “New Age” is a convenient handle for the fetishization of persistent old world myths of which many happen to be “eastern” and therefore exotic. There isn’t “western” or “eastern” science, there is only science. You might be surprised to find out that even eastern cultures have and use science and sometimes even reject our “western medicine” modalities. Homeopathy is an insidious problem that I would gladly fight yet few vegan institutions espouse its practice. (In my skeptic activism though I’m just itching for a chance to make a dent in that) Maybe it’s due to the popular use of Oscillococcinum which is supposedly made from duck liver (even though it contains fewer duck molecules than the air we breathe walking down the street). BTW, the length of time something is practiced isn’t a condition of being right and that you should know comes right out of the vegan playbook in response to “but we’ve been eating animals for so long”.

    Scientific endeavor is the search for truth in our material world. It is the opposite of dogmatism because it strives to consider evidence and eliminate bias. Vegans will need to understand this to combat the ever-inflating numbers of vegans who are failing at veganism and relaying their own anecdotes. Vegans can try to fight anecdote against anecdote but this will only prove to be an expensive damage control tactic that will delay the inevitable burst.

    As for health claims veganism is exaggerated as a panacea. I haven’t seen any convincing science that pinpointed something inherently intolerable about animal foods. I’m not sure I could even say if I did because I’m ill-equipped to unpack the data especially with my own bias. That is why I seek professional guidance grounded in scientific consensus. If there ever was something about animal foods that was absolutely unhealthy you would see a mainstream science-based recommendation to shun such things (like we saw with trans fats). The health focus is a flawed approach not only because it distracts from the true goal but has little merit in the first place. The fear of heart disease isn’t going to free zoo animals, stop fur-wearers, or relay the idea that animals deserve a chance at life free from oppression. I’m wary to avoid the common trappings of “my tactics are best” squabbles like so many activists relish but I do know that integrity should be valued. Vegans can waste all the time in the world for all I care but if they make bad arguments I’ll be first in line to point those out because it serves to make stronger arguments.

    To be cult-like a group doesn’t need to receive doctrine from an official communique. It is reinforced and transmitted through behavior, interpersonal communication and publications. Facebook has been particularly instrumental is this manner so it’s ironic you should use that as an example. You know that if you are seen drinking a glass of milk, or buying a Karyn’s dessert with honey in it that you will lose vegan cred. WTF does that matter for the animals? Being vegan isn’t a condition of animal liberation, it is a result.

    I’m not talking about the few “crazies” because I think veganism as movement IS “crazy”. It is irrational, dysfunctional and has shown itself to be ineffective. I hate to trot out a tired quote but: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.” Don’t confuse my critique of ideas with ad homs of the people themselves. If people identify themselves with veganism as a movement then I am glad to challenge them. If they do veganism to coincide with their own personal belief then my arguments should serve as an asset. A reasoned approach to animal rights does not hinge upon the personal practices or advocacy of such a thing. In other words I don’t think I’m being unfair in criticizing vegan related practices and if you think I am then you are welcome to defend those beliefs. We need more of that frankly and it’s long overdue.

    Thank you for your honest response and I hope that at least clarifies a few things.

  • Marla

    Thanks, Dave.

    I used the term “New Age” because you used it. Are these modalities fetishized in the cultures they originated? I agree that there are people who will adopt any “healing practice” that seems new and shiny to them but that reflects more on human gullibility than the practices themselves. Again, what about the acupuncture example? Is that just plainly ridiculous because it does not have a scientific explanation that works for you? The point I was trying to make is not that how long a modality has been practiced makes it legitimate: it’s the attitude that X or Y just flew in some Maharishi’s mind as a quick get rich scheme. Everything that is not what the skeptics approve of as legitimate seems to discarded into one big pit and labeled bogus. A lot of it is! But skeptics should be rigorous before dismissing something as New Age orientalism or whatever because that seems like an easy way out.

    Next, you’re talking about the need to eliminate dogmatism. I agree! Is pointing to some examples of people who have publicly renounced veganism really proof of “ever-inflating” numbers who fail at it? Couldn’t the same be said, again, fallaciously, about omnivores “failing” at eating animal products in a very public way and adopting a vegan diet? Using my own skeptical lens, Dave, I am indeed unconvinced of this alleged proof of our failure. Notice that I did not claim that “Veganism Is Taking Over the World!” I would not make such a claim.

    I do not make inflated health claims, either. I know that a diet of moderation tends to work best for everyone.

    Honestly, it’s going to take me a lot of time to absorb the end of your response so I cannot comment on that part yet. “Being vegan isn’t a condition of animal liberation, it is a result.” This I don’t get at all. I am also on painkillers for a wisdom tooth, so the mind is not so sharp…

    Anyway, Dave, I wish I had more clarity your position but I do agree that keeping an open dialogue is essential. You know that I am all for open and honest discourse as long as the discussion is free of ad hominem attacks. I do think that we need to be aware of when we are also being reactive and dogmatic in our rejection of reactive dogmatism.


    • Marla,

      I can’t really comment on your anecdote other than that I’m sure it was highly compelling. Knowing what I do about the history, explanation, lack of evidence and placebo effect I’m highly skeptical that the manipulation of qi was involved. The acupuncture myth seems to be a persistent and popular form nowadays but I’ll remain skeptical until consensus science adopts it. I don’t believe that all people who sell it are scheming hucksters or that people who buy it are dopes and I don’t even wish to outlaw it. There is the chance for harm and I do wish people had a better understanding of science and critical thinking so they could make their own decision. Skeptics are pretty rigorous believe you me almost to the point of geekery and tedium. My skeptical issue is veganism and I hope to bring some of these tools to veganism to help bring justice to bear.

      I’m glad that you are yourself skeptical of my death-knell announcement of veganism! I maintain though that there is big trouble, but I guess we can all wait around and see…

      The radical idea I’m putting forth is that being vegan isn’t a necessary condition to care about justice for nonhumans. I say that because I think too much focus has been spent on shaming and guilt and the exclusivity has been used as a convenient handle for newagers to hijack the movement. The idea is important, not the act and right now all we got is an act that does not foster an idea. I know, it sounds crazy…I haven’t been able to find a way to communicate that really yet. This is helping me though, thanks. 🙂

  • John

    Dave, I think you’re bringing some new arguments to a table that needs some new arguments. I don’t understand all of them, but if they help to foster debate that will help the movement gain insight and build wisdom, then you are providing a valuable service.

    For a long time, modern vegan dogma, such as it is, was (and to some still is), based on the early writings of John Robbins, particularly “Diet for a New America”. For the next twenty years, dozens of speakers have quoted his arguments almost verbatim, and soon it all became gospel. Much of what he wrote has since been borne out as true, some has been debunked, and a lot of is is still being debated. Some of the debunked and debated stuff is still being passed off as true by many vegans, and I can see how this is frustrating to you.

    But there are at least a couple million vegans in the country by most counts, and our numbers include a lot of passionate and creative iconoclasts. Now there are so many different types of vegan points of view that I couldn’t possibly begin to keep track of them all. The points made by Gary Francione bear almost no resemblance to those of Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, for example, and neither would have much to do with “Skinny Bitch” Rory Freedman. Carol Adams and Ingrid Newkirk are both old school animal rights activists, but it doesn’t seem like the two agree on much else. Most vegans I know seem perpetually angry at fellow vegan Whole Foods Market CEO John Mackey, and the new crop of Power Vegans flies in the face of every vegan stereotype. And the environmental vegans are most likely to base their arguments on the UN’s study, “Livestock’s Long Shadow”, which appears to have been written by a bunch of nonvegans. So I feel it’s safe to say that the traditional vegan bubble is exploding all over the place, and that the movement is almost certainly better for it.

    Every day a certain number of people turn vegan, for any one or more of a bunch of different reasons. Most of them won’t stick with it, though many will. Meanwhile, on any given day, a certain number of vegans will start eating meat again, for any one or more of a bunch of reasons. Many of these people will continue eating meat for the rest of their lives, though some will turn vegan again at some future point. People will flip back and forth all the time. But a lot of people (and what appears to be a growing number of people) will stay with it, debate why they stay with it, and slowly build this counterculture which may or may not one day become the accepted culture. The more we talk about it and try to define our worldviews, the better off things will be for everyone.

    So let’s continue the debate…

  • Oh hai John! Wow, I don’t think I’ve seen you on the internet like forever, thanks for stopping by! Anyway I do hope I’m rabble-rousing but I’m trying hard to get out of my militant jerk skeptic phase. You know how new vegans get, I’m going through the same thing again with this skeptic thing. Thanks for giving me the benefit of the doubt. It’s kinda what I expected would happen more with some of my vegan comrades but not so much, I’m fine with that though. I digress…

    Your summary of veganism so far is spot on of course. While you may see many bubbles I do think I spot a particularly nasty boil that looms large threatening to mar the landscape with some nasty puss when it eventually bursts (sorry, that gross metaphor went too far). Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m right. But just like with those ridiculous anthropogenic global warming deniers we can at least say ‘what’s the harm in cleaning up our act a bit?’ (my “Bi-Ass” post covers a bit of this)

    The number of views and definitions of veganism do abound and for a while I fought hard for what I though was the true definition. I just realized how fruitless and meaningless it was ultimately. Veganism just means “not using animals” and for whatever the reason I’ll just have to accept that. Instead of fighting for My True Definition or The Best Tactic I’m gonna try my own thang. Let’s continue the debate indeed, there’s nothing to fear from that!

    Thanks again for your vote of confidence, it was a breath of fresh air.


  • Have you noticed that most of the interesting vegan blogs, which in my mind are any that deal with animal rights in a thoughtful way have stopped posting in the past few months. Veganism hasn’t just hit this crisis of pseudoscience vegans leaving for the next fad, but also an intellectual crisis where discussions of animals and internal critique have largely left the discussion except for the blogs that update the world on the latest scandal or the Francionians on abolitionistapproach who, as of Christmas, no longer are open for public reading.

    Is this reduction in critical vegan talk part of the bubble bursting? I am inclined to think so.

  • Royce,

    Well, I’d argue that veganism and animal rights are pieces of a different puzzle. To try to shoehorn a rights argument into veganism is futile and perhaps those people are starting to get that. I guess I haven’t been seeing any animal rights posts popping up in my reader but then again there’s a dearth of those anyway. There are a kabillion vegan blogs out there but the big thing now is the foodie obsession thang. Animal rights is too hard to understand but “CHECK OUT THESE OM NOMS! “. I think it’s time for AR to redefine itself and breakup with veganism. Clearly it’s a dysfunctional relationship.

  • […] my last post The Vegan Bubble I talked about the vocalization of ex-vegans and what this means to veganism as a movement. Now […]

  • […] impending bubble burst when all the bad arguments vegans throw around so willy nilly will cause an artificial inflation of vegans who will eventually fail and become disenfranchised for being duped. The counter anecdotes and […]

  • […] let’s talk about those poor saps who fall for the ruse and do go vegan? They are rendered vulnerable to suffer health problems for all the misinformation that is allowed to propagate. They struggle on their own in a society […]

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