What Happens When Famous Vegans Stop Being Vegans? A Media Meltdown
Let me start by saying that as vegans, we’re used to disappointment. I’m not talking about the skimming the label of a box of crackers and seeing whey as one of the last ingredients, though that is certainly a common occurrence. I’m talking about the disappointment that happens when you learn that a one-time vegan has jumped ship. As any longtime herbivore can attest, it hurts when someone else breaks up with their veganism, especially in a public way. I remember learning that someone I’d respected as a vegan author and environmentalist—one of the first—was seen by multiple people buying meat at his local farmers’ market. Lucky for him, this was in the era before social media, but word still quickly spread the old-fashioned way: the rumor mill and a grainy photo circulating over email of him doing his putative cash-for-contraband exchange. The chatter took on a distinct tone usually reserved for unfaithful spouses in dark sunglasses being caught in flagrante delicto with a mystery paramour. Did you know he’s been cheating???
A bad break-up
Recently, vegans experienced this phenomenon again recently with Yovana “Rawvana” Mendoza, a raw foods-promoting YouTuber, and her rambling confession video—one she filmed after being seemingly unintentionally outed with fish on her plate in the background of another vlogger’s video. Of course, the story is taking on new life in the current news cycle, with media outlets spitting out their own take on the story, which all happens to be a lazy variation on the same theme of: “Isn’t it hilarious? A ‘vegan’ cheater was exposed!” There is plenty of tsk-tsking too, at the online world’s angry reaction to this social media star’s defection, because aren’t vegans supposed to be all peace and love? To that I ask, have you stood in line at a vegan potluck? Because that is some cutthroat territory right there.
From the outside, it’s easy to mock the reaction of vegans and dismiss it as mean-spirited melodrama, but when one-time herbivores leave the fold, it is often a painful experience for us because we cannot forget about the actual victims of animal agribusiness. For many of us, the reaction comes from a sense of loss that feels like grief: More animals will now be eaten, not just by the one-time vegan, but the considerable number of people he or she influences. It’s also not surprising that someone who cares deeply about other animals would experience the news with a feeling of betrayal, especially when former-vegan has a big platform with lots of influence, and that person built that popular following by promoting veganism. Last, it’s understandable that the response would be personal, because it feels that way. Many so-called influencers have become “Instagram famous” through the online community sharing their content, so it’s understandable that supporters might be feeling used and angry.
Vegan or fad diet?
Mendoza’s outing came on the heels of a couple of other recent big public defections, from Steve-O’s admission that he is no longer vegetarian and now consumes fish to another YouTuber (and clothing company founder and Flat Earth believer) Tim Shieff’s confession that he was now eating raw eggs and salmon. It’s important to note that on their platforms, both Mendoza and Shieff describe embracing dietary practices that have nothing to do with veganism—like eating primarily raw foods, long-term water-fasting and, in the case of Shieff, drinking one’s own urine. Is it possible that the ailments both claim occurred while vegan, and which they say compelled them to eat animals again, were brought about or worsened due to restriction or, frankly, dangerous habits that have nothing to do with veganism? It’s very important to note that a vegan diet says nothing about restricting anything but animal-derived ingredients.
This is not to say that animal-free diets are a cure-all. Certainly, different people may have health issues arise, and if so, they should consult with a registered dietitian who is knowledgeable about plant-based diets (PCRM has a handy registry, if you are looking). But if anyone is trying to sell you a flat tummy and eternal youth on a month-long diet of eating only organic strawberries that are soaked in alkaline-charged water and washing it down with a liquid that was formerly stored in your bladder, you may want to be on the lookout for better quality inspo and remember that stunt-dieting for clicks and shares is not a vegan diet.
Marla Rose is co-founder of VeganStreetMedia.com and wants to remind you that a balanced plant-based diet might be less clickable but is infinitely more sustainable than a fad diet.