Vegans Talking About Ex-Vegans

September 9th, 2014 - filed under: The Food » Food Styles

ex vegans

Any regular reader of my blog probably knows that the topic of “ex-vegans” is a sort of passion of mine. Ever since I almost became one myself, it’s something that’s rested close to my heart.

My personal experience with the subject, combined with my science/biology/research background, has led me down the path of pursuing this topic in a more intellectual way. It’s sort of something I study, you could say. Which has led to me and my ex-vegan-studying partner in crime, Matt Ruscigno, slowly but surely piecing together a new website, which we hope will be a hub of information and interaction regarding the important issue of why people stop being vegan.

It’s something we both care about very much.

And we’re not alone! And since we’re both very busy, and since the website is slow going, and since I keep wanting to write about this myself but just can’t seem to find the time . . . well, I thought I’d put together a quick sort of reference sheet, right here and right now.

Not a lot has been written by vegans about ex-vegans, and that’s mostly because sadly, this is still considered taboo in our community. The general response in the past has been to basically shut any conversation down, to “pooh pooh” at people, or to shame them for even bringing it up in the first place. And I think that’s dangerous. Ex-veganism is happening, and until we are brave enough to confront it, to talk about it, and to truly understand it, it will continue to happen again and again.

So if you care about the vegan movement, I urge you to educate yourself on this subject. In fact, I consider it a good activist’s duty to do so. Which is why I’m posting this starter “reading + watching” list. This list includes a number of opinions, perspectives, editorials, and comedic relief, from a range of writers including health professionals, activists, educators, dietitians, and just plain ol’ everyday vegans. I want to acknowledge that some of this material may not sit well with every reader (your mileage will vary), but I believe that it’s important – in fact imperative – for us to hold space where everyone can share their thoughts and feelings. And all together, this will compose a chorus which encompasses “the response of the vegan community”.

So let’s begin:

Edited to add More Resources! I’ll keep this list going as more is written . . .


Alright, that’s all the links I’ve got at the moment, but I’m sure I missed a few. Know of a great piece I overlooked? Please share it in the comments below, and I’ll be happy to add it to the collection!

In the meantime, to all my beautiful vegan comrades: please stay healthy, don’t make yourself crazy with unnecessary rules or restrictions, and for goodness sakes, have FUN with your food! Veganism is an expression of love, and that expression begins at the very beginning, with you! Self love, my loves. Because you deserve it.

♥ ♥ ♥

  • sendmorecops

    See, I think this kind of ex-vegan story is interesting to read because you aren’t making excuses or any wacky claims about your cells pulsing as you ate non-vegan foods again and you explain how you were able to find a way to change your diet that made veganism work for you again.

  • Lacy Davis

    totally. its gonna be DEDICATED to you, gurl.

  • Lacy Davis

    HAH. my cells most definitely did not PULSE. And I love being vegan, was sad to not be for awhile, and was stoked to be back! Some people just have different stories, but veganism has always felt natural to me, since i chose the lifestyle when I was 14. Its not like the animals are any less tortured or like i care any less that that happens.

  • Lacy Davis

    For those of us with compromised digestion, a healthy vegan lifestyle can be tough (of course if you just ate white rice you’d be fine, but who wants to do that?!??!) Please feel free to get in touch with me if you wanna talk more about how to work veganism and a shitty tummy. It can be done!

  • Lacy Davis

    thank you!

  • sendmorecops

    This project is a great idea! I honestly don’t get mad at people for quitting vegan, I get mad at the excuses and looney claims that are made in defense, like someone saying they immediately felt nourished after eating three bites of tuna, or their cells pulsing or whatever. My hetero lifemate gave veganism a go and after a few weeks I told her, “You know, if you ever stop being vegan you can just say that. You don’t need to make excuses to me and I don’t want you to think you have to avoid talking to me if that happens.” And it did and we’re still friends.

    The only time i’ve gotten really upset at someone quitting veganism, and I didn’t say anything to them but I mean I was personally upset, was someone who had done fundraising for Farm Sanctuary and all kinds of other stuff, and they stopped being vegan after many years and went full on junk food omnivore, so it wasn’t even vague health reasons and it wasn’t ‘cage free eggs and free range chicken’ twice a week, it was a total 180 from who they had been and they immediately cut all of their vegan friends out of their life, online and off.

  • sendmorecops

    I’m glad that being put on an ex-vegan site and people being not nice to you didn’t dissuade you! That’s why I think it’s important to be kind to people who stop being vegan because, what if they come back? Then it’s kind of awkward to be buddy-buddy with them again.

    I’ve been vegan for 8 years (and vegetarian for almost 21) and i’m lucky that I have zero food intolerances or digestion issues, I do get heartburn from eating certain foods but luckily papaya enzymes take care of that so I don’t have to constantly take non-vegan heartburn medicine.

  • judybat

    I will try not to make this too long :)

    I’m super excited to hear about the site! I went vegan 15 years ago, and have really struggled with health issues in the last few years; some diet related and some not. I would love to see two things on the new site: well researched info not just on a healthy diet, but about correcting the deficiencies and problems that can come with serious health problems and/or long term veganism.

    I would also love to see advice on talking to your doctor about being vegan, and what needs to be watched closely. You talk in the video about doctors brushing you off. I’m obese, and I know that’s part of the problem, but I begged my doctor for a long time to check my B-12 and got sideeye. By the time they checked, my B-12 stores were gone (they think I may have a problem in addition to diet, but it might have been nice to know that sooner). I was also not aware that as a fat person, i could be diagnosed with low cholesterol…until I was.

  • Sarah

    That’s a really interesting point, and I think that my perspective is maybe a little skewed because I’ve never really known many real-life vegans, so I had no interaction with them before the online vegan community developed. But these opinions obviously must have existed pre-internet!

    I think it’s a combination of two things: the internet has enabled judgmental vegans to amplify their pre-existing opinions, and the sharing of those opinions has also influenced some vegans who were perhaps previously more tolerant, leading them to judge others more harshly. Everyone’s brave as long as they can hide behind a keyboard!

    It’s such an interesting and multi-faceted issue, and I’m so grateful to you and Matt for providing a safe, honest forum in which we, as a community, can discuss it openly and hopefully help to create a kinder, more tolerant community.

  • Nutrikate

    Thank you – I have to admit – this has been the first webspace where I have felt comfortable enough to “out” myself as an ex-vegan (evidenced by the fact I’ve now logged in rather than signed in as “Looby_Lue”!). The comments have all been really positive and this feels like such a safe space. I’m looking forward to and will definitely be joining in :)

  • cheli

    hi… totally off topic and you’ve probably already discussed this…but i ve been cursious forever. can i ask? if you vaccinate, then you re not technicallly vegan, right? i mean, most vaccines are cultured (or whatever it s called) in eggs or mammal embryos or embryo parts or somesuch, right?

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  • Sarah

    I love this post and I’m looking forward to reading more. I too feel passionately about it; I am a former ex-vegan and am determined to not become an ex-vegan again. My previous attempt at veganism failed because of orthorexia and choosing veganism only for health reasons. But eating animal products never sat well with me because I knew too much about the abuse involved in their production. This time I’ve returned to veganism purely for ethical and environmental reasons, and made sure that my orthorexic tendencies were resolved beforehand. I’m determined to make it a lifelong love affair :) Sorry for my babbling on.

  • Lacy Davis

    I think it would be difficult to dissuade me, because I was vegan for more of my life than not! Veganism isn’t a social club, although its wonderful to have contact with people like you and sayward because of it! It’s just a way I prefer to eat, and when people act like it is an in or out kind of deal, it just makes me laugh. I will never be that kind of vegan.

  • Kat

    Love, love this whole post but I have to stop and comment about this awesome specific convo. I too am raising a little vegan and I continually remind myself that she is not my vegan purity project, but a human just like me with decisions, opinions and conclusions on her own. While I always bring vegan options along when we are out, there have been times when she’s helped herself to another child’s cheddar bunny or something else non vegan at a relative or friend’s house. I don’t want to appear stressed about my food or hers so I let these things go. I know the most important thing I can do is to lead by example and meet her where she is developmentally in her understanding. I feel like it is good preparation for both of us should she decide to make different choices when she is older. Long time reader, first time commenter (I think). Thank you SO much for being so open about this topic!

  • Helen

    I actually have no idea what any of you are talking about. Maybe I am just lucky? I am vegan and whenever I meet any vegans, they are nothing but supportive. In fact, vegans usually feel a sense of camaraderie immediately, because there is automatic assumption that these people are like “me” – they either care about animals, environment, health, or all three. So, vegan-on-vegan bashing??? What is that? We are not elitists – in fact, we are supportive! There is no such thing as a “proper” vegan, Sarah. You are either vegan or you are not, though. So, you are fine if you eat processed food that are vegan. But if you occasionally sneak in some cheese, then you are not vegan. If you occasionally kick a puppy, then you are not vegan. If you buy leather, then you are not vegan. But if you are not harming animals directly or indirectly, then you are vegan – that is the only definition you need to care about. It doesn’t matter what any of these people or vegans say you are – BE STRONG – you know whether you are vegan or not. Having said this, there is nothing more disappointing than a vegan that has gone back to eating meat. It’s not a phenomenon. It’s just people going back to bad behavior. It happens everyday. And you guys don’t need some sort of support group, because 98% of America are welcoming you back. McDonald’s is rejoicing. Steakhouses are rolling out their welcome mats. And your omnivorous friends will finally stop making fun of your “weird” diet. I do think that all this talk about it being a phenomenon is, to me, nothing more than an attempt to make yourself feel better for quitting, for turning your back on the animals that you once loved. Talk, write, do whatever make you feel better. But know that no matter what you say, write, or think, remember that you have gone back to hurting animals and, for that, don’t hate the vegans that secretly or outrightly shame you, because you are basically a traitor to the movement that we work so hard to create. We are doing this for animals. Not for ourselves, although as a bonus it is good for our health, our skin is glowing, and Mother Earth loves us.

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  • Kate

    Really looking forward to the thoughtful, courteous, continued discussions. This topic greatly interests me, as I am an ex vegan…I still eat vegan about 98% of the time, but in my research, I’ve come to the conclusion that I, as a humanimal, evolved to eat animal proteins, as do cows, elephants, blue whales, etc. (insects, tiny fish and krill); I feel it is part of the circle of earth life, and I do not want to beoutside of that circle. I do not judge others for following their conscience; I applaud and support it!
    I do not kill for food, of course, but I do eat an egg about 1x a month. My goddaughters are both vegan, and my kids and husband are all vegetarian.
    I have not “outed ” myself often, because I’ve seen the rants some vegans engage in on other blogs, forums and various websites…..if I’m completely honest, it is part of the reason I remain ex-vegan…I have a stubborn nature that can’t stand to let haters “win”. ;o)There can be a whole lot of holier-than-thou ‘tude in this world, and vegans, being human, do not avoid it entirely.
    So, Sayward, I thank you for creating a safe place for this topic to be discussed in a non judgmental way.

  • Krista
  • Mamalove

    Thanks to Sayward and the positive comments on here, it’s great to “see” people being real. With that being said I’m having my own struggle with veganism. Actually after reading a blog post about “being a vegan” I decided that even if I follow a vegan diet I don’t want to say I’m vegan anymore,because yea people are judgemental and we have our own realities that may or maynot be ideal. But then on the flip side it’s just easier to say I’m vegan when not eating at home to get the point across that I don’t want to eat animal products. So anyways, when I got pregnant I developed a sensitivity to soy. If I ate anything with soy in it I would experience the most intense bloating for two days. After I gave birth the stomach problems with soy aren’t as intense but I still can’t consume anything with soy in it (sometimes soy lethicin is ok, but it still makes me bloated.) Also since I currently breastfeed my infant is very sensitive to what I eat. He was colicky when he was first born until I eliminated everything from my diet that made him upset. Which is: beans (which includes hummus and anything made out if beans), onions, broccoli, cauliflower (any of the cruciferous veggies), coffee, chocolate, anything spicy, and anything with caffiene in it. So I can’t eat all of that (which beans were a big staple), plus soy, and of course no animal products, so then what is there left to eat?! (I know there are options, but the same few things gets really old.) So I have dabbled with animal products here and there because I’m so sick of eating quinoa and veggies all the time.
    I really could go more in depth but that would take up a lot of time and room. And the times I do eat animal products I don’t feel good about it and they never taste as good as they used to. I like vegan food, and hopefully when I’m done breastfeeding I can eat all those essentials foods I’m missing. One of the hardest parts is seeing vegans post all their soy based meals online and gloating about how being a vegan is so easy and shames others. Well of course it’s easy if you can eat basically whatever you want! I know I’m a little jealous of soy-eaters, I just get bummed when I can’t eat over half of the recipies in a cookbook because they have soy and then the soy-free ones have beans or broccoli or whatever! *sigh* Thanks for listening!
    Oh real quick! Something that bothers me is the promotion of cruelty free beauty products but at the same time those products are filled with nasty chemicals that can kill you. I received some face masks from a well known beauty and food product distributer, and they had some funky ingredients in them along with parabens! We need to look out for ourselves too, just because a product isn’t hurting an animal doesn’t mean it’s not hurting us. I love the EWG’s Skin Deep website to make sure I use chemical free products as well. :)

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  • Sara MM

    I actually became orthorexic years after becoming an ethical vegan.
    Their is just so much out on the internet and so many health books on
    the market aimed at plant based diets now I feel it is easy to get
    sucked up in the “I’m already vegan so I guess why not aim for “optimal
    health” at this point too…” Last year I reevaluated why I became vegan
    after realizing how much I was eliminating from my diet without
    consulting a professional for why I should or shouldn’t be (I was
    incredibly healthy beforehand so there really wasn’t a sound reason for
    eliminating foods). Now I just constantly remind myself why I became and
    have stayed vegan and that it’s fine to enjoy that cupcake without
    assessing the sugar and oil levels just as I did in the early years of
    my vegan life.

    I could see where someone within their early steps of veganism might become put off by so many conversations about eliminating one thing after another and decide to forget it because of so many materials out there about what not to eat that has nothing to do with animals trapped in the food system.

    I also realized I was starting to make food (and therefore veganism) seem like work and something to worry about instead of fun for my impressionable mini vegan….which made me realize that I might make her into an ex-vegan just from taking the joy out of living a beautiful and happy vegan lifestyle on a daily basis. She was hearing me talk too much about not eating sugar, maybe cutting back on salt, refusing to buy oil all of a sudden, etc. I’m happy to put an end to all of that and show her the true happiness of living a vegan lifestyle and enjoying the amazing food opportunities we have….like going out for sundaes today!

  • Korina

    Hi Sayward, I’ve been a longtime fan of your blog and I *love* that you have opened up this discussion. I myself am an ex-vegan, for reasons pertaining to medical conditions, but I fully support humans evolving toward a more plant-based diet for many reasons. I utilize your how-to’s and recipes often, and point people interested in veganism toward your site often. It’s fabulous! However, I want to respectfully admit that your enthusiasm over Marla Rose’s piece, which is clearly about Jordan Younger but does not name her, troubles me. It bothers me that women are out there trashing other women for their choices; as an eating disorder specialist who will happily work w/ vegan diets, and someone who treats an awful lot of orthorexia, Ms. Younger has been an inspiration to many of my teenage patients due to her courage in discussing this very hidden issue. Whether or not someone agrees with her conclusions or choices, to assume she is doing this for publicity and to trash her without the courage to openly name her is very unkind. There is room at the table for all opinions and choices. I understand the activism part of veganism, but this kind of public slamming is *exactly* what silences people struggling with balancing their veganism and their health. Please keep up this dialogue, because it is a very necessary one, but understand that your endorsement of that piece sends a mixed message at least to me. Public ex-vegans do not discredit the vegan movement as a whole. I am no longer vegan, but I proudly love and support my many and varied vegan friends. Not everyone can nor will embrace veganism, but the perception of extremism sends many running for the hills who could be allies in promoting more plant-based diets. My two cents.

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  • Monika {windycityvegan}

    Interesting convo thread emerging over on this post about Emily Deschanel’s vegan birthday party for her son:

  • Lacy Davis
  • Lacy Davis

    I am an ex-ex-vegan too!!!!!!! YAY FOR RE-VEGANZ!

  • vegan not-vegan

    I was an ex-ex-vegan for almost a decade but now identify as a vegan not-vegan (e.g. I live the lifestyle but avoid the identification). I use the terms veganish, plant-based, strict-vegetarian to describe myself but the only time I use the word vegan to describe myself is when I need to order off a menu (or buy shoes).

    I should stress that I gave up on veganism not because I want to experience a “bacon-gasm” but because I believe the intolerance of a minority and the silence of
    the majority has made it a liability to the AR movement. And it’s telling that many animal rights organizations
    now use “veg” or “vegetarian” instead of vegan.

  • Carrie @ Carrieonliving

    I’m glad this topic is being discussed. I was vegan for 3 1/2 years and ran into some serious health problems along the way. I think promoting veganism as a diet as opposed to a lifestyle is one of the problems, since so many of us come into veganism with pre-existing issues that make the diet aspect difficult and can lead to deficiencies or restrictive eating patterns. Looking back on it, I can see that I was probably more in the “plant-based” category than the “ethical vegan” category, but I honestly was trying to do the best I could. That was several months ago and I’m finally the place now where I can again appreciate the beauty of veganism and how it isn’t about me or people who want to think they are better than other people, but it’s about standing up for animals. So, even though I’m not vegan anymore, I take the knowledge with me that my choices matter and it’s up to me to make the best choices I can within my limitations and the realities of the system.

  • recoveryjournalistk

    Thank you so much for sharing these posts, it’s a really impportant issue and we do need to talk about it :) This is my own story-

  • noel

    Hi, great post!!

    Sayward, is there anywhere where you discuss the exact foods you
    included to help your cholesterol and protein? I’m new to veganism (2
    months) and recently found out that I’m pregnant. I found your site
    after purchasing your book Vegan Pregnancy Survival Guide. Before
    becoming vegan (though high plant-based diet), I had blood work done and
    found my cholesterol was extremely low. I will have blood work drawn
    in a few weeks and hope my levels are good then. I would love more
    information on resolving this issue “veganly.”

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Hi Noel, I’m so sorry to hear you’re dealing with this. I have not ever written explicitly about the foods I ate in order to heal, but in general I just included a lot of plant-based saturated fat. So coconut oil, coconut butter, coconut milk (canned, full-fat style), and cocoa butter. I ate both coconut and cocoa butter multiple times daily. Other fats are good as well, like avocados, nuts and seeds, olive oil, and hemp oil.

    For protein I focused on lentils and beans and lots of them! Also tofu and tempeh. I made sure to eat concentrated protein (soy, beans, or lentils) with every meal. If you can do gluten then seitan is great as well. For variety, quinoa and buckwheat are also great plant-based protein sources.

    I hope that helps, and good luck with everything! Please check back in and let us know how it goes. ♥

  • Kazzlyn Dawn

    This is why pushing for plant based rather then vegan for those doing it for health should be done. Have the two separated, vegans are diet AND ethics, plant based is for health and/or environment. Most so called ex-vegans were only plant based and not in it for the the moral stand point that animals are not food. the ex-vegan movement might not be so large if the line was clearly drawn to point out those that where plant based and not vegan going back to flesh eating vs someone plant based for the animals which makes them vegan and then stopping caring about the animals.

    And I don’t think we should be nice and happy towards animal abusers for which ‘ex-vegans’ are, as vegans know about the abuse animals go through and know an animals dies to become some jerks food and going back to this makes them no more then abusers themselves.

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