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.

♥ ♥ ♥

  • Sarah

    Warning: long post ahead! :)

    I’m really glad that people are talking honestly about the phenomenon of ex-vegans, but I think there’s an important element missing from many of the conversations around this issue. I’ve been vegan for 17 years, and to me, the elephant in the room with regard to ex-vegans is the vegan-on-vegan bashing and shaming that seems to have developed in recent years, which has deterred many people from this lifestyle. I am vegan for the animals, and will always be that way, but there are times when I’ve struggled to remain associated with veganism because of the bullying and hate that’s rampant in the online vegan community.

    I’ve been told that I’m not a “proper” vegan because I sometimes drink soda, or eat processed vegan food, or eat at restaurants where meat is served. When our community is placing such absurd standards on one another, there are obviously going to be casualties – who could possibly live up to all these expectations? It takes a strong person to cope with all the snarkiness and bitching, and for a new vegan who’s still trying to find their feet, I imagine it’s enough to make people run screaming for the hills! And when they do, we make comments like “they were never really vegan in the first place”, and wish horrible fates upon them, instead of trying to understand how the actions of some members of the vegan community might have contributed to their decision.

    We need to remember, as a community, that veganism is not about gradually cutting out every food group until we’re left munching on lettuce and bananas, shaming fellow herbivores for their choices, or trying to outdo one another with pretty pictures on Instagram. It’s about consciously making a choice to abstain from causing suffering to all living beings, which should surely include other humans. Maybe if we were more mindful of that, we’d be a bit nicer to one another!

  • Abby Heugel


  • Lindsey

    Lovely post, and your last paragraph brought joyful tears to my eyes. Just beautiful!

  • Monika {windycityvegan}

    A-FUCKING-MEN, Sarah!

  • Emily

    Love it – Thank you for all these links. I also think we need to be gracious as many of us experimented with veganism off and on before we went at it full force. I was vegan for a week in high school until I went to give blood and the nurse said my iron was too low. I doubt this was from being vegan for a week but I took it as “I must eat meat!” (Now I’m on to the molasses trick.) One of my coworkers who has been pretty rude to me about my veganism admitted the other day that she tried going vegan but her family gave her a really hard time and she quit after only a day. Ex-vegans are a complex topic and I’m glad you’re taking it on!

  • Monika {windycityvegan}

    Oh Sayward, I love that you and Matt are spearheading this issue! Everything I was going to say has been covered below by Lindsey and Sarah.

    You know what I worry about? The eventuality of vegans bashing on ex-child vegans. As the number of children being raised vegan increases, we’re sure to see some of them follow a different path as they come of age. It might be as simple as they want so, so, so badly to have a cupcake that a classmate’s parent sent in as a surprise; or they may leave veganism completely when they’re trying to establish their own identity separate from what was chosen for them. A relative of mine tried to serve Nina a ham and egg sandwich this summer, and I suspect it was primarily motivated by a desire to knock her off her vegan pedestal (a phrase they’ve used). And she’s SEVEN. Sheesh.

  • a neelee

    thanks for being brave and opening this up.

  • Lacy Davis

    After being vegan for 15 years, I stopped being vegan for a year before I started again. I never ate meat, or dairy, but I did eat eggs from Pasture raised hens, and that was a heart wrenching decision I felt I need to make for my health. (I was having really terrible digestion and was basically unable to digest beans or grains or a lot of nuts). I started eating eggs to give myself a break, but never with the intention of eating them forever/adding meat or dairy to my plate. In the time I ate eggs, I educated myself and experimented. Once my digestion felt strong, I ditched eggs and starting sprouting, soaking, fermenting, and cooking with kombu. All of this made my digestion of high fiber foods MUCH better, and thus I had no need to eat eggs. It was simple.

    (also, to be clear, I don’t think eggs did anything for my health except be a high protein food with no fiber. it gave me a way to eat a protein rich thing that wasn’t difficult to digest.)

    When I wasn’t vegan for that spell of time, people were pissed, and I found it mildly embarrassing for them and for me. My face was put on some website, with the headline “lacy davis- has a weird obsession with eggs”. I heard through the grapevine that people who didn’t like me used it as fodder to mock me, and that vegans who DID like me, felt betrayed. It was a very emotional experience!

    The more I write, the more I realize this just needs to be an article on my blog. I’m gonna stop here! But thanks for the platform to speak :)


  • Lacy Davis

    People who make judgements like that are just shit heads. Not vegan enough?! give me a break. You’re okay with me, Sarah!

  • Sarah

    Aww, thanks! Clearly this blog is where all the nice vegans hang out :)

  • Sarah

    That’s so mean! You were obviously going through a really difficult time, and attacking you at that point in your life is just horrible. I think it’s great that Sayward is exploring this topic, to try to help and inform people who fail to thrive for whatever reason, rather than hurting and alienating them. Glad you’re feeling better now!

  • theveganchickpea

    i am so glad you are writing more about this and providing a resource for people to learn more. i honestly do not understand why it is so taboo to talk about this at all. thank you for shedding light on this subject. i can’t wait for the website and more posts on this subject.

  • theresa

    Thank you so much for sharing, Lacy – I tried veganism out in that whole “maybe this will fix my chronic illnesses oh god?!” way, and lo, fiber was my nemesis. But your story gives me hope that maybe I can cut transition back to eating vegan protein! Sprout ALL the things! And I’m sorry that you got lambasted for doing what was best for your body… How mean! :/ Looking forward to reading the full post on your blog!

  • theresa

    BRB tossing aside grad homework to read all these super interesting resources… thank you so much!

  • Ryan

    Outstanding idea for a new site! Here’s little something I wrote on the subject last year:

  • Blake M

    I think this work is really interesting and important! I’m also an academic, but over on the social science side of things. I just started my PhD in sociology and I am really interested in researching ex-vegans as a social phenomenon. Let me know if you’d be interested in teaming up!

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on this, Sarah. I agree with so much of what you’ve said here. I actually read your comment right as we were leaving for our beach walk this morning, so I brought it up with Jeremy. He’s also been vegan for 17 years and is vegan for the animals. I asked him if he feels like the attitude of vegans – and the vegan-on-vegan bashing – has increased in recent years. He suggested that that’s more a side-effect of Internet culture, and how it’s so easy these days to play holier-than-thou behind a computer screen. People do that all over the Internet in all sorts of communities, not just vegans. (crunchy mommies trying to out-progressive each other are the worst, OMG)

    Anyway, he says way back in the day there were just as many snobby vegans – maybe even more since the “club” was smaller and more elite. But that now there’s just this huge platform in the Internet, where people can play “caught ya!” and feel superior behind their screens.

    It was an interesting discussion and something that fascinates me (the history of the movement and how attitudes have changed through time) but regardless of whether vegan elitism is increasing or decreasing, the bottom line is that I couldn’t agree with you more. Judgmental vegans are a HUGE part of the problem, and something we really need to work to change.

    Thank you so much for speaking up!

  • Evolotus PR

    But wait…what’s the “new website” that is not linked in your second graf up there?

  • Ann

    Yes, please make it a book!

  • rachel

    Sadly I feel that there are many very high powered well known vegans and plant based people that are hugely responsible for this. Social media gives them this huge platform to preach and promote this elitism to all of their followers.

  • Rebecca Carnes

    Thank you for all of the links!! So much to read but all great information!! And I really liked reading through the comments below….. I think Sarah is right – your blog is where all of the nice vegans hangout:) We should all be motivating/Supportive towards one another not degrading. I know that sounds cheesy but why would anyone want to be apart of a community where they would feel judged? Def. not me!!

  • lysette

    Right on! Looking forward to the website, great resource links too :)

  • Deirdre

    So poignant and a great reminder that everyone, everywhere, including vegans, may be going through a process (be it facing a health crisis or existential-lol) and judgment doesn’t serve the situation– really a good outlook on life issues in general. That being said, long ago, when I was just a wee teen, (also 17 yrs ago, is that a magic number or what?!) I remember a joke about super (judgy) vegans– they wouldn’t eat anything that cast a shadow, so a lichen diet only. I guess, having a sense of humor about it can be a good thing.

    One thing related/unrelated that spoke to me was your struggle with cholesterol and protein. I’d LOVE to read, hear more about that specifically.

    As always, thank you Seyward for being so stubbornly awesome in your pursuit of justice for animals and health for all.

  • Vegangirl

    This is so thoughtful and well done. I’m glad you included the always-wonderful, sometimes-snarky, ever-brilliant Marla Rose. I encourage everyone here to find her on Facebook, at Vegan Street, and as the Vegan Feminist Agitator. You will be glad you did!

  • CynicallyCheery

    I’m not kidding when I say that video is one of the most important ones I’ve seen for vegans in a really long time – sad about the sound issues. An ex and current vegan myself I think what is said here is critical if we want our movement to grow and evolve. Its easy to critize harder to empathize and understand. Maybe if we did we’d have more ex-ex vegans.

  • Looby_Lue

    I’ve been an ex-vegan for about 8 months now (due to health reasons – bonzai aphrodite I think you are amazing to have pulled through your health crisis and stayed true to your beliefs, I’m afraid I wasn’t that strong). Aside from the immense guilt you feel after living a cruelty-free life, and the judgement from other vegans, the other added pressure is actually from friends and family around me who are really glad that “I’ve gone back to being normal”. As my health did improve remarkably after I went back to more omnivorous ways, both my partner and my mother freak out when I mention returning to veganism. Opening up this kind of conversation about ex-veganism and doing so with love and non-judgement is an exceptionally important issue and I’m sure will help those who are wavering and who need extra support. After all – isn’t kindness and love what veganism is all about?

  • Veronica

    It sounds like your seven year old is more mature than those adults.

  • jessica

    I second this request for more information regarding your health struggles with cholesterol and protein. The whole “we don’t need to worry about protein” motto is just not entirely true. We need to vigilant and make sure we are getting enough. Ginny touched on this topic a bit on her blog.

  • JC Carter

    There is so much I wish I could say to you. I simply don’t have the words to express myself in that manner. You are amazing. As a non-vegan I find so much of what you post here, and what you stand for so incredibly inspiring. I continuously learn so much from you and I just want to thank you so much for just being here, and writing about all these things, these hard, beautiful things. Thank you.

  • Sayward Rebhal

    I agree Rachel, and a lot of the time people become “vegan famous” without having credentials or even much experience. It’s easy to become popular on the Internet, and to have a LOT of sway, and to abuse that power (either intentionally or, more often I think, just because they don’t know any better)

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Thank you Lindsey! ♥

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Thank you Emily, and you are so right! It’s very complex and a lot of people dabble, stick a toe in, retreat, come back, etc. if we shame and mock people who don’t just dive in full-force right away, we will end up irreparably harming the relationship between these potential vegans and their potential veganism. It’s a relationship that needs to be cultivated and nurtured, not beaten and bullied!

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Girl, I worry and wonder about this as well. So much! I mean, I am 99% certain that Waits will eat non-vegan food some day, when the choice is his. Whether or not he will end up deciding to be an adult vegan I cannot say, and only time will tell. But whether he will “fall off the bandwagon”? Well that’s just almost certain. He is a born rebel, it’s his default mode! Haha. He will be curious and he will try it, in the same way that I tried ALL the “naughty” stuff when was young and wild and rebellious (as opposed to now, when I’m old and wild and rebellious, haha). Anyway, I will shank anyone who tries to either 1) shame him for being vegan OR 2) shame him for experimenting outside of veganism. NO SHAMING. Period.

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Thank you Neelee, and thank you for reading!

  • Sayward Rebhal

    I really look forward to reading your piece about this, Lacy. Will you share it with me when it’s written? These personal stories are SO important.

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Thanks Caitlin, and yeah it’s weird that it’s so taboo. It shouldn’t be! But I guess some people think that if they don’t acknowledge something, it will just go away? Haha. Like a bunch of ostriches with their heads int he sand.

    The only way real change is ever made is through confronting an issue head on. Learning it, understanding it, and then changing it from the inside out. THAT’S what we need to be doing!
    /end soapbox rant ;-)

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Ha! Oh grad students, the best procrastinators! (I speak from experience!)

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Oh thank you Ryan, I’ll check it out!

  • Sayward Rebhal

    YES! Blake, please email me info AT bonzaiaphrodite DOT com

    Matt and I are actually in contact with another sociologist who’s been studying ex-vegans for a few years now. Would love to put you in touch with her as well. Email me!

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Oops, fixed the link – thanks!

  • Sayward Rebhal

    We are definitely talking about it! ;-)

  • Sayward Rebhal

    No cheesy at all Becca, it’s actually totally sound and logical. It’s simple psychology! No one responds well to shame or abuse – just look at kids who are raised in authoritarian households versus supportive, respectful households. Which ones are going to grow up secure and stick close to the values and people they were raised with? The supported and respected ones of course! And it’s the same with our vegan movement, I think. We need to treat everyone with respect. That doesn’t mean we can’t disagree, but it does mean we can’t belittle and bully.

    It’s *exactly* like you say – why would anyone want to be a part of a community where they would feel judged???

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Thanks Lysette!

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Thanks for weighing in Deirdre. And I agree – comedy goes a LONG way! What were you wanting to hear more about in terms of my cholesterol and protein?

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Hi Jessica, I talk a lot about the protein issue in my interview with Eco-Vegan Gal. It’s a long recording – over 2 hours – but the protein issue comes up over and over throughout so it’s worth a listen, I think. I actually mention it so much that I get called out on the topic by one of the viewers. Which is great, because it gives me an opportunity to address the protein myth directly. You can watch just that part at 1:27:25

    Hope that helps!

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Yes, love her! And glad you enjoyed this post – thank you!

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Thank you so much!

  • Sayward Rebhal

    I just want to say thank you for being brave enough to comment, and for even still being here on a vegan website. I know that might be scary or intimidating or difficult.

    One of the things that Matt and I really hope to provide with is a forum/community space where ex-vegans can come and feel SAFE talking to current vegans, where we can all exist together without the sort of pressure you mentioned in your comment.

    Thank you and I hope you’ll continue hanging around. ♥

  • Deirdre

    I’d love to know more about what you did to improve your cholesterol and protein levels, foods, etc. and how that might relate to/support your women’s monthly and PMS, if that was an issue, and/or hormones in general. (That may be a post for the gals only!) I’ve found in the health community there is very little discussed in terms of how diet affects female hormones/mood/etc. I feel the two are intrinsically linked and would love to know more about others’ experiences in that area, what has worked, not worked, etc.

    Thanks again!

  • sendmorecops

    I hope that you are able to find a way back to veganism that is healthy and works for you!