Body Language is our wellbeing column, examining trending issues in diet, health and fitness.
Veganism: You're dammed if you do and you're dammed if you don't want to any more.
More than a matter of survival, diet is a social activity and can be intrinsic to our identity: most meat-eaters in the West avoid eating dogs, while Hindus avoid beef and pork is forbidden for Jews. But, despite the rising popularity of plant-based diets and virtuous intentions to advocate for the environment and animal rights, vegans are often derided.
Veganism: You’re dammed if you do and you’re dammed if you don’t want to any more.Credit:Shutterstock
A 2015 Canadian study found vegans were viewed more negatively than atheists, immigrants, homosexuals, and asexuals, while separate research found that labelling a product “vegan” can cause its sales to drop by 70 per cent.
While vegans are judged harshly, God forbid you are a former vegan. There seems to be a special judgement reserved in our "callout culture" for those vegans who lapse or decide to reintroduce eggs or meat or dairy.
“Vegan recidivism tends to generate particularly strong reactions because those who commit to veganism are often doing so not just because of personal commitments, but also because of larger environmental or animal welfare concerns,” says Dr Michelle Phillipov from the University of Adelaide.
“So examples of ‘fallen’ vegans can be seen as both an affront to those larger political commitments and an attempt to undermine the healthiness and achievability of a vegan diet more generally.”
I can name six well-known vegan bloggers and YouTube stars who chose to reintroduce eggs, dairy, fish or meat to their diet this year. None managed to do so quietly.
Yovana Mendoza, formerly known as Rawvana.Credit:Facebook
In March, when vegan YouTuber Yovana Mendoza (known as "Rawvana") was spotted eating fish, the takedown was swift.
Critics called Mendoza, who encouraged followers to improve their “quality of life” by also adopting a “raw, vegan, gluten-free, oil-free, soy-free” diet, “Lievana” and “Fakevana” (tags which people are still using in response to her posts), and accused the 30-year-old Californian of being “deceitful”, “disgusting”, “sickening” and of “scamming” her nearly two million followers.
Mendoza responded with a lengthy video explaining she had been “completely vegan” for six years but recently decided to reintroduce fish and eggs after she stopped menstruating, was suffering hormone problems and was “basically anaemic”.
She then disappeared from YouTube until last month, when she posted a video titled “Goodbye Rawvana”. Since abandoning her raw vegan moniker, Mendoza posts about her new diet, including recipes for dishes with fish and eggs.
“I’ve learned to listen to my body and take [sic] the decisions that are right for my body,” Mendoza said, responding to continued criticism. “I’m not here to tell you what to do.”
A 2016 US study found 84 per cent of vegetarians/vegans eventually abandon their diet, primarily for health reasons or because they find it too restrictive.
“A vegan diet can definitely be healthy, but it takes a lot more work to meet all of your nutritional requirements,” says accredited practising dietitian, Melanie McGrice. “Unfortunately, too many people following vegan diets cut out animal products without putting in the effort to ensure that they are getting all of the micronutrients that they need.”
Mendoza … had been 'completely vegan' for six years but recently decided to reintroduce fish and eggs after she stopped menstruating.
Vitamin B12 deficiency is common in people following vegan diets, as are choline, calcium, zinc and omega-3 deficiencies.
“I believe that veganism can be followed by anyone as long as they are meeting all of their nutritional requirements,” Ms McGrice says. “People who aren’t as well suited to a vegan diet include pregnant and breastfeeding women, children, people who have had gastrointestinal surgery, people with malnutrition and people with Anorexia Nervosa.”
For those who abandon veganism, the stakes can be high whether or not they are a famous YouTuber. Food, of course, means more to us than its nutritional profile (if that is all it meant, presumably more than one per cent of the population would follow the dietary guidelines).
As Dr Phillipov, co-author of Alternative Food Politics: From the Margins to the Mainstream, explains social media has “increased the visibility” of our dietary choices and “created a space where different perspectives can (sometimes violently) conflict”.
“Food has never been ‘just’ food. Food has always been laden with meaning,” Phillipov says. “Our food choices are fundamentally an expression of our tastes and our values, and so conflicts over food are never really conflicts over the food itself – they are conflicts over the values that underlie food choices.”
Perhaps, if we start to realise what's driving our judgement, we can put down our knives and start to break bread instead, regardless of each others' preferences.
We all deserve to do be able to what is right for us. Even if that means changing our mind.
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