Another One Bites the Meat

No True ScotsmanWelp, it happened again. Another (ex-)vegan gains prominence through a public admission of losing her veganism. A pseudo-vegan-nutrition-guru herself, Alex Jamieson declares “I’m not vegan anymore”. Who? You ask? She is the ex-girlfriend of Morgan Spurlock, the documentary filmaker who made Super Size Me. After that movie where he binged exclusively on McDonald’s food, Alex saves the day at the end putting him on a vegan detox diet. But after 13 years of being a vegan herself she declares herself no longer vegan.

So why did this Certified Holistic Health Counselor quit veganism? Cravings. Yeah, now there’s science for ya. While her typical blog post barely manages to scrape up a handful of comments, her ex-vegan post currently has greater than 1100 comments! Many are in support, many flame her but I did see the same tired fallacy employed to defend veganism.

NO TRUE SCOTSMAN
There’s a familiar defense from vegans when another denounces their lifestyle. It goes something like “oh they were never really vegan.” It’s actually a logical fallacy called the No True Scotsman. Requirements for membership of a group gets redefined to exclude the individual in question rather than owning up to failures for said group. Obviously Alex and apostates like her were never true vegans because veganism can’t be wrong. Or can it?

These ex-vegans can’t be shunned so easily. When people go vegan for health reasons or they espouse the virtues of health benefits for going vegan they are never1 I have never seen them similarly challenged by vegans. Clear skin? Sure! Lost weight? Naturally! Anything that gets people vegan is a good thing so shut the hell up and hope they stay that way, for the animals. Once they have that foot-in-the-door bias in place, they’re in! Score one for vegans the animals! Vegans hate to talk about the messy and complicated ethical arguments, well until they have to.

When those magic health effects wear away though and lacking any foundation for support, often they leave. When they do, other vegans are quick to throw them under the bus instead of exhibiting the compassion they are otherwise so well-known for. With their backs up against the wall they fall back to the supposed ethical underpinnings and shame the apostate for those assumed arguments. Alex is no noob though. Vegan for 13 years she knows the score. She knows the compassion vitriol she faces by renouncing her veganism. Maybe that’s why she went out of her way to explicitly state some of her beliefs like:

I believe you can love and care about animal welfare and still consume them.

Is that so shocking though? Advocates like Vegan Outreach avoid the animal rights arguments and focus on suffering, welfare. Alex is still on board with this and specifically mentions it, also here:

I believe we should restructure the way animals are raised so that they live in more natural, comfortable, humane surroundings and stop force-feeding them 80% of all antibiotics used in the US.

And Bob’s yer uncle.

VEGAN FUNDAMENTALISM
“Oh but veganism isn’t about health and welfare, it’s about the inherent interest of animals and let me quote the founder Donald Watson…” Stop. Well it took you long enough. By the way, where you when Derpy McDerpson here was gavage feeding Morgan Sperlock vegan detox green smoothies? Wasn’t convenient then was it? But here you are. Perhaps this is what they mean when they say that people are more likely to come to animal rights through veganism. Eventually they’ll have to confront cognitive dissonance like this and adopt a more abstract position, leave or reassert a custom interpretation. Yeah, about this “lifestyle, not a diet” interpretation of yours.

So this Watson guy made up the word in some zine long ago, big fucking whoop-di-doo. The Vegan Society comes by later and makes it even more vague lumping in the health and environment shit. Who next? Any of this ring a bell? When somebody has to enforce an interpretation of a word especially as it relates to identity or belief system they are being a fundamentalist. This is how wars get waged.

I may not be a linguist2 but I think I know a prescriptive appeal when I see one and they are common when vegans transgress. Insisting we look to the dictionary or coiner for meaning pulls you out of the organic function of communication for the sake of taking higher ground. But then you gotta defend that hill. The health, environmental and ethical vegans start fighting over their interpretation of vegan dogma appealing to the authority of some obscure English carpenter of the 1940s. And watch out, those health vegans, they’ll fuck your shit up lemme tell you what. OIL FREE FRO LYFE!

TL;DR
So vegans, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

•You can’t claim the health arguments and balk when those eventually fail you.

•You can’t flirt with new age pseudoscience and run to science to save you.

•You can’t brandish ploys of welfare and balk when people actually listen to you and eat “happy meat” because you could never conceive of such a market.

•This is what the bubble bursting looks like.

To do so will find you goalpost moving. Perhaps “vegan” meant one thing and people now do it for another. Who are you to insist otherwise? Are you gonna stamp your feet and call people names over it? Or are you gonna relax your grip on an assumed identity and find a new path to meet your true goals? What are those goals by the way?

Related:
Facing Failing Health As A Vegan | Bonzai Aphrodite
To Quit or Not to Quit Veganism | Jack Norris, RD
Do Some People Need to Eat Meat? | Ginny Messina, The Vegan RD
My Vegan Diet Caused Health Problems. Would Primal, Paleo, Or “Real Food” Be Better? | Kristen’s Raw
Why I’m no longer Vegan: Hardcore Vegan to Primal Paleo | Primal Nutritionist
I Used to Be a Militant Vegan … Now I’m a Guilty Carnivore | xoJane

  1. Adjusted due to challenge by C. Robinson on this claim in the comments
  2. please school me otherwise in the comments, experts

47 comments to Another One Bites the Meat

  • You ask for examples of health vegans being challenged by other vegans, but you link to one of them in the related section! Ginny Messina has written repeatedly on her blog about the problems of promoting veganism using a health argument.

    You also mentioned Vegan Outreach, who explicitly do not promote veganism using the health argument either. The group I co-founded, Compassionate Action for Animals, has basically the same stance as Vegan Outreach. When doing outreach, we talk about animal suffering, not health. When we do talk about health, it’s in the context of how to be a healthy vegan. That means we discuss the pros and cons of a vegan diet, especially the need for things like B12 supplementation.

    See, that wasn’t so hard.

    • Not so fast Sparky McVegan. This whole post was about post hoc rationalization. What I specifically was calling out for were challenges when people go vegan for health reasons. Any examples of those?

      I’m well aware that Vegan Outreach does not trump up health arguments but they do appeal to suffering. When you do the same how do you answer when somebody’s response is similar to Alex’s? What do you say when they turn to happy meat to solve your issue of suffering?

      • Well, I can’t speak for Vegan Outreach. At Compassionate Action for Animals, what we generally say is that while “humane” meat is a bit less brutal than factory farming, it still involves quite a bit of suffering. The typical examples I use are that even free range farming still involves crowding, mutilation without anesthetics, and the same horrible slaughter lines at the end of an animal’s short life.

        That all said, I think engaging people on the whole “happy meat” thing is mostly a waste of time. I’m not convinced that many people who claim to believe in “happy meat” are only eating those sorts of products. If they truly are, then they’re almost certainly eating way fewer animal products just because of the cost and difficulty involved, so it’s still a win for animals. If they’re not sticking to just “happy meat”, then they’re just looking for a rationalization to go back to their old eating habits.

        Overall, I think my time and energy is much better spent by talking to people who haven’t yet heard much about factory farming. If we can convince those people to move towards plant-based eating (vegan is ideal, but reduction is a good start) we will probably do a lot more to help animals than by arguing with people who’ve already talked themselves out of being vegan!

        Of course, the other thing we need to do is put significantly more effort into helping people stay vegan. I wrote an essay about this recently for CAA’s newsletter, but we haven’t published it yet (soon, I hope). The gist of it is that community-building efforts are very important for animals. We need to give people the support and resources they need to stay vegan. This means social events, cooking classes, vegan nutrition education, and online tools like VegGuide.org.

        • But happy meat is a relatively new market. Wouldn’t encouraging these choices be yet another way to reduce suffering? Certainly pointing out the current flaws of happy meat can help clean up their practices but why focus on the elimination of animal products instead of reforming the systems already in place?

          Vegan Chicago’s mission is strictly support for which we get criticized (even, if not especially, by Vegan Outreach activists). It’s no surprise though when the leadership espouses familiar tired utilitarian views like this (just posted today in fact):

          But — and here is another lesson it took me years to recognize — when I choose to do one thing, I’m choosing not to do another.

          Those sentiments were promptly echoed elsewhere by one of their star activists poo-pooing potlucks for leafletting. These are supposed to be allies? Do I wanna advocate membership into such a community where you can expect to get berated for not doing enough? I’m glad I got out of that game.

  • C. Robinson

    This all an extended straw man. You have created this vegan hive mind that doesn’t doesn’t exist and gone after it with incredible gusto. The reality is that there is a ton of variation within the vegan community and your issue is with a subset that feels the need to attack Jamison (and other ex-vegans).

    • I’m not only responding to the vegans that attack her but the defensiveness stories like hers induce within the community. I know of the variation you speak of, I’ve written on it before. What do you think is the common identifying trait of people who adopt the word “vegan” is?

      • C. Robinson

        Sorry for the delay in response I keep getting errors when trying to post. I am guessing you don’t know what a straw man attack is. I am not saying you are not aware of variation I am saying that in the post you intentionally ignored it and presented vegans as all thinking having the same point of view.

        Given that people are vegan for a variety of reasons I would say that common trait would be diet and even then we are talking about diet in a very broad sense. I also think that while at one time you could assume motive for diet when you heard the word vegan in the past that is no longer the case.

        • Ok, show me examples where vegans differ and proactively challenge somebody when they go vegan for health.

          So vegans are the same for their diet except they’re not? :S

          • C. Robinson

            As pointed out above, Ginny Messina has pointed out that going vegan for health isn’t based in science and she has been critical of the Forks Over Knives promoters (for lack of a better terms) but that is really irrelevant. Why would an vegan who is vegan for animal rights reason be obligated to challenge someone who went vegan for health reasons? Why is that their responsibility? It isn’t. Your issue is that some vegans who are animal rights vegans will cheerlead the FOK crowd because they take on the “Vegan for whatever reason is good” mantra and then they bitch when it backfires. I get that and why you would be frustrated with that crowd, but you have tarred all vegans with that brush. Even better is you do exactly what you are complaining about. You argue that ethical vegans should be happy with the laughably named “happy meats” as it is progress on animals welfare rather than sticking to their guns. How is this the “who cares how animals suffering is reduced” argument different from the “who cares as long as they are vegan” argument? It isn’t so you are doing exactly what you decided to lecture others about.

            “So vegans are the same for their diet except they’re not?”
            I don’t even know what this is supposed to mean. Please clarify what you are getting at.

            • Why would an vegan who is vegan for animal rights reason be obligated to challenge someone who went vegan for health reasons? Why is that their responsibility?

              As long as that animal rights vegan isn’t advocating veganism then it isn’t. If they do I’d expect them to police their own shit or STFU when veganism fails somebody. Can’t have their cake and eat it too.

              You argue that ethical vegans should be happy with the laughably named “happy meats” as it is progress on animals welfare rather than sticking to their guns. How is this the “who cares how animals suffering is reduced” argument different from the “who cares as long as they are vegan” argument? It isn’t so you are doing exactly what you decided to lecture others about.

              Veganism skips a whole slew of solutions to the suffering/welfare arguments. Many people will intuitively seek out or create happy meat sources to address those concerns. Not good enough for vegans. While veganism may “reduce suffering”, eating animals can also “reduce suffering” if welfare standard were improved. Look at the efforts of HSUS and how they’re often vilified within the vegan community.

              • C. Robinson

                I fully understand your argument here, well I don’t understand the “happy meats” thing that is just marketing bullshit. Who can claim to know if a meat was happy, it is just an inane thing to say but I digress. I just think you are being just as intolerant of the errr “purist?” vegan view as you claim they are being of yours. Personally I think the discussion needs to happen about what is best and what achieves the animal rights goal. It is through an open and honest discussion that we all learn and our views evolve. I also don’t think it would be healthy for the animal rights movement if we all agreed on one thing. During the civil rights movement and in the current gay rights movement there has is disagreement among leaders about what the correct approach should be and while the leaders of different schools of thought may never budge or ever come close to seeing eye to eye the debate is still helpful for the movement. Just my thoughts on it. I am sure there are those that would disagree.

                • We all know what “happy meat” means. It is a response to the welfare issues brought up by vegan advocates. Many times when I was a Vegan Outreach leafletter people would ask me “this is bad but where can I get meat from better treated animals?” The standard “there is no such thing” response falls flat. There very well could be, enough for people who have no problem with killing animals.

                  Personally I think the discussion needs to happen about what is best and what achieves the animal rights goal.

                  You just jumped to “animal rights” in a conversation about veganism. They are not synonymous. I’m ALL FOR a diversity of tactics and thinking but this assumption that vegan praxis is the goal is some cargo cult bullshit.

            • C. Robinson, are you vegan yourself btw?

              • C. Robinson

                Yes, I am.

              • C. Robinson

                Yes, perhaps “animal rights” was a poor choice of words on my part and I should have said “animal welfare vegans”. I will take you at your word that you are for diversity thought your post and subsequent statements seem to indicate otherwise. This may not be your intent but you come off as just trying shouting down anyone would disagree with you or in my case would just ask you to form a cogent argument.

                • Let me clarify. If allowing health food vegans or other erroneous beliefs to run rampant for the sake of veganism is your idea of diversity then I am definitely not on board. I think veganism and animal rights have for too long been correlated and they should just break-up already.

                • FYI if you think I’m being unfair I do recognize public forms of dissent when they do appear as in the case of (also) Ginny Messina when she left PCRM over the fat shaming campaign.

                • C. Robinson

                  It is not a matter of fair it is a matter of being consistent. You don’t appear to apply to yourself what you ask of others. I say appear as assuming motive and intent is shaky ground. It seems you think I am in arguing your conclusion. I am not, my issue is the quality of the argument you used to get there. Reading other articles on your blog (sorry I am new around here) it seems you prefer a more confrontational approach (again this is my perception). That approach certainly certainly has its place as it resonates with some folks. My preference for discussion is different so I am probably just not a good audience for you. Cheers and I will quit spamming your comments.

          • C. Robinson

            Also, burdon of proof falls to the person making the claim. You are the person making the claim that no vegan has ever objected to the “vegan is more healthy” claim. You own proving that it never happened not myself or your readership.
            http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/burden-of-proof.html

            • I can’t prove a negative. I specifically added “never challenged by vegans” as a way to… challenge vegans to think about it and show me examples otherwise. So far, nothing.

              • C. Robinson

                This is my point. You can’t prove a negative but you made the claim that something never happened.
                This is what you said without any sort of qualification :”When people go vegan for health reasons or they espouse the virtues of health benefits for going vegan they are never challenged by vegans”.

                You then followed it with this: “If I am wrong please show me cases where health vegans do get challenged by other vegans”

                You have clearly made a categorical claim and put the burden of proof on those who would disagree with you. Much like you claim that vegans can’t have it both ways, you cannot have it both ways. You can either lecture people on their bad arguments while doing the same yourself.

                My objection here is generalizations you have applied to all vegans. Had you made the following argument (and I suspect it was the one you were trying to make) I would have taken no issue with the post.

                p: When you encourage someone’s behavior you are obligated to talk to them about the coincidences.
                p: Some vegans encourage those who go vegan for health reasons.
                c: vegans who encourage those who go vegan for health reasons are obligated to talk to them about potential health risks.

                Admittedly a little sloppy but hopefully get the point.

                As for vegans not talking about how veganism isn’t a silver bullet for health, I think this covers it very well.
                http://www.theveganrd.com/2010/11/how-the-health-argument-fails-veganism.html

                • I grant you that was bad form. Instead I could have shown the positive and maybe I’ll do so in the future if this comes up again.

                  I am very well familiar with Messina and Norris’s work. It hasn’t made them very popular and does spark dissent once in a while.

                  The assumption of veganism as the end goal and all the infighting about what argument will “convert” people best is silly.

                • unethical_vegan

                  Jack Norris recommends eating bivalves to those who crave animal protein. Most vegans with a capital V would call this absolute heresy.

  • Sarah S.

    Ugh, ugh, UGH! I can’t stand people who are so averse to failure that they’ll cook up all these justifications to come out smelling like roses to other people that couldn’t hack it. “Let’s all get in a circle jerk about how we didn’t succeed because success is actually BAD” LOL. Alex’s excuse for leaving veganism behind is the same as a person cheating on their spouse claiming monogamy is impossible. Being reasonably vegan (like being monogamous) is a choice and it’s totally doable. I understand the ex-vegans that attack her for spreading the word that some people who try to be vegan will fail at it. For the animals’ sake we want people to feel interested in at least giving veganism a try. I would have had respect for her if she had simply said, “I’m sorry – I just couldn’t keep it up any longer because it was too hard for me,” rather than spewing a bunch of BS about cravings for meat meaning humans really *need* to eat it.

    • Sarah, I don’t think she’s being disingenuous though. Maybe she’s trying to justify her decision or whatever but she obviously lacks an understanding of the subjectiveness of our bodily experiences. Instead she attributes it somehow to a lack of animal flesh. If critical thinking was valued more in the community perhaps things would have been different for her.

      Either way if she strives to stay true to her stated beliefs she’ll still satisfy the reduced suffering requirements of vegan advocates and seek/create happy meat sources.

  • Dana

    Thanks for the post. I found it interesting.

    Although it is not specifically targeted towards the health crowd of vegans, Gary Francione is quite explicit that veganism is a moral imperative rather than a life-style or health choice, such as choosing to eat more broccoli and less chips. In particular, I would direct you to his blog post here: http://www.abolitionistapproach.com/a-note-on-i-cant-vs-i-choose/#.UT1tRNEjos0. Although he tends to focus more on the philosophical points, I think this argument largely answers your concerns. Individuals such as Alex have not addressed the moral imperative and appear, in my opinion, to be side stepping the issue by speaking about compassionate meat.

    • Dana, while Gary Francione made a career of vegan policing/hatery I haven’t seen any examples where he publicly challenged health vegans. While I think he’s pretty much in the animal rights camp, he rests his advocacy on the same flimsy vegan platform.

    • unethical_vegan

      Considering that Francione refuses to condemn the feeding of hundreds of “sentient” animals to a single obligate carnivore “pet”, I take his claim that veganism is a moral imperative with a very large grain of salt.

  • markgil

    i would consider someone to be vegan if they are so for ethical reasons and to be plant based if they choose what to eat based on other reasons such as dietary or environmental. this is a great article by Will Tuttle on the same subject being discussed here:

    http://www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/beyond-im-not-vegan-anymore/

    • markgil,

      So when you meet somebody who’s vegan do correct them if you find out if they aren’t ethical vegans? What do you think about advocates who employ the health arguments for veganism?

      What is it you find compelling about the Tuttle piece? All I see is a textbook example of the reactions I’ve outlined my post.

    • Anna

      Environmental reasons are ethical reasons. I don’t get why some people separate them. The “ethical” umbrella covers a lot of territory, mainly questions of ecological sustainability and animal suffering.

      • That’s a good point Anna. While “ethical” is usually used as a shortcut for “animals” it’s not very precise. I like though how it implies health and environmental vegans are nonethical though. 😉 :p

        • unethical_vegan

          If over-selling case studies and low “n” epidemiology is the achilles heal of health veganism, then childish anthropomorphism is the the weak point of the animal rights argument. Ironically, there is, IMO, more certainty about which foods are correlated with health than there is about which organisms are capable of experience “suffering”.

          Glass houses.

    • Libby

      What about someone who says his or her diet is plant-based when she or he does eat a very small amount of animal products, fungus, salt, etc. but the overwhelming majority of the ounces, calories, nutrients, etc. he or she eats come from plants? After all, such a diet is certainly *based* on plants.

  • i do not “correct” people on this issue but believe that it is an important distinction as intention is key imo. one can choose a plant based diet for their own health reasons yet wear leather and fur and perform vivisection in their employment. as Will stated in the article, people who go vegan for only health reasons are doing so because of the person benefit they may get out of it rather than awareness about causing suffering to others.

    • Yup, I think it’s pretty apparent by Jamieson’s example that the reason she went vegan failed her so she left. If she did not leave veganism, vegans would still claim her as “vegan” (or at least in your case you would stay silent on the issue). Now that she left though all of a sudden you make the distinction? Too little too late doncha think?

  • righteous indignation

    I enjoyed your article. I believe the issue has become one of division between those who are fluent in logic and critical thinking vs those who are alien to it and act and communicate on impulse rather than thought.

    I am also reminded of a game we played in grade school called telephone. We students were instructed to form a single line. A written message was given to the first in line to read, then from memory to whisper it to the next to pass it down to the far end. Without fail the message had changed and often bore no resemblance to it’s origin. I believe this is the case within many concepts and communities not just the animal rights and vegan community where the current population are often far disconnected from it’s foundation.

    I will, however, announce I do know of one instance where some old neighbors of mine had in fact attempted to educate me in my then carnivorous mentality of the virtues of animal rights and the evils of consumption and offered as an alternative, a plant based diet which they called vegan, not as an animal rights movement, just as dietary option which would benefit animals and also explained the health benefits for doing so.

    It is quite possible some get lazy in their education of themselves and others and create short cuts for themselves, ie vegan is better for animal rights and it is healthy and beneficial becomes healthy veganism is animal rights.

    It’s the telephone effect. But there are at least a couple who know the true origins and attempt to properly educated others. I do not know, however, if they point out the errors of the masses, though my experience tells me they would since they corrected me several times concerning the subject.

    I made changes for health reasons last June not ethical reasons. I had forgotten the teachings of those two college girls until today. I was asked this past week if I had become vegan for health reasons, I replied yes, I suspect she also knows the difference.

  • righteous indignation,

    Yeah I think using vegan as a shorthand to avoid the messy and complicated “animal rights” talk is something alotta people fall back on. But then veganism becomes that goal and niche movements build upon that and we find ourselves in the mess we are in today. As a masochistic optimist I still believe in being honest with people instead of using appeals or ploys to eclipse their agency for my own agenda. I can understand though the “lives on the line” argument giving dishonesty ethical validity but I don’t think the case is as clear for veganism. I took a tangent there, I don’t think all are dishonest. Like you said, the telephone game and such.

    I like your anecdote of your neighbors offering vegan as an option. I think that’s the way it should work.

    Thanks for your comment!

  • Hello,
    I’m Primal Nutritionist. I left you comments on your facebook a few days back (not sure if you received them). I went vegan over two years ago in efforts to stop mass-production of animals and cruelty. However, as a year passed of being vegan I didn’t feel too good, nevertheless. After trying every avenue to optimize my vegan diet—with no success—I came to the realization that my body desperately needed some good-quality (pasture-raised) meat to help my body heal. It was my only option at that point. I tried nearly everything in the book. Luckily, it was the right decision for me and I was able to fix my imbalances within a short time. I remain to be an activist to stop mass-production of animals, animal testing, etc. Thanks for sharing my story and I hope it helps others.
    ~Primal Nutritionist.

  • Hello Primal Nutritionist,

    Thanks for stopping in.

    What kinda activism do you do for animals? What do you say to people who call you a hypocrite for both eating animals and working as an activist?

    • Hello,
      As of now, I haven’t been able to do active-ism but I only support local organic farmers, including pastured meats; I don’t support testing on animals, donate to various organizations for the environment, recycling, clean up beaches where I’ve seen fish tangled in plastic, helping the honey bees, organic gardening, etc. Me being from Florida, I’m naturally inclined to protecting sea-life. It may be ironic that everything listed above, I’ve done since before I was vegan.

  • Fox

    I keep re-reading this for the good sense you talk here 🙂

    On this note, I wanted to show you – have you seen this new website?

    http://www.exvegans.com/

    It’s an exvegan site dedicated to naming and shaming. I see familiar faces. And a LOT of this ‘No True Scotsman’ going on.

    Not impressed, personally. I can see why someone had the impulse to make the site (and that *wonderful* part where they give exvegans detailed instructions on killing themselves…), I just can’t see much about it that’s actually helpful to animals. At a glance, the tone seems more about the personal butthurt of humans than anything else (because now *they’ve* got a smaller pool of likeminded people to share recipes with, because *they* wanted to feel they were on the winning side, because exvegan critique makes *them* feel discriminated against in society).

  • Thanks Fox, compliments will get you everywhere! 😉

    I have NOT seen that website! Thanks for bringing it to my attention. Yikes! Yup, looks like butthurt to me. As exemplified in my Veggie Shameless post there seems to be a growing contingent of “me-gans” where it’s awl about them.

    🙂

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