Exploring the Ex-Vegan Phenomenon: Recap  »


Look at these good looking vegans! Matt Ruscigno & Sayward Rebhal.

Last week I posted about an open discussion that Matt Ruscigno and Sayward Rebhal were leading at the Animal Advocacy Museum on Saturday, January 11th. Here’s my recap! (And here’s the full video of the talk.) 

You guys, I must admit that I was pretty nervous about how this might go. (Angry vegans scare me, and we’re on the same team!) I was SO pleasantly surprised by how it all went down. 

We don’t know the exact number of vegans there are in the US, but it’s between 1-3%. We do know (according to research that Matt quoted) that 75% of vegetarians go back to eating meat (and are vegetarian for an average of 5 years). HOLY VEGAN MOLE, THAT’S A LOT! 

Matt & Sayward were interested in exploring this topic because they feel it’s important to the vegan community to know why people stop being vegan. “Those people” (insert “anti-dentite" reference here) try being vegan, then go out into the world and talk about their experience, and why they aren’t anymore (jerks! j/k). Not the best PR for our community.

There was so much said, I hope I don’t leave anything out! 

Sayward explained how she almost became an ex-vegan due to serious health issues, including lack of protein (*gasp* vegan faux pas!), and low cholesterol. She was really sick for several years, yet persevered and didn’t take the easy way out by eating the eggs in her backyard (from the rescued hens she had). This process might have deterred less passionate (or as she described herself, “stubborn”) vegans. She finally found a naturopath and got better. 

Matt posed the question,”Do you know how bad cars are for the environment? Knowing that information, why did you drive here today?” He had actually ridden his bike to Pasadena from LA (show off), so it really put things in perspective. Sometimes when people have all the information about being vegan, they still make choices in opposition to it because it’s easier! And sometimes we forget that the changes we had to make at first, and all the things we think are second nature today, were challenging. I was vegetarian for 16 years before I could give up “my beloved cheese” (GRODYTOWN). Now that seems like such a corny excuse when I hear people say it (hello, I’m a hypocrite!).

Matt’s a registered dietician (yay science!) and pointed out that many of the facts he sees/hears vegans use in favor of veganism are not in context, which might not be helping the larger cause. Also, what works for you, might not work for other people. We should step outside of our experience and see where other people are coming from. 

Here are some points & questions that came up: 

  • The vegan community seems to focus on “turning” people vegan, but not as much on how to successfully stay vegan for the long-term
  • When we give people unrealistic expectations, they’re going to fail
  • Do vegans need training in activism? 
  • Going against the norms of what most people do is hard
  • A lot of people don’t think about food (WTF, I so don’t get this!) 
  • How do we promote veganism that gives reasonable expectations? 
  • How do we keep people engaged? 
  • Community is important, but perhaps too much community might be overkill (Are you sick of me, yet? Can we hang out all the time in our vegan t-shirts and talk about vegan stuff!?)
  • Activists can get burnt out
  • It’s important to take yourself seriously, but not too seriously
  • Strong animal advocacy will guide people through challenges
  • Vegan-policing within the community (UM, is annoying- IMHO) isn’t beneficial. Matt’s response to people that start nitpicking him about things is, “Do you think this helps animals, overall?”
  • Maybe veganism attracts extreme personality types
  • Maybe extremism isn’t conducive to activism
  • No one is perfect (my personal favorite)
  • Instead of looking down on vegetarians, we could educate them and be inclusive
  • Can everybody be a healthy vegan? We don’t know the answer to that question, but most people probably can. 

Sayward’s closing remark was that the vegan message needs to be a tapestry containing many things, looking at the bigger picture (aka the awesomest picture EVER). 

Matt left us with two adjectives to consider that personally resonate with me when I talk to people about veganism, “Can you be tactful and reasonable?” (ARE FACEBOOK ARGUMENTS TACTFUL AND REASONABLE?!?! Whoops, sorry about that capslock.) 

This was an explorative discussion, so no conclusions were drawn. Let’s hear your comments below (be sure to police the shit out of each other and start a good ole fashioned comments war! Sike!).

You can read Sayward’s recap and also, check out Matt on Rich Roll’s podcast that came out this week! 


Let’s hug it out here, guys. 

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