This is a slightly edited piece that I originally published over at Feelgood Style. Since then, I read yet another disturbing piece about the vegan diet and eating disorders. Apparently the amazing Chocolate Covered Katie has been dealing with abuse from anonymous commenters who assume that she is anorexic because she’s vegan and thin.
A vegan diet is not a fad diet. It’s not a weight loss plan. Long-time vegans do not have eating disorders. Veganism is about caring for animals and protecting the planet. Sure, a vegan diet can be healthy, but it doesn’t have to be.
There are a lot of misconceptions about what vegan means. A vegan diet is not an eating disorder or a crash diet.
There’s a perception out there that if you don’t eat whole, raw foods, then you’re not vegan. That a vegan diet has to involve some sort of deprivation diet. This could not be more untrue.
Over the past couple of weeks I feel like I’m seeing a lot of misrepresentation of what is vegan and what isn’t. It began with The Blonde Vegan blaming her eating disorder on her vegan diet and ended with a comment that I recently read on a plant based forum I belong to.
My heart goes out to Jordan Younger – The Blonde Vegan – and her struggle with food. As someone who’s also dealt with body image problems, I can absolutely relate. Where I take issue is with the idea that a vegan diet caused Younger’s orthorexia because it’s restrictive.
A vegan diet doesn’t have to be restrictive. Someone who has issues with food can certainly incorporate those anxietiesinto her veganism, but it’s not fair to say that veganism was at the root of Younger’s problem. Eating disorders are complex, and it takes more than eschewing animal products to trigger that sort of self-loathing. This is me speaking from experience.
It trivializes eating disorders to imply that a vegan diet alone can cause something as deep and severe as anorexia or orthorexia.
The comment that really upset me didn’t come from an ex-vegan though. It came from a current vegan who said that some people who “claim to be vegan” actually eat processed food. This sort of judgement within the vegan community is doing our movement far more harm than good.
There seems to be an unspoken game of “Who is the most vegan?” going on within the vegan community, and everyone has a different definition of what a vegan diet entails. It makes veganism seem unapproachable, and it doesn’t serve animals at all. And isn’t veganism supposed to be about protecting animals?
I want to disspell this myth that you’re not “really” vegan unless you eat not only plant foods, but specific plant foods. No, no, no.
What is vegan? Vegan means that you don’t exploit animals. Period.
Here are some vegan foods and drinks that you might think are off limits, because they’re not whole foods, and they’re certainly not healthy in excess:
+ Many, many brands of potato chips. Check this recipe for vegan Dorito-crusted tofu, and then tell me that a vegan diet is an eating disorder.
I could list vegan junk foods all day, because there are thousands of options. When I was reading that comment about people who “claim to be vegan,” I was halfway through eating a chocolate bar and on my second glass of wine. Both the chocolate and the wine were animal product free, meaning that they were vegan.
Veganism is a lifestyle centered around avoiding animal products as much as humanly possible. If it doesn’t contain animal products and wasn’t tested on animals, it’s vegan. Food doesn’t have to be raw, whole, grain free, sugar free, or gluten free to be part of a vegan diet. It just has to be animal free.
I’m not saying that I don’t respect plant-strong vegans, gluten free vegans, or grain free vegans. I just think it’s important to recognize that you don’t need any of those adjectives to be a real vegan.
You just need to embrace a cruelty-free lifestyle, and that lifestyle can include potato chips, wine, and cupcakes if that’s how you want to do it. And maybe more people would be open to trying a vegan diet if they knew that those foods were still on the table.
This ongoing game of Who’s the Best Vegan is bad news, y’all, and we need to quit it. It doesn’t serve our community, and it doesn’t serve the animals that we’re trying to protect. Pass the cupcakes?