The Savage wrote this for the August 2021 edition of Vegan Food & Living. Go take a look.
The traditional vegan lifestyle blog has a face and it’s one we all know well. A slender white girl on a beach strikes an immaculate lotus pose in front of a platter of papaya, passionfruit, mango, lychee and kiwi, with the smile of a Catholic martyr against a sunset from Getty Images (#blessed, always #blessed!) Aspirational, inspirational, celebrational – as a package, it was always hard to argue with.
Clones quickly followed. We may have winced at their Paltrowesque stylings about weight-loss tea, their costly retreats and endless detox colonics, but they talked the cruelty-free talk and apparently walked the walk. They had millions of followers and more eyes on the cause had to be a good thing.
Or maybe not. Between 2018 and 2020 a series of high-profile wellness vegans abandoned the diet. Yovana “Rawvana” Mendoza announced that her SIBO gut disorder could only be treated by eating animal products. Kristin “KalelKitten” Smith refused necessary supplements in favour of pasture-raised eggs and meat. Wild salmon became an unlikely sex symbol of the exodus as Alyse “Raw Alignment” Parker claimed it gave her a sex drive for the first time in her life and Tim “Human Timothy” Shieff said the fish gave him a wet dream. Wild, indeed! Anti-vegan trolls revelled in the chaos as the collective facepalm from the plant-based massive was heard around the world.
The very same people who implausibly claimed the vegan diet was a cure for all ills now condemned it, citing brain fog, omega-3 deficiency and poor gut health. It was a bad look for the movement all round.
AND NOW, THE SCIENCE BIT
Running parallel with this bedlam though has been the rise of a quite different vein of vegan influencers, one with a distinctly scientific bent.
Simon Hammett, practising nutritionist with an MSc in Food, Nutrition & Health, offers plant-based nutritional advice on his popular GojiMan YouTube channel. He’s been shocked by some of the quack practices adopted by the fruit and sunshine vegans. “Extended water and juice fasting, colon cleanses, liver and gallbladder flushes and parasite cleanses,” he recalls. Such unhealthy fads were common among the vegans who returned to meat and dairy’s frigid embrace. Raw Alignment subsisted on 1200 calories a day. Rawvana did a 25-day water fast. Tim Shieff drank his own urine for 2 years. Suboptimal would be putting it kindly. Even those wellness influencers who stayed on the diet continue to be an embarrassment to the movement.
Hammett is not alone in his concerns. Physician and New York Times Bestseller author Dr Michael Greger has seen some worrying antiscience sentiment in his advocacy work. “Lately I’ve been frustrated by the anti-vaccine sentiment in some vegan circles,” he says. Equally perturbing is the ignorance about the most entry-level vegan facts.
“There’s a longstanding issue of understating the importance of getting a regular, reliable source of vitamin B12, which is non-negotiably critical for everyone following a plant-based diet.”
STICK TO THE FACTS
One of the ironic things about wellness vegan influencers is how they consistently exaggerate the health dangers of eating animal products – misrepresenting evidence and cherry-picking studies in a manner Big Meat itself would be proud of.
Hammett insists “It does more harm than good. Stick to the known facts and don’t try and cherry-pick evidence to suit your bias. Most people now know that eating animal products in high amounts can be damaging to health outcomes. Therefore, it’s not about slapping people around the faces with these or misleading facts.”
After decades of meat propaganda, it’s easy to fall into a fight-fire-with-fire mentality but Virginia Messina, MPH, registered dietician and co-author of Vegan for Life who blogs on vegan advocacy at The Vegan RD feels strongly that this is a mistake. “If we get caught making easily refuted assertions about diet, it’s a good bet that anything else we say will be viewed with suspicion and scepticism.”
Jack Norris, animal-rights activist and dietician, meanwhile feels a duty to educate the wider public on vegan nutrition.
“Despite its flaws, peer-reviewed scientific research is the best place to find reliable information. But we can’t expect the general public to read the research themselves, which requires a science background and a lot of time.”
ALL THE MORE REASON
Perhaps the most consistent theme of the new influencers is that science and reason are the vegan’s friends. Veganism at its heart is as rational as it is healthy.
Hammett explains “Science isn’t about one paper or one meta-analysis it’s about totality of evidence. The totality of evidence is pointing more and more to plant-based diets hence why most health organisations around the world are now recommending plant-centric diets.”
Michael Greger emphatically agrees. “Plant-based diets are the only diets ever proven to reverse the number one killer of Britons, heart disease. If that’s all plant-based diets could—reverse our number one killer—that should be the default diet until proven otherwise.”
Peer-reviewed vegan data is an indispensable buttress to the huge gains the movement has made in recent years. As the wellness vegans ditched the movement like a bad habit in droves not a single one of these scientific influencers has turned tail, become aroused by salmon, lauded the benefits of bone broth, urine drinking or promoted the laughable oxymoron ‘ethical meat’.
They remain stalwart, vigilantly debunking anti-vegan news reports, taking on Big Meat propaganda and offering well-sourced dietary advice for an audience who have never needed it more. And Virginia Messina never forgets that the rock-solid foundations of veganism will always be ethical. “The most compelling reasons for eating a vegan diet focus on animal welfare and the future of the planet.”
FIGHT THE POWER
One thing we can be absolutely sure of is that animal agriculture will continue to deny, deflect and misrepresent the science around its practices.
Combat that with rational enquiry and a nose for junk science and you have a veganism well-equipped to deal with the unique challenges ahead of us. Then finally we may be truly #blessed.