Words by Daniela Koulikov Art by Rochelle Oh
All over the world, veganism is on the rise. In the UK, the number of vegans has increased by 350% in the past decade while 11% of Australians don’t consume meat or dairy products. Yet when we look at headlines, clickbait posts and YouTube videos we see: ‘After being vegan for three years, I went back to meat,’ ‘Vegan Youtuber caught eating fish’ and ‘Apology video: why I’m no longer vegan.’
So, what’s going on? Why are so many people who originally vouched for veganism falling off the bandwagon?
Yovana Mendoza (FKA @rawvana), with a following of over 1.3 million, was filmed eating fish at a restaurant. Alyse Parker, better known as ‘Raw Alignment’ on YouTube, was busted adding non-vegan recipes to her Pinterest board. There are many more like them—what they all have in common is that after promoting the vegan diet, they have all returned to consuming eggs, meat and fish.
When questioned, they each gave almost the same response, “I am no longer vegan for health reasons.” Such health reasons included bloating, high levels of mercury, parasites in their bodies, allergies, anaemia and more. It begs the question, what exactly is going on? Is veganism sustainable for our health long term?
The Vegan Diet
Vegan diets are healthier and yet simultaneously riskier for individuals. Vegans tend to have lower body weight, blood pressure and cholesterol. Their diets have higher levels of fibre, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, potassium and magnesium with the added bonus of less saturated fat. Vegan diets also increase the consumption of soy, whilst removing smoked and processed meats, therefore reducing the risks of developing prostate, breast and colon cancers.
At the same time, as with any diet, it has its risks. By eliminating all animal products, vegans run the risk of having deficiencies, specifically when it comes to iron, B12, vitamin D and calcium. Although a short run of the diet might not do significant harm, after about six months, the effects start to make themselves known. Fatigue, migraines, trouble focusing and dizziness are some of the first symptoms to come. But if the problem isn’t rectified, irregular periods, anaemia, inflammation, hair loss and so forth tend to follow.
At a closer look, we can see that many influencers engage in what is better known as “extreme fad diets,” diets where you make extreme changes, such as not eating substantial food for extended periods of time, often in order to lose weight.
The problem, at the end of the day, isn’t veganism. Regular vegans who turn to the diet do so for a variety of reasons involving ethics, the environment and health. When it comes to influencers, some turn to the diet as a way to gain followers and make money. After all, veganism is linked with naturalism, beauty and self-actualisation—all positive elements which influencers could see as engaging followers and adding to their self worth. When we strip away the naturalism and the positivity, sometimes veganism can be coming from a place of orthorexia (an eating disorder that stems from the pursuit of a healthy diet), trend chasing or purely the money and numbers.
At the end of the day, engaging in ‘Meat-Free Mondays’ and ‘Tofu Tuesdays’, consuming less meat and dairy and taking elements of the vegan diet may be a better choice for you.
It doesn’t have to be all or nothing—taking one step at a time is often more sustainable for your health than a big leap.
Considering adding supplements to your diet to meet your nutritional needs —and lastly, don’t be afraid to reach out to other vegans for help!
As a long-term vegan myself, I know that in Australia especially, it’s becoming more accessible than ever to maintain a balanced, healthy and sustainable vegan diet. I’d like to believe that the present is changing, that the benefits of veganism are becoming more widespread and best of all, that the future is becoming vegan.