This post is prompted by the recent news that Miley Cyrus is no longer vegan, which she revealed on Joe Rogan’s podcast, but is a response to the consistent trend I see of people claiming that a vegan who stops being vegan was never a vegan to begin with. I want to talk about why that doesn’t make sense.
Let’s clarify the claim people are making. It goes something like:
If someone seems to be an ethical vegan (vegan because they think animal exploitation and/or suffering is wrong), but at some point in the future they start eating animal products again, then they were never an ethical vegan to begin with, they were just plant-based (meaning they didn’t eat animal products but were never an ethical vegan).
First, I don’t think this is how human minds work. We are not perfect rational actors, and we do weird things that don’t make sense all the time. We also change our minds a lot. I think it is absolutely possible for someone to fully believe that purchasing animal products is wrong, and to later change their mind on that. Why wouldn’t it be? It’s possible to change your mind in the opposite direction (indeed, that’s how most of us became vegan). It might seem unfathomable to me to consume animal products for pleasure again, but that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible.
Someone told me that they would die before eating animal products again. I note that Cyrus said something similar. If someone says that they would die before being friends with someone of another race, but then they reject their racist ways, does that mean they were never really racist, or has their character changed?
Misinformation, pressure and a lot of other factors lead well meaning people to think and do some strange things which are against their prior values and beliefs.
I don’t know the specifics behind Cyrus’ backflip, and to be honest I don’t care, but it seems disingenuous to say that she was definitely never vegan. Maybe she actually was never an ethical vegan, and only promoted ethical vegan and animal rights messages because it suited her image. But to say this is definitely the case without proof doesn’t make sense.
Let’s say it’s impossible for someone to be an ethical vegan for 10 years and then start eating animal products again. If that were the case, there would have to be a way to tell whether someone is plant-based, not just vegan, in a way that doesn’t require the retrospective judgement. To put that another way, how can you tell that a current ‘ethical vegan’ is actually just plant-based, if they haven’t started eating animal products again?
What’s the effect of the vegan community thinking that all ex-vegans were never really vegan to begin with? I have no idea. Maybe it makes the community look dogmatic and off-putting, or maybe it encourages people to not change their mind. But I know that it just doesn’t make sense, unless there is something I’m missing.