Monday, March 11, 2024

The End of Veganism, from Losing My Religions

I’m a level-five vegan.

I don’t eat anything that casts a shadow.
Jesse Grass to Lisa Simpson, mocking her mere vegetarianism

When the weather turned briefly cooler a while back, Anne and I did a taste-test of the Beyond Meat chicken tenders versus Impossible Foods’ chicken nuggets. I blogged about this and posted the blog on social media. (Excerpt from blog: On Beyond's package, they loudly say “NO GMO’s.” I remember listening to multiple interviews with Beyond’s Ethan Brown, who said, “People tell us they don’t want GMOs.” I have to say, with all due respect, you are talking to the wrong people, Mr. Brown. What people want is cheap meat. Full stop.)

The picture that came along with those social posts was a bag of the Impossible Foods nuggets, winner of the taste test. (Anne still prefers Gardein’s.) That picture prompted some vegans to think that the best use of their time was to angrily comment about how Impossible’s products AREN’T VEGAN! This is because their plant-derived heme – the ingredient Impossible uses to give their beef products that slight “metallic,” bloody taste – had been tested on animals so it could be approved by the FDA.

So: Animal killing that is somehow connected to a company at any point = all their products are NOT VEGAN!

But of course, harvesting “vegan” food kills many animals. Rodent control programs on farms growing vegan food and in facilities producing vegan food kill many animals. Trucks transporting products kill many animals. And so on.

I briefly tried to reply constructively. (“I understand that you’re upset about this. But I don’t care if something is vegan. I only care about what can actually help a lot of animals.”) As is always the case, engaging enrages them further.

Of course, NOT VEGAN Impossible Foods has helped many animals by producing products chosen by people who would otherwise eat animal meat. But it sure hasn’t made them popular with (many) vegans. (“The Impossible Burger Debate Was A Test For Vegans, And We Failed.”)
“Vegans or animals” is what ended my career. “Vegans or animals” was the driving force behind our current very non-vegan organization, One Step for Animals. I’ve seen this dynamic for the 35 years since I first stopped eating animals. It took me quite a while to recognize it, being in the vegan bubble myself. But if looked at objectively and without personal ego invested or identity involved (which is not easy) the reality is clear:

Veganism has been terminally poisoned by people obsessed with protecting their vegan identity.

For this very vocal and visible minority – and yes, it is only a minority of vegans – veganism is only about them and defending their strict rules of being “vegan.” (Or “Vegan,” as some write it.)

At least this is true in the United States. From my time in Germany, for example, it doesn’t seem to be the case there. While editing this chapter, I came across Kenny Torrella’s “How Germany is kicking its meat habit” at Vox. But Deutschland shows the “unintended consequences” of focusing on meat instead of animals: Although per-capita meat consumption is down there, each German is consuming one more factory-farmed animal than ten years ago [2022]. That means that despite a large drop in meat consumption, many millions more animals are suffering on factory farms. Not cool.

Another perfect example of (some) vegans caring about themselves über alles:

One: Publicly refuse to eat animals – live vegan

Two: Publicly refuse to sit where people are eating animals

Three: Encourage others to take the pledge

–The Liberation Pledge

Doesn’t that say it all? “Publicly refuse to sit where people are eating animals.” So it isn’t just about the purity of what you consume, but also the purity of anything you see.

Of course, this removes opportunities to actually help animals, because the only way to actually help animals is by being with non-vegans and persuading them to take animals into consideration.

The Liberation Pledge is only one example. My pal Ken recently suggested I listen to an interview with a “vegan advocate” he thought I’d like. In the interview, it was all “advocating veganism,” “promoting veganism,” “making veganism mainstream,” “repeating the case for veganism over and over.” The advocate went on to say his new book was going to be the comprehensive and irrefutable case for veganism.

If only someone had thought of that before.

I wonder how many vegan advocates actually listen to what they are saying. It is all about promoting their diet, their lifestyle, their beliefs. Not actually about animals.

Back in 2016, I was excommunicated from the national animal rights conference and fired from my full-time job. My sin? Quoting, with source, what celebrity chef Anthony Bordain said about vegans. With all the suffering in the world, and all the many people allowing and even perpetuating this cruelty, it was a founder of One Step for Animals who became the bête noire for Gary and his fellow fanatics.

In case it isn’t clear: I did not say anything bad about vegans. I was merely noting what a famous celebrity said about vegans. And for that, I was banned.

That is truly some insecure theocratic bullshit.

How to win friends and influence people.

Paul and I have a saying: The biggest impediment to the spread of veganism is vegans. While I was writing this today, he sent me yet another news story to prove it: A vegan saying drinking pee as the key to longevity. (There was once a table at Vegetarian Summerfest promoting this.)

Don’t get me started.

Over a quarter century ago, our Best Man Mark said, “I grow weary of the term ‘vegan.’ It has just become a label for moral superiority.” And he said this after being a founding board member of our national vegan group.

You might wonder why I’m so strident in my attack on the vegan fanatics, especially since I’m on good drugs and supposedly so mindful.

It is because I helped create them.

Of course, even before Jayne went on her crusade, some vegans have hated me. Eventually, even my long-time best pal turned on me for annoying the Vegan Police. But despite all my efforts to make the focus actually helping animals, I did spend two decades working every day to build up a “vegan” group.


It would be one thing if “vegan first, vegan only” was actually helping animals. But if promoting veganism worked – if the next leaflet, book, video, movie, website was really going to make a difference – we would have seen it by now.

How do I know? Because I did the projections.

​Decades ago, I calculated what would happen if every vegan converted just one other person every five years. Have we seen anything like that? No. When Animal Charity Evaluators did the most thorough metastudy of surveys about vegetarianism and veganism, they found: “Around 1% of adults both self-identify as vegetarians and report never consuming meat. [This is important because many people call themselves “vegetarian” but still eat meat.] It seems that this percentage has not changed substantially since the mid-1990s.” [The mid-1990s being when we started our vegan group.]

What I didn’t realize when I built those projections was that the vast majority of people who “go vegan” subsequently quit veganism. Unbiased surveys show that over 80% revert. (And then, of course, spend the rest of their lives badmouthing veganism.)

Why? One survey of former vegans found that the top reason for quitting was that they couldn’t take the pressure to maintain the level of purity demanded by other vegans. Again, vegans are “the greatest impediment” to the growth of veganism.

But really, vegans don’t matter. It is irrelevant how many vegans there are.

The only thing that matters is how much suffering there is.

Think about it. If you were to promote a position that would lead to more suffering than an alternative, would you do so? There might be strange edge cases, but choosing to create more suffering than an available alternative strikes me as pretty much the very definition of immoral.

And on that measure, the world has gotten way worse for non-human animals since Anne and I stopped eating animals and co-founded a group promoting veganism. On average, every person in the United States eats more animals today than ever before in history. This is true globally as well. Those are the simple, bottom-line facts, the facts that all vegan advocates have to answer for.

Everything I’ve learned indicates the United States would be a better place for animals if we ended veganism.

Not that you should eat animal products. (You can, as we’ll get to. [Later in the book.]) But we should never utter or use the word “vegan” again.

Still think we need to promote “vegan”? A 2017 survey found that vegans are viewed more negatively than atheists, immigrants, homosexuals, and asexuals. The only group viewed more negatively than vegans is drug addicts. Another 2017 survey found, “Meat-eaters are being put off going veggie because of certain aggressive vegans.” In 2018 – the year I stopped collecting these stories – researchers found that “vegan” is the single worst word you can possibly use to describe a product – worse than “diet,” “sugar-free,” or “low-calorie.”

As a long-time reader noted:
I’ve become almost embarrassed to say I’m vegan ... not because of what it stands for, but because of the negative impression people have been left with due to other vegans and their negative behavior and words.

I talk about this more, with many documenting links and graphs, in my 2017 post, “How Vegans Hurt Animals.” In that blog, I go into more about why vegans are so unpopular. (Tl;dr: It is because they are [justifiably] rage-filled and just can’t get past that.) It is my second-most-popular post of all time, having been hate-linked by many vegans in their ongoing campaigns against me.

Think about it this way: If we want to help animals, why would we use – let alone promote – a word that has such negative baggage? A word that makes people think of pee drinkers, screamers in restaurants, and terrorists. (The latter is what Anthony Bourdain called them.)

What reason could there be to use that word? What possible reason, other than an unwillingness to put helping animals first?

So what is the alternative?

We could and should put the focus entirely and always on the others who need our help.

I certainly don’t think it would hurt if we were all “animal advocates” instead of “vegans” or “vegan advocates.” Never talk about ourselves, never talk about our diet, never talk about our rules or dogma.

It should never be about us.

And of course, I say this as a person who cofounded Animal Liberation Action but allowed the name to be changed to be about veganism instead.


PS: Since it is unlikely everyone will take my advice above, a variety of admirable people are working to support current vegans, in part to lower the recidivism rate and also change the public’s view of vegans. World of Vegan is the prime exemplar of this.

PPS: In case it isn’t clear, I’m not “Vegan.” I’ll outsource this to Vincent, the head of One Step for Animals, Australia, who blogs at

Even if all vegans were nice and friendly, the point of my article is that veganism in itself as a movement is not something I want to be a part of. A broader, more inclusive approach focusing more on the animals and less on every detail of an individual’s current lifestyle is more effective. Either way, [veganism] remains nothing but a tool amongst many that can be used against speciesism, for animal rights. It isn’t a goal, and it shouldn’t be a dogma (a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true).

“I have called myself a vegan and worked at changing veganism, but I have come to the conclusion that veganism is what it is and that it is a closed club, which is detrimental when it turns it into a rigid dogmatic venture based on personal purity and exclusion. Veganism as a movement to fight speciesism is not something I embrace or even condone any more.

“I still don’t consume sentient animals and their by-products and I still want to encourage others to do likewise, in a friendly and pragmatic manner. Promoting an animal-friendly lifestyle is a tool, not an end.”


Or, as Margaret Atwood put it on Ezra Klein’s podcast:
Is it about how virtuous you are?
Or is it about actually trying to better conditions?

Find the rest of the book at

Also published on One Step for Animals' website

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