I had written some notes on this topic a while back, but I lost them, so here goes nothing.
You might have guessed from the topic of this post that I was going to write about why the vegan diet is not nutritionally adequate. That actually isn’t the main reason why I think being vegan can be bad for you, although I do have my doubts about its nutritional optimality. It seems that the only people who are totally confident that a vegan diet can work for everyone (or almost everyone) are practicing vegans with vested interests in other people being vegan too, for moral or environmental reasons usually. But eating vegan is surely better than the “Standard American Diet” that most people are already eating, so even it is isn’t the optimal diet, you probably will still come out ahead health-wise.
Actually, I am concerned that being vegan can be bad for you for social reasons, in three ways.
First, it can keep you from enjoying social situations as much as you should. Weddings, banquets, lunches with coworkers, pizza parties… they all start to look less fun and more stressful. You have to carry emergency snacks in case you ending up eating somewhere like a southern “home cooking”-type restaurant where everything is covered in butter and/or bacon fat, and you end up eating meals of side salads with vinaigrette and white rice while everyone else indulges. But, this problem is generally surmountable if you plan ahead, as more and more restaurants and events offer veg-friendly fare these days.
Second, being vegan can affect how other people treat you. Your friends and family might give you a hard time for interrogating a waiter about a dish’s ingredients. They might ask you if you have an eating disorder (while it’s true that eating disorders often masquerade as legitimate diets, there are many vegetarians and vegans who do not in fact have one). They might make hurtful and/or excessively many jokes about your diet. But, again, this problem is generally surmountable, assuming that your friends and family are minimally reasonable people and you do your best to deal with them in a calm and rational way.
Third and, I think, most importantly, being vegan can easily cause you to view others in a negative light to the extent that it harms your valuable relationships with them. Vegan propaganda information tends to use very violent imagery of the treatment of food-producing animals in order to motivate people to become vegan. This kind of information, to the extent that it is motivating for a person, tends to stick with her. As a result, it is easy to begin to see your non-vegan friends and family members as morally worse than they really are, and to dwell on this fact. Vegan groups sometimes emphasize the goal of bringing about a totally vegan society. This can make a vegan feel like she is part of a small, privileged group that “sees the light,” so to speak, and that everyone else is morally depraved (perhaps an analogous situation is early abolitionists in a slave owning society). But, the truth of the matter is that the vast majority of people have no desire for animals to suffer. They are just ignorant to the facts of food animal production, or think that their dietary needs outweigh the suffering inflicted on the animals. Viewing one’s friends and family as akin to Nazis, slave owners, or torturers with their victims on their plates at dinner needlessly drives a wedge between you and them. Being vegan might make a person feel morally pure, but achieving such a status within a world of unconcerned omnivores becomes alienating.
Of course, I speak only from personal experience. I don’t have excellent reason to believe that my experience has been either typical or atypical for a vegan apostate. But, personally, I found the vegan lifestyle, with its emphasis on purity from animal products, emotionally and socially taxing in a way that was incompatible with my maximal well-being in the long term. Combined with some lingering nutritional doubts, I arrived at the all things considered judgment to move back towards a vegetarian/“flexitarian” diet. Now, I firmly believe that it is possible to eat in good conscience without the vegan label and baggage. To wrap up this series on my adventures in vegetarianism, next time I’ll write a little about what I eat these days, and why.