Interview With an Ex-Vegan: Erim Bilgin

Erim Bilgin was born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey. Unhappy with being overweight at 14, he developed an eating disorder. He fought anorexia for a year before deciding to learn more about health and optimal nutrition, which led him to raw veganism and 30 Bananas a Day — a site for vegans following the low fat raw vegan (LFRV) lifestyle that Dr. Douglas Graham proselytizes. Graham says the optimal macronutrient ratio for humans is 80/10/10: 80 percent of calories from carbohydrates, 10 percent from fat and 10 percent from protein. This means a diet of raw fruits and vegetables, but mostly fruits, a program that Erim obediently followed for three years.

Posting under the alias “Apple-Man,” Erim was a frequent and welcome contributor to the 30 Bananas a Day message board, until he recently quit veganism at the age of 19. Now they don’t much like him in low fat raw vegan land.

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What happened between you being a true-believing 80/10/10 low fat raw vegan and you eating animal products again?

Sickness happened, and as a result, a whole lot of questioning. I really was a true believer in the low fat raw vegan lifestyle. I totally got the message. I believed in it fully. I followed it perfectly for three years, during which my health didn’t really get any better, but for the first two years, it didn’t get any worse either.

About a year and a half into it, I started to get weak, mentally, though this didn’t become apparent to me for years. I was extremely susceptible to stress. Anything would get to me, and I had to learn about self-mastery and breathing techniques and all that shit. It’s funny, because I was saying I was eating a raw vegan diet because it was “natural”, but here I was depending upon all these “unnatural” techniques. It never occurred to me that mental strength should come naturally. I just thought today’s world was too hectic.

I would skip school a lot, because just the thought of getting out of bed made me anxious some days. Speaking of the bed, I also had some difficulty sleeping once in a while around my second year of LFRV. Not only was my sleep too light, I also had difficulty falling asleep, since I had to shift my legs all the time. I would later learn that this is a medical condition called Restless Legs Syndrome, a neurological problem. (I’m looking at you, B-12! Why weren’t you formed in my gut as promised?)

My mood depended entirely on outside conditions. Talk about ups and downs. Cloudy sky meant bad mood. Cold weather meant bad mood. I became addicted to my mp3 player, because I just didn’t have the zest to go through the day without some stimulating rhythm. All this, even though I knew pretty much everything necessary to remain calm and centered. But, like I said, I didn’t acknowledge this as a problem with me, I just thought today’s world was too harsh.

The problems started to become more physical sometime around the first quarter of 2010. My teeth started getting incredibly sensitive, and there were clear signs of heavy acid erosion. I thought the tips of my teeth were always this transparent and that the darkened spots near my gum line were just stains from all the colorful food I was eating. My gums started to recede, I broke a molar by biting a tiny piece of a hazelnut shell by mistake, and a few months later my dentist would find six cavities in my raw vegan mouth. Jokingly, she told me I had “basically every dental problem that we have a name for”. But I was taking batter care of my teeth than ever! I even avoided those acidic animal products! You know, the ones that leech calcium from your bones? I wondered how I remained cavity free before when I didn’t even brush, let alone floss, let alone brush and floss thrice a day. And clean my tongue.

I chalked it up to bad genetics.

I started to get more and more fatigued. I would come home from school (if I ever DID manage to go to school that day), and I’d wonder how people manage to still do things after school. Sure, I exercised regularly, but even that was strange. For the life of me, I couldn’t increase the intensity no matter how hard I tried. It was mostly endurance running, the vegan favorite. And it wasn’t TRAINING, it was only maintenance work. I just couldn’t improve my performance.

Speaking of performance, I also had no sex drive. Now, believe me when I say that there is a difference between LOW sex drive and NO sex drive. Because I had NONE. And it wasn’t just because all girls were evil, smelly, meat-eating murderers either. I was even indifferent to Jenna Dewan Tatum’s PETA ad, so that says something. But it didn’t bother me much. After all, getting rid of those nasty animalistic desires was a bonus!

So all in all, this healthiest lifestyle ever gave me the shining gifts of health: Low energy, pale skin, anxiety and a mouth that looked like battlefield ruins. But I could definitely brag about how my poop didn’t smell, or that my urine was crystal clear! Raw vegan ftw!

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--Tagged under: ExVegan Interviews--

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Interview With an Ex-Vegan: Tasha

Tasha is a writer, lecturer, food rights and women’s rights activist. She was born and raised in Saudi Arabia, living in Saudi her whole life, except while attending university and graduate school in the USA and the UK. She went vegan in 2007 for animal, environment and world hunger reasons, and for three years ran the vegan recipe site The Voracious Vegan, which VegNews magazine named one of the Top 10 Vegan Blogs in 2010.

In November of 2010 she posted an entry called “A Vegan No More,” about leaving veganism because of health issues arising from a diet of zero animal products. It’s no secret that vegans don’t like ex-vegans, but the reaction against Tasha’s defection was especially fierce. Partially this was because her entry was so widely read and effective; many suffering vegans were inspired by Tasha’s entry to question and leave the lifestyle that had previously ensnared them with its claims to moral obligation. Even worse from the vegan standpoint was that Tasha wasn’t apologetic about her change. She did not think she had become a worse person by giving up vegan-ordained Compassion™, and in fact saw virtues to her new way of living that went beyond nutrition.

But that was two months ago. Has a combination of soul-searching and vegan death threats brought Tasha back to her senses? Let’s find out.  

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How could you go from being so passionate about veganism to publicly and defiantly leaving it?

Many people mistakenly think my abandonment of veganism was an overnight decision, when in reality it was anything but. I had been feeling very sick and weak for a while, but when I went to the doctor they took blood and told me it was normal. I remember telling myself to ignore my deteriorating physical condition and celebrate the ‘hard proof’ that I was healthy and well. I trumpeted the good news to friends and family and gave all the credit to my ‘healthy vegan diet’.

It wasn’t until a few weeks later, after talking to a nurse friend, that I learned the basic blood panels for expats that I had thought to be comprehensive only check white blood cell count, cholesterol levels and not much else. So, I found another doctor and went through the process of requesting a thorough examination and insisting upon a complete blood panel. When I got the results and saw the deficiencies, I was devastated. I felt like such a failure.

It took me months of visiting doctor after doctor, feeling weak, depressed and miserable, before I finally made a change. I think many vegans underestimate just how life changing it can be to go through such a serious health crisis. I had been robustly healthy for my entire life up until then, so this complete physical deterioration was extremely devastating. Once I finally decided that I deserved to be healthy and embraced an omnivorous diet, my health returned within two months.

During this experience I was inevitably forced to rethink my ethics. After all, if some people need to eat animals and animal products to be healthy, how can it be so wrong? I was working closely with my friends and colleagues in the food rights community, global south advocates, agronomists, farmers and environmentalists as I reexamined and restructured my belief system. I found out that I had been mistaken about many of my previous beliefs, and realized that veganism had not only made me ill, but had also been an ineffective strategy for accomplishing my goals. So, what to the casual observer may appear to have been a dramatic, overnight decision was actually a very long and arduous process of regaining my health and reevaluating my beliefs.

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Interview With an Ex-Vegan: Royce Drake (aka The Abomination)

Vegans of Color has always stood out in the vegan blog world by going beyond a singular focus on the exploitation of animals and exploring speciesism within the context of the interconnectedness of all oppression. It is the least predictable vegan blog I’ve read, but late last year there were a couple of entries that particularly grabbed my attention. In “Absolutely Vegan, Absolutely Anthrocentric?" and "What if Plants Have Secret Lives?”, Royce Drake — one of Vegans of Color’s contributors — seriously considered questions that vegans usually avoid or dismiss as laughable. I wrote an entry about my impressions and concluded: “Do I sense the rumblings of a future ex-vegan itching to burst through that vegan cocoon?”

Royce provided an answer to that question last week with his final post on Vegans of Color: “So Long VoC”. He now writes The Non-Practicing Vegan, which — after only a few days of existence — has already become one of the most fascinating blogs about food and ethics that I’ve read.

Royce graduated from Vassar College with a BA in English and is currently working as a faith-based volunteer at a crisis center for homeless youth in Philadelphia. He also writes fiction and essays in the hopes of one day paying bills with words. Based on his work at Vegans of Color, The Non-Practicing Vegan and afronautical, I’m optimistic.

What got you into veganism?

I had always really loved animals. Probably the biggest influence on me approaching the idea of the animal was K.A. Applegate’s Animorphs and the Dr. Doolittle books. By the time I was seven I had stopped eating pork, all on my own. And by ten I didn’t eat red meat. At twelve I became a vegetarian to impress this girl in my class.

What got me into veganism was a combination of reading Peter Singer and Carol J. Adams in high school, as well as trying to impress some vegan cutie. At the time I liked the political statement that veganism made and being lacto-ovo was becoming sort of boring. Not that I’ve been a pure vegan since then, I’ve done my fair share of dumpster diving dairy (and occasionally meat). And I stopped being vegan a couple of times before but was racked with guilt and immediately returned to being vegan.

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Interview With an Ex-Vegan: Denise Minger

Do you think animal products have a useful contribution to make toward human health? If so, you clearly haven’t read Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s “The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted And the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, And Long-term Health.” The “startling implications” eluded to in the title come down to this: any and every form of animal product consumed in any amount whatsoever is bad for us. Veganism, it turns out, is the optimal human diet. 

Along with the American Dietetic Association’s position papers on a vegetarian diet, studies on Adventists and the anecdotal cases of successful vegan athletes and body builders, “The China Study” is key to the argument that veganism is not only a healthy way to live, but may in fact be the healthiest. Vegan authorities swear by this book. People go vegan because of it. If “The China Study” were discredited, it would be a significant setback for veganism.

And that’s why some vegans don’t appreciate that Denise Minger, a 23-year-old former raw vegan, seems to have done just that.

This summer, Denise applied her interest in statistics and research to either a good or evil cause — depending on where you stand — by thoroughly dismantling Campbell’s bid at scientific immortality. In a series of entries on her blog Raw Food SOS, Denise demonstrated that Campbell’s anti-animal-product conclusions in his 2005 book did not match the data from his own research.

Always eager to defend his life’s work from uppity pro-meat subversives, Campbell posted a short rebuttal via a vegan blogger. Denise spent her next turn on "The China Study: My Response to Campbell". Campbell then penned a lengthier second response, which inspired Denise’s "The China Study: A Formal Analysis and Response". So far Campbell has kept any further protestations to himself.

Campbell critics say that his responses didn’t address most of Denise’s key points. Vegans tended to side with Campbell, however, sometimes for reasons as basic as ‘I am a vegan and Campbell defends veganism.’ As one vegan wrote: “So, whilst [Denise’s] work is impressive for the amount of time and effort she’s put in, as a vegan I am, not surprisingly, very firmly sat in Dr Colin Campbell’s camp. I just believe Dr Campbell.”

But some vegans found Denise’s critique harder dismiss. Tynan, the blogger who posted Campbell’s first response, was one of them — he abandoned veganism two weeks after reading her initial China Study entries. Denise Minger may not be the worst calamity ever to befall veganism (that honor goes to Gary L. Francione), but vegans who rely on the health argument to drum up new converts have cause for concern.

When Denise isn’t tap dancing all over everything T. Colin Campbell has done with the past two or three decades of his life, she is a freelance editor, tutor, writer and web/graphic designer who likes art, hiking and Scrabble.

But let’s see how the tap dancing is going. 

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You gave up meat at the age of seven because it repulsed you. Did you ever have ethical reasons, or was it always pure disgust?

As I got older, I definitely cozied up with the ethical reasons. Once you start associating with other veg people and watching the “Meet your Meat” PETA videos, it’s kind of hard not to jump on the ethical vegan bandwagon. I always loved animals anyway. And I still vehemently oppose factory farming.

Plus, vegetarianism and veganism totally have their own gravitational force. Once you put a meatless philosophy at the core of your life, you start reeling in everything possible to support that — health arguments, ethical arguments, environmental arguments, sustainability arguments, etc. — until you convince yourself that avoiding animal foods is the only “right” way to live life. I think it’s really hard to be a vegan solely for health reasons or solely for ethical reasons, because eventually, all the pro-vegan arguments smoosh together into one giant ball of virtuous delusion. That was my experience, at least.

How did you talk yourself out of the ethics of veganism when you started eating raw dairy and then eventually meat?

The dairy wasn’t too hard because I sourced it from small farms where I could investigate how the animals were treated. But with fish/meat, it wasn’t really a matter of talking myself out of anything — I was really unhealthy and probably on the verge of some total breakdown anyway. I had no conscious plans of ever eating meat again, but during an end-of-the-semester potluck in college, someone brought a platter of sushi and sashimi — and in a strange fit of compulsion, I shoved a bunch of salmon into my mouth. It was amazing. I was buzzing afterward and was physically satisfied in I way I hadn’t felt for many years.

So it wasn’t a matter of deliberately revising my ethical stance. It was more like ethics vs. biology jumped into a boxing ring together, and biology clobbered my vegan tunnel vision into smithereens.

I know there are vegans who’ll read that and think I was just weak/evil/etc., but when you spend a long time feeling crummy and then find a missing piece that makes the crummy go away — well, that’s a persuasive moment.

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Interview With an Ex-Vegan: Tovar Cerulli

Tovar Cerulli is an ex-vegan turned hunter who writes the blog A Mindful Carnivore. But isn’t “mindful carnivore” a contradiction in terms, like… “Ethical Butcher”?

Even some meat eaters see hunting as barbaric, but it doesn’t take much time on Cerulli’s blog to figure out that he didn’t give up compassion and thoughtfulness when he left veganism. In entries such as Reverberations of a Kill, Cerulli describes the conflict he feels over killing to live — he doesn’t treat hunting as the giddy bloodsport that some vegans imagine it to be (and which, for some hunters, it is).

A comment Cerulli wrote on “Reverberations of a Kill” explains his position succinctly:

I don’t need absolute proof of, or perfect understanding of, animal suffering to make me take it seriously and to avoid doing unnecessary harm. If I felt that continuing to be a vegan (as I was for 10 years) could (1) give me full bodily health and (2) truly avoid causing harm to animals or their habitats, I don’t think I’d be eating animals or hunting today. In a sense, my hunting is underpinned by the same values that made me a vegetarian.

Cerulli is currently working on a book that—based on his journey from veganism to hunting—explores the ethics, ecology and spirituality of human-nature-food relationships.

Tovar Cerulli

(photo courtesy of Tovar Cerulli)

What got you into veganism?

I grew up fishing, and eating just about anything and everything. In my late teens, I started eating less beef and pork simply because I’d heard and read that excess red meat was unhealthy. And my girlfriend at the time was vegetarian, as were her parents and sisters, so I was learning more about other ways of eating.

When I was twenty, I had an experience with a trout I caught. In the moment of killing it, I realized its death hadn’t been necessary. I could have eaten something else. That was the end of my flesh-eating.

Not long after that, I eliminated eggs and dairy, too. My concerns, like those of so many vegans, were both ethical and ecological: the mistreatment and confinement of animals, the impact of livestock operations on the environment, and the use of farmland to grow animal feed instead of food for hungry humans.

After a while, I couldn’t think of any reason for me or other humans to eat eggs or dairy products, let alone flesh of any kind.

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Interview With an Ex-Vegan: Heather W. Rudúlph

Heather is the co-founder and editor of SirensMag, which is where I saw her article Lessons Learned from a Vegan Diet, about how her month-long experiment with veganism influenced her eating habits for the better. But what most caught my eye was her reference to having been raised vegan.

One of my great fears is to be reincarnated into a vegan family (of course that assumes I won’t come back as a factory farm pig as punishment for eating meat), but if Heather was still flirting with veganism as a freewheeling adult, her childhood diet must not have completely traumatized her.

Nevertheless, I decided to ask her about it.  

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How long were you a vegan as a child? Did it start in the womb? 

I believe it did start in the womb, as it was a lifestyle choice my parents had made several years prior. I remained vegan until around age 11, when my parents began introducing dairy products back into our diets. Eventually fish and poultry followed. I think the reasons had to do with convenience and cost more than anything. We were a big family—six kids—and it wasn’t as easy to find protein substitutes back then. I can still remember what soy milk circa 1980s tastes like: gritty, grainy, sour and just… bleah.

My mother and I remained the mostly-vegetarians in our household the longest—I never wanted to have anything to do with red meat and I eschewed most animal protein. In high school, I made the personal, political decision to be a strict vegetarian, a lifestyle I retained until my late 20s. I started eating fish basically on doctor’s orders. I was anemic and needed a better source of iron and protein. I maintain a mostly pescatarian diet to this day.

What were your parents’ reasons for raising you vegan?

It was the 1970s in Southern California. They were definitely hippies. However, as they explained our diet to me, their reasons seemed to be a mix between ethical beliefs and good health. My father was interested in organic farming—in fact, we had quite the mini crop in our backyard—and holistic medicine. It all just went together.

What was your childhood diet like?

Lots of mashed things: root vegetables, peanut butter, avocado, beans, apple sauce, and fruits and veggies of all kinds. I’m so thankful I developed a taste for all vegetables at a young age—turnips, kale and beets, even! There was also pasta, rice and early forms of soy protein. Again, the formulations weren’t all that great back then. Tofu was soggy and mushy, and imitation meat products more closely resembled fabric than the proteins they were emulating.

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Interview With an Ex-Adventist: Sondra

I found Sondra while researchingmy entry about the recent mood study on Seventh-Day Adventists, which found that vegetarian Adventists were in a slightly better mood than their meat-eating brethren. Sondra is an ex-Adventist who now blogs about her new faith at 8thDay4Life. In her entry SDA Health Message, she wrote:

I cannot find any scriptural foundation for teaching that your choice of diet and level of health will affect your ability to be holy.  The Seventh-day Adventist church, from its very origins, has made this a monumental issue.  Ellen White presented this as a vital part of process of sanctification, without which your very soul could be in danger.  I heard more than once as an Adventist that the health message was the “right arm of the gospel” and this avenue is often used to gain proselytes, using health seminars as a way to get their foot in the front door of people’s acceptance. 

We left the SDA church several years ago, but long after we left I was still absolutely convinced a vegan diet was the most healthy, even if I wasn’t following the regimen.  I had constant guilt and fear that I was damaging my health by eating animal products. 

This seemed to go along with what I was getting from my research — because Adventists believe that God vouches for the healthfulness of vegetarianism, Adventist scientists and study subjects are biased and any study involving them is on a shaky ground. But I am an outsider when it comes to Seventh-Day Adventism; I interviewed Sondra to see if I was on the right track.

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Why exactly do Seventh-Day Adventists (SDAs) believe that vegetarianism is the proper diet for mankind?

They believe this mainly because [Adventist prophet] Ellen G. White said it was. As scriptural evidence, they point out it was given at Creation to Adam and Eve, therefore it was God’s original intent and highest wisdom regarding health. Also they use the story of Daniel and his friends who ate no meat and were wiser and healthier than the other young men being trained in Babylon after the exile — total disregard for the Jewish context there, and the miraculous nature of the story.

They also often refer to modern methods of meat production as cruel and unhealthy, which is true, but not a reason to not eat meat at all. 

SDAs often see vegetarianism as a way to show their devotion to God and church; if you do eat meat as an SDA, you may be viewed by the veg*an SDAs as less spiritual. (It is a diverse community, so I’m just speaking for the majority of situations). They believe Ellen G. White heard from God, so to disobey her is to disobey God. They will not admit they place her on this level of authority, but this is the common practice.

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Interview With an Ex-Vegan: Devon Crosby Helms

After a vegan blog called me out for claiming that nobody becomes vegan purely for athletic purposes, I realized I could stand to learn a little more about vegan athletes. But then, my biases being what they are, I thought it might be even more interesting to learn about ex-vegan athletes. So I interviewed Devon Crosby Helms, a runner who tried out veganism and vegetarianism until she discovered that meat improves her athletic performance.

Devon Runs

Why did you become a vegan athlete?

I never set out to become vegan. When I was in a holistic natural chef program in 2007, we were focusing on a strongly vegetarian diet and I was learning to cook all sorts of fun vegetarian and vegan dishes. I realized one day that I hadn’t been eating animal products for a whole month and I felt really good, so I decided that my body was responding to a vegan diet, and therefore I would make it into my lifestyle.

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Interview With an Ex-Vegan: Jessica Pelkey

What happens when you are the first of your vegan friends to betray the cause? Will your friends accept and love you despite your return to selfish eating? Or might there be a little judgment of your ethical failure?

I was lucky in a sense. I was one of the last holdouts in my group of vegan friends, so by the time I finally put myself before the animals, my friends were more likely to be happy than to hate me.

That was not the case for Jessica Pelkey. 

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What was your diet like before you became vegan?

I was raised on standard American fare. My mother made staples like ground beef tater-tot casserole, chicken enchiladas with the spice packet, tacos, open-face hot turkey sandwiches, and peaches from a can. I started drinking coffee when I was 11 and drank soda on a daily basis. In high school, I became very aware of what I ate and tried dearly to be anorexic or bulimic. I didn’t accomplish either and instead felt guilty about everything I ate. Shortly after graduating high school I stopped drinking coffee and soda altogether.

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letthemeatmeat: “I’m not sure how much philosophy is behind my inconsistent attempts to reduce animal suffering while still eating them. Maybe I could say that instead of the vegan idea of ‘least harm,’ my philosophy is ‘somewhat less harm.’ Yet I’m looking forward to eating live octopus while visiting New York.”

That’s from my interview at Melissa McEwen’s blog, Hunt.Gather.Love. After I interviewed Melissa a couple of weeks ago about veganism and the paleo diet, she thought that I too might have some things to say about veganism, so she interviewed me back.

If you haven’t read Melissa’s blog yet, now is a good time to start. But a better time to start would have been on December 23, 2009. So don’t just read my interview. Go back and read everything in the archives too!

--Tagged under: ExVegan Interviews--

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