Fast food, cook in minutes, in-and-out—we are a culture that has long relied on quick and efficient environments, most especially when it comes to what we eat. The results of this culture have taken food production out of the hands of individuals and into the hands of the businesses that provide the masses with processed food.
It is not a mystery that processed food is not good for us, but in a recent report from the World Health Organization, it is clearly stated that processed meat is actually bad for us. This report has many people thinking that it is time for us to go back to our roots and embrace a diet that reflects a period before food was made in a factory. So, are we heading towards the vegan diet?
Ellen DeGeneres, Ariana Grande, Carrie Underwood, and even Beyoncé and Jay-Z have all embraced the vegan diet, otherwise known as a plant-based diet, at some point in time. This diet entails forgoing meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy products in order to promote a lifestyle that boasts numerous health benefits, disease prevention, and positive environmental effects.
It is suggested that the US has become a nation of “food tribes,” or communities formed around various diets. We can see the popularization of food tribes most distinctly through analyzing social media. According to Food Business News, these diets include veganism, vegetarianism, Paleo, “raw-til-4,” gluten free, and many more.
So when we observe these health risks associated with the typical American diet and are looking for alternatives, such as veganism, on social media, what are we really seeing? Are we seeing the possible longevity, the increased energy, the lower cholesterol and blood pressure? Generally not. We see beautiful celebrities, amateur fitness gurus, and Instagram models who have chosen to exclude animal products from their diet. Let’s face it; they have made veganism sexy. Beautiful, skinny women are the face of the vegan diet that the population sees on social media.
Currently about 5% of the US population identifies as vegetarian, with about half of those vegetarians being vegan. While that may seem like a small number, Nutrition Business Journal reports that the number of vegans in the US has doubled since 2009. This kind of exponential growth is impressive, but it also serves as evidence that veganism can be classified as a fad. Many people may jump on board for a week, a month, or even several years before finding themselves turning their backs on this simplified diet.
The “Balanced Blond,” formally the “Blond Vegan,” Jordan Younger, revealed in an interview with New York Post that her vegan diet eventually transformed into an obsession. It became less about her own health or ethics and instead became a fixation on her own identity as a vegan in order to maintain an image for social media. The then-23-year-old dropped a significant amount of weight and suffered other numerous health concerns. Younger developed orthorexia, an eating disorder which the National Eating Disorders Association classifies as a “righteous fixation with healthy eating.” Instead of acknowledging her own needs for her body, Younger set strict outlines for herself in order to be a part of the vegan community. By going even farther and becoming a face for the vegan community through her Instagram and blog “The Blonde Vegan,” she continued to put up positive images and posts to social media accounts despite the fact that she was suffering severely because she had to stay loyal to the 70,000 followers that were watching her every move.
A problem with the veganism movement, or any diet that gives a strict outline of what you can and cannot eat, is that it is very specific and we as individuals are unique. Mentally and physically, people all have different needs. For Jordan Younger, veganism and the act of turning toward completely unprocessed, natural foods, worked as a catalyst to trigger a part of her personality that was obsessive. It took control and she developed an unhealthy relationship with food. Her followers couldn’t see that because physically, Younger was pretty, skinny, blonde, and generally appeared to be very happy. Social media has the power to manipulate the image of Younger and other vegans in the public eye and give the impression of something that may not be truthful about veganism.
For veganism to feasibly work as a diet for everyone, it cannot be rigid. It requires allowance for modifications and in that case, it may not be true veganism. A plant-based diet can be an excellent choice for some as a method for improving health and lessening the effects of processed foods on the environment, but to focus heavily on the images of veganism on social media can have harmful effects on both mental and physical health. Balance is the key element when embracing a plant-based diet in the modern world.