Lapsed Vegetarians or, Return of the Meat-Eaters

If you are anything like me, you love bacon.  I’m fixin’ to become a member of the bacon of the month club, that’s how much I love it.  If you are nothing like me, you could be a vegetarian.  If you are a vegetarian, statistically speaking chances are that you are a woman.  You probably stopped eating our four-legged friends for ethical reasons and you’ll probably be a carnivore again in no time. 

There is a growing and undeniable trend out there that vegetarians, and even some vegans, are resuming the consumption of animal products.  Studies show that ex-vegetarians outnumber current vegetarians by a ratio of three to one, suggesting that 75% of vegetarians lapse.  It seems that for most people, vegetarianism is a phase rather than a permanent change in lifestyle. Why?

Hal Herzog, Ph.D. and Morgan Childers wanted to know why.  They set up a website that included a survey related to eating.  “Then we put out a call for ex-vegetarians through Internet sites devoted to topics like health, nutrition, and the treatment of animals”, said Herzog.  Seventy-seven lapsed vegetarians took the survey.  The majority who replied were women, their average age was 28 and they had been vegetarians for an average of nine years before they returned to their meat eating ways.

So…what made these people give up meat in the first place?  The short answer is:  it was a variety of reasons.  The most common reasons were ethical concerns about the treatment of animals (57%), followed by health and environmental reasons (15% each). Fewer people stopped eating meat because they did not like the taste of animal flesh or because of social pressure from friends, spouses, etc.

What made them return to their omnivorous ways?  Reasons fell into one of five categories:  health, hassle, cravings, social and ethical.  A full thirty-five percent of participants indicated that declining health was the main reason they reverted back to eating flesh.  To quote one participant, “I was very weak and sickly. I felt horrible even though I ate a good variety of foods like PETA said to.”  Another states, “My doctor recommended that I eat some form of meat as I was not getting any better. I thought it would be hypocritical of me to just eat chicken and fish as they are just as much an animal as a cow or pig. So I went from no meat to all meat.”  One particularly blunt fellow said, “I will take a dead cow over anemia any time.”

Why did they find vegetarianism to be a hassle?  One quarter of the ex-veggies complained that it was difficult to find high quality organic vegetables in their local supermarkets at a reasonable price.  Some started to resent the time it took to prepare meatless dishes and others said they simply grew tired of the lifestyle.

One reason given by 15% of the respondents for going back to meat eating was that vegetarianism was taking a toll on their social life.  Consider this piece (Animal, Vegetable, Miserable) by Bucknell University philosophy professor and my next- town- over neighbor Dr. Gary Steiner.   In it he describes his personal experience with giving up the consumption of animal products.   He wrote in regards to his diet, “What were once the most straightforward activities become a constant ordeal.”

About one in five of the people involved in the study mentioned above went back to meat eating for what I’ll call irresistible urges.  This occurred even among some long-term vegetarians.  Participants talked about their cravings and how the smell of sizzling bacon would drive them crazy.  One, for example, said “I just felt hungry all the time and that hunger would not be satisfied unless I ate meat.”  Another younger college student described his return to meat in mathematical terms:  “Starving college student + First night back home with the folks + Fifty or so blazin’ buffalo wings waiting in the kitchen = Surrender”.

A few of the respondents had a shift in ethical thinking.  Most of them had originally given up eating meat for ethical reasons.  However, only two of the ex-vegetarians said changes in their views of the morality of killing animals motivated their decision to resume meat consumption.  Most were still concerned with animal protection and the ethical issues associated with eating animals.

Did all of the people involved in the study go back to eating the same amount of meat that they did prior to becoming vegetarians?  No, they did not.  Individuals who had given up eating meat primarily for social reasons indicated that they ate meat much more frequently than did people who originally became vegetarian for ethical or environmental reasons.

I’ve concentrated on just one study here.  The results are not meant to be hardcore, slam-dunk scientific proof that all vegetarians will once day come crawling back to meat.  Several sources, however, have noticed this behavior as a trend.  For most people, the draw of meat is primal and very powerful.  Philosophers like Dr. Steiner correctly warn us against committing “the naturalistic fallacy” – assuming that because a behavior is “natural,” it is also ethical.  As they say around these parts, “ain’t necessarily so”.  Personally, I have no moral issues eating nature’s creatures as long as they are served up warm on a plate with a side of mashed potatoes.

[UPDATE]  Here is a listing of the sources I used in writing the above article.  In the interest of time I’ve chosen to forgo proper APA formatting and just list them as links.

Why Do Most Vegetarians Go Back To Eating Meat?  – Psychology Today

Some vegetarians beat a ‘humane’ retreat back to meat– MSNBC

Putting meat back on their menu: after being vegetarian for years – even decades – what makes someone go back to eating meat? – CBS

“Most Vegetarians Go Back To Eating Meat”, And Other Observations About The Human-Animal Relationship – Newsvine

How and where America eats – CBS News

Moralization and Becoming a Vegetarian – Psychological Science

Why Vegetarians Are Eating Meat – Food and Wine

[22 OCT UPDATE]  Motivations For Meat Consumptions Among Ex-Vegetarians – Department of Psychology, Western Carolina University



About Guy McCardle

Guy McCardle is an American science writer and skeptic. He is a certified Infection Prevention Specialist and served proudly as a Captain in the Army Medical Corps during Operation Iraqi Freedom. A devoted father and husband, he offers his unique viewpoints regarding science and the public interest.
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66 Responses to Lapsed Vegetarians or, Return of the Meat-Eaters

  1. Henk v says:

    What else can you say? You get your four score and ten and you live in a society where lots of different food is available. I quite often cook for folk who are “vegetarians” or “carnivores” of various delusion. All have various views on diet and health and most of them havent bothered to read up on it. No prob, what ever is best value and in season is served and they can sort themselves out.

    I am not cheap, but left overs are balanced and get boxed for the kids lunches.

    I find the unavailability of “organic” vegetables a bit of a cop out though. It would be more responsible to choose foods on availability.

    Someone once asked me for organic tuna… Turns out, their mum used to slip tuna in as “organic” to get them to eat it. A girl after my own heart it seems.

  2. Guy McCardle says:

    My kids usually get “organic” bologna sandwiches in their lunches.

    • Anonymous says:

      “My kids usually get “organic” bologna sandwiches in their lunches.”

      Yes, good job! That nitrate-free bologna will definitely be healthy for them, right? Never mind the fact that nitrates and other preservatives added to packaged meats help prevent the botulism virus, which can and will kill your children.

  3. Shrooon says:

    Where are the citations? You link to ‘bacon-of-the-month’ and a personal account, but not the actual study that’s the premises of this article? I’m sorry, I want to believe this article and this blog, but you have not cited a source and you make reference to a self-reported website survey. This post does not live up to the standards of this blog, or of skeptical reporting in general. All we have to fight woo with is valid, peer reviewed, research. A low-quality article like this is tantamount to woo – it’s just someone’s opinion. I know, it’s a case of “But I’ve seen the studies”. Well, I haven’t, and that’s the same thing woo-mongers say.

    • Guy McCardle says:

      Hello Shrooon,

      References are on the way. I’m just getting them in the correct format. My second link is not to a personal account, but rather to the OP-ED section of the New York Times.

  4. Kevin Hoover says:

    Brian, I never thought I’d hear you channeling Sarah Palin:

    “I love meat. I eat pork chops, thick bacon burgers, and the seared fatty edges of a medium-well-done steak. But I especially love moose and caribou. I always remind people from outside our state that there’s plenty of room for all Alaska’s animals — right next to the mashed potatoes.”

  5. Aditya says:

    Western attitudes to vegetarianism amuse me. I come from a country where the population is at least half vegetarian – over 500 million people – and we have all sorts of people: lapsed vegetarians and converted-to-herbivores.

    This might also be a uniquely American thing too: In Britain, for example, access to vegetables isn’t too bad and there is a profusion of south Asian (“Indian”) restaurants that will serve you vegetarian meals; all takeaways I’ve seen offer some sort of choice, even the Fish ‘n Chip shops.

    So I would love to see the sample size and demographic distribution of the study that shows 75% of all vegetarians go back to eating meat.

    Now vegans, I don’t understand at all… 🙂

  6. Matt Talarico says:

    “Personally, I have no moral issues eating nature’s creatures as long as they are served up warm on a plate with a side of mashed potatoes.”


    I find the breakdown of why vegetarians often lapse to be interesting. And I find the complete disregard of animal suffering in your assessment of the ethics of eating meat, said with almost a sense of pride, to be rather embarrassing.

    • Steve_O says:

      I find your equation of animals with people in an ethical context embarrassing. And your Signal Theory flag that you are a good person because you care about the suffering of animals, sickening.

      • Matt Talarico says:


        1. Considering non-human animals as warranting moral considering is not the same thing as equating animals with people in an ethical context.

        Many non-human animals, such as the rest of the mammals, can feel physical pain, and their experience of pain is likely not a whole lot different than ours. Humans, however, have many characteristics that non-human animals do not, such as the ability to form meaningful relationships and to plan one’s future. This makes taking the life of a human (under normal circumstances) almost always worse than taking the life of a non-human animal. The main problem I have with the current state of animal farming is that animal suffering is often entirely disregarded. And the amount of pain, suffering, and abject torture that exists on animal farms, currently, is abhorrent to say the least. Why do you believe that only human suffering counts, when it is evident that non-human animals can suffer? Is it because a human is a member of the species Homo sapiens? On what objective basis can you discount non-human animal suffering? How do you feel about the torture of dogs and cats? Is it only okay if they aren’t the pets of members of the species Homo sapiens?

        2. I do not believe that I am a better person than one who eats meat simply because I do not. But I do find it almost bewildering that many who define themselves as skeptics can be so, almost willfully, blind to the amount of pain and suffering that non-human animals currently experience as a result of human action (or inaction).

        The characteristics of living organisms that are relevant to moral issues, such as one as fundamental as physical pain and suffering, are what should be ascertained when examining such issues. Organisms differ in characteristics relevant to moral issues, making some issues more or less relevant to certain organisms.

        What kind of skeptics are you? You criticize the fundamental tenets of religion (and rightfully so), such as the central tenet of most that humans are separate from the animals, yet you don’t even stop to consider that the suffering of pigs, chickens, and cows may be worth a damn because bacon is just too tasty.

  7. Luis Fernando Oliveira says:

    Well, even though we did not get the link to the aforementioned study (78 respondents is hardly a “trend”, but I will let it pass), the scientific evidence is overwhelming: North America in general (Mexico included) and the US in particular have some of the worst diets and morbid obesity is ever more common even among kids.

    So, a post like this, very thin on data e very high on an agenda, is irresponsible and borderline immoral. But, hey, that’s just me.

    • Guy McCardle says:

      Hello Luis,

      Thanks for your comments and thanks for reading our blog. Please see above for a link to the study. My article is largely a factual re-hashing of the reasons why vegetarians (in their own words) have returned to eating meat. Heck, even the fact that I love bacon is just that…a fact. No where do I say that being a vegetarian is the wrong thing to do or that meat eaters are superior (or inferior for that matter). I’m not here to judge.

      • Luis Fernando Oliveira says:

        Good thing that you’ve shared your sources with us, Guy. Right off the bat I could say that we agree on at least one thing: they are hardly “hardcore, slam-dunk scientific”. As a matter of fact, there is just one scientific paper and all the other links are to newspapers and news reports from various sources. If one wants to be a skeptic, one should be able to back up his claims with harder data than sites that break posts over several pages to maximize page views. But I digress.

        The main problem is I could not find the source for the 70% relapsing vegetarians number that bases the entity post. Apparently it comes from Mr.Herzog’s piece, but he did not bother to back it up either. So, we do have to that it at face value.

        Of the other stuff, my favorite was the article from Psychological Science that discusses how things that used to be “morally neutral” become, over time “moralized”. Funny. I call that improvement. Like, pedophilia used to be morally neutral in ancient Greece, or child labor used to be accepted up until the beginning of the last century. And yes, cigarette smoking has become moralized, and rightly so.

        The remaining links are… err… the remaining articles. A pool on how Americans eat proves nothing more than the eating habits are worsening even further, carnivore or otherwise.

        More science, less bacon (as your tastes are definitely not the point) , please.

  8. Brian Grimmett says:

    I call BS here, the sample is easily a small demograpghic of the sheepish tv fed fastfood pop culture of which critical thinking evolved individuals do not belong to. Science shows the harm done by monoculture, it is no debate as to whether its a better choice and more and more people ARE becoming vegetarian than ever and with good reason, so what if some housewives revert back, it says nothing for the gigantic and growing subcultures who are at work changing this world with new ways of living… change is slow. There are 10x the # of animal free products now than there were just a few years ago, times ARE changing. have your bacon, but i will choose my health. OH and can you cite where you found that meat free diets create iron deficiencies? Because its almost impossible due to the crazy amounts we get via things like spinach, come on, you folks can do way better.

  9. Brian Grimmett says:

    by the way i mean no disrespect, i love this podcast but its not skepticism if you inject your own agenda, and this is clearly biased, so what if you like meat, it doesnt make it the best thing, or the right thing, it doesnt make it good, it doenst make it healthy for you, and it doesnt warrant this article being called skeptcism because it is riddled with bs. WHO cares if a doctors opinion is that a single person being weak comes from the lack of animal corpse. I have been tested twice (i live in sweden) and i am actually HIGH on my nutrients, and absolutely healthy after 14 years of being animal corpse free and not really watching my diet at all. if anything , the diet im on gives me MORE than what i need. and yes it might be a pain somtimes but it gets easier every day.

    • Guy McCardle says:

      Hello Brian,

      Thanks for reading the blog and thanks for your comments. It is good to get another point of view. Please don’t judge the skepticism of the podcast based on what I write here in the blog. I, Guy McCardle, wrote this piece and not Brian Dunning. Just wanted to make sure everyone realized that.

      Yes, no one should really care if I eat meat or not. No, it doesn’t make it the best thing, the right thing or even a good thing. It is my choice, just like your choice not to. I’m not knocking your choice or the choice of any vegetarian. Just so happens that I love vegetables too. I could eat asparagus any given night of the week as long as it is covered in butter.

  10. KW says:

    A few things:
    1. For a trend to be “growing and undeniable” you need to at least reference a historical rate that is lower
    2. For that matter, I won’t reference unnamed studies, but I would venture a more significant trend is the rising overall proportion of vegetarian/vegan people in the population
    3. Echoing Shrooon, you only really reference one survey, which has both a small and unscientifically selected sample
    4. You don’t engage any of the motivations behind vegetarianism. Is the greater negative impact on the environment of meat-eating unimportant? Do you not care that the inefficiency of meat production means many more humans to go hungry? Is the capacity of animals to feel pain unimportant? And if so, why? These are all moral issues any honest meat-eater has to engage with, whether or not the animal products are served alongside mashed potatoes.
    5. Isn’t it important to examine whether someone selling out their still-current ethical beliefs for social expediency is justified?
    6. Personally I have no moral issues with structural racism so long as it’s served up warm with a side of me being in the privileged class to get into a good college and get a well-paying job.

    I haven’t been to this blog before, but most skeptical thinking I’ve been exposed to before is much more thorough and grounded in facts than what I see here.

    • Guy McCardle says:

      Hello KW (if that is your real name) 🙂 As I noted in my article, “I’ve concentrated on just one study here. The results are not meant to be hardcore, slam-dunk scientific proof that all vegetarians will once day come crawling back to meat.” Most of what you note above is out of the scope what I tried to accomplish with my article.

      Please come back to read future posts and let us know what you think. Your comments are valued.


  11. Matt Talarico says:

    Some views of leading scientists associated with the skeptical movement:

    Neil deGrasse Tyson on the human-animal connection (PETA interview):

    Richard Dawkins’ uncut interview with Peter Singer:

  12. vince says:

    I think i invented a term, microcarnivorism. This is essentially what most poor asians have as their traditional diet. Microcarnivorism uses meat not as food but as flavoring. It can be as simple as 1 cup of rice (rice is a plant) + a tablespoon of sauce and a small slice of meat

    microcarnivorism might be a possible compromise. More flavor, less hassle, less environmental impact, slightly more nutrition than a pure vegan diet, although it doesnt really touch on the ethical argument. Compared to a normal american diet there’s much less fat.

    • Guy McCardle says:

      Good point Vince. In the type of diet you describe it sounds like meat is a acting as a supplement of sorts. I wonder if the general population would eat more meat if it was more readily available and affordable to all.

  13. Henk v says:

    It appears the vegetarian brigade are as quick to respond with polemic as the meat and fat only brigade elsewhere.

    At least the vegetarian brigade do not hit the bad chemistry like the meat lovers do. Mind you, one asks what is one animal and what is many millions of creatures.

    I wait with bated breath to hear their thoughts on MSG, aspartame and fructose.

    Hence, i serve all sorts.

  14. Guy McCardle says:

    I think you just gave me the idea for my next post.

  15. Matt Talarico says:

    Look. I’m not even the type of vegetarian who normally lash out at people like this. And I do apologize for being hostile. I never even really criticize people for eating meat. Heck, I consume eggs and dairy (although I’m trying to cut down, and I get my eggs from a local farmer), primarily due to the fact that B12 can only be obtained from animal products. Not because I think it’s worse to actually consume flesh. In fact, I don’t find there so be anything instrinsically immoral about eating meat, or consuming animal products. My position rests on the fact that an enormous amount of non-human suffering currently exists as a result of factory farming. I am trying to do what I can to reduce my contribution to that suffering. One thing I have done is cut all meat out of my diet. I understand that some people’s situations don’t really allow them to make such decisions. And so, I commend anything anyone does, however small, with the goal of reducing their contribution to animal suffering. Such as not eating week one day a week. Or cutting out a certain type of meat, like red meat.

    The reason I sound so angry in this thread, Guy, is due to that fact that you don’t even really make an attempt to acknowledge how terrible the current state of factory farming is. It in indeed an enormous moral issue, and any rational thinker should be able to recognize this immediately. I am not opposed to you liking meat or even eating meat. It was the general “well I eat meat and I’m proud about it and I see nothing immoral about it.” And your position is pretty reflective of a lot of skeptics. Vegetarianism and animal rights are somewhat associated with the far-left hippie sort. But they have an extremely valid point. It seems to me that the position a lot of skeptics take, such as yourself, rests more on the fact that you enjoy eating meat rather than any sort of objective assessment of the ethics of eating meat.

    Do you not acknowledge there to be an ethical problem with the current state of animal farming? Or do you just believe that it’s not your responsibility to address such an issue through your own behaviour? Honest questions.

  16. Matt Talarico says:

    If this was some sort of libertarian blog or the equivalent, I wouldn’t have even responded. My question is how can we, as skeptics, really ignore such a pertinent moral issue? How is such a thing even remotely rational? Shouldn’t we be looking at these questions from an objective standpoint? We don’t believe in “souls,” right? We know we’re animals. We know they can feel pain. How do you square a naturalistic worldview with the idea that there’s nothing immoral about eating animal products that were produced out of immense suffering?

  17. Guy McCardle says:

    Hello Matt,

    Apology accepted. I sincerely thank you for your comments. They made me think. I went back and re-read my piece again with a more critical eye. I guess it was mostly my last sentence that really ticked people off. That wasn’t my intent.

    You are right, I did not make an attempt to acknowledge how terrible the current state of factory farming is. This was an article about lapsed vegetarians and it honestly did not cross my mind. Believe it or not, I’m a huge animal lover. I own six dogs and just babied my Boston Terrier back to health. I hate to see them suffer. You are also correct in your assessment that my position “rests more on the fact that you enjoy eating meat rather than any sort of objective assessment of the ethics of eating meat”. I eat meat because it tastes great. I’ve never really given the morality of it much thought until now.

    A few years ago I read the book “Fast Food Nation”. The state of animal farming in the US is, for the most part, truly miserable. The welfare of the animals is given no consideration. They are pumped full of antibiotics to keep them healthy enough for us to eat. I know these things on a intellectual level and yet I choose to eat meat. Why is that? Probably because I view them as food and not animals. I suppose it is a cultural thing and it was just how I was raised. Does that make it right? No, but I guess that does explain it. Thanks for making me think. I hope you will continue to read the blog.


    • Matt Talarico says:


      I really appreciate and admire your candor. Again, I’m sorry for the way I responded at first. I wasn’t really putting the article into context and was more or less responding to a single line, as you mentioned. Part of the reason I responded that way is because I’ve been reading this blog for a while (although this is my first time posting) and I respect what you guys do. And I hate to see an issue that means a pretty good deal to me sort of swept aside.

      I consider myself a rather firm skeptic, and I know that vegetarianism isn’t something that’s very common within the community. It’s maybe the one significant thing where side with the “hippies”. I’m also pretty adamantly pro-GMO. One issue I’ve run into is that a lot of the good vegetarian/vegan products are made by companies who are explicitly anti-GMO. And I don’t know what to do in those cases. I consider the intensive lobbying against things like golden rice to be severely immoral (although in good intention), and so I refuse to buy products from those companies.

      And again, I do not find the act of eating meat or any animal products inherently immoral. I can’t conjure up a single argument against, say, eating an animal who has been killed accidentally. And like Peter Singer (the philosopher who turned me into a vegetarian, and whose positions I admire), I’ll begin eating meat once it’s produced en masse in vitro. Hopefully that’s sooner than later.

      • Guy McCardle says:

        Hi Matt,

        I think we have found some common ground. I am strongly pro-GMO as well. I’ve been thinking about writing an article about GMO for some time now. I’m sure that when I do, the anti-GMO folks will be up in arms. That’s OK though. The resulting debate will bring attention to the topic.

        Oh, I’ve sort of found in vitro developed meat. Sort of. Not sure you’d want to give it a try though. Let’s just say that is has been recycled.

  18. Matt Talarico says:

    * reading Skeptoid for a while, is what I meant to say (and the blog since it’s started).

  19. Vegetarians are so stoopit right? And vegans?! Cmon, what’s with them anyhoos? Man skepticism is totally fun, am i rite guyz?!

  20. Guy McCardle says:

    I respect the rights of vegetarians and vegans. All of the vegetarians and vegans I have met personally have been principled, upstanding people. Thanks for reading our blog.

  21. I’m mainly disappointed at the lack of skepticism about the study methodology and conclusions, it appears you take it mostly at face value and run with it, yet it seems if it had been about any other topic skeptics would be blasting it as a poor study of little note. For one I see not blatant mention that it is not a published peer reviewed study. As noted recently by other vegan and vegetarian skeptics, “Where’s the skepticism?”, I feel this just comes off as a meat eater looking to take an easy shot at vegetarianism.
    Now the studies conclusions could be correct, even if the numbers are off, and I certainly would not be surprised but I think it deserves a little more skepticism than shown above.

    Since the survey did ruffle some feathers in the veg*n community there were a few bloggers that did inject some skepticism and analysis of their own. I welcome others to read the following (I cannot endorse every single thing written by my fellow vegans, so as always keep a skeptic eye out)
    Do Most Vegans Go Back To Eating Animals?
    Psychology Today on Lapsed Vegetarians
    Being Picky About Vegan Nutrition

    • I am puzzled by those who took this post as an insult. I can’t find anything in it that’s even remotely negative about vegetarianism — it’s a perfectly valid look at the reasons some former veggies gave for quitting; nothing more, nothing less.

      The cited article makes no pretense at being “peer reviewed published research”. Ex-veggies are still allowed to express their reasons without having to satisfy someone’s “peer review” criteria.

      • Henk v says:

        True Brian, I never thought that any Skeptoid writer was publishing in a journal rather than initiating debate (sometimes robust).

        The references quoted above are not journal articles either. Rather, they too are blogspots.

        Think I ave rabbited about reliability of sources consistently over the history of Skeptoid.

      • Matt Talarico says:


        I was thinking about this post/thread today, so I came back just now to read it. And you’re completely right. I reacted highly unreasonably. Almost the entire post contained no opinion on the morality of meat-eating. I had to read it twice to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

        He expressed not having any moral issue with eating meat at the beginning and end. Because vegetarianism/veganism is so closely associated with hippies and ‘greens’ and the type I have very little else in common with, and that most of the skeptical community seems to have no issue with eating meat, I blew Guy’s post out of proportion because I had this in mind while I was reading it. I apologize.

        • Guy McCardle says:

          Hi Matt,

          No problem. Thanks for the apology. I hardly ever TRY to offend anybody…sometimes it happens though. I respect your stance regarding the eating of meat.


      • Marty says:

        After following this thread of comments and replies, I’m wondering why Guy’s item was even posted on this site in the first place. It seems to be an opinion piece backed up by several media articles/spots. Also, refering to a number of people who returned to meat-eating from a vegetarian diet as confirmative of anything is meaningless. Maintaining any diet, vegetarian or non-vegetarian because it is not challenging, and the food is readily available, easy and inexpensive does not render it optimal.

  22. Henk v says:

    I find it odd that someone identifies themselves by what they eat and yes you are right Skepticalvegan, countering a blog post with more blog post is level debate.

    • I wasn’t so much “countering” his conclusion as pointing out the lack of skepticism about the study itself. The posted links are examples of other blogs that did bring up criticisms of the study. If you wish me to be more specific…

      “…Herzog wrote:
      “[A]ccording to a 2005 survey by CBS News, three times as many American adults admit to being ‘ex-vegetarians’…”
      In the CBS poll that Herzog cites there’s a margin of error that virtually erases his entire claim…”

      “…the number of respondents was tiny—just 77 people—and doubtless a cohort ten times larger would have produced more reliable results as well as some additional insights about the problem”

      “Their study had just 77 participants (I don’t know how many were vegan) and, to my knowledge, hasn’t been published in a peer-reviewed journal, so it’s not much more than food for thought. ”

      “It appears that the majority of the people who now claim to be ex-vegetarians were never actually vegetarian”

  23. Guy McCardle says:

    Dear SkepticalVegan,

    To quote my own post, “I’ve concentrated on just one study here. The results are not meant to be hardcore, slam-dunk scientific proof that all vegetarians will once day come crawling back to meat”. Yes, the study was fairly small. It is what it is.

    I still fail to see why you accuse me of “taking a shot” at vegetarians. I personally choose to eat meat, but I equally respect those who do not. To each his own.

  24. Henk v says:

    In that sense you are absolutely correct Skepticvegan. Generally study and polling studies that are published as EB (or EBM for Guy’s benefit) can be way off the mark and shouldn’t be published in regular journal literature.

    To make matters worse, the inept (scientifically) media misquotes or misrepresents these on sometimes as little as a passing line in the body text.

    It makes the job of somebody teasing out a literature survey that very much harder. Note, in a way they are helpful as quite often they quote some great papers that someone doing surveys should read.

    Case in point, 5 years ago someone posted a paper on placebo’s being just as good as SSRI’s. This was a paper I had to read and tease apart. It turns out that all the inferences were made on an initial et of data and the first diagrams.

    The inference should have been made on the last diagrams at the end of the paper (the math is trivial).

    Did someone wise the media up before reporting the incorrect inference?

    As to veganism, if you ever come to tea, I’ll make sure that you’d get your hearts desires on your plate. My stint as a vegetarian was done because of my own selfish reasons. Making friends through wining and dining.

    Of course I would make sure that the wine was not fined using animal products. Just for you!

    Of course I was polled on the matter of lapsed vegetarianism I would have to tell the truth. My input would be meaningless yet I am sure that many other respondents would have a similar response that would skew the data of this attempt at an EB study to the point of unreliability.

    I dont think Guy is trying to write journal literature here. What I read is entertaining. Many of the responses are thoughtful and taken on board.

    On polling? Brian’s voting skeptoid was a hoot! Very topical too.

    • Luis Oliveira says:

      At the end of the proverbial day, Guy has failed misebaly at keeping the standart that one would have come to expect from Skeptoid. That’s all.

  25. Guy McCardle says:


    Your opinion is duly noted. Thank you for your candid contribution to these comments. I wish you nothing but the best.


  26. Henk v says:

    Geez Guy, I’d hate to throw a spanner in the works but arent all food plants omnivores? Certainly would throw light on the lack of humour your post seems to be read in.

  27. Pawna says:

    I’ve been vegetarian by choice since I was five years old (I had never met a vegetarian and didn’t know there was a word for it, at least according to my family, but went veggie because I really didn’t feel comfortable with the killing of animals). I’m 32 now, never taken a supplement in my life, and am in good shape. I’m 184 cm tall and broad with it, so I don’t think it’s stunted my growth. Since that day I have not knowingly eaten meat fish or fowl, and I cannot see myself ever doing so. I know plenty of lapsed vegetarians, but also many who have been vegetarian most of their lives and cannot imagine them eating animals willingly.

  28. Guy McCardle says:

    Hi Pawna,

    Sounds like you’ve found a lifestyle that works really well for you. That’s great. I was wondering, what keeps a vegetarian from going totally vegan?

    • Pawna says:

      Hi again. I’m not really sure, I know its the right thing to do, but I guess its greed and a sort of “doesn’t suit me” sort of attitude. I was vegan for about 6 months when I was a teen, but I lost a lot of weight and didn’t approach it with the right amount of respect. (Teenagers, right?)

      I absolutely should go vegan. Think I’ll have to pick a date and go with it.


      • Guy McCardle says:


        That’s great. I have to admire someone who has the courage of her convictions. Best of luck with it. Let me know how it goes.

      • robert says:

        you might want to eat more than dates (small joke)! Good luck; eat well, be happy.

      • Henk v says:

        Hopefully she meant, get a date with someone who really loves cooking and preparing foods.

        Get to make sure the date becomes a prospective and a happy healthy diet can be enjoyed for life.

        Home-life dictates your diet. To go vegan from scratch all by yourself may be a problem when preparing delicious and nutritious meals. Two or more heads is better than one!

        Its easy to go carnivore! Just pick a slab of meat you like and (optionally) cook it.

        Please note that the health risks of both extremes may be small (Guy may comment on epidemiology here) to moderate depending how you practice your diet. Other lifestyle factors contribute to your well being.

        Getting confused over the many statements in science blogs is extremely common. If you followed the continuous statements in a great site like “Science Daily” you would be very confused. Find a national or provincial cuisine that suits your diet. Look up what diseases their diet leads to.

        Dont worry, you’ll most likely make it to 75 eating good food and seeing the doctor for check ups.

        Mind you, I would not (personally) go on a chocolate bar diet

  29. Henk v says:

    Beat me to it Guy!!!

    Most people do not eat animals, they eat animal products. It appears by the lack of response here that very few of you lived in a time where it was common to keep/catch/hunt , kill , prepare and eat animals. Animal products are sold at supermarkets.

    In that, I see no difference in breeding animals for slaughter or for produce. If you eat things made from milk, yoghurt, cheese, butter, ghee, eggs or gelatine (NOTE) you are an omnivore just like me.

    If you have a thing about the oppression of animals you should be picketting for a GM fungus or a GM plant that provides whole foods for example). Any problems that may arise from creating such an entity would be solved within a few years of market.

    Amasingly, such products are on the market today. Damn popular in western countries as well.

    Meat clearly isnt necessary, we can live a very happy and healthy life on a non animal product diet. But damn its a convenient food source and a dandy economy that doesnt pay for its environmental damage. The same holds true for trying to feed 7 billion mouths with an extremely inefficient politically based food distribution system.

    As to my last comment, here is a thought. To serve a 16TW global economy with renewables we would need the surface area of the united states were we using current renewable technologies capturing at 100%. This doesnt cover any transport

    That should be considered when apportioning environmental damage trading (ie a carbon tax is only one such an example). Plants are a far more efficient energy exchange mechanism. Animals require a lot of tract of useless (I hate the way that is argued) land. Renewable technologies use the land and sea. They do not seem to be allocated a “environment” tax.

    The argument being, what ever resource we use, what is the mechanism for fair environmental balance and return? For food we seem mortified by technological advances, for energy we are absolutely mortified by now inherently safe technologies.

    Folk may have principles about animals and plants but wont admit there way of life is damaging their environment.

    The environment is other people.

    Being a techno fan, philosophical “greens” and I never see eye to eye.

    Guy or Brian may wish to write an article on what the cost of environmental damage with and without new technologies is.

  30. robert says:

    I too wonder what stops vegetarians going the whole ‘hog’ to veganism. I was vegetarian for one year then had to address the whole dairy industry dilemma. So veganism it was, and that was more than 30 years ago,with Peter Singer’s help! You’ll struggle to find a healthier 57 year old, still cycling to work, playing soccer and looking (so I’m told) around 40. Of course none of that may be to do with my diet, but my diet isn’t hindering my health.

  31. Guy McCardle says:

    Hi Robert,

    Sounds like being a vegan is really working for you. That’s great. I did a little research on Peter Singer, pretty interesting.

    • LL says:

      Firstly, as you say, the research is not ‘peer reviewed published research’ – isn’t this exactly why skeptical vegies would be annoyed? A lot of the little factoids mentioned here are unfounded, steeped in sociological implications/bias & loved by sensationalist media. A perfect example is the way Guy writes that I’m ‘probably’ female, guided by ethics (and thus, emotions) & on the verge relapse. The implications here about diet & gender were no doubt unintentional, but they are there, and I can understand why people may read into this and feel annoyed. Especially vegetarians and women, who are both constantly told who & what they are (illogical, guided by emotion, unstable, etc). Once again, I *know* this isn’t what the author suggests, but by conflating all these factoids this piece ends up reading in a seriously dubious way. Eating meat has socio-pop connotations with constructed ideals like the ‘masculine’ (and in contrast, the somewhat less culturally revered ‘feminine’ – ask any male vegetarian who has been told to ‘man up’ and eat a steak), the ‘all-natural’, and so on. As skeptics we should always be on the look-out for these kinds of things, especially where they meet unfounded research which is not peer reviewed.

      Like Matt who wrote above, I too find that many skeptics seem to take a bias against vegetarianism, perhaps due to peta-style/hippie/newage associations. In reality, this just alienates many vegans and vegetarians. Many of whom (myself included) are skeptics.
      I don’t eat organic, support peta, or self-righteously ramble at people because they order steak and I don’t. I merely decided to cast a skeptical eye over the food I loved, and discovered that I could no longer eat much of it for a wide range of reasons – incl. those that are sociological, environmental & ethical. In an age where our knowledge of medicine & science does allow us to eat perfectly healthful diets without killing animals, I see no reason as to why one would. Place me firmly in the Peter Singer camp on this one

      A perusal of a 77 participant survey will tell you very little. BTW, lapsed vegetarians are perfect candidates for confirmation bias, especially those who had poor diets to begin with, as I see no reasonable proof for anyone becoming ill while eating a balanced veg diet. I know individuals who had shocking vegetarian diets (ie. living on bread & not-dogs) & unsurprisingly became sick. They were told by anti-veg friends that vegetarianism was ‘unnatural’ & was making them sick. They then relapsed to their ‘natural’ omni diet. Surprise, surprise, they were healthy! Vegetarianism was to blame, not their ridiculously unbalanced diet. Now supposedly all vegetarians ( incl. living on healthy, balanced diets) were clearly on the brink of dropping dead. Obviously this is just my anecdotal evidence, but I think it is worth noting how a more thorough study is needed on this issue. Lapsed vegetarians are entitled to their point of view, but they are not qualified to become a mouthpiece about the validity of a vegetarian diet when we have no proof of how they lived.

      • Guy McCardle says:


        You are correct in your assertion that any implications about diet and gender are indeed unintentional. Any implications regarding diet and gender are purely inferred by the reader. I was merely stating fact. This is why I included the phrase “statistically speaking”. For example, statistically speaking most nurses are female. I have some very good male friends who are nurses. By writing the above statement am I implying that they are effeminate? Not on your life.

        I’m beginning to contact experts in health, nutrition and fitness nationwide in the hopes of obtaining larger scale, peer reviewed, scientific literature on this topic. I’ll include any findings in a follow up piece.

        Thanks for reading the blog and thanks for your comments.

        • Henk v says:

          Guy, If you take all the criticism on board, i think you’ll satisfy your readership if you avoid making reference to populist media.

          To all criticism of the article itself; I appear to have read it in the humour it appeared to be intended.

          In future Guy (so someone doesnt get out the internet correction fluid) could you state at the start of the article “Clearly, this a a review of western media sources at the time of writing. This is not a scientific journal publication”.

          PS on world population standards i thought that women outnumbered men by a tiny percentage. The extrapolation of that would harmonise the slightly politically insensitive statement in the start of the article.

          Given that we all manage and mismanage our diets with equal veracity the statement would be reduced to Probably unlkely with respect to accuracy and precision not accounted for at the time of writing.

          If you have a good reason for sticking to a particular diet, just make sure of the pitfalls associated with your lifestyle and your subsequent dietary needs.

          In the west we have a lot of competent advise on the matter.

          Now to the bratwurst braising in ale that I am making for other peolple, Ihold them no grudges but frankly, I would prefer if my famly would not change their minds about diet so often.

          Every now and then, I end up with an excess of philosophy in my dinner meals!

          • Guy McCardle says:

            Hello Henk,

            You are right. I misjudged the readership and I violated one of the first rules of journalism by not knowing my audience. I probably should have stated more strongly the fact that the root source of my information was a small, non-scientific study.

            The humor in this piece was intended. I don’t think even science minded skeptics come here to read hardcore scientific white papers. They aren’t fun to write and are not very fun to read most of the time. Perhaps I am wrong.

            As I’m writing this I’m thinking of Andy Rooney. He died today at age 92. I had to admire the fact that sometimes he ticked people off, but he always stuck to his guns. He was one of my idols.

  32. Henk v says:

    I think I agree with para 3 LL. Same said about Pawna.. folk going out vegan should have help getting a good diet that is nutritional and exiting. There is no reason to eat boring food no matter your diet lifestyle.

  33. Henk v says:

    On your comment

    “I don’t think even science minded skeptics come here to read hardcore scientific white papers. They aren’t fun to write and are not very fun to read most of the time. Perhaps I am wrong. ”

    Its clear you have read some of my publications then!

  34. meha says:

    interesting. a few days ago i found out that (semi)vegetarians are people who are most prone to become obsessive about their food and tend to have eating disorders. the picture becomes even more interesting when you say that women in their twenties are the ones who go back to meat eating. it seems that what you are talking about is much more profound issue:

    when we talk about ethical reasons, then to do something that is not ethical, it means committing a taboo: when a person believes you should no do harm to a child then committing a harm to a child is deeply unethical to a child and to your standpoint and you feel very, very upset and you can not overcome that with a simple saying like: “…buffalo wings waiting in the kitchen = Surrender”. it is something that tortures you for days and years. therefore I think that those women were not actually ethical vegetarians (this is oxymoron, really*) but were rationalizing – made excuses to cover their eating disorders or similar reasons…

    *i say “vegetarianism as an ethical approach” is oxymoron because there is much more suffering in milk and egg industry than in meat industry. milking cows and hens are kept for years and are totally exhausted before they go to slaughterhouses and these cows have a child every year that is being taken away from them and then they cry for days and these children are then kept for a few weeks to a few months (it is different in different countries) without properly nutritious food so that their meat would be soft and light and then they are slaughtered. also, there are no males in egg industry because they are killed after they are born, very often with gas or buried alive… (it depends on a country)

    so, you can not be an ethical vegetarian, there is no such thing…

    • meha says:

      I found another article:
      “Many surveys point to the abuse of vegetarianism as a mask for weight control. The vegetarian diet, a selective way of eating, might precede different eating disorders and increase the risk of developing anorexia nervosa.” No surprise that they had to return to meat eating when they have a pattern of weird relationship to food. When you say you are doing it for the sake of ethics, no one will touch your decision. And you can carelessly continue to practice your eating disorder until you ruin your health so much that you need to take meat again. And then you blame everything on vegetarianism and not your illness…

      I don’t see many vegans going back to vegetarianism (only those who are practicing veganism as a health choice for some short period, but then you can not call it veganism – you can call it only plant eating, nothing more) because being a vegan means being politically and socially oriented towards non-violence to other animals and you don’t put aside your perspective when you see a milk chocolate the same way you don’t go and rape a beautiful woman just because she is there when your philosophy is non-violence toward people)…

      Definitely, vegetarianism is a much deeper issue than calling yourself ethical when trying to hide you eating disorder, from yourself and others… (in such a case it is neither ethical, nor healthy choice…)

      Sorry for bad english…


  35. Dave says:

    I found this post very interesting. I like my spot in the food chain. I generally avoid eating predators that go after humans (sharks, bears, etc.) but that’s not a hard and fast rule. And I won’t eat any creatures that are sentient or probably sentient (primates, whales, dolphins, dogs, cats, etc.).

    After years of reading that pigs are as intelligent as dogs, I had to cure my cognitive dissonance on why I ate one but not the other. The solution was to stop eating pigs or start eating dogs. I haven’t eaten pork (on purpose) for eight years.

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