Opinion: Miley Cyrus Says She's No Longer Vegan, But Are Ex-Vegans Just Misguided About What Veganism Really Means?

Miley Cyrus says she is no longer vegan, as she started eating fish again — but could all these ex-vegans be a bit unclear on what veganism actually means?

Sophie Hirsh - Author

Sep. 4 2020, Updated 3:14 p.m. ET

miley cyrus vegan
Source: Getty Images for iHeartMedia

Miley Cyrus just announced that she is no longer vegan — but I have high hopes that she won't permanently cover up her vegan tattoo just yet. 

As Cyrus joins the list of celebrities and influencers to denounce the vegan lifestyle in favor of eating animal products for purported health reasons, Cyrus has also dropped quite a few clues that she is still a vegan at heart. And some of my fellow vegans may disagree with me, but I think it is possible to consume animals — for certain reasons — and still "be vegan." Hear me out.

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As Cyrus explained on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast this week, after seven years of following a plant-based diet, wearing exclusively animal-free fashion, and sharing her vegan values with millions of fans, she no longer identifies as vegan, and is now pescatarian. 

"I’ve had to introduce fish and omegas into my life because my brain wasn’t functioning properly,” Cyrus said. I'm not here to talk about the health impacts of fish (or "brain types," as Cyrus discusses on the podcast), but for the sake of this article, I'll take Cyrus' claim that she needs to consume fish as the truth — but for the record, humans can easily get omegas from plant foods or supplements, such as algae, flax seeds, and walnuts. (If you want to learn more about that, check out naturopath Dr. Matthew Nagra's response.)

Something "ex-vegans" never seem to consider when making the decision to denounce their vegan label is the actual definition of veganism. The Vegan Society defines veganism as "a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose."

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If Cyrus still holds vegan values and doesn't want to contribute to animal exploitation, but truly believes she needs to eat fish to be healthy, she could still continue to seek to exclude all animal exploitation as far as is possible and practicable. For her, that would look like her continuing to only purchase animal-free clothing, cruelty-free cosmetics, and vegan food — with the exception of fish. And in my opinion, that's a lot more productive than denouncing veganism altogether, which is often a catalyst for letting other animal products back into one's life.

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Source: Getty Images
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Contrary to the stereotype, veganism isn't about being perfect. Most vegans I know do occasionally contribute to animal exploitation — and that doesn't make them any less vegan. I challenge you to find one vegan who has never taken medication containing gelatin, fed meat to a companion animal, purchased a work uniform that contained wool, killed a bed bug, consumed sugar that was filtered through bone char, or something else along those lines. To do those things doesn't make you not vegan, and to do those things doesn't mean you no longer care about animal exploitation. To do those things means you are vegan, even in those moments, because you are still avoiding animal exploitation as much as possible.

In fact, in the Joe Rogan interview, Cyrus stated that she still cares about animals multiple times. “I have 22 animals on my farm in Nashville, I’ve got 22 in my house in Calabasas, I’m doing what I need to do for the animals,” she said. 

She also shared that she cried when she took her first bite of fish after seven years being vegan (fed to her by her then-husband Liam Hemsworth, who also denounced his veganism earlier this year).

“I cried, like, for a long time. I cried for the fish," she told Rogan. "It really hurts me to eat fish.”

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After all, Cyrus once wrote a tearjerker of a song called "Pablow the Blowfish," an ode to her deceased pet blowfish whose death inspired her to go vegan. I find it hard to believe she really stopped caring about the exploitation of fish, or any other animal — and those comments on the podcast make it clear that animals still hold a special place in her heart. Perhaps after taking that bite of fish through tears, she just figured she was no longer a "perfect" vegan, and that she had to shed her vegan label, even though she still holds vegan values. 

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Or, on the contrary, maybe making the decision that her "brain type" requires the consumption of fish (as she implies in the episode, though many have accused that of being misinformation) was just an excuse to convince herself that vegan values are not as important to her as they once were, giving her an excuse to go back to her old ways — which is what happens to so many other vegan celebrities and influencers. We've seen it before: the influencer experiences a health issue, tries a few cures to no avail, tries reintroducing an animal product to her diet, suddenly feels better (very likely a placebo effect), then denounces veganism. 

For example, last year, YouTuber Bonny Rebecca announced she had added eggs and fish back into her once-vegan diet to remedy health issues in a YouTube video titled "Why I'm no longer vegan…" In the video, she told subscribers she would continue to eat vegan other than those two animal products. But in the following months, Bonny's videos started featuring her casually adding honey to her tea, showing off her new wool rug, and, later, eating chicken sausage — things that seemingly had nothing to do with her health issues, but that she felt she "could" do now that she was "no longer vegan." Publicly declaring they are "no longer vegan" seems to give people of influence free rein to recklessly contribute to animal exploitation once again — and showcase their new lifestyle to their many fans. 

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But if the vegan community could banish the association between veganism and perfection, maybe these "ex-vegans" would realize it's better to hold onto their vegan values, continue living a vegan lifestyle as far as is possible and practicable, and continue advocating for an end to animal abuse.

Basically, instead of using her fish consumption as an excuse to quit veganism, Cyrus could have used the sorrow she felt about eating fish as a catalyst to recommit herself to the vegan lifestyle (even if she will be eating fish while doing so). Because if a vegan starts eating fish for purported health reasons, is it really that different from a vegan taking non-vegan medication?

The truth is, we don't know what Cyrus' current lifestyle looks like — if she's also started eating other animal products, buying leather, or wearing makeup tested on animals — but that doesn't really matter. What matters are a person's values, and their attempts to live by those values. If vegan values are still close to Cyrus' heart, she can make the choice to live a vegan lifestyle with the exception of eating fish, but still fight for animal liberation. Because as oxymoronic as that sounds, it's better than not trying at all.

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