Living Behind A Mask

Living Behind A Mask April 4, 2019

Hi! Lately, we’ve been talking about the terrible Christian marriage-advice book, If Only He Knew. And last time, we zeroed in on a quiz. That quiz reveals in stunning detail just how awful complementarian marriages are, once one gets behind all the hype. Well, a recent scandal erupting on social media has shed some light on complementarianism and why it still exists despite being so obviously terrible. Come with me through an adventure in toxic communities. Then I’ll show you how this scandal relates to authoritarian Christianity–and why it’s so important for us to be able to identify the signs of a toxic community. Allez cuisine!

(Finan Akbar.) Traditional Japanese Theater and Festival Masks on sale at the Edo Wonderland in Nikkō-shi, Japan.

(As always, #notallwhatevers.)

Everyone, Meet Rawvana.

About six years ago, a young woman calling herself Rawvana began an Instagram account. She devoted herself to the swiftly-growing vegan movement on social media. Every year, hundreds if not many thousands of hopefuls do the same thing. Their goal: becoming influencers, who enjoy wealth, lives of luxury and pleasure, and millions upon millions of admirers and fans.

But Rawvana (real name: Yovana Mendoza Ayres) didn’t just dive into veganism. She headed into raw veganism. That term means she claimed to eat a vegan diet, but one consisting entirely of uncooked plant-based foods.

Before too long, she’d built up a decent following in that community. It wasn’t the hugest by a longshot, but it was better than most of us will ever have, cumulative, in our lifetimes. She probably thought she was on her way to the top. (Notice the past-tense wording back there? Cue the ominous music.)

Gal was ambitious, though. She wanted more.

That’s likely why she headed to Bali last month. There, she happily cuddled an enslaved elephant (which sounds hypocritical to me), posted tons of inspirational pics of herself luxuriating amid the scenery there (and ignoring Indonesia’s dismal human rights record), and mingled with other vegans.

A Quick Rundown of Raw Veganism.

Rawvana, as mentioned, followed a diet system called raw veganism. For this post to make sense, allow me to explain what that is.

Vegetarianism cuts out meat itself but usually allows eggs, honey, and dairy. Then there’s veganism, which cuts out all products derived from animals. And then there’s raw veganism: uncooked fruits and vegetables, seeds, and nuts. (Of course, thanks to modern innovations like blenders, dehydrators, and food processors, today’s raw vegans can perform all kinds of kitchen wizardry. They create dishes like “cheesecake” — some quite scrumptious-looking!)

Raw vegans generally believe that cooking strips various nutrients from foods–to catastrophic effect, as Rawvana herself claimed back in 2014. Moreover, raw vegans often even believe that a specific temperature murders veggies dead: 118F. Too much heat literally destroys the vital energy of food.

According to this belief system, cooked food causes malnutrition, sickness, and worse. In fact, many raw vegans seriously believe that their diet can prevent and heal all kinds of serious diseases: cancer, diabetes, Crohn’s disease, asthma, cardiovascular disease, Lyme disease, arthritis, ulcerative colitis, heart conditions, and many more besides.


Rawvana’s “Juice to Lower Cholesterol & Control Diabetes,” 2015. It’s three minutes of health gibberish resulting in a disgusting-looking shake that literally made me throw up in my mouth. I’d rather have beetus than consume what looks like a liquified loaded diaper.

I probably don’t sound like I totally approve of this diet.

And well, I don’t entirely–because of those health claims.

Are Those Claims True?

In a word, no.

In a lot of words, the ideas behind raw veganism represent absolute blithering nonsense, the worst sorts of ethical fidgie-widgieness, huge doses of out-and-out pseudoscience, and embarrassingly naked appeals to nostalgia and naturalism.

Worse, many of the past and present leaders of the raw vegan movement suffer from some serious credibility problems. They often lack necessary credentials and offer advice that they can’t actually support, all in service to making money off of their numerous, gullible followers.

Many beliefs we encounter in raw veganism (and its even more extremist bunkmates, like fruitarianism) have developed over decades and centuries. The movement’s leaders picked and borrowed from the dietary woo of their times till the system became what we behold today in various documentaries like 2017’s What the Health, 2011’s The Raw Truth, and 2009’s Simply Raw.

And that system can straight-up kill people.

Wait, Wait. People Die Doing This?

People like Mari Lopez and Steve Jobs adopt dietary woo like raw veganism out of desperation because they’re scared of serious diseases or have received a diagnosis of one. Then they forego real treatment, and then they die of their diseases.

Despite that track record, raw vegan sites adore health testimonies. Anecdotes abound about people who’ve defeated this or that serious medical condition with the aid of a raw vegan diet. Not only do raw vegans produce documentaries like the ones named above, they also commission and publicize various studies that they mistakenly think confirm their beliefs.

Unfortunately, those studies ain’t worth the digital ink used to publish them, those documentaries are, shall we say, less than credible, and their testimonials can be trusted about as far as you’d trust those of fundagelical Christians.

Scientific American ran a great piece debunking all of raw vegans’ health claims:

  • Cooking doesn’t destroy nutrients after all. In fact, cooking often helps us access nutrition in otherwise inaccessible foodstuff.
  • Food doesn’t possess anything like vital essence or life energy or whatever, so you can’t murder food with heat.
  • Obviously, raw foods don’t magically detoxify us. Neither does anything else. Detoxes are just hype.
  • Most importantly, a raw vegan diet suffers some extremely serious nutritional deficiencies.

So the claims of raw-vegan believers simply do not stand up to reality. That’s a point of major importance to remember as we proceed.

But There’s This, Too.

Someone could easily get super-sidetracked just marveling at all the preposterous medical claims involved in raw veganism. But as I said earlier, #notallwhatevers. There are probably some raw and mixed-raw vegans out there who aren’t pursuing the diet to cure cancer or preserve food’s vital life energy or whatever. They probably really hate seeing the nutbars and wingnuts giving their preferred diet a bad name.

To them, I declare my sympathy.

However, the diet causes health problems of its own in addition to not curing what its adherents often claim it does.

One Christian site describes just a few of the frightening-sounding problems that can crop up on a raw vegan diet: extreme fatigue and weakness, rapid and excessive weight loss, headaches, and sores. We’ll see more such problems very shortly.

But all of them run against the party line. Go look at any big-name social-media influencer in the raw vegan community. You’ll see nothing but tanned, lithe, super-healthy-looking, mega-fit young people out conquering life and gleaming their big toothy smiles at the world.


Here’s Rawvana telling us in 2015 about how her recommended diet causes its adherents’ hair to fall out. It’s just detoxing! Go get you more sunshine and kale!

So a long-time raw vegan probably isn’t doing anywhere as well as claimed–if they actually are following the diet’s rules.

The Party Line.

Now, some of these folks cheerfully admit that they’re not following a 100% raw vegan diet. Instead, they express their dietary lifestyle as a percentage of cooked to raw food (like that Christian site does). I’ve noticed that a 30% cooked/70% raw mix seems like a popular ratio to adopt. That means that a vegan diet that’s mostly raw, but the person also consumes foods like cooked porridge or wholemeal bread. Other raw vegans pursue a mixed diet as well; they just don’t admit it.

And that’s fairly sustainable, from what I’ve read. It’s definitely more realistic, though it’s disturbing to see some raw vegans trying to out-hardcore each other that way. It’s like they think the lower they can get that percentage of cooked food, the cooler they’ll be than all the other raw vegans in the lunchroom. Thus, the diet starts resembling a religious belief–and a toxic, authoritarian one at that.

And that’s how a thing like one’s choice of diet develops into a hierarchical power structure.

The Official Hierarchy of Dietary Hardcoreness and Coolness. #notallvegans

If someone drops out for any reason, even because their health is failing, the raw vegan community unfortunately often reacts in a way that one venerable debunking site calls “the ‘party line’ reaction to [failure to thrive].” In a lot of these communities, the group simply doesn’t accept any offered reason to stop eating 100% raw. The diet is perfect, so if someone experiences any problems while on it, then that person is the problem here–not the diet. (If this description sounds weirdly familiar, it should. Hold onto that new strand.)

And if the group’s rationalizations and pressure tactics don’t work, that poor unlucky sod might well be hit with a veritable storm of anger, disapproval, blame, accusations, and vitriol.

An Unexpected Reveal.

So apostates–those who once embraced The One True And Perfect Human Diet Forever but then rejected it–certainly earn quite a lot of wrath from these groups. But that ain’t nothin’ compared to what that community does to someone who turns out to be a stone-cold hypocrite.

That’s what happened to Rawvana.

She traveled to Bali for what sounds like some sort of conference for raw-vegan social media people. While there, she visited a restaurant where some of her peers were dining. One of the big-name influencers there was filming a video. In the doing, the influencer panned across her.

And there, on the plate in front of Rawvana, the camera captured a salad topped with what was unmistakably a piece of fish.

OH

MY

LOL

Rawvana spotted the camera and at first smiled, but then you can see her suddenly realize what’s going on. The smile drops. She angles her arms to try to discreetly hide the plate. The effort fails bigtime. She plasters a weak smile back on her face.

Uh oh. Someone done been CAUGHT.

Rawvana at Bali: Fishgate. For real though, her hand/arm gestures slay me. (Source.)

FISHGATE.

Of course, the backlash to “Fishgate” hit immediately. Furious raw vegans retaliated in force. While Rawvana–dubbed “Fishvana” by social media–tried frantically to leap ahead of the scandal with videos pleading for understanding, other raw vegans denounced her on their own pages and feeds.

In a video she posted after getting caught fish-handed, Rawvana said she’d been secretly incorporating cooked foods back into her diet for a couple of years. Her reasons sound absolutely like what I’d expect of anybody trying to go 100% raw for as long as she did (6 years, she says): she’d stopped menstruating, developed anemia and bloating, experienced weakness and stomach distress, and just generally felt very sick. By late 2017, her doctors convinced her to supplement, then to add some cooked foods back into her diet.

Later, with her health issues still bothering her, she resumed the consumption of eggs and meat. Apparently, it’s helping her, so that’s good.

However, I can totally see why her community feels so angry. I would too. Gal made huge bank by claiming to be a raw vegan when she really wasn’t one. She sold her diet philosophy to others with the claim that this philosophy had led to health and wellness for her and would for others too, when she hadn’t even achieved her own health using it.

One can hardly blame raw vegans for being miffed here.

Then there’s this guy, who posted his objection to veganism on Rawvana’s community page on YouTube. If you visit there, don’t miss Mr. Sarcastic’s “Vegan Journey” comment. I’ve clipped it in case she deletes it. (Source.)

The Fallout.

As Rawvana reeled from her fishy scandal, everything she did only got her community angrier with her. In a very telling video she released, she confessed that she simply hadn’t felt safe in sharing her illness or her dietary changes with anybody.

Really…!

Now, it isn’t like she’s the very first raw vegan on social media to abandon The One True And Perfect Human Diet Forever. Daily Beast details some of them–and some of ’em were very big names in the community.

But this time, the discovery presaged the tearful confession of apostasy. Vegans sometimes get very touchy about apostates. I mean, last year I saw a small-time YouTube personality get a milder version of the same drubbing when she flirted with and then abandoned veganism. She’d acquired a small-but-devoted following of vegans cheering her on before springing a cheeseburger mukbang, of all things, on them without warning. They were horrified as well as disappointed and angry, but the YouTuber didn’t seem to suffer overmuch in the end.

But Rawvana represents a much bigger fish. I reckon she simply got caught out so dramatically as a liar that the situation just lit her community’s collective fuses.

Meanwhile, as Daily Beast relates the story, Rawvana continues to peddle her wares. She leans more toward “mindful living” than dietary stuff currently, but exactly like we saw with Mike Warnke and Tony Anthony after their respective disgraces, she continues to offer goods that she knows we know don’t work.

Hey, it’s not like she’s gonna go out and get a real job–not after landing a taste of the rarified lifestyle of a big-time evangelist influencer.

rawvana vegan socialblade
Screenshot of Rawvana’s subscription numbers from SocialBlade, which measures YouTubers’ popularity. (Source.)

The Mirror Image.

Now let’s bring together all those strands.

This diet is like toxic Christianity’s twin sibling. 

Both systems feature the same kinds of pseudoscience and woo, the same huge promises to adherents, and the same total decoupling from reality that Christianity features. More than that, it also features the same emphasis on ultra-correct beliefs, magical thinking, a perfect message, and victim-blaming.

And yes: communities devoted to this belief system eerily resemble those of authoritarian Christians when they encounter people in their ranks who don’t toe the party line.

There’s another similarity, though. And it’s a really big one that I don’t think a lot of folks have noticed. (As Tim says, ‘ere we go ‘ere we go–)

A Room Full of Masks.

When an authoritarian group embraces an ideology that isn’t true and can’t possibly fulfill its stated promises and goals, really awful things happen in that group.

The group members themselves experience distressing cognitive dissonance because reality and ideology simply don’t mesh. They bought into this ideology based on Promises XYZ. But not only has XYZ not happened, now they have ABC problems occurring as well. The group refuses to grant that XYZ doesn’t happen, so they definitely refuse to accept ABC as a possibility either–or for that matter the inevitable rest of the alphabet.

Occasionally, some members voice their concerns. The group then rushes in with their approved party-line responses and suggestions. (In raw veganism, sufferers get told that their bodies are simply “detoxing,” and to continue eating 100% raw. In Christianity, sufferers are taught to Jesus harder.) At no point will anybody allow any softening of the message or grant the sufferer permission to reject the ideology.

And in multi-level marketing schemes (MLMs), huns get taught to stay “passionate for the product.” (Source.) This poor hun doesn’t even suspect that the other huns at her level might be faking their success.

The ideology’s total failure to deliver confuses the sufferers. Naturally, they look to the other members to see how they’re doing.

These sufferers think their leaders and fellow group members are presenting their experiences and strategies honestly! They don’t realize everyone there is lying. So they think something must really be wrong with them.

They’ll bash their brains out trying to meet a goal that simply can’t be achieved through following the group’s rules.

Putting On the Mask.

But no wingnut group tolerates too much discussion of doubt. After too much of it, the group turns on doubters. They start hurling accusations instead of offering sympathy. See, doubters strike too close to home. They say aloud what the group prefers to keep hidden.

So they must be dealt with.

However, group dynamics restrain most doubters long before that pivotal point. They hide their misgivings from the rest of the group. Their doubts flutter down atop their growing Deal With It Later pile, which they try hard to ignore.

They put on a mask to look like they’re enjoying the same success that their peers seem to have.

And if the mask-wearer happens to benefit from this pretense, then the situation grows even worse for them. At that point, admitting the truth threatens their entire livelihood.

A Sign of Toxic Groups.

Gang, watch out, seriously watch out, for groups where you don’t feel safe talking about how you really feel. If you feel like you have to pretend to be something you’re not, you’re not in a good group for you. Even if they’re a great group otherwise and the people there aren’t faking their success, if you’re not thriving under that system then it’s simply not a good fit for you.

Living behind a mask crushes the spirit and sucks the life out of the heart.

It killed me to hear a woman talk on a private forum some years ago. She belonged to a particular woo-infested wellness community. The women in this group stomped hard on members who expressed too much sadness or lack of vitality. But that’s how she felt. Her woo ideology wasn’t alleviating her sadness or giving her a sense of gumption. It was supposed to, but it just wasn’t–and she didn’t feel safe talking about her true feelings around this group. I think she was even more crushed at the sense of isolation she felt from her tribe than from her sadness and lethargy. (Unfortunately, she wasn’t so crushed that she’d begun wondering about the woo ideology itself. She still believed the woo.)

People have to judge for themselves, obviously, whether it’s more important to live authentically than to belong to a bad group. Sometimes we don’t get a lot of choices there. That said, I’ve personally never made a deliberate choice to wear a mask to fit in anywhere and then felt overjoyed with how things ultimately shook out.

The Really Ironic Thing.

Raw vegans certainly occupy a very exalted position on the Dietary Hierarchy of Hardcoreness. But the ironic thing is that fruitarianism is the real hardcore diet. And breatharians blow them both out of the water.

There is always someone more hardcore in groups that reward members for out-hardcoring each other in some area. And just like we see with religion, in dietary-woo groups the more hardcore someone claims to be, the more dishonest they inevitably get exposed as being (like that breatharian dude who got caught eating pie).

Alas, it’s the adherents of the ideology who suffer in the end. They believe these claims enough to try to achieve those same impossible gains for themselves.

NEXT UP: That’s where we’ll take up next with Gary Smalley’s book. He also sold a lifestyle that his ideology absolutely can’t create–and like Rawvana was doing, he sold his ideology to followers who don’t realize that it doesn’t work. The only difference between the two hucksters is that Rawvana got exposed and then rejected (to a certain point; the fallout still settles). By contrast, Gary Smalley and his gang of complementarian liars-for-Jesus continue to rake in money from Christians. WWCCD? Hmmm! See you soon! <3


Dis one got dem Michelle Duggar eyes. If there was a Bingo card for quackery, she’d hit every square on every video she releases.


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About Captain Cassidy
Captain Cassidy grew up fervently Catholic, converted to the SBC in her teens, and became a Pentecostal shortly afterward. She even married an aspiring preacher! But then--record scratch!--she brought everything to a screeching halt when she deconverted in her mid-20s. That was 25 years ago. Now a comfortable None, she blogs on Roll to Disbelieve about psychology, pop culture, politics, relationships, cats, gaming, and more--and where they all intersect with religion. You can read more about the author here.

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