Have you seen the latest documentary series from Netflix called “Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitive.”? As a proud vegan, the title immediately caught my eye. I was intrigued, to say the least. And thus began a frustrating 4-hour binge marathon that left me questioning everyone’s presumptions about vegans.
First things first, the title “Bad Vegan” has nothing to do with the story, or even the main person in the series. Spoiler alerts ahead, so be forewarned. Sarma Melngailis ran a successful raw vegan restaurant in New York City for several years. It wasn’t until she became financially intertwined in her husband’s affairs that things started going downhill for the worst. Her husband, Anthony Strangis, used her money to afford his own outrageous spending habits. When the employees of her business started missing paychecks and Sarma appeared uncommunicative, it drew speculation, disdain, and anger. Sarma and Anthony fled New York stiffing millions of dollars from several investors and many more employees. Hence the title.
Leave the pizza (and vegan attacks) at the door
There is a lot more to the story, but the reasoning behind using the label “Bad Vegan” has become a hot debate right now. Upon watching the series, I finally realized just how manipulative the media is. News and newspaper outlets used the fact that Domino’s pizza was found in the hotel of Sarma and Anthony, thus concluding that Sarma was a bad vegan. However, there was NO proof showing that Sarma even ate the pizza because her then-husband wasn’t a vegan.
The media loves to use click-bait titles to grab a reader’s attention. And what better way to snag a reader than to use an anti-vegan sentiment. It is alluded to in the documentary that vegans are supposedly “holier-than-thou.” From what I gathered about Sarma, she never lorded over others or even pushed any “vegan agenda.” She said at one part that during her incarceration, she talked to one of the prison guards about the benefits of going vegan and he claimed he would start cutting out meat. Not to mention she had such a deep connection with her dog companion, Leon.
Was she really a bad vegan? After all, labels are simply labels. Being “bad” or “good” doesn’t define who someone is, or all the amazing work that they have done. But don’t let marketing trick you. It plays on our emotions so that they will produce a rise in us. As soon as we get triggered, we engage. That is exactly what they want. Marketing loves to twist around stories, and that’s what they did with this series.
Playing with our emotions
So whether or not Sarma slipped up, should she be punished beyond her legal sentence? There are plenty of instances when vegans accidentally eat something non-vegan. But I don’t think we should beat ourselves up. We can’t let one accident dictate all the good that we have done, and are doing. Being vegan is a lifestyle to many, and it’s our actions that speak volumes. It seemed Sarma dedicated her life to raw veganism, as well as to her beloved dog. And that’s what is important. Whether or not the series did a good job at showcasing that is still up for debate. If there’s anything we can learn from this show, is to not let others label and run our lives for us.
“Don’t let the expectations and opinions of other people affect your decisions. It’s your life, not theirs. Do what matters most to you; do what makes you feel alive and happy. Don’t let the expectations and ideas of others limit who you are. If you let others tell you who you are, you are living their reality—not yours.” —Roy T. Bennett
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