Relationships with non-vegans and why they're problematic
December 6, 2016
There are occasionally some stories that crop up and take your breath away. This happens to be the case with a recent food.mic article where a couple of 12 years – supposedly representing opposites – talk about how they’ve lasted so long together. The man, Sam Critchlow, is a non-vegan, but as a vegetarian he is falsely portrayed as the more ethical one. The woman, Amber Reed, is also a non-vegan, but happens to run her own farm raising pigs, cows, laying hens, broiler chickens, and lambs for slaughter.
The writer of the article, Alex Orlov, seems surprised that these two would be together, given that there’s supposedly a plethora of “ethical” dating websites out there for those with a “dietary preference” (seriously – they suck. Trust me). Orlov maintains that these “dietary preferences” are “deal breakers” for some in that someone without a “dietary preference” wouldn’t want to be with a person who had a “dietary preference.” While she errs in relegating ethical veganism to a “dietary preference” (I wonder if she thinks respecting children’s rights is a lifestyle choice) a position on fundamental rights should be a deal breaker – just not in the way that Orlov is saying. For anyone who really takes animal interests seriously, and who recognises their inherent value, the idea of spending your life with someone who engages in animal exploitation every day through eating them, wearing them, or using them in whatever way, should be a deal breaker in the same way that it would be a deal breaker if we found out that our date was engaging in fundamental human rights violations.
Given that animal exploitation is pervasive and the norm in our society, we have to accept the fact that the majority of people we come across will not be ethical vegans. Someone that you meet and initially feel attracted to, will most likely not be fulfilling their moral obligations to nonhumans (unless you’re lucky enough to have your feelings for someone reciprocated amongst your vegan friends – which if you’re like me, just doesn’t happen). In these situations with non-vegans – given that animal exploitation is the norm – it’s perfectly ok to see if there’s a chance of educating the person you like. However, if that person proves to be uneducable, and disregards their obligations to nonhumans by rejecting veganism, then in moral terms that should be a deal breaker for you as much as it would be if you found the person you liked was engaging in human trafficking. Both the nonhuman exploitation and the human exploitation in this case represent violations of fundamental rights. If we’re cool with drawing the line at human exploitation and happy to pursue a romance with someone who we know will never take nonhuman interests seriously, then that’s just evidence of our own speciesism in giving greater weight to fundamental human interests over fundamental nonhuman interests based on nothing but species bias.
I am, however, fully aware of the situation being more complicated if you’ve been with someone for a long time who doesn’t go vegan when you do. That being said, the morality of the situation is no different to if you’re just starting out.
In the case of Orlov’s article, the irony is that neither the vegetarian nor the farmer recognise the moral value of animals. Indeed, Critchlow goes as far to say that “what I see in [Amber’s] farming and my vegetarianism is actually pretty much the same thing: How do we choose food that is respectful of the environment and that gives the planet, animals, plants and people a good life?” In other words, he’s taking the typical welfarist line maintaining that animals don’t care about dying – they only care about being being exploited compassionately and being killed with respect. You know, just like how everyone knows that if you murder a human in their sleep – who doesn’t want to die – you’re showing them respect…
His girlfriend, Reed, says that “saying goodbye” to her animals at slaughter makes her “sad,” but that she also appreciates “how the cycle of life can be beautiful too.” Apparently, the “beautiful” part refers to giving animals who have been sick or who have had health problems from birth the most “fabulous life possible” before slitting their throats. She feels like she’s a doctor in the ER doing an “amazing save” so that someone gets to go home and finish their life.
Yeah – sorry Ms. Reed, the analogy doesn’t hold. I don’t see many ER doctors sending their recovered patients off in the back of a lorry to get shot and have their body parts harvested, while simultaneously taking a cut of the profit. Regardless of however messed up Orlov’s article is, one things for sure – this couple are not “opposites” like she maintains. In their shared love and appreciation for the exploitation of the vulnerable, they’re made for each other.