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What Romance Tell Us About Our Perception Of Animals

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Nothing brings out the inner speciesist in non-vegans (and many vegans too) more than discussions surrounding sexuality and romance. Even some vegans – on account of their unresolved speciesism – are all too eager to justify a relationship with someone who they know is comfortable exploiting animals.

More often than not, however, this conflict is most prevalent in the views of non-vegans towards vegans. On an individual level, it demonstrates just how deeply people accept the prevailing welfarist notion that animals are things.

A recent article in Elite Daily is a good example of this, where the author discusses 6 “problems” that supposedly “only occur when you’re dating a vegetarian.” The author conflates both vegetarianism and veganism throughout the article. For the sake of clarity, it should go without saying that vegetarianism is a morally inconsistent position, indistinguishable from that of any other non-vegan.

The author describes herself as having been a “total carnivore” who got sick on her diet and now only “[eats] meat around half the time.” She thinks this has caused a rift in her relationship given that her “boyfriend just doesn’t feel like a meal is complete without meat.” After pondering the concept of food – with respect to relationships – in a rather oblique and overly metaphysical manner for my liking, she concludes that food plays a “huge role” in relationships and that if you wish to date a vegan, you should be “prepared” for a number of potentially deal-breaking scenarios. Before even getting into the nuts and bolts of her concerns, it’s clear that discussions about relationships bring a persons speciesism right to the surface. Right from the off, there is a heavy and overwhelming assumption that animals are food, that they are things with insufficient value to be considered relevant in ones romantic decision making.

The ways in which she asserts that people should be “prepared” for dating a vegan take that underlying assumption further. She complains that “you never get to share food” and that being able to share allows you to “really get to know the other person’s likes and dislikes.” Picking a restuarant is also a nightmare because you always have to go where your significant other wants to go and that means “the options [get] boring real fast.” Apparently, simple vegetable pasta dishes are too much of an inconvenience if forced to dine in a non-vegan establishment. What we poor humans have to endure! A tasty vegan pasta? Never!

Oh and family dinners are out of the question because they might ask you “strange” questions that lead to “awkward” situations. Heaven forbid your significant other has to decline “beef broth” without “trying to seem rude.” Because of course, if animals are just things with no moral value, it makes total sense that we’d be willing to sacrifice their interests in life for the sake of maintaining a pleasant social situation. For someone who claims to value the ability to “share,” her concern that you “never know what might offend” your partner is rather paradoxical. How can one be fully in tune with their partner if they are unaware (and not interested) in the reasons for what is most likely that persons most defining moral characteristic. She expresses concern that “you might always worry you’re offending the person you’re dating because you’re pretty clueless about his of her beliefs.” In my view, if you are clueless about that, then it begs the question as to why you are even wanting to be with that person in the first place.

The last two concerns are clearly the most important to the author because they include our societal relationship and fixation with alcohol and our displeasure in ever having to confront our own behaviour. She complains that even if you’ve “made your peace with the food thing,” you’re then still unable to share a bottle of wine with your partner. Once again, the assumption is that our convenience in picking any random bottle of wine from the local off licence is more valuable than the lives and interests of other sentient beings. It’s obviously just too hard to check the vegan wine list on Barnivore.

Heaven forbid you may feel obligated to change your behaviour on account of your partner, too! Apparently if someone “really loves you” they “would never ask you to do anything you don’t want to do.” She guarantees there’s a way to “make it work,” even if you “love food” as much as she does. And that’s the crux of the issue right there. The assumption that animals are sources of food for humans. The assumption that, despite our conventional wisdom and basic logic dictating otherwise, we consider animals to be things. We consider them the sorts of beings suitable to be treated as property whereby we deny their inherent value.

The reality is that, if animals matter morally, we cannot justify these assumptions that our pleasure or convenience trump the interests of other sentient beings. Relationships seem to cement those unjust assumptions deeper in peoples minds as there is a heavy emotional component involved pulling in the opposite direction.

Tearing down these assumptions is a crucial and necessary component of moving towards and advocating for a vegan world.

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