Meat Is Not the Problem
Guest Post by: Carter Felder
In June 2017, Sarah Von Alt wrote a short article called “The Vegan’s Guide to Dating a Meat Eater” for Mercy for Animals on their “Choose Veg” website. It does a very good job of portraying veganism as an optional lifestyle choice instead of what we must do to respect nonhuman animals.
In this essay I will be responding to all snippets from this highly problematic article. I want to reiterate that although I don’t disagree with every single little thing, I am critiquing it for the reason that overall, it (and all of MFA’s material) is extremely confused and problematic in relation to true animal rights—or veganism as a moral obligation.
Starting with the title, we already run into a problem. When we say “meat eater” instead of “nonvegan,” we convey the idea that meat is the problem. Meat is not the problem, all animal products are the problem. Nonveganism is the problem. We really need to stop perpetuating the very old and speciesist idea that vegetarianism is somehow better than—or the solution to—nonveganism; it isn’t. Vegetarianism is just nonveganism.
The opening paragraph addresses vegan and nonvegan dating:
“While it’s perfectly understandable to want to date another vegan, it doesn’t always work out. There are thousands of vegans who are unsure how to deal with their meat-eating partners or how much to push their partners to consider a vegan diet.”
While eating a vegan diet is the most significant aspect of no longer using animals, we need to be careful when describing veganism as just a “vegan diet.” Please don’t give others the idea that veganism is optional, intended only for human benefits, or just a way to reduce suffering. Vegan is what we must be in order to stop exploiting animals for no good reason.
Next, Sarah pushes fake meat:
“Share delicious vegan food.
There are vegan versions of pretty much everything, so be sure to try some of your partner’s favorite dishes with vegan ingredients!”
If a nonvegan shows interest in processed vegan food that resembles animal “food,” I will let them know about the processed products I occasionally enjoy, but I think it’s best to avoid promoting processed vegan food unless asked about it. Why? Because it perpetuates the idea that we need food that resembles what comes from animals. This tells nonvegans that veganism is only doable if you replace animal “products” with similar, processed vegan products.
I would introduce a nonvegan to healthy, filling, satisfying, unprocessed, affordable vegan food that can be eaten on a daily basis. As well as being vegan, it’s best to consume the least we can of anything in order to live a less harmful life.
A nonvegan does not need to “try” eating plants in order to consider going vegan. Of course it always helps to introduce nonvegans to delicious vegan meals, but we should not portray veganism as optional—we should portray it as what we already agree with.
In this next snippet, Sarah says we shouldn’t make people uncomfortable while over one trillion animals are dying for unnecessary nonvegan choices every year:
”Put yourself in their shoes.
Remember that most of us grew up eating meat, and many people have no idea what happens to animals before they reach our plates. Really try to understand where they are coming from, give them the benefit of the doubt, and be mindful not to alienate or judge them.”
Once again, meat is not the only—or main problem when it comes to animal exploitation, nonveganism is. I do agree that we need to remember that most of us used to be nonvegan (not just “meat eaters”), so it’s essential that we educate nonvegans calmly and respectfully, but we must never compromise the ethical message. I understand that the world is nonvegan, but that is a horrible reason to avoid being firm about the urgent need for all of us to go vegan now.
It is helpful to explain what happens to exploited animals, but never in a way that portrays treatment as more of a problem than use. Always bring the conversation back to the heart of the issue: as long as animals are property, they will be harmed. As long as they’re enslaved, they will not and cannot be respected.
In regards to “judgment,” I agree that we shouldn’t judge people, but we must judge injustice—we must judge nonveganism. If we want to end injustice, we must speak up against it.
Next, readers are given the problematic idea that all animal sanctuaries are good:
”Visit a farmed animal sanctuary together.
Take them to a farmed animal sanctuary to meet the amazing animals who live there and to hear their moving rescue stories. This is sure to be an experience your partner won’t forget!”
I would avoid animal sanctuaries that do not emphasize that veganism is morally mandatory. We don’t want to support sanctuaries that give nonvegans an inconsistent message. Stick to small, non-speciesist sanctuaries.
I recognize that sanctuaries mean everything to nonhuman victims of institutionalized exploitation. But if we support/promote sanctuaries that don’t make it clear that all animals deserve respect, care and non-use via unapologetic (yet peaceful) vegan education, we betray the animals.
In the fourth snippet, Sarah says we need to set boundaries with our “meat eating” partners:
Each of us has different things we will and will not do. Whether you can’t stand to watch your partner eat meat, or you just want no part in paying for it, it’s best to be honest and up front about your boundaries.”
Sure, this is important. If we don’t set boundaries, our partner may not think we take animal rights/veganism seriously. But (here we go again) vegans shouldn’t just be offended by the consumption of meat, they should be offended by all animal use.
When speaking with nonvegans, we need to show them respect, never insult them, and always show support for their willingness to go vegan. But as I’ve said previously, we must always be firm: veganism is the only solution to animal exploitation.
Next, Sarah encourages vegans not to take veganism seriously:
”Don’t pressure them to change.
Nobody likes to be judged, pressured, nagged, or told what to do. Just as you don’t want them to tell you what to eat, don’t tell them what to eat. Share your reasons for going veg once or twice and leave it at that.”
Of course no one should be forced to go vegan. Force is violence. Veganism is nonviolence, so if we want to advocate for nonviolence, violence should not be used as a means to nonviolence.
The problem with what Sarah is saying here is that although she is discouraging us from being rude, she’s not offering any real solution to the problem. She might as well be talking about cigarette-smoking instead of animal rights (or the lack thereof). It’s good not to make a nonvegan partner uncomfortable when we can, but vegan education is not always comfortable, and that’s completely okay. Remember what the animals are going through.
There’s a time and place for ethical discussions, but please don’t avoid them. Never avoid educating a nonvegan about veganism unless they clearly don’t want to hear anything about it. If a nonvegan doesn’t ever want to hear the respectful truth about nonviolence, we should reconsider our relationship with them—especially in the long run.
In response to Sarah’s last sentence: please don’t ever use words like “veg,” “veggie,” “vegetarian” or any other such speciesist, confusing nonsense. Just say “vegan.”
In this next snippet, vegans are encouraged to give their nonvegan partners the idea that veganism is hard:
”Appreciate their efforts.
Whether it’s taking you out to a fabulous vegan restaurant or bringing you your favorite flavor of vegan ice cream, let them know that their efforts mean a lot to you.”
It’s good to encourage anyone’s willingness to learn about the importance of living vegan, but it’s never okay to encourage a nonvegan’s less or different animal use. Think about it in the human rights context in relation to physical abuse: we would never encourage less or different abuse in the human rights context, so why would we not do the exact same in the animal rights/advocacy context? If we disagree with this analogy, we’re just being speciesist.
Unsurprisingly, in Sarah’s last snippet, she gives readers the idea that veganism is an optional lifestyle choice instead of a moral imperative:
”Stay positive and lead by example.
Strive to be a healthy, positive, and kind person. This will be great for your partner and will also make you a wonderful advertisement for veg eating.
Is your partner ready to switch to a more compassionate diet? Here’s how to support them.”
This is an extremely confusing and problematic message to end with. “Mercy” for Animals, along with all other animal organizations, does not promote animal rights exclusively. It panders to animal lovers’ concerns about the “abuse” of animals they fetishize and favor over other animals nonvegans eat from and harm at nearly every meal.
Animal organizations betray the animals by encouraging less animal harm instead of none, more efficient animal exploitation in the form of supposedly “humane” treatment, and the horrible idea that being vegan—how we respect animal life—is optional instead of mandatory.
Being fair to animals is not a matter of our health, “positivity” or kindness. It’s not a matter of “veg” eating. It’s a matter of justice. It’s a matter of living vegan and exclusively focusing upon nonviolent, calm, respectful, creative vegan education at the grassroots level.
…And for the last time, just say “nonvegan,” not “meat eater.” It’s not hard!
This critique is influenced by the work of Gary L. Francione. You can learn more about his animal rights theory here: AbolitionistApproach.com
Proceeds from this essay will be donated toward TNR programs.