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Relationships With Non-Vegans And Why They’re Problematic

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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.

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  • Guy

    I am a vegan of 10 years (for ethical reasons), and I’m pretty disturbed by what you’ve written. If you were simply suggesting that vegans and non-vegans could have compatibility issues that would be fine, but comparing purchasing animal products to human trafficking is absurd.
    It’s great to have empathy and compassion for animals, but you should try to put yourself in the shoes of other people too. People have different values and different priorities, and often a full plate of their own cares and worries. I may have a musician friend whose only concern in life is mastering piano. They aren’t concerned with questioning the cultural norms of society, and would be unreceptive to any discussion of ethics. They might not want to dedicate their little free time to reading ingredient lists or learning to cook vegan alternatives.
    Other people might have personal issues, and adding one more thing to worry about would overwhelm them. It’s fair to say that a vegan lifestyle is more difficult than a non-vegan one, and for someone already living a hard life, it might be more trouble than it’s worth.
    A separate point is that people use food as a drug. It’s addictive and makes them feel good. I’ve seen people struggle and fail to give up smoking/drinking. Giving up meat, dairy, and eggs is the same deal.
    Antagonizing people really hurts veganism as a movement. If you don’t view people as friends and equals, there’s no chance that they’ll be willing to hear your ideas.

    • J Sanjay

      Your point is understandable. You’re basically saying that in order to promote veganism effectively, you’ve got to make sure people listen to you. And if you antagonise them, they won’t listen to you.

      But comparing human trafficking to the way animals are treated is not absurd. When it comes to pain, fear and parental instincts, there is no difference between humans and animals. I understand that people have busy lives. But that should never excuse anyone from giving a serious thought to how animal products are obtained. It’s not a pick your battles type situation. Refraining from animal products is not a choice. It’s an obligatory position for anyone who consider himself/herself a good person.

    • Alba Cronopio Ganímedes

      I agree, I think ethical veganism isn’t the only ethical issue in the world and we have to understand that not everyone would go fully vegan when we desire them to do so. Also, comparing someone who eats animal products with someone who traffics with humans is biased, someone eating animal products is the same as someone consuming sweatshop clothes. They are contributing to a bad industry and violating human/non-human rights, but I don’t think anyone would leave a partner just because they don’t but everything sweatshop free.

  • Saryta Rodriguez

    Ben, I am typically a huge fan of your articles, but I have to say I disagree strongly with this one. You admit early on that abusing nonhumans is the norm, but then move on to compare it to human trafficking– which is decidedly NOT the norm. This is not to say that one is better or worse than the other, but only to highlight why dating a non vegan is not the same as dating a trafficker or enslaver of humans. Most humans have already accepted that those practices are wrong, so people who remain engaged in them are outliers, exceptionally cruel and abusive people at heart. People who aren’t vegan, by contrast, need not be exceptionally vicious or cruel as people– they are simply misguided, just as in the early and mid 1900s many were misguided into smoking and taking essentially “cocaine pills” to stay thin.

    And at what point do you determine that someone i “uneducable?” How can anyone know for certain when that point has been reached? Shouldn’t we instead keep an open mind and challenge ourselves to keep spreading the truth even when and if it appears not to be working, for the sake of nonhumans at risk, rather than giving up on someone who just doesn’t get it yet?

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