Sunday, October 11, 2009

Being an Abolitionist Vegan in an Omni World

This post is meant to ask questions rather than provide answers. It's meant to stimulate discussion rather than to divide. I write it with the sort of earnestness that comes from a) the exhaustion of feeling as if I've been pounding my head into a wall over these questions, b) wondering about the effectiveness of said pounding, and then c) feeling judged for not having accomplished anything in that pounding and for d) trying to find a way to be comfortable with that outcome rather than getting tied up in knots over not having been an effective agent. I write it not just for myself, but for my fellow vegan abolitionists who end up dealing with the reality of living in an overwhelmingly omni world. Take it or ditch it for what it is.

A common discussion topic for vegan abolitionists involves the necessity of creative nonviolent vegan education as the primary tool to bring about an end to the exploitation of nonhuman animals. It is generally agreed that (as Prof. Gary L. Francione points out)

[i]f we are going to make progress toward a greater acceptance of veganism, we must educate. And we must educate in a nonviolent, non-confrontational way that takes into account the social, religious, and “movement” realities. This does not mean that our use of animals is anything but a moral outrage; it means only that our efforts to educate about that moral outrage must take into account how the vast majority of humans see this issue.
So who and how do we educate? For some, opportunities arise in everyday situations with strangers, while others set out to do more deliberate outreach work with the general public. I've written here back in August about the need to educate vegetarians about veganism (and you'll find numerous links to what others have said concerning education vegetarians in that older blog post, as well).

Many abolitionists, like Vincent J. Guihan from We Other Animals, agree that it goes beyond being a necessity and that educating others about veganism is actually a moral obligation for abolitionists: We owe animals more than to just not eat (or otherwise exploit) them ourselves:
We all have blood on our hands. I wish I could tell you that the feeling of shame that comes from that blood goes away. I've been vegan for a decade, and still, I can't tell you that.
So we go about deciding where to start and who and how to educate, and the how needs to involve striking a balance between blunt honesty and not forgetting that those around us have spent their entire lives taught or told that it's a given that nonhumans exist for humans to do with what we will. As Prof. Francione points out:
Most people have been raised to think that it is “natural” or “normal” to eat animal products. They have grown up in homes where an important part of family life has involved sitting around a table and consuming animal parts. Their memories of a deceased and beloved grandparent or other relative are connected to some meat dish that the relative prepared for holidays. They have been raised in religious traditions that have taught them that nonhumans lack “souls” or otherwise are spiritually inferior to humans.
This is a common-sense realization of what can be gleaned from taking a good hard look at those around us. Most of us who now eschew the consumption of animals held that mindset at some point, ourselves. Or, rather than holding a "mindset", I guess it should be said that we took things as givens without questioning them.

That being said and realizing that there are some who will just be incapable of or unwilling to listen to why the exploitation of nonhumans is as wrong as the exploitation of a human cousin or neighbour, where do we, as abolitionists, draw our own lines in the sand concerning who we choose to educate? Guihan himself states:
I'm not saying you have to tell everyone you meet everyday of your life to go vegan. I'm proposing that you tell a mother, a sister, a brother, a father, a friend or a stranger that nonhuman animals have a right not to be used as property.
So where do we draw our boundaries where that's concerned? Do we raise the issue once or twice and then walk away from it? And what happens when an abolitionist vegan attempts to educate others about veganism--particularly loved ones--and that attempt fails?

I once had an abolitionist I respect terribly tell me that he'd no sooner get emotionally involved with a non-vegan--a speciesist--than he would get involved with a racist. This weighed upon me quite heavily, since it was voiced within the context of my having brought up my involvement with an omnivore I'd come to adore. I've had more than a few abolitionists echo this sentiment since then. On a plain and ordinary level, I've always found myself agreeing with others that racism=sexism=speciesism. However, the association made concerning this person for whom I'd come to care didn't sit well, especially where I felt myself being judged for having allowed myself to accept this person regardless of his speciesism. I'd felt I'd been deemed inconsistent--a bad abolitionist.

So why the disconnect? I felt like a hypocrite. But then I didn't. I have an omnivorous mother. I have an omnivorous sister and two omnivorous nephews. I've explained to them my reasons for going vegan and those reasons have bounced off of them. Should I feel shame for continuing to love them or continuing to associate with them? Is the onus somehow on me to keep pressing them to change, however uninterested they've seemed thus far? Where does one draw the line with regards to one's obligation to educate others about veganism? Particulary when it comes to your personal relationships? And what of the aftermath? What if you fail? Do you "tsk-tsk" and walk away? Or do you acknowledge that the overwhelming majority of humans--whether strangers or loved ones--don't view nonhuman animals as anything other than things to be used? Does compartmentalizing this make you a bad abolitionist? Does it make you a hypocrite? Does it make you a realist?

I envy those who end up embracing the abolitionist approach to animal rights in tandem with a partner. I envy those who've been successful educating their family members about veganism and in bringing them around to veganism. But what of those who don't? How do we come to terms with the reality that the overwhelming majority of people around us, even loved ones or potential loved ones, are not and may never become vegan? Do we need to absorb these as personal failures? Do we need to judge those others around us who are just living their lives the way over 95% of humans do, taking it as a given that nonhumans exist for our use? Do we need to adjust our own boundaries and standards to reflect abolitionist principles and to cut people out who don't come around? Should there be shame in loving speciesists? Should a non-vegan need to fear that I would eventually dismiss him for being a non-vegan?

I look forward to reading your thoughtful comments.


ERock said...

Love is not something to be guilty or ashamed of feeling. In fact it is who we are at our core. The guilty thoughts get slapped on top of those naturally loving feelings and they are the result of a misunderstanding. Were we not all once meat eaters? I certainly was. Did we not also gloss over the idea of veganism at some point even though we were aware of the fact that animals might not be getting 4 star treatment? I certainly did. Let us remember that almost all of us vegans were once meat eaters or vegetarians too. Let us remember how easy it was to comfort ourselves with various excuses or how easy it was to not think about it at all. Let us also remember that some of us still feed our pets meat, or buy conventionally grown crops that kill with pesticides or displace a natural habitat, or have the occasional slip up or glossing over of our own strict vegan ways. In remembering, we can look at these omnivores in our lives not as the enemy or as a failed convert or as ignorant "corpse munchers" as i've heard them called, but as human beings who have been raised in a society where meat eating is incredibly deeply ingrained into our culture, traditions, religions and families. A culture that supports addictions, quick fixes, and multitasking, rather than thoughtful contemplation.
In seeing them this way... really seeing them this way... we can feel compassion for them, rather than frustration and contempt. Love for them rather than guilt at what we feel is our failure to convert them. Sensitive to their needs independent of whether they are "complying" with our own desires. I think to shun them or to berate ourselves for not convincing them is the true failure. When a person feels attacked or dismissed, they will feel defensive and justified in not considering your words. When a person feels unconditionally loved it is then that they feel the support necessary to truly question what they believe. They're not dumb, they know our position. We can discuss it with them when we see they are open to it, and respect them when they are not. Whether they change or not is up to them and not ultimately our doing. Choosing to love rather than shun or dismiss, however, is completely under our control.

Anonymous said...

I am faced with the same dilemma. I work construction and all of my co-workers are hunters and fishermen. This puts me in a n odd position as I need to keep on good terms with them. I used to hunt and fish, also. So, I can understand first hand the feelings they get from it. I sometimes wonder if I am compromising my principles by NOT vegangelizing. But, at the same time, it is they who bring it up and this is good because then I can give short honest answers without seeming 'holier-than-thou' I also bring my own vegan lunches and they ask me about it more and more everyday. I think they feel guilty sort of because they know that animals are tortured for food and they know the health benefits of veganism. I find that leading by example is the best bet in my particular case at work. But, I also blog and tweet. (all a labor of love for a cause I believe in)

Mark said...

100% vegansexual. Family is different than romance. You don’t choose your family. I would rather be a bachelor than settle for someone lacking the compassion to quit animal products. That lack of compassion will come into the relationship, too. How many vegans do you know that settle for a non-vegan (“because there are so few vegans out there”) and end up hurt and mistreated? I have known quite a few. I am acquaintances (not a partner) with non-vegans and continue to try to educate them. If someone knows the facts, as I am sure you would make sure someone you enjoy being around as much as a potential partner does, and does not leave off animal products, what does that say about them? -not a partner for me. Yes, years of strong societal indoctrination to act without compassion might take some time for some to overcome, but they were not a potential partner for me until it has been overcome and acted upon with heart and consistency. Hence, with so few vegans and all the other aspects of a desirable partner for me, I thought I might be single forever - but I knew I would be happier by myself than with someone who harms the animals, the earth, and their health by consuming animal products. I was for a long time, and then my wife came into my life . . . <3

And I find the same with friends. I find it hard to be close with someone if, once presented with the truth, they lack the compassion to quit animal products. It is lack of compassion for animals, clearly. But it is also a lack of compassion for the earth and for the only body they will ever have. I am not ashamed or apologetic that I feel this way. It is how I feel and what my heart tells me.

Dave Langlois said...

Interesting thoughts, Mylene. :-)

Here is a brief note about myself. I'm not offering an argument. I'm just making some observations.

Although I see no reason that someone should feel "shame" for loving a non-vegan, I can say that, in practice, my relationships with non-vegans are different in kind from my relationships with vegans. Happily, my family (parents, siblings, spouse) are all vegan for reasons which mirror my own, and they have been so for a number of years. However, I do have some non-vegan friends; I also have more non-vegan colleagues than I can count.

There is a serious and deep gulf which separates me from my non-vegan friends and colleagues. My relationships with them cannot be as caring, as honest, or as satisfying as my relationships with those who have gone vegan (for the right reasons). How could they be? Many of the beliefs and values which are most important to me, and which structure and guide nearly *all* of my deliberations and actions, aren't shared by these people. So, again, how *could* my relationships with non-vegans be as caring, honest and satisfying as my relationships with vegans? This isn't like disagreeing over which candle scent is best during the winter.

Until my family members joined me in being vegan (for the right reasons), my relationships with them were strained and hollowed in the way that I've just mentioned. Things changed a lot -- a lot! -- as the members of my family went vegan.

- Dave

Ken Hopes said...

I don't think you should be troubled for having a close caring relationship with a non-vegan. It's my experience that we can't choose who we fall in love with, it just happens. Everyone has their flaws. We are all works in progress.

I recently have developed a very satisfying friendship with a coworker who's not a vegan, but reads my blog and seems open to the ideas I write about. Otherwise, we have very similar world-views (we're both very liberal). We enjoy talking about politics and ideologies, among other things. I care about her very much, and don't see that changing should she remain a non-vegan.

From a practical standpoint, vegans rejecting relationships with non-vegans is not conducive to spreading vegan values. And neither is threatening to withhold love unless a partner goes vegan.

Dave Langlois said...

Ken, you say:

"From a practical standpoint, vegans rejecting relationships with non-vegans is not conducive to spreading vegan values. And neither is threatening to withhold love unless a partner goes vegan."

Have you ever seen someone suggest such things? That's terrible!

That being said, given the truth of your statement that we can't choose who to love, surely we're not blameworthy for not loving (or for falling out of love) with people because they do things that we find morally reprehensible. And, similarly, we can't be blameworthy for being honest about such things.

c-la said...

Thank you for this blog ... these are issues that cause me great struggle daily as I'm sure most Vegans deal with this as well.

I am in awe of those that can make a relationship with a non-vegan partner work. I wish I could do it, I have come to the conclusion that I simply cannot. But I realize this is a choice that is personal to me. While it may not work for me, I commend and am envious of those that are able to make the vegan/non-vegan connection work.

I definitely think making the vegan/non-vegan romantic partnering work depends on the individual vegan and non-vegan. I don't think there can really be a blanket "yes it can work" or "no it can't".

As for family, I agree, it can be "head poundingly" tough to watch those you love not make the connection. I was talking with a fellow vegan the other day about our siblings. We both mentioned that our respective siblings -- even with their high level degrees of education -- couldn't understand the connection that we've explained over and over to them. (Not that a level of education really makes a difference but we were just making a point.) They hear us, they understand what we are saying, yet they continue to be omni. Will I love my sister any less? No. I accept her, flaws and all. I am not perfect by any means and she accepts me, no questions asked.

But for me, romantic partnering is different. I've tried the relationship with a non-vegan and it was disastrous. Perhaps it was that particular non-vegan.. who knows... I guess if I am looking, why not make it easier on myself and the relationship and look for another vegan.

Rowan Morrison said...

One guy I dated who was not vegan would drive me crazy at restaurants when he wanted to "share" food - yeah, right! Meaning, he would eat some of mine, and I might get some of his french fries. LOL
But it was good, too, because it showed him how great vegan food is, usually better than the non-vegan option.

Carol said...

I can really relate to this comment from DJLanglois: "There is a serious and deep gulf which separates me from my non-vegan friends and colleagues. My relationships with them cannot be as caring, as honest, or as satisfying as my relationships with those who have gone vegan (for the right reasons)." I am very fortunate to have a partner who is vegan. If I were looking for a new partner he would have to be vegan...(not that I am looking, Fenn!!). However, my parents and my brothers and their partners and children are not vegan and possibly never will be despite my best efforts to convince them...I still love them all.

Philip Steir said...

This is no longer even an issue for me personally. The criteria I have for what woman I might find attractive is without question linked to caring about what happens to others.
I've been vegan for 20 years now. Living vegan is a large part of who I am and always will be.
I do understand the realities of our culture and traditions and that most of human society really does not consider animals as part of our important moral concerns of the day. This no longer matters to me when I'm choosing who I will spend my time and love with. I am no longer attracted to woman who lack the empathy or evolution to become and live vegan for ethical reasons. I would never get in bed (so to speak) with a racist or a human who consumed dog meat at the breakfast table for instance. Life is too short (especially as I get older) for me to spend it with a woman who ate animals or rode them in a circus or shot them for pleasure.
There are clearly right and wrong answers in life especially when we know the questions asked of us and the obvious facts laid out before our eyes. Living in today's world there are no more excuses for not knowing the facts about what happens with animals raised for food. Especially if your new lover is constantly telling you or showing you the videos.
I want nothing to do with that world of violence against non humans. I could not love someone as my romantic partner who did.
My veganism has changed over the years to now include abstaining from falling in love with those who think it morally OK to eat animals while knowing it is unnecessary and knowing the violence it involves. It's easy for me as it would be to also not fall in love with a right-wing religious fundamentalist...or actually just the right-wing part would be enough for me to go home at night alone.
The actual thought of being attracted to someone now in my life who believed that eating animals was an honest and OK ethical decision to participate in....feels absurd. I would no more associate, go out drinking with or bond with men who celebrated the tradition of female circumcision than I would make love with a woman who experimented on animals for a living.
The fact that we can make ethical and moral decisions in our lives based on what our intuitions tell us is right or wrong so can we easily make romantic decisions based on those same exact intuitions when choosing a mate.
A rational approach to this so called dilemma might be to ask yourself can you really love someone who makes the decision to continue to add more violence and unnecessary death in the world? I personally can no longer share my days and nights with an individual no matter how attractive or wonderful they appeared to me with or without clothes who actually spent their days and nights eating tortured animals. It just isn't going to do it for me anymore.
I will fall in love with someone who feels compassion for those who suffer and for those who have no protection simply because they are not a human animal. Simply put....
I love animals and I want the human whom I love romantically to want those animals happy.
It is in the very nature of having compassion for others that I find so attractive in others. Veganism is nothing more than the guardian of what real love truly is.

Veganly yours,


xpyr press said...

i'm 25 years ethical vegan; i've stop preaching a long time ago since no one has changed in all these years; i'm maintained an economic boycott by only eating in vege places, including the homes of relatives (i.e., no one); its been very lonely, but i got tired of the ridicule and defensive guilt of meat eaters; my ex was a health-conscious vegetarian; now i would only date an ethical vegan

Vanilla Rose said...

As I said to my six year old nephews, I would love it if they turned out veggie or demi-veggie (vegan seems a bit optimistic, alas), "but I am your auntie, so I sort of have to love you anyway".

Daniel Wilson said...

Since going vegan 10 years ago, I've had relationships with both vegans and non-vegans. Right now I'm single. That means all those relationships have ended; some of them badly and some of them amicably. The difference is that when I was dating vegans, there was no moral conflict; it was just two like-minded people getting along or not getting along for all the normal reasons. Dating non-vegans, however, was very difficult (if they didn't become vegan) because, as an activist, promoting veganism is my life. This means being able to discuss veganism and animal rights with the person I'm closest to. I found that the non-vegans would get upset and defensive when I would discuss the issue - and understandably so. I found I had to watch what I said around them and not talk about the things I wanted to talk about! So how can you be with someone who's contributing to the problem that you've made it your life's objective to criticize and abolish? How can you be with that person when they refuse to become vegan, even after you've presented all the arguments? It really is my way or the highway when it comes to relationships. You can't choose your family but you can choose your mate. How can you choose to be with someone who wants to continue to eat animals, keep animal flesh in your fridge and wear animal skins? As someone else said, it's like being with a racist, a gay basher or someone who likes Oprah. I just can't do it.

Unknown said...

I'm not sure about the whole human-human relationship thing, and so, I don't have any advice to give on that (sorry!), except to say that I think it's best to cultivate a love for justice and let that inform the rest of our social relations.

When I first saw justice at a protest against South African apartheid, it was love at first sight, even if I didn't entirely know it. The first time we really got it on, it was like Barry White meets Marvin Gaye -- but totally supersized. We made a 'zine' before zines were zines about social justice. We went to anti-racism rallies together. We protested the first Persian Gulf War together. We joined the communist party together. In short, we share values and I think that that's what really counts in a relationship.

I won't lie. There have been times when the relationship has been a bit rocky. When justice asked me to go vegan, I went vegetarian instead. Justice wasn't very happy about it. But eventually, I did come around (and now I'm better for it). I've had to make some compromises to what I wanted along the way. There are still many, many, many times when justice calls me to act on its behalf and to show love for those I would rather not.

But love shapes us and reshapes us as it likes, and that's what makes it love; but to be fashioned and refashioned by anything but justice is really, I think, no love at all. Most important (to me at least), justice never gives up on us, asking us every day to shed the skins of our past so that what's best about us can rise to the fore. Justice never lets us down. That's love, I think. Real and abiding. So, I just do my best to love justice back with all my heart and half of one of my lungs.

M said...

From what I've read in the comments, here's what I've gleaned:

- Some of the questions set forth are questions with which a large number of vegans struggle daily.
- We should not be ashamed of who we love.
- We should not shame other vegans concerning who they love (or choose not to love).
- We should feel compassion for both vegans and non-vegans around us.
- You can't choose your family, but you can choose your romantic relationships.
- You can't determine with whom you fall in love.
- Some vegans avoid putting themselves in situations where they might fall in love with a non-vegan.
- Some vegans would rather choose to be alone than to ever be romantically involved with a non-vegan.
- You can't be faulted for being unable to love (or for falling out of love with) a non-vegan.
- It's difficult/impossible for vegans to form caring and satisfying bonds with non-vegans.
- It's indeed possible for vegans to form caring / satisfying bonds with non-vegans.
- Some vegans view loneliness as preferable to possible conflict with non-vegans (i.e family, romantic partners, or otherwise) and thus avoid interacting with them.
- Other vegans think that the success of vegan/non-vegan relationships really depends on the individuals in question.
- We should stay focused on our principles and convictions and allow them to guide how we interact with others.

I may have missed some, but I think that this is the gist of it. Every response provided seems to lead to even further questions. At least I feel that after reading this, I'm left with more questions than answers. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Dave said: "Until my family members joined me in being vegan (for the right reasons), my relationships with them were strained and hollowed in the way that I've just mentioned. Things changed a lot -- a lot! -- as the members of my family went vegan." ...

Same here. I just finished having an amazing "thanksgiving" dinner with my vegan and vegetarian family members--me, my fiancé, my daughter, my mom, sister, brother-in-law, brother and sister-in-law, and nieces. Most vegans are forced to sit miserably or avoid sitting around a dead turkey this time of year, but I am lucky enough to look forward to family dinners.

That said, the story of my sister and brother-in-law is what I wanted to call attention to, though. My sister became vegan shortly after I did, and we were both extremely committed vegans. A few months later, she started dating an omnivore and I was pretty critical of her decision to do so. Her defense was that, when they cooked together, he was eating veg*n which he would not have been were they not together, and it was only a matter of time before he became vegetarian. (Still working on getting him vegan, though he really is 99% of the time). So anyways, the point I'm trying to make is that if you ONLY date vegans, or ONLY hang out with vegans, etc. you won't have the opportunity to spread the word.

Like I said above, on holidays, it's great to be with my veg family and be able to relax (sometimes I really enjoy avoiding reality and putting myself into that safe little vegan bubble) but if you don't branch out, you're only preaching to the choir.

And finally, some people say that if you "convert" someone you're dating, they're just gonna change back when you break up. IME, that hasn't been the case.

zemmely said...

I would like to say thank you for your opening up conversation on this topic (and for your blog, in general). I think that vegans should not strive to create insular communities of like-minded individuals (although this may make life easier), and instead practice vegan education with patience. In fact, I think that a very important part of vegan education is patience--eating animal products is a normativity not easily reversed.
And if an omni who is close to us doesn't change his/her mind, what then? More patience and a supportive friendship, I think, rather than an outright rejection of the person...

Crystal said...

I don't have any problems with non-vegans as a rule, but I feel so much more comfortable around vegans. If I somehow managed a relationship with a non-vegan where food was never an issue (I never had to watch them eat non vegan food, we never talked about animal rights, ect) then I would be happy to be friends with all the non-vegans in the world, alas.

I personally hate being around people eating non-vegan (especially non-vegetarian food). Because of that I get upset at club meetings where there's lots of grossness and sometimes have to leave for a while, or just go home feelings misanthropic. I don't exactly judge people for their choices, they're been raised in such a pro-animal products world, but I don't respect them for it either. I don't think I could ever really respect someone who didn't at least strive to be vegan.

My boyfriend is a vegetarian who eats mostly vegan. He was an omnivore when we started dating, but back then I didn't care as much about animal rights. After dating a near vegan I could never go back! I intend to marry him anyway, so that doesn't much matter.

I don't love my family members less because they aren't vegan, but I do love spending certain times with them a lot less. I hate family holidays and prefer to stay at school than go home if there's going to be a lot of cooking meat in the house.

I too envy people who easily have friendships with non-vegans. It's hard for me to make friends period, and the whole vegan unfriendly people thing makes it so much harder. I don't need only vegan friends, just friends who respect the vegan lifestyle and don't eat too much meat around me.

Niki said...

What a great thought provoking post.

I agree that my beliefs always feel like a rift between myself and my friends and family.

I have been single the whole time I have been vegan (only this year) and the fact that the only other vegan I know is my brother (who went vegan to try and fight cancer - ethics is almost non-existent there) means it's pretty damn lonely if you choose to love and befriend only vegans.

I don't know any other vegans at all in Melbourne. And having been mostly single for a couple of years I could do with a boyfriend as well. The chances of finding a boyfriend AND him being vegan seem to be extraordinarily slim at the moment, and whilst it would be ideal (Mr Right basically) I feel that I would have to let it slide and hope that whoever it is I meet will eventually go vegan.

At the moment, finding someone I even fancy seems a big enough task, let alone someone who happens to be vegan!

Philip Steir said...

Question...can you really be an abolitionist vegan and sleep in the ame bed long term with a non vegan? Is it even vegan at all to kiss and share your passions and other deepest beliefs about the nature of the world with someone who believes that animals are to be eaten by humans? Can you be an ethical vegan and have a romantic partner who does not care about those ethics? I think not. I mean, in a real committed situation and also in the sense that the relationship even stands a chance to make it long term seems implausible.
I think it's a different issue with family and friends and you do your best with to educate them on why you believe it's the morally responsible way to live. However, I can't imagine a real feminist falling in love with a mysoginist or an anti racist loving and being attracted to a someone who holds racist opinions of others. I can't even fathom a scenario where an animal activist would want to spend their waking moments going to dinner, the movies a walk in the park with a trophy hunter who loved killing white tail deer by bow hunting.
It doesn't seem like it's even a real issue. Is it?
Unless you abolitionists feel that eating animals is somehow a less offensive and less ignorant position than any of the above scenarios. If you might want to take a deep look at your own speciesism.

Amanda said...

This is a really excellent post. As many people here have said, it is a very tricky situation because on the one hand the opportunity for creative vegan education is ripe when we are around the non-vegan majority, yet it is extremely frustrating and often heart-breaking to have to spend time with people who frequently do not even take our views seriously.

Personally, I am married to someone who is probably around 95% vegan - vegan at home and around me but he makes his own food choices when we are not together - and that has to work for me. We were married before either of us had woken up to the truth of the animal exploitation industry and honestly going vegan was MY choice not his. However I consider myself very fortunate that the strength of his feelings for me have led him to making a really dramatic change in his lifestyle on an issue which is not so important for him. They say people don't change but I don't believe that's true and my experience has certainly been otherwise.

On the other hand, I have friends with whom I am no longer as close as I was before I became vegan (it's only been 2 years for me). I find it difficult to be around their casual complicity in animal suffering - their BBQs, dinners, tales of going fishing, and the general hypocrisy of those who love their pets but also their hamburgers. I cannot appreciate their point of view any longer - as much as I try to remember that I too was like that 2 years ago - and it makes me incredibly sad and frustrated that otherwise intelligent and loving people have this complete mental block when it comes to veganism.

M said...

I'm going to go through more of the responses when I get home tonight. In the interim, I have a question for Philip, who wrote:

"Can you be an ethical vegan and have a romantic partner who does not care about those ethics? I think not."

A vegan friend mentioned something to me yesterday that I'd like to raise here. Many of the responses seem to be focused on one particular aspect of vegan-nonvegan romantic relationships--that of a vegan looking for a partner/lover/whatever and then either choosing or not choosing to consider a nonvegan as a prospective partner/vegan/whatever. But what of people like Amanda (or my vegan friend), for instance, who become vegan while in a committed relationship? Philip, are you saying that to be morally consistent that these vegans should feel compelled to leave their spouses if their spouses don't also embrace veganism?

Furthermore, what about the friends we choose around us? Would your reasoning not extend to that, as well, if taken to its logical conclusion? At least from what you've written, I'm getting that what you're saying is that it's speciesist and hypocritical for vegans to care for / love any humans who are speciesist.

I look forward to to your response. said...

I'm not judging anyone for loving or being friends with nonvegans (moral agents). But for the reasons Dave, Philip, and Daniel have pointed out, I have a hard time understanding how an ethical vegan can possibly have – start or keep – an emotionally close relationship with a nonvegan who is not responsive to vegan education. The diifference between family, which we don't choose, on the one hand, and friends and partners, on the other, is not relevant to me with regard to the question whom I can or cannot have an emotionally close relationship with.

As long as my parents were alive (both died years ago), I wasn't vegan myself. If they were still alive, my relationship with them as people who remain impervious to vegan education would be basically the same as the one I have with my brother (a vegetarian whom I have presented with all arguments more than once): I wish him no harm, and if he was in need of my help, I would help. But apart from that, I have very little to do with him.

To be clear, I'm not advocating that vegans should separate themselves from nonvegans. This would, apart form being mostly impracticable, not be ''conducive to spreading vegan values,'' as Ken put it. But in addition to Dave's reply to Ken, I'd like to stress that not having close relationships with nonvegans is not only compatible with educating them; showing that being an ethical vegan is not compatible with being friends, to quote Daniel, ''with someone who's contributing to the problem that you've made it your life's objective to criticize and abolish'' can, I think, be conducive to getting across that we are serious about our ethical values.

C-la said:'' Will I love my sister any less? No. I accept her, flaws and all. I am not perfect by any means and she accepts me, no questions asked. ''

I love and accept my brother no more than I would an anti-Semite. But this has nothing to do with his being ''flawed' or ''not perfect''; it has to do with there being no common ground regarding ethics, the ground on which love and acceptance between morally responsible people grows and can be sustained.

Philip Steir said...

Thanks for the question to my response. There are of course maybe no black and white answers here. What's right and wrong or good and evil are seemingly bound up in whatever a particular human says it may be to them. Yet we all know cruelty when we see it and we all know intuitively what feels right or wrong that does not mean however that there exist for certain ethical truths. So..understand I am making no claims on what is right or wrong or even true for a particular person. However that said, it does seem inconsistent to me and may I add an extremely difficult situation for an ethical vegan to be attracted to another human who does not take what happens to animals seriously.
Your question here below----------------------------------------
But what of people like Amanda (or my vegan friend), for instance, who become vegan while in a committed relationship? Philip, are you saying that to be morally consistent that these vegans should feel compelled to leave their spouses if their spouses don't also embrace veganism?------------------

No. I'm not advocating anyone leaving someone else...unless of course they are attracted to me and there is a great chemistry between the two of us. No...seriously...What I'm suggesting is that it would be impossible for me (Philip) to fall in love with someone now that felt OK with contributing to someone else's suffering and death by eating them. And in regard to leaving someone...when I did become vegan decades ago I found it nearly impossible to remain close to my long term partner who did not evolve with me ethically or seem to care one way or the other about the violence inflicted on animals raised for food. That relationship ended as many do for various irreconcilable differences. The animal rights issue being one of the main reasons.
Again I would come back here to this type of analogy I used earlier in regard to the being morally consistent aspect.
Would a human who was a compassionate atheist for instance and who vehemently believed in non violence be able to consistently remain in a loving/sexual/passionate relationship with another human who donated money every month to a fund for suicide bombers because their faith promised them 72 virgins when they died and traveled to paradise for their loyal jihadism?


Philip Steir said...

Your Question------------------------
Furthermore, what about the friends we choose around us? Would your reasoning not extend to that, as well, if taken to its logical conclusion?------------------------------
I have indeed dissolved certain friendships and have remained distant from certain other friends who became difficult to be around for me because of my veganism and their carnivorous ways. However, I do admit to having friends who still eat animals but I just don't sleep with them.
As vegans our situation is this: Most of the people in the world believe in crazy things. Like animals must be eaten in order for humans to be healthy and happy. Or that animals do not deserve to be members of the moral community. This is absurd and as rational citizens who are opposed to killing it poses an immediate problem to live in a world surrounded by billions of these other humans who carry on with this mind set. Yet we must. In the same way white humans opposed to the enslavement of African humans on ethical grounds had to live among supporters of human slavery. And I guess my argument here is that most abolitionists of human slavery in the past I would imagine did not fall in love or remain in romantic relationships with slave owners. I know I would not have done so and I also know I can't be involved romantically with someone who knows my pain about the issue of eating animals and would be ok munching a pork chop in my presence...or even OK doing it behind my back. In fact I wouldn't want to be a member of a club who would think it OK to continue with activities that purposefully caused me anguish.
Which (and I'll make it quick) brings me to the point left out in most of this discussion of what we ethical vegans feel.
At least for me there is an incredible amount of pain and sorrow knowing that every second that goes by a beautiful defenseless living animal is being murdered for unnecessary and selfish reasons. When it comes to choosing a lover/partner I desperately need to be with someone who either understands that pain...feels that pain themselves or at least wants to bring more joy and less pain into my world and more happiness and less pain into the world in general.
Life is sometimes difficult enough dealing with all kinds of day to day anxieties and stress yet there is another layer of sadness we animal rights advocates must face as everyday as well. Honestly there is so much grief in my life, my heart, my mind...where ever it supposedly exists... from what I know that takes place every moment with non human animals raised for food that I personally need a partner who wants to heal with me in this area and who wants to share great vegan food and wine with me for...ethical reasons.
Nothing is more attractive than that and nothing is more obvious to me than that.
And nothing seems more wise than this decision as well.
Finally my claim about speciesism was that we seem slow to recognize where we would draw the line in regard with our ethical vegansim vs other moral concerns. I was arguing that if a person who was against child abuse for instance were to be in love with a child abuser it would most likely put a strain on their intimacy. If that ethical situation/contradiction would bring about a dilemma than why wouldn't it pose as much a dilemma to the ethical abolitionist vegan if the person they were in love with was constantly, consciously contributing to animals death and abuse by continuing to eat them?
That is the door I was asking vegans to check their own speciesism at.

Veganly yours,


OhSoooSara said...

I feel so much appreciation for the topics raised and discussed in this post and comments. They are so near and dear to my heart, questions and fear.

I am daily laboring over the fact that my boyfriend is not vegan (or vegetarian) and says he does not "think" (is it bad that this gives me hope?) he will ever be interested in becoming vegan. When we started dating over 5 years ago, I was not vegan or vegetarian. For me, it was not a gradual change. It literally slapped me in the face and turned my world upside down. It is now who I am, and I try my best to live whilst celebrating veganism. On the other hand, my choice and passionate feelings on being an abolitionist vegan are often a strain on my relationship. It could be worse....we don't live together. Ugh… still haven't figured out how that one would work. My partner has yet to watch the movie that opened my eyes and I don't think pushing him will be of any benefit. He fears seeing the truth and having to change. I fear him watching the movie, and continuing to eat meat…..him not being deeply affected like me. One day I will have to muster the courage to play the movie for him when he is not expecting. I used to make snide remarks at the nasty things I would see him eating or making to eat, but I realized that those comments made it easy for him to tune me out, and pushed him further away from being compassionate. We’ve had some heated and emotional discussions. During a grocery shopping trip to Costco, I’ve exploded. I won’t stop being vegan, and in these 5 years we haven’t stopped loving each other, but our future is in the air. I try to take it day by day, living in the moment and summoning fourth compassion for fellow humans that have yet to wake up. Right now, it is working and he supports me in many ways. Will that be enough? I try to manifest tolerance and patience so that I can teach loved ones about veganism without alienating or disparaging them. It’s tough and the fire inside often rages…… wonderful to have portals like this where we can share our noble struggles for peace!

M said...

Eric, I agree that there should be no shame in loving another. I also think that there should be no shame in being unable to love another whose ethical framework differs drastically from our own. I don't agree that educating those we love about taking the interests of nonhuman animals seriously is about getting them to "comply with our desires" (although I'm sure that many internalize it as such). That the exploitation of nonhuman animals is immoral isn't swaddled in the subjective, and I think that this is where it gets problematic to take the stance that some non-abolitionists do that veganism is a personal choice. I don't think that we can turn a blind eye to our loved ones' refusing to take the interests of nonhuman animals seriously. What's problematic to me, though, is how to respond to it within the context of pretty much living surrounded by people who also refuse to do so. Where I'm concerned, I'm too much of an introvert to voluntarily play hermit--to withdraw--and stay sane.

David, I'm really curious about how your family ended up going vegan. Were you the first to do so? It's hard for me to relate to what you (and others) say about the differences in your relationships with vegans versus those with non-vegans since up until very recently, I'd never even (knowingly) met another vegan in person. Maybe I should have included that as a caveat in my post, since it definitely shapes my own thoughts and feelings on the topic(s) at hand.

mv said...

I don't think a vegan is any less ethical by being in a relationship with a non-vegan. Being involved with a non-vegan does not mean the vegan is supporting the partner's lifestyle, or encouraging it in any way. It doesn't mean s/he agrees with it. It doesn't mean s/he gives it tacit approval or that s/he disregards it. I have no doubt that any vegan in such a situation has made, or is in progress of making, an honest effort at trying to educate the other person about what consuming animals actually entails. There is nothing unethical about this.

I am very fortunate in that my husband and I traveled this path together. We were both omni when we met nearly 13 years ago. I know myself enough to recognize that if I hadn't been so lucky, I would not be able to have a relationship with an omni today. I would understand the limitations such a potential partner may have and I would accept that I can not overcome his genes/personality with logic and ethical arguments no matter how hard I try. But I would not be able to make it work. Although I would not blame him, it would gnaw at me and gnaw at me until I would find it unbearable to stay. Just as he would not be able to change his personality, I would not be able to change mine, and such an incompatibility would eventually lead to the demise of the relationship.

I count my lucky stars every day that I was fortunate enough to find a man who is as close to a perfect match for my personality type as one can possible exist. If I believed in god, I'd be thanking him every day.

I think some people can make a go of it, not without a certain dose of grief, but it is definitely possible. Each person is different. I do think, however, that the stronger a person feels about animal rights, the more such a person is invested, the less likely a romantic relationship with an omni is to be successful. Not impossible, but significantly less likely. said...

Critically reflecting on our relationships with nonvegans does not imply having to be ashamed of one's feelings, and no one should be judged for feeling the way they do. I'd like to make two points, however:

(1) To the extent to which an ethical vegan chooses to socialize with nonvegans – beyond adapting to basic standards of social behaviour, at work, for example – she has the moral obligation to keep making it clear to them that she finds their not being vegan unacceptable, for if she does not do so, she thereby expresses that she does find it acceptable for other people not to be vegan.

(2) When an ethical vegan finds it impossible for her to have emotionally close relationships to nonvegans, this does not imply writing them off or, referring to your blog post from Tuesday, having no hope in human animals. Nor is it, to quote you from that post, ''less than conducive to facilitating vegan education.'' Keeping an emotional distance towards people whose behaviour is at odds with one's ethical views, and educating them about ethical issues, are separate things and not mutually exclusive.

M said...

Karin, I don't disagree with your first point at all. With regards to your second point, I just wanted to mention briefly that my follow-up post was more in response to Philip (who'd indicated in his original comment that he feels that it's speciesist to be in a relationship with a non-vegan) than to any other vegans' asserting that they're not (as) comfortable engaging with non-vegans on a close (or intimate) level. It certainly wasn't my intention to come off as trying to shame those who cannot (or choose not to) have close relationships with non-vegans.

As I indicated in a comment to the follow-up blog post, I can understand (from what I've read and have been told and from thinking it through in my own head) that some may feel that it's difficult (or impossible). I get it. As I pointed out in response to Dave a few comments up, I can't compare my own relationship with non-vegans to my relationships with vegans and relate to how there could or would be differences in a first-hand manner, since up until a month ago, I'd never even met another vegan in person. If I were to keep an emotional distance between myself and every non-vegan in my life, it would be a solitary and wretched existence I'd have -- more so, I truly think, than the sad and complicated one I have trying to relate to my non-vegan loved ones.

ERock said...

you said: "there should be no shame in being unable to love another whose ethical framework differs drastically from our own."

"it gets problematic to take the stance that some non-abolitionists do that veganism is a personal choice"
I think every choice is a personal choice. But there's no personal choice that doesn't also affect everyone else. Its even a personal choice to murder a human. Its one i disagree with and thankfully the laws and culture support me on this one. However, the laws and society do not yet support us on someone's personal choice to murder a chicken. So yes, I realize its pretty radical of me to "support" or "respect" someone's murder of animals despite my deep seated disagreement with it, but its only because I know this:
1) The person does not truly see the animal as a sentient being in the same way I do. So of course they don't give a damn. They don't get it. I remember what it was like to not get it.
2) Its easy to confuse their murder and my silence as making me complicit. I disagree. First, I am not murdering, they are. Second, I do not know that my speaking to them about it would be helpful. For all I know it will make them defensive and more closed to the idea. We've all experienced getting defensive and how it closes us off. So when it feels right, I discuss, other times I won't. We often guilt and shame ourselves into feeling we must ALWAYS be discussing. But its just not true. And we have all experienced the true respect and admiration we feel for someone who is a real "living example" rather than a preacher. I am not saying any method is better or worse, only that for me it is best to be open to both silent example and active education as possibilities in any situation and not feel any guilt for using either. That lack of guilt comes from the full understanding that I can't know what the right thing to do is, I can only guess.

"What's problematic to me, though, is how to respond to it within the context of pretty much living surrounded by people who refuse to [take non-humans rights seriously]"
To me its about forgiveness. When I remember back to being that guy who "didn't get it", I can forgive myself for it. Its not my fault that I didn't get it. There are such incredibly large forces in our world constantly pushing us to "not get it" even when we've literally been told exactly what happens over and over. So my recommendation would be to go back to your own meat eating days. See if you can forgive yourself if u haven't already. If you can (or have), you can forgive those around you as well. They'll feel your energy change if you've forgiven them and you may be surprised to find them more open to you and your thoughts. These things help me anyway, I hope they're helpful to others.