For this post I’m just going to use the word vegetarian to mean “vegetarian or vegan”, just for the sake of brevity. (I know, I know — when the fuck did I start caring about brevity? Good question!) So please keep that in mind when reading. Also, some of the below stuff has been lifted from or based on emails I’ve written to friends in the past. So if some of it looks familiar, it’s possible I got it from a message I wrote to you. I apologize if that offends anyone — sometimes I feel like I expressed something very well in an email, and it seems silly not to make use of it.
One thing I’ve learned on OKCupid is that most vegetarians, even if they are vegetarian for ethical reasons, are not seeking fellow vegetarians as partners. Most will just ask that their partners respect their dietary choices, and some will go so far as to say “It would be nice if you were a vegetarian, but it’s not a requirement.” But it’s pretty rare (that I have seen) for a vegetarian to make that a requirement in their partner. Well, for me, it’s a requirement. And this seems to confuse or anger a lot of people, so I wanted to elaborate. Hence this post.
A while back (I forget how long) I decided I should only date fellow vegetarians. Well, that’s not quite right. First, they didn’t need to be vegetarians. Pescetarians (vegetarians who make an exception for fish) may be okay. But that’s still not accurate. Because it isn’t the fact that they don’t eat meat which was important to me. I decided I only wanted to date people who felt the same way (or similarly, anyway) about animals and other living things. So someone who was vegetarian purely for health reasons wouldn’t have met that criteria. It was basically that I wanted them to feel the same way about fellow living beings as I did, and a consequence of that would be that they’d end up pescetarian/vegetarian/vegan or something along those lines.
Now, I say I decided this, but it’s not like I sat down and laid it out as a hard and fast rule for myself or anything. I just noticed that my relationships with folks who didn’t share this with me tended to not work. Of course, all of my relationships so far have obviously “not worked” in the sense that they’re not still going. But what I mean is that I would find myself eventually having a hard time really feeling close to the other person, knowing as I did that they viewed things so fundamentally differently.
I should pause here and say that it’s not that I wanted them to view EVERYTHING the same way I do. That sounds kind of awful, really. In no way am I interested in being in a relationship with a clone of myself. Even an attractive female clone. I think the animal thing is different for me because it is something that is very very important to me and very central to my entire philosophy and value system. And it’s not really even an “animal thing” to me. To me it is more of a do unto others / do the least harm possible / treat other living things with respect sort of thing. For me, these things underpin pretty much everything about which I am passionate — sexism, racism, homophobia, and animal rghts. And I’d always known that I wouldn’t want to be in a relationship with someone who was racist or homophobic. I think it just took me a while to realize that the reason was because that violated my most important core values. So I guess the most accurate way for me to express my dating criteria is that I wanted to find someone else whose most fundamental beliefs were:
- Do unto others as you would have them do unto you
- Always try to do the least harm possible in the world — live and let live
- All living things deserve respect
And as far as I can tell, these three core beliefs lead to vegetarianism. One thing you may totally call me on is: “Okay, let’s turn the tables. You listed your core values, but wouldn’t keeping plants healthy and alive be a part of doing least harm and live and let live and respecting living things? So how do you justify killing plants to eat them?”
Good points and definitely ones worth raising. These are definitely questions I’ve asked myself. Here’s my thinking about that stuff:
First, I probably should add one core value to my list. Something like “I as an individual have the right to do what I must to survive and be healthy.” You know, that may not even belong on my core value list. I think it’s more a fact of life that living things are going to try to survive. Sure, there are exceptions, but I’m not one of them. Evolution or whatever has left me with a drive to stay alive. So even if my morals suggested that I should eat no plants or animals, then I’m going to violate my morals, unless there’s some way to not eat plants or animals and still survive and be healthy. Similarly I think stealing is wrong but I would steal food sooner than starve to death, or squat in a shelter that doesn’t belong to me, if the alternative was death by exposure. So my first response is that I’m not so noble that I will take my morals to that extreme and quietly die rather than violate any of them.
BUT that said, if there was a way to be healthy and not kill plants or animals, then I would try to do it. If scientists develop artificial food at some point and it’s perfectly healthy, then that’s something I would look into. Or maybe they’d not quite work that miracle, but maybe they have a way to grow plants or meat in a lab in such a way that an entire organism doesn’t have to die. They basically grow the stuff from the cellular level. I would look into that as well. So yes, my core beliefs do imply that plant life has value, and if I could avoid doing harm there, I would.
Okay, so there’s that. But given today’s reality, humans cannot live without living things dying to sustain them (ignoring the fact that some plants bear fruit which can be eaten without killing the plant — let’s leave that out for now to keep things simpler). And yes, that does violate my core beliefs. Okay, so what does that mean? If I cannot fully live by my core beliefs does that mean I should then wholly ignore them? I don’t think so. I try to find a way to live which violates them in the smallest possible way. And that is what makes me decide that killing a plant is “doing less harm” than killing an animal. And that is why I feel like killing “advanced” animals which can feel fear and despair is more harm than killing those animals which can perhaps only feel pain. And I feel that except for the most basic animals which have no nervous systems, it is pretty much always more harmful/cruel to kill an animal than it is to kill a plant. And it’s not just the pain and fear side of things. It’s that the more advanced animals are able to experience life and existence in a much more sophisticated way. We don’t kill other humans because we know they are like us — they are sentient, thinking, feeling creatures. We think it is wrong to take that away from someone. Similarly, I feel like the more advanced an animal is, then the more you are taking away from them by killing them. And so again, I feel like plants (and very basic animals) are “losing less” in death than the more advanced animals. So given that my existence requires the death of living things, my fundamental beliefs lead me to conclude that being vegan is the best way to do the least harm and yet still remain healthy. I definitely don’t want to give the impression that I don’t respect plants as living things or that I don’t think they deserve consideration.
The basic thing for me, I think, is that I want a partner who is truly compassionate, shares these same core beliefs, and tries to live their life in accordance with their beliefs. Further, I want someone who is not afraid of self-reflection — someone who is willing to critically look at their own behavior and, if they find it is not in line with their beliefs, to change it. Someone self-aware, I guess, and always seeking self-improvement and personal growth. And I feel like someone who shares the core beliefs I listed above would logically then be a vegetarian. It is possible I am wrong — maybe someone can explain how those core values do not imply a vegetarian lifestyle. If that’s the case, I would be very interested in hearing about it.
(I should also mention that this stuff doesn’t just extend to my diet — it influences other choices in my life. And contrary to my long-winded posts about this stuff, I am not without a sense of humor about it.)
Anyway, so that’s why I say I only want to date someone who is vegetarian for ethical reasons. If you think I am being a judgmental prick, you may be right, but please read this. If you have ever said, “I can’t be vegetarian because I like bacon too much” or “I can’t be vegan because I love cheese”, then please read this. If you aren’t vegetarian, but do not approve of hunting (for sport or otherwise), then please read this. If you think I’m a hypocrite for being vegan but feeding my cats meat, please read this. Finally, if you are a masochist and want to hear more about why I’m vegan, then please read this. In conclusion, please be vegetarian/vegan/pescetarian for ethical reasons. If you aren’t, I really don’t think it will work. :(
And to end on a happier note: