When people find out I am vegan, they often say that I must love animals. However, this is not true.
I like some animals, and I sometimes come to love individual animals, but I do not love animals in a general sense.
For example, I generally dislike dogs. But even though I generally do not like them, I recognize that they have rights, and I am against dog abuse.
I have a cousin who is an ‘animal-lover’ – at one time she wanted to be a vet – but who is also a ‘carnivore’ (to quote my mother) – i.e. she loves to eat dead animals, and she is not even terribly concerned about the welfare of the animals she eats, let alone their rights (NOTE: it has been years since I have been in direct contact with her, so her views and behavior might have changed). One time, when my mother was eating with my cousin, my mother refused to eat the meat on the table, and brought up the question of why someone who loves animals so much is eating animals who suffered so much cruelty. My mother reports that my cousin responded with awkward silence.
I do not doubt that my cousin loves some non-human animals, but it is a love which does not include respect for animal rights.
Sometimes, when I state I am vegan, people tell me that I am a ‘nice’ or ‘kind’ person. Being ‘nice’ means going above one’s ethical obligations to be good. I do not think I am doing that. I think being vegan (at least as a middle class person in the developed world – context matters) is part of my basic obligations. To me, saying that being vegan is ‘nice’ is like saying that refusing to lunge at people’s necks is ‘nice’. By saying that I am being ‘nice’, people are excusing themselves from the responsibility to treat non-human animals with decency.
So ultimately, making veganism about ‘loving animals’ and ‘being nice’ is yet another distraction from the ethical question – is it okay to take away animals’ freedoms in order to use them as objects? Is it only okay when it is an absolute necessity for survival, such as the Gwich’in people who hunt for food but do not deprive animals of freedom while they are alive? Is also okay for affluent people in California to buy eggs from chickens whose beaks were cut off by a hot blade at a young age (de-beaking can cause chronic pain for life) simply because ‘eggs taste good’? What about situations in between, such as my cousin who keeps some hens in his backyard who, while never permitted to leave the backyard, let alone anywhere near roosters, at least can run all over the backyard, are not in chronic pain, and have each other for companionship?
I do not love animals. But I still want to do the right thing.
And a morality which said you only had to treat those you love with basic respect, and that it is okay to abuse anyone you don’t love is a pretty worthless morality in my opinion.
I also recommend reading “A Vegan But Not an Activist? Sure. An Animal Lover But Not a Vegan? Nope.” for a perspective that is a little different from my own.
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Because of my weak constitution I can’t be vegan myself (I have tried), though I try not to eat meat and fish whenever I can and have cut down on many things that aren’t food related (leather shoes, necklaces with teeth or bones, etc.) but I wouldn’t consider myself an animal-lover. I actually don’t like animals very much. Ever since I can remember, I’ve strongly disliked being touched and anything body related – nerves, bones, muscles – which makes me incredibly uncomfortable around animals really. Just because I don’t want to hurt, assassinate and eat the corpse of a cow, a chicken or a cat, doesn’t mean I want it on my lap.
If you are doing as much as you can to avoid harm/exploitation of animals without causing harm to yourself, I would consider you a vegan.
An exclusively vegan diet is fine for me healthwise, but … I wear leather shoes. Leather shoes happen to do less damage to my feet than other kinds of shoes (my feet are presently in relatively good shape – I have gone an amazingly long time without foot pain – but I am still more prone to foot/lower leg injury than most people). I do repair my shoes, and only replace them when they are beyond repair.
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“One time, when my mother was eating with my cousin, my mother refused to eat the meat on the table, and brought up the question of why someone who loves animals so much is eating animals who suffered so much cruelty. My mother reports that my cousin responded with awkward silence.”
Is your mother vegan too?
Not really, but she prefers to only eat animals if the food would otherwise be wasted, or if it is in very small quantities (i.e. it’s just a minor ingredient).