Single and vegan

Someone on Facebook started a Vegan Singles group last June,[1] and its growth seems to be accelerating. At this writing, there are 753 members.

It has to be said that many members of the group are people who are worth having conversations with. I’ve only had to block one (who was subsequently banned) for trollish behavior. But some of the ideas that appear in group discussions indicate a real loneliness, indeed a near-desperation to connect with other vegans.

This is a real problem. The polls vary slightly, but around five percent of the U.S. population is vegetarian. Only two percent are vegan. I’ve published brief forms of reasoned arguments on the “About” page for this blog,[2] and elaborated forms of these arguments for going vegan in my research journal.[3] But I think many vegans would say that being vegan isn’t just a matter of intellect but rather of deeply felt concern for animals and of repulsion to their killing. I think also that even when we are in intimate relationships with non-vegans, we only acquiesce to and endure our partners’ animal-exploitive habits and preferences in consideration of their other virtues.

In general, there is a serious gulf between vegans and the rest of society. Diana Wagman identifies as vegetarian rather than as vegan, but she puts her finger on the problem in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times about the travails she faces in dealing with omnivorous relatives at Thanksgiving, who seem entirely insensitive not only toward animals but to her feelings. “This is also the time of year when it stinks to be a vegetarian,” she writes. “[N]ot as much as to be a turkey, but for my family, it is an issue every year.”[4] Indeed, one of the arguments that Michael Pollan supplies in choosing not to go vegan is just this, that he wants to continue to share holiday meals with omnivorous friends and relatives.[5] This is the fallacy of the appeal to popularity[6]: In essence, he argues that because everyone else is eating meat at traditional meals, he should continue to do so. Wagman correctly points out that animals pay an unacceptable price for this appeal.[7] (Despite this, I think everyone should read Omnivore’s Dilemma; Pollan documents well the horrors of a highly industrialized food system that nearly all of us, even vegans, rely upon.[8])

Many omnivores harbor what can only be described as an antipathy toward vegans. In a typical example, Hank Campbell, on a site called Science 2.0, argues on the contrary, that meat-eaters are more tolerant than vegetarians and especially more so than vegans. This, after assuming that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) represents all vegetarians and vegans. He also assumes, without supplying evidence, that meat-eating is “natural” for humans.[9] Despite the name of the web site, this is not a scientific argument. It is, in fact, a poorly researched argument that ignores health issues,[10] environmental and sustainability issues,[11] and assumes from the classification of a behavior as “natural,” that it is desirable.

The claim that meat-eating is “natural” asserts that 1) because wolves, lions, and other predators are predators, humans should be, too, that this is part of the “natural order;” and 2) because humans have been hunting meat since the Paleolithic era, we should continue to do so. These claims ignore that as natural omnivores capable of ethical reasoning, humans have a choice about what we eat. This is in stark contrast to natural predators who lack the ability to engage in ethical reasoning. Ethical decision-making is what makes it possible for us humans to live in groups and is therefore necessary for our survival. Further, our ethical agreements evolve over time: What we agree to, today, may not be what we agree to, tomorrow; and what we agreed to, yesterday, is, in many cases, not at all what we agree to, today.[12] Add to this that a worldwide population of human hunter-gatherers would have maxed out at about 200 million,[13] in stark contrast to the over seven billion humans who now (over-)populate this planet, and it becomes clear that these arguments rest on a premise which is inapplicable to our present situation. Last but not least, the claim that eating meat is “natural” appears factually dubious: It seems likely that, going back far enough, our ancestors were vegetarians.[14] One might suspect that the author of a posting on a presumably scientific blog should argue more soundly.

Further, PETA most definitely does not speak for all vegans (and does not even claim to speak for vegetarians; it advocates a vegan lifestyle). Campbell is far from the first to notice the organization’s failings, which include not only the well-documented killing of adoptable companion animals entrusted to its care but the exploitation of women’s bodies in promoting veganism,[15] both of which, of course, infuriate many vegans (including myself).

Yet this is the kind of adamant argumentation that vegans encounter routinely. I am still learning to just immediately block the authors of such arguments as trolls. And the best way to view such arguments is as reflections of an irrational determination to continue an unsustainable, unhealthy, and unethical lifestyle; indeed, they reflect an unwillingness to adapt that imperils the human species and a great many other species on this planet.[16]

So even though it would be better to engage omnivores in reasoned discussion and persuade them to do what is environmentally and ethically right,  and to do what is better for their health, this is often impossible. We encounter a vitriolic resentment instead. And some of us just get tired of it. It is entirely understandable, then, that some vegans are seeking physical community where our ethical, environmental, and health choices are the norm rather than a rarity. (Hint: I do have a section for intentional communities in the classified section of this site.)

I’m seriously considering a move to Vermont because for reasons beyond the scope of this article,[17] I think that my meager employment prospects will be enhanced if I do so.[18] I will be seeking a house-share. It would be really nice if it were a vegan house-share. Ethically, morally, and aesthetically, sharing a house with omnivores is equivalent to sharing it with cannibals.

And for at least some vegan singles, the thought of intimacy—to put it bluntly, exchanging bodily fluids—with an omnivore is simply repulsive. That mouth has been an entry point for corpses. Particles of dead flesh may lurk among the teeth. I think I can let your imagination proceed from there.

But vegans just aren’t that prevalent in the national population. The national statistics I cited above are not broken down, at least that I’ve seen, by marital status or geographic region. If we infer from those statistics that two percent of the U.S. population of singles is vegan (an ecological fallacy), then those of us who reject relationships with non-vegans are ruling out 98 percent of the field.

While I cannot address the question of variations on marital status, I am sure that there are regional variations. I think Portland is probably the best city in the United States to be vegan; there are a number of vegan-oriented businesses there, suggesting that the proportion of the population there which is vegan may be higher. One might accordingly hope that there are more vegan singles there. So it makes sense that I’m seeing some discussion of a cooperative purchase of a multi-unit dwelling, possibly in Portland.

Not everyone is free to move. Vegans, like anyone else, are affected by an anemic economic recovery and a decimated social safety net. Vegans have no secret society, at least that I know of, that makes our job hunts any easier than those of the general population. Not all of us have a hundred thousand dollars to invest. I’m wondering if I’ll even be able to afford to move to Vermont (which, as near as I can tell from clear across the country, is not an especially great place to be a vegan). Some of us have social ties we’d hate to abandon.

But I’m guessing that more than a few vegans are feeling like fish out of water. I know I am, and not just because I’m vegan. It’d be nice to be able to move in the direction of that community.

  1. [1]Dan Carr, Facebook post, June 28, 2013, https://www.facebook.com/groups/621598131193527/permalink/621598134526860/
  2. [2]David Benfell, “About,” So, I’m Vegan. Now, What?, January 17, 2014, https://vegan.parts-unknown.org/?page_id=16
  3. [3]David Benfell, “The inevitability of speciesism,” December 7, 2012, https://parts-unknown.org/wp/2012/12/07/the-inevitability-of-speciesism/; David Benfell, “‘We have found the enemy, and he is us’ — and our system of social organization,” March 6, 2013, https://parts-unknown.org/wp/2013/03/06/we-have-found-the-enemy-and-he-is-us-and-our-system-of-social-organization/; David Benfell, “Change For The Improbable: Change For Human and Non-Human Survival,” September 27, 2013, https://parts-unknown.org/wp/2013/09/27/change-for-the-improbable-change-for-human-and-non-human-survival/
  4. [4]Diana Wagman, “Let’s talk Tofurky,” Los Angeles Times, November 25, 2010, http://articles.latimes.com/2010/nov/25/opinion/la-oe-wagman-20101125
  5. [5]Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (New York: Penguin, 2007).
  6. [6]Nizkor Project, “Fallacy: Appeal to Popularity,” 2012, http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/appeal-to-popularity.html
  7. [7]Diana Wagman, “Let’s talk Tofurky,” Los Angeles Times, November 25, 2010, http://articles.latimes.com/2010/nov/25/opinion/la-oe-wagman-20101125
  8. [8]Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (New York: Penguin, 2007).
  9. [9]Hank Campbell, “Meat Eaters Are More Tolerant Than Vegans,” Science 2.0, August 7, 2013, http://www.science20.com/science_20/meat_eaters_are_more_tolerant_vegans-117979
  10. [10]Lindsay Abrams, “Meat inspector: ‘We are no longer in charge of safety’,” Salon, September 9, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/09/09/meat_inspector_we_are_no_longer_in_charge_of_safety/; Allison Aubrey, “Hot Dogs, Bacon And Red Meat Tied To Increased Diabetes Risk,” National Public Radio, June 18, 2013, http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/06/18/192810562/hot-dogs-bacon-and-red-meat-tied-to-increased-diabetes-risk; Michaeleen Douclef, “Chowing Down On Meat, Dairy Alters Gut Bacteria A Lot, And Quickly,” National Public Radio, December 11, 2013, http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/12/10/250007042/chowing-down-on-meat-and-dairy-alters-gut-bacteria-a-lot-and-quickly; Rob Dunn, “Human Ancestors Were Nearly All Vegetarians,” Scientific American, July 23, 2012, http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2012/07/23/human-ancestors-were-nearly-all-vegetarians/; Elizabeth Flock, “Bill Clinton, on his 65th birthday, has gone vegan,” Washington Post, August 19, 2011, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/blogpost/post/bill-clinton-on-his-65th-birthday-has-gone-vegan/2011/08/19/gIQA17vIQJ_blog.html; Gina Kolata, “Culprit in Heart Disease Goes Beyond Meat’s Fat,” New York Times, April 7, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/08/health/study-points-to-new-culprit-in-heart-disease.html; Nicholas D. Kristof, “Arsenic in Our Chicken?” New York Times, April 4, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/05/opinion/kristof-arsenic-in-our-chicken.html; David S. Martin, “From omnivore to vegan: The dietary education of Bill Clinton,” CNN, August 18, 2011, http://www.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/08/18/bill.clinton.diet.vegan/; Michael Moss, “The Burger That Shattered Her Life,” New York Times, October 3, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/04/health/04meat.html; Tom Philpott, “CDC Reveals Scary Truth About Factory Farms and Superbugs,” Mother Jones, September 18, 2013, http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2013/09/cdc-meat-industry-yes-you-contribute-antibiotic-resistance
  11. [11]David Benfell, “‘We have found the enemy, and he is us’ — and our system of social organization,” March 6, 2013, https://parts-unknown.org/wp/2013/03/06/we-have-found-the-enemy-and-he-is-us-and-our-system-of-social-organization/; David Benfell, “Change For The Improbable: Change For Human and Non-Human Survival,” September 27, 2013, https://parts-unknown.org/wp/2013/09/27/change-for-the-improbable-change-for-human-and-non-human-survival/
  12. [12]Philip Kitcher, The Ethical Project (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 2011).
  13. [13]Union of Concerned Scientists, “Population – Biodiversity Linkage,” August, 2000, http://www.ucsusa.org/ssi/biodiversity/population-and-environment-series/population-biodiversity.html
  14. [14]Rob Dunn, “Human Ancestors Were Nearly All Vegetarians,” Scientific American, July 23, 2012, http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2012/07/23/human-ancestors-were-nearly-all-vegetarians/
  15. [15]David Benfell, “PETA is a lousy god,” So, I’m Vegan. Now, What? May 30, 2009, https://vegan.parts-unknown.org/?p=54; David Benfell, “Animal liberation: Not the revolution but a part of one,” November 28, 2013, https://parts-unknown.org/wp/2013/11/28/animal-liberation-not-the-revolution-but-a-part-of-one/; Alexandra Myers, “Documents: PETA kills more than 95 percent of pets in its care,” Daily Caller, February 24, 2012, http://dailycaller.com/2012/02/24/documents-peta-kills-more-than-95-percent-of-pets-in-its-care/; Molly Redden, “PETA’s Offensive Solution to the Plan B Weight-Limit Crisis,” Mother Jones, December 2, 2013, http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2013/12/plan-b-weight-limits-peta-vegan; Mary Elizabeth Williams, “Surprise, PETA! Sex doesn’t sell,” Salon, December 20, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/12/20/surprise_peta_sex_doesnt_sell/; Michael Winerip, “PETA Finds Itself on Receiving End of Others’ Anger,” New York Times, July 6, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/07/us/peta-finds-itself-on-receiving-end-of-others-anger.html; Nathan J. Winograd, “Shocking Photos: PETA’s Secret Slaughter of Kittens, Puppies,” Huffington Post, April 2, 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nathan-j-winograd/peta-kills-puppies-kittens_b_2979220.html
  16. [16]David Benfell, “Towards Sustainability,” April 11, 2013, https://parts-unknown.org/wp/2013/04/11/towards-sustainability/
  17. [17]see Colin Woodard, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America (New York: Penguin, 2011) on the region/nation he labels “Yankeedom,” which seems to value education more highly than other regions. Within this region, and alone among the 50 states, Vermont has elected a socialist U.S. senator, Bernie Sanders, and is moving toward single-payer health care at the state level. See Salvatore Aversa, “Vermont Approves Single-Payer Health Care: ‘Everybody In, Nobody Out’,” Truthout, December 7, 2013, http://truth-out.org/news/item/20495-vermont-approves-single-payer-health-care-everybody-in-nobody-out
  18. [18]David Benfell, “Kicking job seekers when they’re down,” Not Housebroken, June 28, 2013, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=5624 Many of the handicaps discussed in this posting affect me personally. I have been seeking gainful employment since the dot-com crash in 2001, have returned to school, earned a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree, and am well on my way to a Ph.D., with no sign of improvement in my prospects. I will probably have accumulated on the order of $200,000 of student loan debt by the time I graduate.

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