Sleeping with carnivores guilt-free

By Amanda Marcotte
Thursday, June 17, 2010 13:26 EDT
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So some dude wrote to the Ms blog because he was annoyed that feminists wouldn’t date him because he’s not vegetarian/vegan. After reading a lot of Savage Love, I’m a little wary of people who have pat explanations for why it’s everyone else’s problem that you can’t get a date, especially since he conflated “having a relationship” with “having access to vagina”:

I’ve read a bit of your writing (by no means all), and as a single man, I’ll admit, I was drawn to the pieces on feminist dating. I’d like to meet more like-minded women, but I’ve run into the problem that many of those who share my political philosophy have a sort of ‘no non-vegetarians/vegans’ policy. I’m neither, and since my position on the matter goes beyond ‘I’m too lazy to not eat meat,’ I’m not likely to change in the name of sex. So here’s the question: Should I re-prioritize meat, or should I just get used to celibacy?

If you want to date feminists, start by believing that women have more to offer in relationships than regular orgasms for you! Maybe then you’ll find that their pat stories about how they don’t date meat eaters disappear into the ether.

But let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps his reduction of a relationship with a woman to sex was just cheekiness, and not an unwillingness to believe that women are also good for companionship, intellectual stimulation, fun, and laughs, or that women have intrinsic value as human beings even if you don’t want to fuck them. I certainly have made my share of cock jokes in my time, though often out of a petulant desire to subvert the patriarchy by using language to describe men that is so commonly used with women that it passes notice. Maybe he really is a great guy who treats women like full, interesting human beings, and he’s finding himself swamped with women who find him painfully attractive, but can’t overlook the hamburger love.

I threw this question out to the Twitterati, and a couple of important points were mine. One is that meat eaters can often be obnoxious assholes who treat your vegetarianism (or in my case, veggie + occasional seafood consumption) like it’s some contaminating thing that can’t even be discussed. To which, I say, I’m thinking of the thoughtful, open-minded meat eaters of the world. Another is that vegetarianism/veganism is a values system like feminism, and sharing values is very important. I’m a big fan of this idea, and have often suggested that people who try to overcome religious differences or major ideological differences to have relationships are not likely to do well over the long term (though there’s always exceptions, and I fully validate your personal experience, people in 6 month long relationships with Republicans that are destined for lifelong love). So, I suppose it depends most on why you don’t eat of the meat—if it’s a values thing, or if you’re more a pragmatic veggie.

I’m definitely in the latter school on this issue, and I think that anyone who agrees with me that vegetarianism or some version of it is a pragmatic choice should not treat meat-eating like a deal-breaker. I think the problem isn’t with meat-eating in and of itself, but that the problem is that our culture has turned meat into a central food instead of an occasional treat. Many people eat meat two-three times a day, and many people can’t even conceive of a meal existing without meat at the center of it. This has created an outrageous demand for meat, and that demand is an environmental disaster. The BP oil spill should be another reminder of this—if we didn’t have such a dramatic demand for meat, we wouldn’t need nearly the same amount of fossil fuel resources going to agriculture, and the demand for oil would be that much lower. What vegetarians do is create demand for an entire food structure that isn’t about meat, which in turn helps expand the meat-free options in restaurants, cookbooks, etc. We’re helping the world imagine what it’s like to eat without meat. Because of vegetarians, people who want to reduce their meat consumption to a reasonable twice a week can do so easily. The hope is that the accumulation of these individual choices helps remake the culture.

If you’re that kind of vegetarian, then it’s actually going to help and not hurt the strategy to date a meat eater. One thing non-veggies who are partnered with veggies discover pretty rapidly is that they eat less meat. Every shared meal with a vegetarian is going to be meatless, for instance, but it’s more than that. You date a vegetarian, and not eating meat becomes normalized. It becomes natural to skip meat on your own for all sorts of meals. It’s not just dating vegetarians that can have this influence. I’ve noticed that people who simply spend a lot of time around vegetarians eat way less meat than people who rarely hang out with vegetarians. The main reason is delicious vegetarian foods become normal and desirable. This phenomenon goes many ways. I love dairy products and have trouble weaning myself off many of them, but being around people who are lactose intolerant or vegan caused me to move in a more creative way towards eating purely vegan food more often, and now I’d say half of the time I eat purely vegan food. It’s not a conscious choice; it just became normal to me. If the goal is a pragmatic attempt to lower consumption of meat or all animal products, then it’s working towards your goal to socialize with meat eaters.

Now, I’m not saying you should feel obligated to date someone because they’re a meat eater. Just that you should feel free and clear to date meat-eaters if you want to, and not feel guilty about it. And that in general, vegetarianism is most effective as a political choice if you’re integrated into the world of meat-eaters, because you can, without ever even speaking up or lecturing someone, lower their meat consumption just by modeling how easy it is not to eat meat. I think, for a lot of meat-eaters, reducing consumption can seem daunting because we’re such a meat-oriented culture. Seeing how not-hard it is to go veggie can be a big step. I’ve known a lot of veggie/non-veggie couples, and generally speaking, this observation seems to be the common one.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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