“Do I have to love animals to be vegan?”

It’s natural that animal loving has become synonymous with veganism, and it’s not something that animal rights organisations or activists have really tried to discourage. We often try to appeal to the love people have for animals to convince them to go vegan, and slogans like “love animals? Go vegan” are used very often. Most people like animals in some capacity, so it is an effective way to try to appeal to people. It does ring a little hollow for people who don’t have any real love for animals though, and can make them feel like veganism isn’t really something that’s for them, but this just isn’t the case.

What is being argued is that you have to be vegan to love animals, but not that you have to love animals to be vegan. Leaving animals off your plate and advocating for their rights is a loving thing to do, just as paying for someone to slaughter them is inconsistent with loving them, but that does not mean that if you do not love animals you should be okay with them being exploited and slaughtered. Vegans do tend to be animal lovers, but you can still be an active part of the community without having any particular affection towards animals, after all, vegans don’t just stop eating those animals which they like.

The very idea that veganism is something that only an animal lover should consider is a very strange one if you think it through. The implication here is that only someone who is really personally invested in animals would care if they are being hurt and killed unnecessarily, but we would never dream of making this argument about humans. Even if you are less likely to personally sacrifice for a stranger than you are for someone you know, it is hard to make any kind of moral argument that a person does not deserve to be treated well just because you don’t personally know or love them. A being’s fundamental rights should not be dependent on how you personally feel about them. In fact, in an ideal world these two things would have no correlation whatsoever.

Veganism is defined as “a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.” The essential belief behind this is that animals are not objects, they are sentient beings with needs and preferences which should be respected, and lives which are just as valuable as our own. This means that it is wrong to exploit the for our own personal gain, or to treat our desires as more important than their needs. None of this in any way requires us to love animals, and in fact I’d argue that it doesn’t even imply it. Veganism is a moral philosophy which can be arrived at intellectually, with no sentiment, emotion or connection to animals required.

Veganism can help us view our love of animals in a different light, and can make us feel closer to animals than ever before. Kafka once wrote about fish he could look at them in peace now that he didn’t eat them anymore, and I think that a lot of us can relate very strongly to that. We should still be careful though, because when we equate veganism with a love of animals it becomes easier to dismiss for people who just don’t care about animals at all. Veganism is not some generous sacrifice we perform on behalf of animals because we love them, it is the minimum moral requirement for how we should treat fellow sentient beings, regardless of how we personally feel about them.

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