By James McWilliams
When I learned that the vegan author and social psychologist Melanie Joy
had written the text of a wedding ceremony for a vegan couple, I immediately
asked her if I could see it. Not only did she oblige, but—after absorbing my
outpouring of effusion—she granted me (with the couple’s consent) permission
to publish her talk on Eating Plants. Couples who discover authentic love
around shared values are fortunate souls indeed. To have the whole love
articulated so beautifully is an even rarer gift. Personally speaking, I
find the words below immensely moving and inspiring, and am honored to be
able to share them with you.
By Melanie Joy [Carnism Awareness & Action Network]
Petrina and Kevin first approached me to request that I officiate their wedding ceremony because I am a vegan author, because they’d read my writing on humans’ relationships with nonhuman animals and felt my work reflected their core values. What they didn’t realize was that I am also a relationship coach—I work with couples to help them create empowering, loving relationships.
How perfect that I could speak to the two forces that bring them together here today: their philosophy of veganism and their love and commitment to one another. And perhaps not surprisingly, these two forces are intimately interconnected: the very qualities and values that form the foundation of veganism are the same qualities and values that form the foundation of a loving marriage.
Veganism and marriage are so interconnected because veganism is not simply a diet, but a way of life; some might say it’s a spiritual path. Veganism is based on a set of guiding principles that determine how we think of and relate to ourselves, other animals, and our world. Veganism, like marriage, is ultimately a practice, a path one commits to daily and practices in order to grow. To practice veganism, in the true sense of the philosophy, is to practice being the kind of partner that helps create a deep and fulfilling marriage—an empowered marriage.
To honor Kevin and Petrina’s union, I’m going to briefly give words to the dual nature of empowerment that has brought them to this moment of public commitment, in this beautiful sanctuary for rescued farmed animals. To honor Petrina and Kevin’s union, I ask that you witness the nature of their love for one another and their love for other beings, through witnessing their practice of an empowered marriage and of veganism.
In an empowered marriage partners practice empathy. To empathize with another is to truly place yourself in their shoes, to do your best to see the world through their eyes—whether that other is your partner with whom you’re in the midst of a heated argument, or a piglet who was born into captivity.
In an empowered marriage partners practice compassion. To treat another with compassion is to treat them with genuine kindness. It’s to be able to say you matter, you have a life that matters to you, and, therefore, you matter to me—whether you are the person with whom I’ve chosen to share my life or another being with whom I share this planet.
In an empowered marriage partners practice mindfulness. When we practice mindfulness, we authentically reflect on our choices; we strive to be thoughtful partners and conscientious consumers. We examine the impact of our actions on others and try to act in a way that causes them the least harm.
In an empowered marriage partners practice commitment. True commitment means doing what’s right rather than what’s easy, being willing to sacrifice your immediate desires for the greater good of the relationship, or for the Earth.
In an empowered marriage partners practice courage. Courage is being able to admit you’re wrong, being open to hearing painful truths, and remaining true to your values in the face of pressure to stray. And courage means being willing to share power rather than wield it over another, to control yourself rather than control someone else, whether that someone else is the person you wake up next to every day or has four legs instead of two, wings instead of arms, or swims rather than walks.
In an empowered marriage partners practice love. And love, as writer Joanna Macy points out, is a verb. It is not merely a feeling, but an action. Love is acting in the best interest of another.
And it is love that is the hub of the wheel of both marriage and veganism—indeed, of life. Love as a verb requires us to call forth our highest human qualities, to become our best selves. Love as a verb nourishes our minds, hearts, and souls and makes us grow into better partners and better people.
As I came to know Petrina and Kevin, what emerged was a picture of two people who truly strive to espouse the values of an empowered marriage—and an empowered life. Empowerment ultimately means practicing integrity, and integrity by definition is the integration of values and practices. It is clear that Kevin and Petrina, as individuals, practice integrity toward each other as well as toward the animals with whom we share the planet. And it is clear that their relationship—an entity unto itself—is also one of integrity.
Some of the statements the people in their lives sent me shed light on this trio of Kevin, Petrina, and their relationship:
Theirs is a very wonderful love…[a love] of two people living on either side of the Atlantic, bought together by vegan food and a meandering walk through the suburbs of Bristol.
[Kevin] truly is a good person and a perfect match for Petrina. The two of them have rekindled my belief in true love. I like the way they look at each other when the other isn’t watching. I hope they have kids because they have an amazing gene pool.
[When Kevin met Petrina] he seemed instantly smitten.
They say food is the way to a man’s heart, I think it could be the other way round too.
Veganism plays a very important role in their lives and to be married at an animal sanctuary is perfectly fitting.
It has been fantastic to see [their] love grow over the years.And finally, Petrina’s mother says that Petrina “is a beautiful person” and “Kevin is a kind, gentle, and supportive man.”
What a gift to have a partner who truly “gets” you, and who truly sees the world through your eyes, especially when your core philosophical orientation is shared by so few others. Looking at the world through vegan eyes is like looking at the world from the outside in, or like taking off dark sunglasses so that you see everything in a different light. Looking at the world through vegan eyes you see a planet replete with unspeakable suffering that is invisible to most others, and that daily offends your deepest sensibilities: what others see as food you see as a once-sentient being; what others see as sport you see as cruelty; what others see as something you see as someone—someone whose soul you can see when you look into their eyes.
What a gift to have found a partner to assuage the loneliness that comes with being one of the less than one percent of vegans in the world, truly validating your experience. A partner who respects your sensitivity, who honors your grief, who celebrates your passion, who sees your compassion for other beings as a reflection of your personal power.
What a gift to have found a partner who will walk by your side down the road less traveled, who will remind you that you’re not alone, whose camaraderie will help you not to become embittered, judgmental, and despairing in a world that you find so deeply challenging and chronically confounding and where genuine love has become a radical concept.What a gift to have found a partner who can share in the joy of creating a life of love-as-a-verb and abundance of spirit.
It is clear that Kevin and Petrina have given each other a great gift—the gift of a partner who will bear witness not only to them, but with them. When we bear witness, we are willing to see the truth, with our eyes as well as our hearts; to bear witness to another is to say I see you. I truly see you.
Both marriage and veganism require that we bear witness, to each other, and to other beings.
You have been invited here today to bear witness to this wedding ceremony, which is the mission statement for Petrina and Kevin’s marriage.