As I’ve always stated around here, I’m up for spirited debate, and I don’t mind anyone challenging my life philosophies. This is how we all continue to evolve. Occasionally, however, these “challenges” can get pretty ridiculous… almost as if the “challenger” is grasping for ANY kind of clever, unassailable theory that will somehow render an entire way of living as invalid.
In the world of Witty But Asinine Retorts to Veganism, there are a few that, unfortunately, will not go away. Heading this list would have to be the truly pathetic, “But Hitler was a vegetarian, so what does that say about your movement?” (By the way, Hitler was a far fucking cry from being veggie, as his diet included steady rations of Bavarian sausage, liver dumplings, ham, and squab. The vegetarian myth was just another calculated part of his manufactured public image as a “revolutionary ascetic.”)
A close second would probably be the the good ol’ plants-are-living-things-too retort, which usually unfolds something like this: “You talk about having a diet and lifestyle where you avoid killing any living thing. But what about plants? Plants are living things and you kill them.”
I hadn’t actually heard this one in a while… until its bell was sounded in a New York Times article from last week entitled, “Sorry, Vegans: Brussels Sprouts Like to Live, Too.” Predictably, the author seemed to be making a case about the futility of being vegan, since we were doomed to eat plants, and plants want to live as much as any animal does. In other words, if we’re all destined to be murderers anyway, what difference does it make who or what we’re murdering, be it plant or animal?
Of course, in the article’s first paragraph, the author also admits to her own ethical quandaries and resultant dietary inconsistencies (omitting pork and “mammalian” meat, but not birds, fish or dairy). Whatever. I only bring up this point because these kind of lame-ass arguments are usually presented as much for the benefit of the questioner (in rationalizing their choices), as they are for those being asked the question.
Are Plants Living Things?
Okay, to be fair, let me draw a line in the sand on the subject. I think the concept of plants as living things is legitimate and fascinating. Yes, of course they’re living things. In fact, from the perspective of quantum physics, there is nothing in our three-dimensional world of matter that is not “living” on some level, including water, stones and computer screens. Everything is energy, as they say, vibrating at various rates of speed. And for those growing, expanding, self-propagating things – like fruit, veggies, algae and bacteria – there are varying degrees of intelligence involved so they may live, develop and evolve within their respective environs. Having built-in defense mechanisms to this end is obviously part of Mother Nature’s master plan.
This makes sense for all of us because, remember, if it weren’t for all of these plants and trees swapping out carbon dioxide for oxygen, humans and animals wouldn’t even be around. So, yes, Brussels sprouts and all other forms of veggies, fruits, grains and various plant-life are designed to thrive and survive… apparently for both their benefit and ours. (Also, is it any coincidence that the same antioxidants in plant-foods that help them survive in the wild, are also of immeasurable benefit to our survival when we ingest them?)
However, it’s quite a leap to automatically surmise that a plant’s survival mechanism is parallel to that of an animal’s. This is why you will often hear the word “sentient” used to describe the kind of living beings who we vegans wish to safeguard with our food, clothing and lifestyle choices. Simply put, a sentient being – like a chicken, cow or cockroach – is one whose cognitive faculties are such that they can clearly feel pain, discern survival conditions, have specific preferences, express some degree of emotion, etc. For these reasons, sentient beings operate from a more evolved level of consciousness than plant life. And, to me, the ultimate built-in criteria to define this really starts with that all-important question:
Do Plants Feel Pain?
The answer is no, and I’ll give you three good reasons why they do not:
- Scientifically speaking, a plant-based food is not a sentient being, does not have an innate, emotional inclination to avoid bodily harm or death (in the same way that animals do), does not have a nervous system, and, therefore, is not even designed to process the sensation of pain.
- Philosophically speaking, it’s safe to say that Mother Nature, in her infinite wisdom, would never bestow upon a living creature the capacity to feel pain without also giving him or her the ability to engage in a fight or flight response to the imminent threat or actual experience of pain.
- Practically speaking, I’ve yet to see any irate celery stalks or bell peppers jump up from the cutting board and run out of my kitchen lately. Such is clearly not the case with the 50-plus billion farm animals around the world who meet their fate in the slaughterhouse every year.
So, please… to all intelligent folks out there wishing to challenge the merits of veganism, let’s at least put this one to rest, shall we?
I understand that veganism often appears to be the ultimate “inconvenient truth” to those considering its comparatively rigid parameters. And I understand that it’s human nature to find that loophole – that flawed piece of an otherwise logical puzzle – that enables us to dismiss the whole of something as quackery, so we can throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. I get that. So my job, in part, is to illuminate the flaws in some of these whacked-out perceptions so that people can make more informed decisions. What someone chooses to do from there is, as usual, their choice.
Now, after all of this plants-are-living-things stuff, if you’re still on a mission to save as many plants as possible from the ravages of the dinner table and feel that eating dead animals is somehow serving that end, remember: we are currently feeding about 80-plus% of many of the crops we grow in the world to farm animals. So by eating animal products, you are actually causing the “death” of even more plants (to say nothing of animals), since we feed a disproportionate amount of plant foods to animals, relative to what they yield to humans in the form of food.
The irony here is that, by trying to use this killing plants argument as a case against veganism, it’s actually making more of a case for it.
Just a little more food for thought…