“How can you be against killing and eating animals but still eat plants? Don’t you know that plants are living things too?” If you’re a vegan you’ve probably been asked a question like this several times. Even though I eat meat I’ve always found this argument to be nonsensical. Plants are certainly alive as they react to sunlight and other stimuli, but unlike animals they’re not sentient since they lack a central nervous system and pain receptors. And why would something that’s immobile feel pain? It doesn’t seem logical that something would have the capacity to be harmed without also having the option of fight or flight.
Anti-vegans will often link to studies that demonstrate how plants are able to “communicate” with each other and then claim victory since this is “proof” that plants must be conscious somehow. But the same argument could be made about cells inside the body since they communicate through chemical signals. Are each one of those trillions of cells sentient or have a mind of their own? If I put my hand on a hot stove, my hand will withdraw almost instantaneously before I can barely register it. Does this mean that my hand has some kind of independent awareness or sentience? Is a heat detector alive or sentient because it reacts to increases in temperature? Whatever reactions plants may have are purely mechanical. There is no real evidence that they have feelings, wants or desires.
But since I’m not an expert in neurobiology I won’t get into specifics. However, this guy does a pretty solid job at dispelling the whole myth of plant sentience.
On the other hand, there’s mountains of evidence that animals like cows and pigs are sentient, highly cognitive, emotionally complex beings. They have demonstrated self-awareness, problem-solving skills and are known to have excellent memories. They can form lifelong social bonds and are in possession of a strong maternal instinct. Just observe this mother who refuses to leave her baby’s side. Ever seen plants exhibit anything remotely close to this level of awareness or emotion? Yeah, me neither. Also, did you know that pigs are considered one of the most intelligent species? They’re probably more intelligent than your dog, but you’d never compare your dog to a plant, would you?
Hell, I’ve visited small farms and I’ve seen first-hand how affectionate, curious, smart and misunderstood these animals really are. To compare them to a plant that’s just stuck in the ground all day is ridiculous and if you truly believe that there’s no significant difference between the two, I gotta say, I don’t think you’re playing with a full deck. If you saw someone step on a plant I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have the same effect on you as someone pulling out a knife, slashing a cow’s throat and letting it bleed to death right in front of you. Anyone who isn’t psychotic, a nihilist or has an antisocial personality disorder can recognize that these are not equivalent acts.
And even if it could be proven that plants did, in fact, feel pain, it doesn’t negate the reality that animals in slaughterhouses are still very much sentient. It’s like if someone from Europe condemns stoning in Islamic countries and someone else responds with something along the lines of: “Well, people were subjected to all kinds of horrific methods of torture in Europe during the Middle Ages.” Uh, yeah, but how exactly does this make the current practice of stoning people to death in the Middle East any less barbaric? Not the best analogy, I know, but I think you get my point.
Meat eating kills more plants
But hey, if you’re really concerned about the welfare of plants you might want to consider switching to a plant-based diet. I mean, what do you think the animals you eat live on? Rainbow fumes or something? See, the animals in the meat and dairy industry require huge amounts of grains, grass and other plant material to be converted into meat and other products that you consume. As a result, a large percentage of agricultural land is used to solely to feed farm animals. I’ve seen estimates that 80% of the crops grown in the United States alone is used for this very purpose.
Kind of ironic, isn’t it? By eating meat you’re actually “killing” plants on a much larger scale than the vegans you’re accusing.
Field mice and farmed animals
In addition to the plant argument, there’s also the claim that harvesting of crops for vegans kills more animals than the meat industry. Which is also incorrect. And even if some field mice and other small critters meet their end during harvest, I don’t really see how this discredits the vegan lifestyle or demonstrates hypocrisy on their part.
I’ve never heard any vegan claim to be perfect. It’s impossible to exist in this world without leaving some kind of footprint and vegans are well aware of this. Their aim has never been to eliminate all harm in the world because they know that would be unrealistic. What they’re trying to do is avoid causing any unnecessary suffering. The Vegan Society defines the purpose of veganism as follows:
“Veganism is a way of living that seeks to exclude, as far as possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing and any other purpose.”
Vegans don’t claim to have the perfect solution, they’re simply stating that their way is the least harmful alternative.
But if you believe that animals accidentally killed during harvest is comparable to animals in slaughterhouses, picture this. Would you want to live a life where you can explore and move around freely or would you rather live a miserable existence confined to a small space, not being able to move properly, walk around in your own feces and rarely, if ever, get to be out in the sun? Yeah, I think I’d go with the first option.
Pointing the finger at you
If you want to label vegans hypocrites because they’re not 100% perfect, then someone could just as easily point out your moral inconsistencies. You’d probably claim to be against child labor and slavery, right? Yet the clothes you wear were likely made by underpaid workers in some sweatshop in Bangladesh and 8-year-old kids in Congo had to do cobalt mining for 10 hours straight to make your cell phone battery. Now, if we apply your logic I could call you a hypocrite for judging people who commit crimes against children when you consider the fact that many of your luxuries are the result of child exploitation.
In conclusion, I don’t think you anti-vegans could care less about plants, insects or whatever else you might interject into the debate. All these attempts at side tracking the subject and deflecting blame really stems from the fact that you refuse to admit that you lack any serious counter arguments. Also, you’re committing the tu quoque fallacy or the appeal to hypocrisy when you only try to point out your opponent’s flaws instead of dealing with criticism directed at you. I eat meat, but I don’t try to rationalize the fact that in doing so I’m supporting an industry that abuses and kills animals. It is something I reflect upon a lot though and I’ve often contemplated going vegan especially after meeting these animals face to face.
And besides, plants aren’t animals so why bring them into a discussion about animal rights in the first place? Apples and oranges, people. Apples and oranges.