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a weird web of unwieldy logic

January 4, 2010

A friend recently pointed me to a New York Times article from last month titled, “Sorry, Vegans: Brussels Sprouts Like to Live, Too.”  In this article,  Natalie Angier discusses some little known capacities that plant life has; namely, the ability to react defensively in response to damage or the threat of damage. These aspects of the article are interesting and worth sharing. The pointless part of the article is what I want to address here.

In this article about the wonders of plant life, Angier takes tangential jabs at vegans. She points out that she too can be an “ethical” eater if (and only if) she has an affinity toward a particular animal. (She will eat ducks but not lambs, chickens but not pigs). Apparently her inability to go totally veg* leaves her with some guilt and she feels the need to justify it by wagging her finger at vegans and taking the heat off of herself.  She tells us that plants matter too, and vegans eat plants so apparently vegans don’t actually eat morally. This line of argument is complete bullshit and I am exhausted from hearing it so often. If a Jainist gave me some argument about not eating plants, I would listen closely; however, this is a meat eater spewing bullshit to try to somehow create a circular logic in which, if she makes a vegan diet seem unethical, then her flesh-based diet will cease to be unethical.

I hear this weird sort of babble all the time when people find out that I’m vegan. I am just surprised the New York Times published it.  The only people who ever give me this line of crap are people who eat dead animals. The logic seems to be that if I don’t eat animals because they are sentient, then I shouldn’t eat plants because they are alive and can react to their environment.  Further, Angier’s logic implies that if one is willing to eat plants, then one should also be willing to eat animals.  How does Angier get from screaming at us about how a vegan diet isn’t moral enough to using plants’ abilities to react to stimuli as good logic for her to eat dead animals?

This article randomly jumps from vegan-hating, to research on plants back to vegan-hating.   Angier doesn’t discuss WHY vegans don’t eat animals and how these reasons might make eating animals different from eating plants. The reasons vary, though for me it is a reasonable expectation of sentience. I don’t believe plants feel pain. However, if they did, I wouldn’t interpret that as a sign I should cause more pain by starting to eat animals as well. Rather, I would be more conscientious about how often I ate plants and which plants I ate and I would continue to keep my diet flesh-free.   Further, Angier does not discuss any relevant facts about plants that DO want to be eaten. Many plants produce fruits they hope to be eaten so that the seeds can later be pooped out by animals–human and non-human animals alike. (This is advantageous for the plant because the poop serves as fertilizer for the seed.) And finally, if Angier really cared about plants she would not be a champion for “meat.” We feed farmed animals grains. Their bodies are not equipped to digest this sort of food and they absorb fewer nutrients and less protein from it than do humans .  This means that more grain needs to be grown to feed non-human animals so that we can eat their meat than would need to be grown if we subsided off of plant life alone. In fact, the amount of grain produced to feed cattle in the US alone, could solve hunger WORLDWIDE if it went to humans directly, instead of going to human bodies by way of cow bodies. (Mark Hawthorne has a wonderful and brief article on this last issue.)

If there is anyone out there who would use an argument similar to Angier’s  because they actually believe that it is unethical to eat plants, please explain yourself. I am eager to understand. But if you just thrust about the idea of “plant rights” to be an ass to those of us who refuse to be complicit in animal slaughter, please shut up. Your argument is silly, it is not unique, and I am sick and tired of hearing it.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. January 4, 2010 11:30 pm

    I’m a vegetarian because I hate vegetables and want them to die.

  2. January 5, 2010 7:27 am

    To borrow Jonathan Safran Foer’s terminology I am a “committed vegetarian”.

    Put simply, this means I have committed myself to never again eating an animal because they simply do not deserve to be killed for a human’s slovenly (and fleeting) pleasure.

    This also means I have committed myself to reducing waste in the environment and freeing more clean water (the amount of water it takes to produce a 16 oz steak could keep me in showers for 6 months).

    Not to mention the health benefits I have accrued since becoming vegetarian. HOWEVER…

    Humans cannot live on air alone.

    Accordingly, I am mortified that the NYT would deign to publish such a narrow minded and off-kilter essay.

    In my opinion, if the NYT continues to publish miseducated pieces like this, it is on the fast track to becoming to news what Jerry Springer brought to talk shows (a half baked and far-fetched version of reality).

  3. January 6, 2010 6:34 pm

    I agree Greenie! On my Face Book page some friends commented on this post and compared this sort of quasi-science reporting which goes for being cutsie over doing quality reporting to the NPR segment, The Loh Down on Science. Very apt, I think!

  4. May 20, 2010 8:35 pm

    Its important to recognize when we say we dont want to take life, its not the actual act of living we re talking about but rather the experiencing of life. We dont want to hurt, or torture, or any of that. Its the experience of life we dont mean to harm. The actual life being preserved as a result is really just a bonus.
    A broccoli: no centralized nervous system, no life. Though it is technically alive. The day i learn that a vegetable actually fears me, ill stop eating it. I promise.

  5. Brian permalink
    November 10, 2010 10:20 pm

    Guys come on! There is a big difference between having a nervous system connected to a brain and having nothing but cells! This discussion should continue no further, I can only laugh.

    If you still don’t agree, I can give one more example: you can pick a leave or a fruit from a tree and it wont mind, I can cut the tip of your finger and you will die from hemorrhage.

    Following this example we can list hundreds more, hundreds of reasons to eat a plant and not an animal.

    Are you guys that stupid! Seriously, get over it.

    • November 12, 2010 1:24 pm

      Umm, Brian, obviously you didn’t read the post? You should before you comment. Also, try proof reading, learning how to spell, and work harder at making more sensible analogies (I don’t think many people hemorrhage from finger injuries…)

  6. rabbit permalink
    February 25, 2011 3:25 pm

    OMG thank you for writing this post! Too many times I’ll have meat-eaters try to use this angle with me. Two wrongs don’t make a right!!!

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