The Art of Misdirection

Veggies from Vegan Garden
It's because carrots don't scream
Elizabeth Farrelly is a writer in Australia, and she has opinions!

Her most recent opinion is entitled, In a vegetarian's world, no one can hear a carrot scream.

She is totally serious too.

"And who's to say carrots don't feel pain when mercilessly chopped, diced or julienned? Why is it not arrogant and unfeeling to boil a beetroot?"

Oh no, never heard that one before! 

Last time the world checked, plants lack a central nervous system. They don't have pain receptors. Cows, goldfish, pigs, dogs, horses, chickens, cats, parrots, rabbits, sheep, goats, turkeys, humans...they all do.

People who argue plants experience pain always seem to do so in context of an animal rights debate. Do they sit down to a salad and, in front of their friends and family, seriously expound on the suffering the apple endured being pulled from its branch? Do they honestly tell their friends that the pain a dog feels when he is beaten is no different than the "pain" a carrot "feels" when it is pulled from the ground?

If so, they'd at least be consistent!

"You don't hear the same lobbyists for bacterial rights or even fish. Isn't the moral push for vegetarianism still anthropocentric, still just a form of speciesism? And doesn't this make it, at best, inconsistent? On the one hand, we're told we shouldn't eat animals because they're just like us - animals. On the other hand, we're still special. There's no push to stop lions or grisly bears or currawongs or even Chihuahuas eating meat."

Bacteria? Seriously, bacteria? Bacteria are single-celled organisms with no central nervous system or nociceptors. They are incapable of complex emotions or thought. Fish are multicellular vertebrates with a central nervous system, pain-sensing neurons, and are capable of experiencing emotions, suffering. They can use tools, for crying out loud! Social fish species form complex relationships.

Reducing the suffering in this world is possibly anthropocentric - after all, humans seem to be the cause of most suffering. Modifying our dietary choices to reflect a consistent ethic of least harm or being more kind and compassionate, more sustainable...those are not anthropocentric reasons for being vegan. If someone argued that veganism is great for human health, and the health of humans is all that mattered, then yeah, that's a fair anthropocentric argument. It's not an ethical one, though, so Farrelly's supposition falls flat.

And appealing to nature? Really?!? Like lets look at lions for insight on what is and is not acceptable behavior. There's a reason no one walks up to a male lion and demands they stop killing offspring sired by other male lions. It's because he'd totally eat you. A lion has no biological choice in who she eats. If she wishes to pursue a life worth living (i.e. one in which she doesn't starve to death), as an obligate carnivore, she's going to have to kill another living being. And it is sad and sucks and nature is just a generally amazing and brutal place.

Should we use that as a marker for our own behavior?

Those of us lucky to live near grocery stores or able to have balcony, backyard, community or larger gardens can easily choose a diet that is sustainable, affordable, healthy and compassionate. That is, a plant-based diet. I'm not going out on a limb presuming Farrelly is one of the privileged in that regard. If a person can reduce their reliance on animal products but cannot eliminate them entirely, that's fine. Nurture compassion by adding fruits, veggies, grains and legumes while - whenever possible - reducing/removing meat, dairy and eggs.

Being vegan is about ethics. When we choose kinder options, we impact the world around us. If we are faced with two choices and one is to cause less harm, it is our moral imperative to pick that one. Even if it is uncomfortable or misunderstood.


Mark said...

I read the newspaper article that you're referring to. Some of the arguments (especially about bacteria) were certainly bizarre, but perhaps indicative of the desperate means people will go to to avoid the moral problem of eating meat.

I wrote an article refuting the main arguments against vegetarianism, which you might be interested in: