In this article, I would like to go back on an excuse of non-vegan people that I have heard. I don’t mean “excuse” in a judgemental way. On the contrary, a lack of information does not make a person bad. However, after observing the thinking process of misinformed people when announcing them “you are vegan”, a pattern is undeniable : a mix of guilt (usually not coming from the vegan person) and survival instinct leads to protecting oneself with excuses. So I won’t call them otherwise. Many convinced and now informed vegans did ask themselves the same questions.
“Plants also feel pain. Killing plants is still killing.”
Assuming that slicing a carrot and the throat of a cow involves the same amount of suffering, it is first important to remember that 16 times more plants (in weigh) are killed in the production of animal products than vegan products. Close to 70% of the deforestation in the Amazon rainforest is linked to cattle ranching. In France, 46% of all plants produced are used to feed the animals to be eaten, while only 26% are for human nutrition. One cow is fed with approximately 70 kg of plants per day! So in order to minimize the killing of all living beings, a plant-based diet is still much more viable than an omnivore one.
However, the assumption made previously – that plants feel pain – lacks substance, and does not justify the actual pain inflicted on non-human animals.
Clicking on “Continue reading” will open two very important sections that I intended to start my article with, but I ended up highlighting the pain “minimization” aspect of the vegan movement.
It is scientifically incorrect
From the scientific point of view, first pain is a phenomenon defined in reference to what we experience as humans. Plants lack a central nervous system and a brain, so they do not have the ability to feel pain or fear as we know them. If they do experience something, it is not pain. Second, the purpose of pain and fear is to warn us from a danger and to escape from it. Plants cannot move and escape any situation, so why would nature bother in giving them the ability to feel something such as pain, only so they cannot do anything about it ? It would be a destructive feature that goes against evolution. And for creationists, I doubt God would be so wicked.
On the other hand, it has been proven that non-human animals were able to feel physical pain and fear the same way as we do. Their behaviours are in fact so similar that even a child would recognize an agonizing dog or pig. It is also the case for fish. There are even some laws already preventing people from harming dogs and cats – the way we do in slaughterhouses on other animals – showing that we acknowledge their sensations. It was also proven that they felt emotional pain. I will never forget the heartbreaking cry of a dairy cow when her child was being taken away from her. It is in fact the only image that got stuck in my head when becoming vegan.
It is ethically incorrect
The core of our modern ethics is moral consistency, meaning that we treat in a similar way similar situations. We already include some animals in our moral sphere, but not all of them, and certainly not plants.
I believe this excuse arises from the confusion between living and sentient beings. Sentient beings are aware of what is surrounding them through their senses, allowing them to see, to hear, to respond, to communicate. And they are aware of their own sensations, through thinking, feeling emotions and consciousness. Plants are alive, but they are not sentient. They do have the ability to react (through chemical and physical reactions), but not to respond (if you pluck them, they won’t express their disagreement). Animals clearly do not want to go through torture and death, so who are we to decide for them ?
In the end, it does not matter to what degree animals experience pain, they just do. I am quite sure that you are already aware of all that. If while driving you had the choice between hitting a fawn and swerving onto a broccoli field, which one would you choose ?
- Global Meat Consumption Trends and Local Deforestation in Madre de Dios: Assessing Land Use Changes and other Environmental Impacts, F. Recanati et al.
- Causes of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, 2000-2005
- Passion Céréales, Des chiffres et des céréales : L’essentiel de la filière, Edition 2014
- Illustration of the plant