Vegan Deli

Vegan Deli  by Jo Stepaniak

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Raising Vegetarian Children
by Jo Stepaniak, M.S.Ed., & Vesanto Melina M.S., R.D.

Raising Vegetarian Children

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Do you have questions about being vegan? Send them to Jo using this easy form. She would be happy to address your individual concerns as well as general inquiries about vegan ethics, philosophy, practical applications, and living compassionately. Jo cannot respond to questions about nutrition or answer questions that have already been addressed in the Archives

Jo will make every attempt to answer each question personally, however, due to her schedule, this may not be possible. If a reply is forthcoming, it could take up to a few weeks, so please be patient. It is also possible that your question will be answered directly in the "Ask Jo!" column rather than an individual response.

If you'd like to view previous questions Jo has answered, visit the Ask Jo! Archives.

What If Plants Feel Pain?

question.gif - 1.4 K I was a vegetarian for years and finally went vegan earlier this year. My roommate and boyfriend did also. We all share the same beliefs and are very supportive of each other. I am a bit more active when it comes to discussing the issue of veganism and the reasons behind it with others. My question is this -- many people have been responding to what I say with questions about plants, such as What if plants feel pain? This seems far fetched to me, but these people seem to see this as a justification for eating meat, dairy, and products containing animal ingredients. Is there anything I can say with proof to back me up on this? I see it as an excuse to make them feel better, but I just don't see the logic there.

answer.gif - 1.3 K All living creatures consume other living things in order to survive. This is a basic fact of life. Unlike many other animals, however, human beings have a choice about what they eat. For vegans, this choice hinges on the issue of sentience, which is easily ascertained by using plain observation and common sense.

There is no scientific reason to believe that plants bring a consciousness or psychological presence to the world. Plants do not have a brain or central nervous system. Therefore, they lack the fundamental mechanisms to experience pleasure, pain, and suffering. Fear and pain would serve no purpose in plants because they are unable to escape any threat.

Any rational person understands the striking difference between slitting the throat of a sentient animal and plucking a fruit or vegetable. Conscionable people are repulsed by animal slaughter; no one is revolted by gleaning crops. Even if there were grounds for acknowledging a sensate component of plants, vegans consume far fewer resources, including plants, than either people on a meat-based diet or vegetarians who eat eggs and dairy products.

Although vegans could theoretically consume just the fruit of plants instead of whole plants, minute life in the soil, air, and water would still be destroyed. In fact, merely by participating in most activities of modern life we inadvertently harm others -- by walking on the Earth, building roads, using resources found below the Earth's surface, driving cars, erecting buildings, burning wood, or planting flowers, among many, many others. Even the acts of breathing, blinking, and swallowing can decimate tiny life forms.

So, do we just give up? No, of course not. Nevertheless, we must acknowledge that vegan perfection is not only unattainable and impractical but that striving for it detracts from the true purpose of "ahimsa" -- alleviating suffering by doing the least harm and the most good. The unfounded rationalization that plants may feel pain would be an absurd justification for the needless killing of obviously sentient beings.

On the other hand, this does not mean that vegans should wantonly destroy plant life. The intention to injure, damage, or kill violates basic vegan principles. Plants are an essential component of staying alive and remaining healthy. Knowing this, vegans are obliged to grow and use food responsibly, restore and replenish the Earth (through composting, recycling, and other environmentally-caring ways), buy sustainably produced commodities, and take only what is needed.

Meat eaters often like to goad vegans with "the plant question." It is a convenient way to deflect attention and guilt about their own violent eating habits and transfer the focus onto the person who has chosen a more peaceful, if less conventional, path. By putting the vegan on the defensive, meat eaters can feel less pressure to justify their own indefensible behavior.

In general, people who pose this type of question are trying to rile the vegan more than they are seeking to understand vegan ethics. Maintaining a clear understanding of the significance of vegan practice and being aware of the person's underlying motives will help you to formulate an appropriate response.

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