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If Plants Feel Pain?
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.
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
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
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
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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