Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Minestrone Is Murder?

Maybe so — but carnivores still kill many more plants than vegans do

Day after day, meat eaters try to discredit ethical veganism with an astonishing array of pseudo-philosophical protests, but the recurring assertion that “Plants have feelings, too” is particularly vexing — mainly because it’s so transparently insincere. Think about it: Why are meat eaters so remarkably resistant to recognizing the horrific suffering of “food” animals, yet simultaneously eager to anthropomorphize faceless fruits and vegetables that utterly lack the brains, central nervous systems, and sense organs (like eyes and ears) generally associated with sentience? When carnivores insist that plants’ feelings matter, it seems to me that they disingenuously want to appear genuinely concerned about hurting innocent herbs, when in fact the sneaky subtext peeking out from underneath the edge of this compassionate facade is a self-serving accusation that we vegans are as guilty of murder as the most unrepentant flesh-obsessed gourmand.

The latest example of this perennially weed-like phenomenon sprouted up yesterday in Natalie Angier’s New York Times article “Sorry, Vegans: Brussels Sprouts Like to Live, Too” — a title which insinuates, baselessly, that plants’ faculty for feeling somehow negates the moral authenticity at the core of animal rights. Now, please understand, I am by no means criticizing Angier for promoting the hypothesis that all living organisms are imbued with some form of consciousness: actually, I find the eminent behavioral botanist’s quotation touting plants’ capacity for “sensory modalities and abilities we normally think of as only being in animals” quite compelling. What I do object to, strenuously, is that any carnivore (much less a mainstream science journalist) would have the unmitigated chutzpah to charge that it’s hypocritical for us vegans to shout “meat is murder” while allegedly committing mass herbicide — especially because meat eaters kill so many more plants than we do in the course of daily dining!

Need proof? Then check out these stunning statistics:

• To yield a single pound of edible meat, a chicken must consume about 2 pounds of grain*, a pig must consume about 4 pounds, and a cow must consume 10 to 16 pounds. So, every time someone eats meat, they kill 2 to 16 times as many plants than they would by eating vegan.

• Slaughtering approximately 65 billion animals worldwide for meat each year requires that one-third of humanity’s grain harvest be fed to livestock. This calculation accounts for 80% of U.S. corn crops and about 99% of U.S.-produced soy meal, but not the vast fields of grass and other naturally-growing plants upon which free-range cows, sheep and goats graze.

• According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, livestock production occupies 70% of all the land used for agricultural purposes, and nearly one-third of the Earth’s entire landmass. This boundless terrain was once unspoiled habitat for billions of native plants and animals who were either displaced or eradicated — some to the point of extinction. The beef industry, for instance, is the driving force behind the destruction of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, one of the planet’s most diversity-dense regions, with nearly 80% of deforested land being used for ranching.

Strictly speaking, it’s impossible for us to physically survive without consuming other living entities — just as billions of microbial creatures subsist on the proteins in our bodies. But contrary to the misleading myths of popular belief, veganism isn’t about achieving perfection, purity or sainthood (or, for that matter, smugly proving our superiority or political correctness). Rather, the point is to consciously make pragmatic lifestyle choices that significantly reduce the amount of pain, agony and death suffered by others as a result of our privileged existence, and persuade people to do the same in the name of non-violence.

So, the next time some smart-ass carnivore tries to excuse their lethal fauna-filled diet by feigning sympathy for faultless flora, just look them right in the eye and tell them straight out: If you really, truly care about the plight of exploited plant beings, then go vegan now!

* I originally cited a website claiming (inaccurately, it seems) that the grain-to-meat conversion ratio for chickens is 6:1. Tip of the hat to Erik Marcus for pointing out the error.


  1. Anonymous10:48 PM

    First, I'm vegan. These are interesting points about the sentience of plants that I've been told can be solved by choosing ethical fruitarinism. I've been starting to feel like maybe I'm speciest against plants because fruitarinism is ridiculous in my mind and a seemingly moot point until animal liberation is achieved. What counts in my mind is being able to look into the eyes of another flesh and blood creature like myself and know that I strive to do them no harm. Am I speciest against plants?! Can that word even work for that relationship? So, how about fruitarinism as an option to "save the plants"? Only eating fruits that don't hurt plants. I know very little about it and have dreaded even looking into it. Help us confused vegans out Animalrighter!

  2. I absolutely love this piece! Is it because I too am sick of lame excuse after excuse from humans to justify their inaction? Perhaps. I think the meat eating humans who somehow articulate the lame plant argument are more annoying than the ones who just don't care. Because at least the people who say I don't care about cruelty to animals are honest. The ones who dance around the plant sentience justification to prevent them from going vegan are in severe denial of the plain and simple truth about themselves which is: They really don't care about animals more than they do about their own selfish appetites.

  3. FANTASTIC article, Mat! Rock on!!!!!!!!

  4. And I love that veggie man picture.

  5. Anonymous7:42 AM

    Bravo! Outstanding post. I remember being a stubborn carnivore before I became a vegetarian 20 years ago, and I would often engage in similar arguments. It wasn't selfishness or stupidity that made me stop at the easy, superficial arguments--like every other misguided or evil act, the root of the problem was fear. I was afraid to look deeply, to make a change in my lifestyle. Once we realize that fear is at the root of the bewildering behavior we see in people who argue against a vegan lifestyle, it makes it a lot easier to have compassion for them and to want to educate them in a positive way. I can only liken their fear and subsequent resistance to what I would feel if I were told I had to give up tofu today.

  6. brightstar - the truly awesome Skeleton Man is the creation of Edith Zimmerman, an artist who makes sculptures out of fruits and vegetables. You can see some more of her fine work here: http://www.edithzimmerman.com/blog/?cat=259.

  7. Anonymous9:07 AM

    I this article very interesting. Ive had similar arcuments with veg/vegans. I used to be veg but after examining our fucked food systems i decided to be a localvore. Some of this kind of has to do with this artice. I dont necessarly believe that lants have feeling more that they do die when we consume them. The same way that animals die when we consume them, It is life and death. Our culture has a very different view of death than others. It is something that is hidden. Something that shouldnt or is tragic when it comes. Rather than celebrate it and remembering our relatives and animals that we consume. We hide it and fear it and try to make it not. Death is life. We kill to eat weather we are carnivore, veg or vegan death has to be our life. Something must die for us to live. So I try not to kill thing to eat but more try and focus that the thing that i do eat live the least crul life they can weather that is vegatable or animal. I think that factory farms are crul. but ive slaughtered hogs on a local organic farm and had the tatiest heathist, morally right bacon that ive ever had. I think that genectically engeniring and moving our veggiyable across state lines is crul to the vegies and to the ecosystem that is being destroyed by and oil bases food system. but i grow my own veggies and buy at farmers markets, or salvage watse from a wasteful system. Mooculture agriculture is destructive weather we feed our soy to cows or we turn it into tofu both are destructive and not in the destructive way of death but more destroying our landbase and our and other culturs way or survival. So maybe this will generate a discussion of food beyond animal right and beyond the veg/meat dicodomy cause if we dont change or food systems then were all fucked. go local its sustainable

  8. Anonymous9:11 AM

    get off your high horse.

  9. Matt with 2 T's9:28 AM

    Hey Mat; read your article but can't say I enjoyed it. Your profile calls for people with all opinions, similar or different to yours to voice their thoughts, so here's mine.

    I think you had some very valid points, however your constant needling of the "smart assed carnivores" you claim you hope to sway really is quite a turn off. Try rereading your posts after you've written them and limiting yourself on the sarcasm and you may hope to reach a wider audience. In the mean time, go ahead and cry the hypocrisy of anyone who doesn't share your views, while not acknowledging any of the inherent problems with what you're actually suggesting. Also, life is life and thats a fact - if you want to call the consumption of animals to subsist "murder" - a term defined as "killing of another HUMAN BEING under conditions specifically covered in law." - then I do not see why it's unacceptable to repurpose the word, as you are doing, to apply to organisms of a different classification.

  10. Matt with 2 T's:

    The "smart-ass carnivores" I referred to are specifically those who PRETEND to listen to vegans when we explain our views, but whose actual intention in discussion is to take the focus away from the suffering caused meat eating and onto the deliberately-amplified imperfections of vegans and veganism. I have shown in this post (and elsewhere) that eating meat causes MUCH more death & destruction than veganism, so I maintain that the burden is on CARNIVORES -- NOT VEGANS -- to ethically justify their actions. Until they can do that, meat eaters who try to justify their voluntary violence with empty excuses will essentially remain hypocrites as far as I'm concerned. Sorry if that offends you, but please know that I will seriously consider your suggestion for future posts that I extend a gentler hand in reaching out to those with opposing viewpoints.

    Now, as far as "murder" is concerned, and sticking with your (somewhat arbitrary) definition (i.e., that it only applies to "human beings" and not other sentient individuals), meat is certainly murder in this context because:

    - The number of human beings starving around the world topped 1 billion last year (http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/06/20/2603762.htm). We could feed all of these people if we grew food for people instead of livestock. Eating meat therefore contributes greatly to human famine and death.

    - According to the UN, the global livestock industry is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions: a bigger share than all forms of transportation combined. Millions, perhaps even billions, of humans will likely die in the coming decades from the effects of climate change.

    - Deadly diseases like Mad Cow, swine and avian flu, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), and others have emerged directly from factory farms. These have already killed thousands of humans, and will likely kill many more in the years to come (http://www.bestveganguide.com/food-for-health.html).

  11. Anonymous11:59 AM

    I think the argument is that vegans kill living things with feelings too, so they are being hypocrites. It's not a justification of killing living things on the meat-eater's side, or a compassionate stance for the pitiable vegetable, and it doesn't particularly matter who kills more. The argument simply implies that the basis of going veg is shaky because short of starving yourself to death, youre going to have to kill stuff.

  12. Anonymous4:43 PM

    I am a 100% bonefide meat eating individual and I'm not here to dis any of you vegans out there however, I'm posting this because I am a biology major and although plants don't have faces, or organs, or a nervous system..they actually are still technically considered living. No they don't have emotions associated with human emotions like other animals do which is why people feel bad for killing them...but plants still the basic nutrients of life in order to grow. They need nourishment from sunlight, water, CO2 to produce O2, all the essentials that human need to live as well. And let's get real for a second, if no one ate animals it would completely disrupt plant, animal, and insect food chains...aka, animals would graze on plants, plants would die off because they couldn't grow and reproduce enough asexual offspring to feed all of the animals, vegans and vegetarians all over the world would probably be eating waaayyy more genetically modified organisms (GMO's) because farmers would have no plants to sell, oorrr plants with a ridiculous amount of pesticides on them that you'd all be eating, and the decomposers would start to die off as well because there isn't enough dead animals to decompose, leaving the soils utterly incapable of providing enough nutrtients for new plants..so you see, the point is...you're welcome.

  13. Anonymous7:10 PM

    Please stop referring to people who eat meat as carnivores. It's ridiculous, and makes you look ignorant. I eat meat, but I'm pretty sure I've eaten a plant or two in my lifetime. As a vegan, you should be writing to attract non-vegans to adopt your lifestyle, not offending them. Keep writing like this and you're being counter-productive to your own cause.

    Yes, all omnivores are partially carnivores because meat is a part of their diet, but they shouldn't be addressed as such. For someone who is frustrated against being oppressed or ridiculed because of your lifestyle choice and writing articles about it, you sure are being hypocritical.

    I'm dying to have this question answered. Die hard vegans pledge to never consume or maim a living thing. Does this mean that you would never separate a black widow spider from the nest it had built in your home? What about a hornet's nest that is dangerously close to your child's play area? I think all vegans can agree that separating a living creature from its environment, or even going as far as to exterminate said "pest" is in fact injuring, or killing a living thing. So my question is, where do vegans draw the line? When living things inconvenience you, does it give you the right to harm it? Are spiders, snakes, hornets, bed bugs, knats, bees, and ticks part of this belief system or is it just the cute and cuddly animals? This isn't insincerity. This isn't passive aggressive research to demean your preferred diet. I'm honestly wanting to know where vegans draw the line in situations like this. Because if the line is where I think it is.. vegans are inherently hypocritical.

    And hey, it's not just vegans. All humans are hypocritical. I'm sure all Christians have told at least one lie in their life. But not all of them pretend to have never done so. So whenever I hear a vegan brag about their chosen lifestyle, and their pledge to never harm animals, but still know that even THEY would spray Raid at a cockroach, I feel the need to roll my eyes.

    Don't get me wrong, I think veganism is a great and healthy lifestyle. I admire anyone who adopts it and adheres to it as a discipline. What I -dislike- is someone who adopts it for the sole purpose of making themselves look better than someone else, and pretends like they're not at all hypocritical at times.

    So all I'm asking is that you get off your high horse and stop condeming others who don't share the same beliefs as you. Hell, I'm a Christian, supposedly the most in-your-face "BELIEVE OR GO TO HELL" religion out there, and even I don't do that.

  14. Vegan for Life9:16 PM

    Great post Mat.

    During my 34 years as a vegan, I have found that the "but you kill plants" argument used by omnivores is a last ditch attempt to discredit a compassionate lifestyle.

    I smile when they say that because I know then that they are feeling at a loss. I usually laugh and say "Are you serious? That's so funny?"

    Generally these people have realised that killing animals for our tastebuds is cruel and unnecesary, that raising animals as a food source is damaging to the planet. They know this is factual, so they have nothing left. Somehow they think that we will be fooled by their assertion that killing plants and animals is exactly the same and therefore it doesn't matter what or who is killed as food.

    My father said it just last weekend and I looked at him and winked, saying "I've been waiting for you to say that Dad - that's always the last argument so now I know that you realise that killing animals for their flavour is horrific". Bless him - he flushed red and had an embarrassed chuckle. He knew he was making a last attempt to justify his lust for blood and flesh.

    And 7.10pm Anonymous: Vegans are not perfect and we are all very different to one another. I have had no reason to kill an insect yet (although flies are chased out, cockroaches carried outside, misquitoes sharply blown off my skin, spiders are gently taken from their webs and put outdoors). But I have not been under attack from them, so I don't know what my reaction would be in that situation.

    How many chickens, sheep, pigs and cows harm humans and yet it is these gentle creatures that are abused and killed at a young age.

  15. To "Anonymous" who said I should "stop referring to people who eat meat as carnivores":

    First, carnivores proudly call themselves "carnivores" all the time -- I guess they are also "ignorant" and "ridiculous" in your learned opinion. In addition, dogs and bears are considered carnivores, but -- like you -- they have eaten "a plant or two" in their lifetimes. Next time, get your facts and definitions straight before insulting people's intelligence.

    Second, regarding the question you are "dying to have answered" about "Die hard vegans" who supposedly "pledge to never consume or maim a living thing." You obviously did not read my post through, or you would know that I called this a myth believed only by non-vegans. As I wrote, "veganism isn’t about achieving perfection, purity or sainthood... the point is to consciously make pragmatic lifestyle choices that significantly reduce the amount of pain, agony and death suffered by others as a result of our privileged existence, and persuade people to do the same in the name of non-violence." Really, I tried to explain this as simply & clearly as possible, so I can only conclude that you are in fact uninterested in learning about what veganism is actually about.

    And third, I readily admit that we all need to draw the line somewhere, but vegans are committed to using humane alternatives in our dealings with other beings -- whether it's dealing with "pests" or choosing what to eat on a daily basis. This isn't "bragging" -- it's just how we live, and we do it for the animals, NOT "for the sole purpose of making (our)selves look better than someone else": THAT interpretation of events is just YOU sanctimoniously projecting your suppressed guilt onto others.

    What gets me most about meat eaters is their all-or-nothing black-and-white thinking about the world. They behave as if they believe that since we can't help but harm SOME organisms in the course of existing, it's acceptable to torture and kill as many animals as we want in factory farms, laboratories, fur farms, etc. AND they ignore the devastating social and environmental consequences of their actions. Now THAT'S what I call hypocritical!

  16. Joshua Pearson10:58 PM

    It really saddens me to see the audacity of omnivores and the claims that we vegans are on a "high-horse". The reality is WE are not poisoning ourselves with food that our bodies are not adequately equipped to handle. They've had the meat and dairy lobbyist lies fed to them their whole lives and have become indoctrinated to "facts" that really aren't.

    Being vegan, as I saw mentioned above, isn't about being perfect; it's about limiting the unnecessary damage done to innocent creatures we inhabit this planet with. While we aren't better than meat eaters, we at least try as hard as we can to make the planet better. It's really the meat eaters that are on the high-horse, not us.

    There isn't a single argument that a meat eater can make that can not be refuted by an educated vegan; and they don't like that. Science stands behind us in more ways than them, we have literal facts to support our claims, facts that can't be rebuked; even though they try.

    Some feel as though we are denying them a choice to eat meat. What about the non-human animals choice, surely they would choose to live. Trying to make that argument is a fools errand and paints them as the ones with a superiority complex.

    When I eat my vegetables, cutting peppers, stripping broccoli, I feel no guilt or shame: I can easily replant them and continue that plants life. Plants are pretty awesome that way.

    To all people that eat meat I have this to say: if you can't kill and render the animal yourself you shouldn't eat it. If you can, well good on you; hopefully you at least have respect for that animal you killed. Really though if you can't kill your own food, gut it, skin it, bleed it out, then you have no right to eat it. At least we have no qualms with doing that to our food.

  17. Joshua, I agree with you completely that it is meat eaters who seem to be riding a "high horse". I mean, we're just trying to minimize our impact on the world: THEY'RE the ones willfully denying that their choices are killing animals and destroying the environment. Carnivores generally show much selfishness and little self-awareness when it comes to such accusations.

    And though I know I shouldn't let it get to me, I get SO frustrated when carnivores accuse vegans of being smug. As you can see in my response to "Anonymous" above, I'm pretty fed-up with hearing the same arguments from zealous animal eaters, and them not actually listening to our explanations about what veganism is all about. Apparently, they already have their minds made up about who we are, so there is probably just no reaching such people.

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