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Animal Liberation and Plant Liberation (Portrait)

Animal Liberation and Plant Liberation (Portrait)

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Published by shawnleegabriel

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Published by: shawnleegabriel on Feb 19, 2008
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02/14/2013

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Broccoli vs. Animals?
Vegetarians and vegans must develop a better answer to that age-old meat-eater question--but you killplants don't you? Raising the plant question is, in my experience, a first line of defense for most omnivores.Now, most seasoned vegetarians have their standard 10-point response about why it is better to eat plantsthan animals. They offer points such as the following: plants don't feel pain because they lack a nervoussystem, the experiments in
The Secret Life of Plants 
have not been reproducible and even the authorrefused to perform the experiments again, omnivores actually kill more plants because cows eat plants, etc.This line of argumentation has its place, but it doesn't answer the question of whether or not it is OK to eatplants in the first place. Vegetarians have to look a bit more closely at why every single omnivore makes thisargument and why we get so angry/defensive/exasperated with this argument. It is because there issomething to it.Consider the following justifications for eating plants made by vegans on the Vegan-L email discussion list.Most of these arguments (numbered below and followed by my response) could just as easily have beenmade by someone trying to justify eating meat.1) Even vegans have to eat
something 
. This is verbatim a meat eater's argument--"But what do vegans eat? I don't have time to cook all of my ownmeals, I could never get enough to eat without eating meat...." Clearly vegans could eat fruits and parts thatcan be eaten without killing the plant--just like herbivorous animals who most often eat only leaves or partsof the plant that will grow back.2) Plants lack a central nervous system and it is unlikely for them to feel pain in the way animals or humansdo. Just as Descartes managed to ignore the obvious when he said that animals were unfeeling machines, thereis considerable evidence that plants are much more aware than we commonly believe. Using a definition ofpain that is based on possession of a nervous system deliberately and arbitrarily excludes plants. Yet plantsare clearly aware of when they are being attacked because they mobilize chemical defenses. Just as meateaters try to deny the fact that animals feel pain, vegans try to deny the fact that plants feel something akinto pain--something that could be used to justify not killing them. If we ever encounter aliens, the chancesthat they have a nervous system like ours is vanishingly small, but we would nonetheless assume that theyfeel what we would categorize as pain.3) Plants have no need to feel pain since they cannot move away from the source of the pain like animalscan. See the previous response--plants clearly do react; if pain is simply a warning tool, some sort of distresssignal would still serve a purpose in plants.4) And even
if 
plants did feel pain, eating meat causes much more suffering than living a vegan lifestylebecause animals eat countless plants before humans eat the animals. 
Page 1 of 6Animal liberation and plant liberation2/16/2008http://www.vegetus.org/essay/plants.htm
 
This doesn't apply to hunting wild animals who generally don't kill plants (unlike cows who are fed deadsoybeans). And what about all of the plants and animals that are disrupted or killed by farming (i.e., the onesthat were there before the farmer, the ones that the farmer kills on purpose)? Although veganism probablydoes decrease plant suffering when compared to eating meat, this doesn't justify killing plants. The questionis not whether we should be omnivores or vegans, but whether or not vegans should adopt a more plant-friendly diet.5) Fruits are designed specifically to be eaten--that is how plants spread their seeds. Then just eat fruits. Eating potatoes and carrots doesn't spread seeds around and it kills the plant--how canthis be justified? What about plants that try to avoid being eaten--ones that are poisonous, taste nasty, ormake you infertile (e.g. sheep who eat clover high in phytoestrogens)?6) Foods like tomatoes, apples, cherries, eggplants, grapes, etc. do not require the killing of the plant. It'smore like taking eggs from a chicken. Given that vegans don't eat eggs because they think it's wrong, this argument makes no sense.7) If fruits aren't eaten, they quickly wither and die--they are intended to be eaten. The same is not true ofanimals. Yes, fruits are intended to be eaten. Some herbivores are also "intended to be eaten." There are carnivorousanimals that can only eat other animals. If these carnivores did not eat the old and diseased prey animals,those prey animals would, in fact, "wither and die." Additionally, the whole herd would suffer if the populationgot too large or dying members were constantly eating food that healthy members could eat.8) We should be vegans because we can; we should reduce whatever suffering we can. Should we not then be fruitarians or gatherers because we can? Or are we simply too lazy, just like mostpeople are too lazy to be vegan. We usually don't find that an acceptable excuse! (Of course laziness iscertainly not the primary problem--people are constantly bombarded with the idea that they can, should, andmust eat dead animals.)9) We're herbivores. We must eat plants to survive--it is our instinct. This simply begs the question--meat-eaters justify eating animals by pointing out that humans are omnivores(which we are--see e.g.,Humans are Omnivores). Furthermore, humans manage to overcome all sorts of"instincts"--for example, we generally do not copulate in public. Arguments that appeal to "nature" should bemet with deep skepticism. Recall that slavery and the subjugation of women and countless indigenouscultures were and are considered a necessary part of the "natural order."10) Broccoli screams might be pleasure, not pain. Ditto for animals.11) It's a rare person--and, I would say, a very strange person--who would flinch upon seeing a carrot pulledfrom the ground. First, many people do abhor large-scale agriculture. Second, the fact that our culture is desensitized toviolence, especially to something that's been going on for a long, long time is not an argument for anything.Also, people don't want to face up to what they are really doing--just like how most people don't think aboutwhere their meat came from.The above responses show that vegans cannot come up with any truly compelling reasons as to why eatingplants is justified in the context of animal rights. Which leads us to the ultimate question...
Page 2 of 6Animal liberation and plant liberation2/16/2008http://www.vegetus.org/essay/plants.htm
 
12) And so what if you cannot totally eliminate any supposed pain that plants may feel. Is that a justificationfor eating meat? For killing humans, by extension? We can agree that humans must cause some suffering to exist. Whereas a meat-eater uses this fact toignore animal suffering, vegans use this fact to ignore plant suffering. But just as inflicting plant sufferingdoes not justify inflicting animal suffering, the fact that we do
not 
inflict animal suffering does not license usto inflict wanton plant suffering. Rather than just dismissing plant suffering as inevitable, vegans should try toreduce that as well.
The Rhetoric of Plants
Vegans clearly need to be more savvy in their justifications for eating plants to avoid simply justifying eatinganimals. Instead of trying to counter the idea that plants suffer, we should just accept this premise becausethe best way to reduce both plant and animal suffering is to stop eating meat since animals are fed deadplants. Additionally, meat-eaters typically don't like to acknowledge animals suffering, yet when they raisethe plant question they
are 
admitting this since their underlying assumption is that since plants and animalsboth suffer, there is no unique reason to avoid eating animals.Meat eaters raise the plant question not because it is an indictment of veganism, but rather to deflectattention from their own shame caused by eating animals--they are trying to show that vegans are notperfect either. But rather than getting defensive, sarcastic, or belittling the person, we
must 
admit our ownshame from harming plants. Sociologists point out that "Conflicts escalate, according to Thomas Scheff,when there is no mechanism for individuals to express shame and shame is transmuted to anger and pride,which, in turn, can lead to more shame. To block this 'feeling trap'—as Scheff calls it—it is necessary toreduce alienation between groups and find ways to offer apology and restitution" (Groves 189). True dialogcan only occur if both sides accept their shame. Until then we will be left with the pride, anger, anddeliberate attempts to redirect shame as revealed in this 30 June 1998 post to the Vegan-L:
Digging Deeper
Outside the context of a discussion with a meat-eater, there are real implications to the plant question. Itpoints to an inadequacy in the theory of animal rights. Even if we succeed in no longer having a world basedon the exploitation of animals, it will still be a world based on the exploitation of plants on a massive scale.The proper response to the "You're killing/hurting plants" argument is to laugh in their face andnot even entertain such a ridiculous notion. By taking them seriously, you're legitimizing theirargument--and that's what they want you to do. This whole angle was obviously dreamed up bymeat industry propagandists. Their aim is to engage vegetarians in a silly debate that will end upmaking the vegetarians look ridiculous by revealing us to be utter and outrageous wimps--sowimpy we actually care about a plant's feelings. Think about it--do you think these argumentativemeateaters give two shits about a plant's feelings? Of course not; they're just trying to make uslook silly. So, if you want to win the debate, laugh in their smug meateating face and makeTHEM look silly.
Page 3 of 6Animal liberation and plant liberation2/16/2008http://www.vegetus.org/essay/plants.htm

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