There was a NYT article, online yesterday, in the paper today (I think), entitled: Sorry Vegans, Brussels Sprouts Want to Live Too. An intellectually lazy title and any parts about veganism are superfluous, because really this is an article about how plants respond to stimuli, and protect themselves from being eaten. You know, high school bio if your teacher could have bothered to make plants more interesting.
So I discovered this article yesterday while skimming the PPK forums. Interesting stuff to be certain. Some of the comments mirrored the arguments of omnivores when presented that eating aimals is murder:
—Oh, it is tasty murder!
—How ridiculous plants can’t feel pain.
—I have to draw the line somewhere.
I’m sure many of these were in jest, but not all of them, I’m sure. There was a lot of anger about this article being published, and giving fodder to anti-vegans— as if they need fodder! The anti-vegans are going to believe what they will, and use any justification they want.
So my question is what if plants were found to have some form of sentience. Of course some people already think they do: fans of The Secret Life of Plants, some fruitarians, and a lot of neo-animists. Some of us generally judge these folks as sort of out of it (because they aren’t following the same mythologies that a lot of us do). As much as I trash-talk science it is still a large part of the backdrop of my worldview.
We know plants can’t feel because they lack the sort of nerves we have, they don’t have a CNS like us. We may recognize that some invertebrates feel in a different way, but they are still in our kingdom. We won’t eat animals because we are fairly certain that most if not all other animals can suffer because they can feel pain, because they need it to survive and get away from whatever dangerous stimuli there are. Pain is our basis for judging suffering.
We’ve even gotten to the point where we can judge “non-physical,” psychic pain. We recognize verbal and psychological abuse as suffering. We know stress and other psychological factors cause another type of pain, of suffering.
And so we assume that if other animals feel pain then they can also suffer.
A plant responds to stimuli to protect itself. Being mostly sedentary (from our perspective), it responds in a different way from animals. Pain as we know it wouldn’t make sense for a plant. But they must have some way of responding to the world around them, and dangerous stimuli for them may create a response that is unpleasant, for the plant.
You may be thinking I’m bonkers, but to be honest it must have sounded insane at points to propose that animals could have feelings (still does for some people). Likewise for some people it must sound nuts to assume that plants don’t have some sense of what unpleasantness is.
And really what is pain but an unpleasantness resulting from a stimulus.
Is it really any crazier to think that a plant can feel, than that an ant or a worm or a sponge can as well?
So: What if plants can suffer, or if some plants are sentient?
As a person committed to trying to end suffering and oppression what could I do.
Obviously I could draw a line, remain vegan, say, “Too bad plants. There is nothing we can do about this. I must eat.”
And perhaps this is why it is upsetting to think of plants as possible of suffering. Because then veganism would become the moral equivalent of pescatarianism, and there wouldn’t be as much space to maneuver ethically. You can’t feed many people on naturally dead things and fallen fruit.
If plants can feel it requires a rethinking of what an ethical diet, ethical living in general, means for all of us.
But of course it would never be fodder for an anti-vegan. Even if plants can feel it doesn’t excuse the horribleness that we direct towards animals.