As a youngster, Alan Sage—scientist, rapper, and vegetarian—put up a fight against biology class dissections. He ate fish until he was about four years old, when he realized fish had eyes. As an adult, he discovered that plants react to glutamate, a neurotransmitter in the human brain, and this discovery tells us that plants have some evolutionary similarity to humans. His interpretation: Plants can think.
Would you like some ketchup with that? I wondered what it might mean to vegetarian philosophy if, through due scientific process, the notion that plants can think (and feel?) became a given. What would it mean to committed vegans and vegetarians?
If plants feel as animals do, will we start to think that eating things without eyes is discrimination against those that do?
These questions get to the very heart of why people are vegetarian in the first place. So, I asked this question on my Facebook page: “Are you a vegetarian? Or vegan? Or are you decidedly NEITHER? Why?”
“I was vegetarian for a few years,” one person responded. “But we humans have canine teeth…Means we’re carnivores. I enjoyed being a vegetarian mainly because I thought I was doing something grand and making a difference!…Then we got a cat…and I ripped open a can of cat food and she tore into it, doing what comes naturally for her. In the blink of an eye I got it: We are designed to eat meat, and I’m just doing what comes naturally.”
“If the lion feels sympathy for the antelope it would starve. It is not about death, but life!!! The plants utilize dead/composted plant material. Doesn’t that make them cannibalistic?”
A dubious young Alan questions every bite. So I posed another question: “If you are a vegetarian and you found out—beyond any doubt—that plants can think and feel, that a tomato screams when you slice it for a sandwich, would that change your mind?”
“Of course I would still be a vegetarian,” one man answered. “Even if plants can suffer in the same way that creatures with a nervous system can, eating meat would still inflict inappropriately larger amounts of suffering because we not only have to kill animals, but also have to kill plants in order to feed those animals prior to killing…”
Another answer: “Eating animals instead of plants just takes any negative effect (resource use, environmental damage through use of pesticides and fertilizers, the hypothetical plant suffering), and multiplies them. Then it adds other negative effects such as increased greenhouse gas production, growth of antibiotic resistant bacteria, etc.”
“I’m a vegetarian,” offered one wag, who I’ll let have the last word. “Seems that once a tomato is picked from the vine, it ought to stop screaming!”
So, what do YOU think? I wonder what Alan thinks, too.