Why is it acceptable for a vegan to eat plants but not animals?

There is no fundamental difference between man and animals in their ability to feel pleasure and pain, happiness, and misery. Charles Darwin

‘Vegans say they love animals. So why do they eat all their food?’ You may have heard this popular joke about vegans before. There is no need to argue against jokes, even though Freud would agree that those who joke feel something deeper against the people they make fun of.

However, it is often the case that this topic is brought up by omnivores: why is it okay for vegans to eat plants but not animals? In most cases, such a question is posed by people who are simply trying to berate the vegan lifestyle because they have prejudices against it. Most of the people who ask such a question have no interest in the welfare of plants. They ridicule and condemn veganism to deflect responsibility for their actions. But let’s say there are still people who sincerely ask this question because they want to understand a vegan’s point of view.

Vegan opponents like to say that it is hypocritical to defend cows and not to defend grass rights. They want to say that neither cows nor grass can have rights—an interesting perspective. There are at least six arguments to answer this provocative question.

1. To reduce violence and avoid the unnecessary suffering of animals.

First of all, it should be said that veganism is not exempt from hurting any living organism, because that is simply impossible. Veganism is not about perfection; it is an effort to reduce exploitation and avoid the suffering of animals as much as possible. Comparing a cow and grass is quite ridiculous and plain wrong. Animals have a nervous system, and plants do not. If this flawed argument equals all living things, we could then say that if cows and grass have no rights, neither does man. Comparing humans to animals makes much more sense. Both have emotions and intelligence. Both feel pain and have an awareness of life. Grass has no intelligence or emotions.

2. Plants don’t feel pain in the same way animals do.

Modern research is proving that plants are indeed sentient, and they can also feel pain, but this is not the same type of pain experienced by animals and humans. Some plants have biological responses to damage, so they just react to different stimuli from the environment. This is not ‘pain’ in any scientific sense. These reactions are actually simple reflexes that require no consciousness.

Like animals, plants are living beings. That is true. Living creatures are both bacteria and fungi because they meet five major scientifically established criteria in that they:

1. Reproduce 

2. Adapt

3. Respond to their environment 

4. Are made up of cells 

5. Obtain and expend energy 

Now that we know that, we can ask: what is the difference between a bacterium, a fungus, a dog, a pig, a carrot, and an onion? The main difference is that animals have central nervous systems that make them capable of feeling pain, happiness, excitement, sadness, and more.

It is an important fact that plants have no central nervous system, which indicates an inability to suffer. They are not able to think or express emotions. Even if we identify them completely with animals, plants are also not caged, abused, or tortured. They exist until they are gone. Unlike cows that are forcefully artificially inseminated in order to continuously produce milk until they can no longer physically do that, no lettuce, zucchini or tomato has experienced a similar fate. Unlike plants, the animals that are grown for food day after day suffer from horrendous growing conditions, as opposed to lettuce in a greenhouse or even better, in the garden.

This point can be proven by one small experiment. Take the mower and go mow the grass in your yard. Later, take a knife and go and try to slaughter a pig in your yard. Your neighbors would certainly see you as a savage with a knife in your hand while the defenseless pig runs around the garden, trying to save itself. Conversely, if you go to the garden and pick a cabbage or dig up a carrot, there will be no blood or distressing sounds, and your neighbor won’t even bat an eyelid.

3. There is a clear difference between a carrot and a pig.

Mowing a lawn and slaughtering a pig are two completely different things that cause different emotions and reactions. Animals are emotionally and intellectually more capable than plants, and they are very social and interactive living beings. It is scientifically proven that pigs are very intelligent and sociable, while the same has not yet been established for Mrs. Carrot and Mr. Cabbage, although it seems they possess a gentlemanly attitude. 

4. Taking the life of a plant is not morally comparable to taking the life of an animal.

Plantlife is not comparable to animal life in the sense of the moral implication of killing them. If it is difficult to understand how picking weeds, carrots, or lettuce is as harmless as the bloody slaughtering of animals, the following example can be given. If you think that killing plants and animals is one and the same, then try to apply this rule to dogs or cats. If someone kills his companion dog or cat and eats it, don’t you think that would be a bit less morally acceptable than killing and eating cabbage or lettuce? If someone still insists that there is no distinction between living beings regarding the moral aspect of killing, then how about we replace the cat with a person (also a living being)?

5. Plants are exploited for animal agriculture.

Plants are far more exploited for animal agriculture than for human consumption. Animals like cows, sheep, goats, and pigs eat many more plants than we do, and there are billions more of these animals in the world than human beings. It is easy to conclude that veganism reduces the need to grow these excess plants to feed animals. So, even if someone is still worried that plants feel pain, then it is possible to reduce that suffering by switching to veganism. People can choose whether to eat animals or plants or both, but the fact is that in the modern world, there is no need to exploit both to survive. If plant-based eating offers variety, is nutritionally rich, and is easily accessible, why choose the death of a cow or pig over that of a carrot or soya bean?

6. Plants want to be eaten!

Have you ever thought about how a plant actually wants to be eaten? Are plants masochistic, or do they have a higher intention? Plants want their seeds to expand, but their only problem is that they cannot walk and transplant it themselves, so they allow nature to take care of that. When animals eat plants, they transport the seeds of plants to a new area through their feces. This argument is especially close to fruitarians who believe that eating fruit is the only natural diet. Indeed, by eating an apple that would fall off the tree by itself anyway, no one would hurt the plant.

For all those who don’t feel these arguments are enough, perhaps they can sit under an apple tree and meditate. Maybe in the meantime, while they start to feel hunger, an apple might fall on their head, and the answers will come to them then. If you get bored of meditating, though, I suggest reading the picture book The Turtle Who Fights For Animal Rights, which explores the ways animals are unnecessarily exploited and is explained in a way that children can also understand.