Q:I've seen a lot of omnivores ask vegans what it is that makes an animal or insect's life more important than that of a plant's, and never have I seen any logical response to that besides "lol you're stupid" or "you're just avoiding feeling guilty about eating animals." The former is stupid and the latter is untrue in many cases. What is the actual counter-argument to this? (If I've worded this poorly, let me know and i'll try it again)
(First, you might want to just say “animal’s life”, because yes, insects are animals even if most people make the mental distinction between the two, in the same way some people think fish are not animals). I think if there are people who brush off this answer, it’s because they see it similar to “so my sister is no more important than this stick of celery, right?” When an omnivore asserts that animals and plants should be seen basically as the same type of “thing” to be used, I understand why some vegans would be angry or upset, or think that the person asking is merely trolling.
Animals, human and non-human, have
- the ability to feel pain (a central nervous system)
- complex social interactions (and therefore, intellect)
- the ability to love, hate, fear, etc.
- an autonomous body of their own
- the ability to make choices
An animal can feel a sharp an unending pang of fear as they watch their mother killed with a bolt to the head as they themselves are dragged away in a foreign vehicle by an aggressive individual of a different species, to become veal. The animal can understand: its mother has just been killed, and there is likely nothing good ahead in its own life.
Plants do not have central nervous systems, and they cannot feel pain. Plants can respond to sensory stimuli, as do the bacteria on your skin or a tumor in a patient (sensory stimuli is what doctors are counting on with cancer treatment!). But we would not suggest that a tumor can feel love, that exfoliating your face is murder, or that eating a carrot is devouring the flesh of another creature. Plants will not hate you - for any reason. They will not fear, they will not bond. Plants do not have the ability to make their own choices. In these ways, plants are wholly different from animals such as ourselves and other animals in our kingdom.
Vegans have already bridged the gap between a human animal and a non-human animal. They have likely come to see for themselves that other animals, cows and pigs and more, are not all too different from us on the basic level of what we often consider “personhood”. Pigs can even play, and enjoy, video games.
It’s not necessarily about which life, sentient or non-sentient, is more important. It’s about the consequences of taking a sentient life vs. the consequences of taking a plant life. Plants are living organisms, and though whether you’re omni or vegan you still need to take plant life to survive, it does not give us the right to exert the planet’s resources. Sustainable and responsible plant-based agriculture is key on an environmental, ethical and even economic scale.
Even if I were to say, “you’re right - animals are no more important than plants”, I would still have to be vegan by that standard. It takes a great amount of plant material just to feed an animal, which is then slaughtered to produce a smaller gain of food for a human. Eating meat or using animal products means you are, in turn, “consuming” at least 10 times more plant material than someone who eats a plant-based diet. If an omnivore felt so moved by “the life of plants”, then why do they choose to consume ten times more?
There is no logical argument to be had against veganism by stating “animals aren’t better than plants!”
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