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Response to Natalie Angier

At the Eastern Shore Sanctuary and Education Center, we are quite familiar
with the phenomenon Natalie Angier exemplifies so perfectly in her essay
“Sorry, Vegans: Brussels Sprouts Like to Live, Too.” We call it psychic
self-defense.

And so, while I will refute Angier’s primary argument against veganism
later in this response, I believe it is instructive to first think about
the phenomenon itself.

It goes something like this. Angier likes the taste of flesh and, more
significantly, believes that her desire for flesh precludes any and all
rights of other living creatures to — well, live. Her desire also trumps
the right of other living creatures to be spared unimaginable fates like
forced reproduction, traumatic living conditions, and painful slaughter.

But Angier does not say “I want to eat flesh and I don’t care who suffers
for it.” She apparently needs to shield herself from such direct talk —
and any responsibility for her choices — by adopting specious and
irrelevant arguments.

It is extraordinarily painful to see, let alone admit, that one’s
unnecessary actions have led to horrific pain, suffering, and misery. This
is why so many spouses of abusive parents deny the abuse ever took place:
they cannot bear to see their own culpability in the situation.

And this is why vegans need never open our mouths to question, let alone
condemn, the food “choices” about which Angier writes so blithely. All we
need do is simply STATE that we are vegan — that we choose to not consume
the flesh or bodily products of other animals — and we are attacked by a
barrage of arguments all deployed to shield the non-vegan from his or her
own psychic pain.

This phenomenon — this psychic self-defense — leads Angier to base the
core of her essay on a weathered old chestnut: Veganism Doesn’t Make Sense
Because Plants Suffer Too. Cloaked in the language of Angier’s article and
draped in the mantle of Science, it’s an argument that seems to make
perfect sense. Too bad it’s completely inaccurate.

First, let me state that I am absolutely convinced that plants have a
consciousness far beyond anything we humans can comprehend at this point
in our evolutionary process. I also believe plants exhibit a
responsiveness that, again, humans can try to fathom, but thus far eludes
our best efforts to do so.

But those beliefs — call them facts if you want — are entirely
irrelevant to whether or not fauna should consume flora. All creatures who
live upon this earth have evolved based upon one simple rule: we all
consume plant matter. I will say that again. Every single living thing on
this planet, either directly or else through prey animals, eats plants.
Possibly because of this, plants have no nervous systems. Thus, they
cannot feel pain like Angier’s duck who was killed by being dipped in
electrified water, beheaded by a revolving blade that might well have
missed its mark, and stripped of feathers quite possibly while still
conscious.

The bottom line is that we as humans need not consume animals or their
products in order to remain healthy. In fact, extensive and overwhelming
evidence shows that such consumption is unhealthy for humans. But we do
need to consume plants to live, just like every other creature on the face
of this earth.

If the plants had an issue with that, they would have made that clear a
long time ago. I’m not being glib or snide; I agree with Angier and her
cadre of scientists that plants are far more than the barely animate
objects most humans think they are. Having said that, the reality is that
on this planet, what we call life has evolved such that all creatures
consume others to live, and all creatures, in the end, consume plants. And
since this is the case, I find it entirely reasonable that the creatures
who will always end up as someone’s food never chose to develop a nervous
system. No nerves, no pain.

Lest another chestnut be dragged out to refute my counter-argument — the
claim that because some animals eat other animals, we have the right to do
the same — I will say that we have no control over what lions or whales
do to survive; nor should we. But we do have control over our own choices.
To minimize the pain we cause as we move through this world is a choice
that is easily made. Sadly, though, most of us refuse to make this choice.
We prefer to cause unnecessary pain — pain caused by greed and desire as
opposed to our need to survive — and then justify our choice using
arguments designed for maximum self-protection.

Angier is simply grasping at every available straw of justification to
protect herself and her choices. She wants to believe she deserves to eat
the flesh of birds and fish just because she likes the taste of them. Deep
inside, though, something is surely telling her that she is dead wrong, or
she wouldn’t feel so compelled to lash out at those who make what she
asserts are “arbitrary” and (by implication) neutral food choices.

One can only hope that she, along with other self-delusional flesh-eaters,
will one day have the courage to see what they are doing to the innocent
victims of their “choices.”

16 comments to Response to Natalie Angier

  • Thanks for your analysis of this. My sister (who is a vegetarian, but not vegan…yet?) sent it along to me and it seriously pissed me off. Why couldn’t Angier just have written about the remarkable abilities of plants without bringing her own prejudice against vegans into it?

    Someone should tell her that meat-eaters consume FAR more plants than vegans anyway–just indirectly. (http://blog.liberationbc.org/2009/07/arguments-against-veganism-part-4/)

  • Well, I don’t believe that plants have a consciousness. But other than that, I appreciate your refutation of this article. When I read it, it also made me angry. Weathered argument indeed. I like the way you break down the psychology underlying that piece.
  • Nancy
    Thank you for this lucid response. I too believe that plants have a consciousness however, I do believe they experience some sort of pain. They recoil when a lit match is placed near them.That is part of the reason I am a vegan, we consume less plants.
    I am asking everyone who is vegan to respond to scurrilous and inacurate comments by Karen Van Kleef.Her comments run the gamut from vegans have “bad teeth,” is not suitable for pregnancy, etc.
    Here is the link
    :http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SEnGXeXQ0Zg
  • victoria figurelli
    I recently read an article by Paul Mc Cartney and his Quote was I slaughterhouses were made of glass everyone would be a vegatarian .But has driven me is everytime I Look into my Pet Chickens eyes I think of all the other animals killed for Food that suffer .
  • Jessica
    United Poultry Concerns has a great flyer called “Don’t Plants Have Feelings too?”: http://www.upc-online.org/ethics_questions.html
    The flyer can be ordered at http://www.upc-online.org/merchandise/handout.html
    This flyer is really helpful to activists when confronted with these types of questions.
  • Not to mention that, when you eat an animal, you are indirectly eating all of the plants that animal ever ate… on average, about 5 pounds of plant matter for every pound of animals flesh (more for “beef,” less for “poultry”). So, if you want to *reduce* the number of plants you eat, go vegan!
  • I believe plants have consciousness and that we pick and eat them at the end of their life cycle for the most part – fruit nuts plants grains etc == all used at the end point of their life cycle. More important is to share that food with other species – eat but do not overpopulate and take all resources from other species whose births should also be controlled.

    I do not get into saying flesh eaters are degenerates without showing them alternatives. It is true the body needs proteins and will torment consciousness until it gets it – every day. The body cannot store protein, Without a daily dose it will produce insufferable cravings for food. Give it protein and the cravings disappear. Protein satisfies cravings. Not the fake meats but tofu. I find the fake meats do not work to kill cravings.

    FIRM TOFU
    OLIVE OIL
    TAMARI

    Make sure you buy a nice fresh clean tofu. Imported old SMELLY tofu has turned off a lot of people. There is a lot of bad tofu in the world and there is something wrong with tofu made by Monsanto – mori nu is no good either for cravings.

    In WI we can buy fresh tofu from a local manufacturer, Bountiful Bean in Milwaukee.

    PRESS the tofu between two plates until the water is squeezed out and the tofu is dry – don’t crush it – gently press

    Warm olive oil in fry pan
    cut tofu into 5 vertical slices and then 4 or 5 horizontal slices – now you have many squares

    throw them in sizzling olive oil
    don’t fry them too fast or the tofu will get rubbery

    then when they look like crisp chicken nuggets take them out of pan and sprinkle on tamari to taste(or garlic powder or whatever)

    If you have some money go to your whole food store and buy in bulk bins what is called :Good tasting mini flake nutritional yeast” all the B vitamins and tastes so good – don’t use too much or you will get a GTMFNY burning feeling on your skin. Just sprinkle it on like the tamari.

    And instead of tamari and yeast, you can go to your local Asian store and buy Mabo Tofu Sauce in the box. Just throw the fried tofu in the sauce.

    Tofu is pure protein. Protein cannot be stored and must be replaced every day. Get your protein and you will not have food cravings. Eat tofu when you have cravings for stuff you know is not good for you like potato chips or pizza.

  • and I realize I used speciest language – I should have said fried puffed up golden nuggets not fried chicken nuggets – I am sorry.
  • bravebird
    Thanks, greenconsciousness, for the reminder for all of us — it’s so easy to use the words we are used to — we all know what you meant, though. :-)
  • bravebird – i think the original comment is still in moderation
  • bravebird
    Hey!

    No, I approved it, but it was posted to a different entry in the blog. ;-)

    I tried to shift it over but was unable to do so — would you mind terribly posting it again here?

    Sorry — meant to follow up and let you know I wasn’t able to do it, and didn’t…

    Miriam

  • bravebird
    OK, Greenconsciousness, I’m an idiot. Ignore me — all approved, all posted, thank you very much and sorry. :-)

    Miriam

  • Joy
    I have recently learned of Eastern Shore Sanctuary and I’m just now seeing these blog posts for the first time. So this may or may not get read; I would just like to say that I have been faced with this comeback for many years from omnivores and this is how I see it. When a plant grows and then offers it’s fruit/vegtable to us it is clean, filled with life and healthy for our bodies. And I say offer because in most cases the plant releases the part in which we take to eat. I’m not a plant expert by any means but aren’t plants able to reproduce by their seeds? So they are not really being killed are they? And isnt’ it better to eat live foods? However, when an animal is killed there is no life left – it is dead flesh – the spirit is gone and the animal lifeless. And then the carcass, especially if from a factory farm, must be irradiated to kill bacteria and sometimes sprayed with ammonia and then it needs to be seasoned and cooked at high heats just to be consumed. How omnivores can think there is anything nutrional left is beyond my comprehension. Besides the fact they will insist it taste good. I apologize for this lenghty post.
  • bravebird
    Joy, thanks! I’m not as blog-aware as I should be, smile, or I would have read your comment days ago. :-)
    First, please don’t apologize for a lengthy post! Your thoughts are very welcome.
    Second, I do have to say that this is a very interesting perspective! I have to think about it, mostly to see if there are any exceptions to the rule — it’s always important to know that before using any particular argument.
    Thanks, truly, for giving me something to think about, and what do others think?
  • Joy
    Thanks Bravebird for reading and commenting on my post. Anytime you would like to discuss this I’d be happy to. There are many ways to view this topic; that’s for sure. I guess for me a plant based diet means that I inflict minimum injury on one-sensed life only (plants) which is necessary for sustaining our bodies. Have you ever read “The Secret Life of Plants”? – it is very interesting about the consciousness of plants. and even with that, I just think the brutality that is inflicted on the animals in our society no where near compares to the eating of plants. With all due respect to all other’s opinions, eating animals vs. eating plants: it really is quite a silly crazy comparison don’t you think?

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