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
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
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
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.”