You might remember the vegan screed in The New York Times around Thanksgiving that accused meat-eating Americans of being uncaring in their dining preferences. And before that, you might recall Jonathan Safran Foer’s holier-than-thou book promoting vegetarianism. Yesterday, the Times featured some interesting food for thought examining the morality of plant-based diets. Science writer Natalie Angier takes vegans to task over their herbivorous high-mindedness, writing that veggies don’t like being killed, either:
But before we cede the entire moral penthouse to “committed vegetarians” and “strong ethical vegans,” we might consider that plants no more aspire to being stir-fried in a wok than a hog aspires to being peppercorn-studded in my Christmas clay pot. …. The more that scientists learn about the complexity of plants — their keen sensitivity to the environment, the speed with which they react to changes in the environment, and the extraordinary number of tricks that plants will rally to fight off attackers and solicit help from afar — the more impressed researchers become, and the less easily we can dismiss plants as so much fiberfill backdrop, passive sunlight collectors on which deer, antelope and vegans can conveniently graze….
Just because we humans can’t hear them doesn’t mean plants don’t howl. Some of the compounds that plants generate in response to insect mastication — their feedback, you might say — are volatile chemicals that serve as cries for help. Such airborne alarm calls have been shown to attract both large predatory insects like dragon flies, which delight in caterpillar meat, and tiny parasitic insects, which can infect a caterpillar and destroy it from within.
Of course, no one’s saying that celery and chickens have the same neurosystems. But the supposedly “cruelty-free” moral menus of some vegans aren’t exactly printed in black and white, either.