I came across a blog post today requesting moral arguments against vegetarianism. There were many interesting points and counter-points, many of which were simplistic. The author gathered the answers as fodder for writing longer rebuttals on her blog.
I have a response which I have been forming for several years, since I find moral vegetarianism to be trite and irrational and I have more than once been confronted with it I have had cause to think about my response more than once. Here was my response to K-Rina.
As far as I know plants don’t feel pain. As far as I know pain is purely an “animal” construct. This doesn’t mean that plants don’t have their own survival strategies however. We place a great deal of concern into pain and suffering, naturally, since we are animals and can empathize with pain and suffering. However pain is simply an adaptation for survival, different from plants but plants have their own similar adaptations. For a very interesting example read about the Acacia tree. When giraffes begin eating it, it will begin to produce a toxin that will make the leaves poisonous to giraffes. Therefore giraffes will approach the trees from down wind and only eat on them for a short period of time. There are many other examples of offensive and defensive mechanisms that plants have evolved as a means of surviving in their various habitats (thorns, poisons, colors, pine cones that open after fires, etc.)
Furthermore some animals have formed a co-evolutionary relationship with humans, where their existence as a species is completely dependent upon humans wanting to eat them. Many breeds of modern cows, for example, would probably not live long if they weren’t also eaten by humans. This is a similar relationship that bees have with orchids, corpse flowers have with flies, dairy ants have with aphids, etc.
The concepts of pain, suffering and personal death all have no meaning evolutionarily other than how it affects the adaptability and ultimately the survival of the entire species.
So plants are just as alive as animals and we humans tend to apply our anthropomorphic bias’ towards animals since we are ourselves animals. I think the moral vegetarian is simply showing a conceit and a overly simplistic understanding of evolution and the circle of life.
If I went into a forest right now and chopped down an old oak tree and left it there to rot would that be immoral? I think so. The moral wrong is the act of unnecessarily killing anything. Humans cannot photosynthesize therefore anytime we eat we must kill for that food. This is totally morally acceptable as long as what we eat improves our long term survival as well as the long term survival of other life forms. It’s ok to eat a few leaves off of a plant in the same way it’s ok to eat a few cows out of a herd.
As the most intelligent species on Earth it’s our duty to understand this and attempt to promote the largest diversity, continual evolution, and maximum habitation of life on this planet.