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Mikko Alanne

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But Plants Have Feelings, Too!

Posted: 08/24/11 12:31 PM ET

All vegans and vegetarians have heard it: "But what about the plants? What about their feelings? They feel pain, too. Don't you feel bad for the carrots? You are killing them, you know."

Sorry, but the above represent the dumbest set of excuses I've ever heard as to why some people claim eating animals is morally equivalent to eating plants. Tellingly, these people's concern for plant feelings has not reared its head over eating a baked potato with steak, or seeing capers in chicken piccata. No, it's arisen because the conversation has turned to cruelty toward the animals we eat, something that's difficult to swallow.

If you're one of those plant feelings people, it's time we had a chat.

Remember elementary school biology? Even a cursory review tells us that plants and animals are different. Significantly different. For example: Plants have neither brains nor nervous systems with which to feel pain. Does this mean that we can say with absolute certainty that plants cannot have a consciousness or feel pain? I suppose we can never be 100 percent certain... but here's what we do know -- for sure -- the animals we eat are conscious. And they do most certainly feel pain. And loneliness. And fear. Just like your dog. Your cat. And you.

Also, when you trim a tree or a hedge, the plant regenerates. And what about all those leaves changing color and falling off in autumn? Are we to believe that inside, while wintering, the trees are screaming in pain and horror?

Alas, these points don't matter to the plants-have-feelings crowd. To them, plants and animals are the same by the simple virtue that they're both alive... a statement they exclaim with the gusto of adherents to a new, all-absolving religion. But if that most basic similarity were truly the only moral arbiter, there'd be no difference between picking a flower and cold-blooded murder; between genocide and mowing your lawn. You're just killing something that's alive, right?

However, pointing out the fatal flaws of the argument isn't the end here. Oh, no. The vehement plant-defender now turns to the horrible environmental devastation caused by growing plants for food. And while that's not an irrelevant issue, using it here fails again. Because what do you think the animals you are eating were eating -- air? In fact, animal agriculture uses far more land, water -- and yes -- plants, than all the plants cultivated for human consumption.

So now the angry meat-eater turns to their final argument, the one that always comes when everything else has failed: complaining about the ridiculous moralizing and self-righteousness of the irritating vegans, who keep bothering them with facts. I swear sometimes arguing with these people feels like trying to convince a fundamentalist Christian about the evidence for evolution, except that sadly many of the people foaming at the mouth about plant feelings are meat-loving liberals.

So, in closing, if you think that eating animals is morally the same as eating plants, you're dreaming. And as Winston Churchill once said: "Facts are better than dreams."