How then, can those who practise great compassion
feed on the flesh and blood of living beings?
– The Buddha (Surangama Sutra)
A common yet inadequate argument against a meat-reduced or meat-free diet is the speculation that plants might experience pain too, like animals. As many plants are eaten by vegetarians and vegans, do they ‘create’ more suffering? Plants are indeed life forms, but not sentient beings, as they are not complex enough (e.g. have no nervous system) to feel pain. A chicken who is about to be slaughtered feels fear and suffers under the knife, while these reactions do not occur to a carrot being uprooted and chopped. Even if a carrot feels pain, it is obvious that it is much less than that of a chicken. But what if plants really do feel ‘pain’, that is hard to measure? If plants and animals both feel pain, here are three ways of looking at the dilemma, with conclusions that follow:
(1) If animals feel more pain than plants, we should eat less animals. But if a number of plants are instead eaten for a meal, will the total ‘pain’ caused be equal or more than that caused through eating an animal? No – because this animal ate many more plants in his lifetime, which makes eating him linked to even more ‘pain’. We should thus eat plants more directly, to reduce harm to both plants and animals. (2) If plants feel more ‘pain’ than animals, should we eat less plants? But if less plants are eaten, while eating more animals, and since the animals ate many more plants in their lifetime, eating them is linked to even more ‘pain’. We should thus eat plants more directly, to reduce harm to both plants and animals.
(3) If the ‘pain’ of a plant being killed is equal to the pain of an animal being killed, each animal still ate many plants in his lifetime, which makes eating him linked to even more ‘pain’. We should thus eat plants more directly, to reduce harm to both plants and animals. For example, fruits are best eaten when they are ripe and ready to fall naturally (i.e. ‘die’). Why not eat more fruits? In comparison, no animals die willingly to be eaten. The ‘plants feel pain too’ smokescreen suggests, ‘Since I can’t prevent pain totally, I’m totally absolved from doing anything to prevent (or reduce) pain!’ It’s like saying, ‘Even if I donate to help the needy, I won’t be able to help all of them. So… I need not donate at all!’
What matters is doing your best now,
even if it is not the absolute best yet.
More Good Points from a Vegan Friend
[A] Of course plants have life. So do bacteria and cells. Even if we eat or drink nothing at all, the body kills millions of germs every second. Absolute non-killing is non-possible and non-existent. The ethical issue is about the unnecessary pain/suffering infliction and the intention.
[B] Plants do not experience pain in ways animals do. They have neither nerve cells nor a nerve centre. Pain would not serve any purpose for plants because they aren’t able to remove themselves from the pain-inflicting elements, unlike animals [who are forced to be unable to move away by imprisoning them].
[C] Animals need to eat many portions of plants to produce one portion of meat. When we eat meat, we would be killing a corresponding multifold amount of plants. By eating plants we would kill the least.
[D] Eat fruits… it would be the most ethical diet. The fruit is the part of the plant which it ‘wants’ to give. When edible fruits ripen, they change their colours or scent which appeal to humans, to ‘invite’ us to take them. In taking the fruit, we help the plant sow its seeds. The nutrients in edible fruits are what we need. Mutualism. There is no taking of life of the plant… if that is the concern.
[E] Fruit-eating is aligned with the ‘nature of joyful abundance’… i.e. the more fruits you eat, the more fruits you tend to have when we scatter the seeds of the fruits we like. Its structure of abundance is inherently there. Unfortunately, our social practices are not in line with that beauty when we incinerate our ‘trash’. In contrast, meat-eating is aligned with the ‘nature of abundance in suffering’. The more meats we eat, the more the suffering multiplies [for animals, human health and the planet].
Other irrefutable good reasons to go vegetarian/vegan
The Plants-Feel-Pain Argument is Faulty
The Other Side of the Coin
The Buddha’s View on Meat-Eating