Blogs > Vegging Out

Helen Bennett Harvey promises that no animals were harmed in the making of this blog. Vegging Out is a recipe for a new way of life. Or at least a new way of eating. Pull up a chair. Contact me at:

Friday, April 9, 2010

Are oysters a type of plant?

Thought I’d share with you a piece from Slate that I found interesting.

Writer Christopher Cox explains that while he is basically a vegan in that he abstains from meat, dairy and eggs, he has no qualms about eating oysters.

“Biologically, oysters are not in the plant kingdom, but when it comes to ethical eating, they are almost indistinguishable from plants,” Cox argues.

He explains:

”Oyster farms account for 95 percent of all oyster consumption and have a minimal negative impact on their ecosystems; there are even nonprofit projects devoted to cultivating oysters as a way to improve water quality. Since so many oysters are farmed, there’s little danger of overfishing. No forests are cleared for oysters, no fertilizer is needed, and no grain goes to waste to feed them—they have a diet of plankton, which is about as close to the bottom of the food chain as you can get. Oyster cultivation also avoids many of the negative side effects of plant agriculture: There are no bees needed to pollinate oysters, no pesticides required to kill off other insects, and for the most part, oyster farms operate without the collateral damage of accidentally killing other animals during harvesting... Moreover, since oysters don’t have a central nervous system, they’re unlikely to experience pain in a way resembling ours—unlike a pig or a herring or even a lobster.”

I found Cox’s argument very compelling. If I didn’t find oysters completely repulsive (I never enjoyed any shellfish back in my meat-eating days), I might even be okay with eating one as a vegan. I think it’s important to examine why we choose to eat, or not eat, something, rather than just adhere strictly to a set of dietary rules. For example, though I abstained from eating honey during my three-week vegan trial period, I’ve begun eating it again from time to time because I just don’t have the same objections to it as other animal products. (I’ll admit that I need to do some more research on this, though).

Cox touches on the topic of identity in his story. “Because I eat oysters, I shouldn’t call myself a vegan. I’m not even a vegetarian. I am a pescetarian, or a flexitarian, or maybe there’s an even more awkward word to describe my diet. At first I despaired over losing the vegan badge of honor—I do everything else vegans do—but I got over it."

This is something I still struggle with. As I previously explained on this blog, I decided to eat predominantly vegan, but make some occasional exceptions for special occasions, traveling, social events, etc. Over the past month and a half, I’ve broken the vegan code a few times, and always felt uneasy about it. Last week, I had a whole ice cream cone to myself. Rocky road. I made a conscious decision to drive to the ice cream shop and get it. It was delicious. I felt very guilty.

I’ve also take a bite of my husband’s pizza, and eaten some packaged bread with milk as the very last ingredient. Do these actions cause great suffering or contribute significantly to global warming? Probably not. As I wrote before, I believe that if 98 percent of my food choices are good ones, then I’m doing just fine. But by making these exceptions, I can’t help but think of myself as a “bad vegan.” The other day, I thought maybe it would make me feel better to call myself a vegetarian who mostly avoids dairy and eggs. But that doesn’t seem quite accurate either. And as Cox said, I’ve been somewhat enjoying wearing the vegan “badge of honor.” I’ve mostly gotten over my fear that people would view me as weird or radical for being a vegan, and feel proud that I’ve made such a worthwhile commitment. So I’m going to try to keep my “cheating” to a minimum. But I think I still want cake for my birthday next month (hint hint).


Anonymous Kathleen said...

pringsOK, I'll be the first one to call "Bull s**t!" on Christopher Cox's assumption that oysters are plants. I distinctly remember freshman biology in college when we dissected oysters when studying ANIMALS. It's clear Mr. Cox has a special fondness for oysters and worked hard to find a way to justify indulging in them. Nice try, but those of us who adhere to true vegetarian/vegan diets aren't going to quibble about what is a plant or an animal, all it takes is common sense and half a brain to know the difference. If you don't want to be a vegan/veggie, then don't be one, it's as simple as that. I am not going to eat oysters, clams, lobster or any other animals because if I truly believe it is ethically wrong to eat them, it doesn't matter how they are raised - they are what they are. Everyone else can do what feels right to them. Why waste time and effort trying to justify each infraction when the only one who cares is you?

April 10, 2010 3:00 PM 
Anonymous Jamie said...

I'm not sure why people are so concerned with labels. Conforming your eating to meet a particular label seems silly. If there are vegan foods that are morally wrong (maybe they exploit child labor or have nasty environmental effects), then you should not eat them. And if you decide that certain types of "meat" such as oysters or other shellfish are not morally objectionable, then you should enjoy them regardless or how they effect how you label yourself.

April 12, 2010 10:40 AM 

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home