Herb Green the Raw Vegan and the Fate of Humanity by Carlo Alvaro

Herb Green the Raw Vegan and the Fate of Humanity

By Carlo Alvaro
Beef: So, Herb, first of all what is the meaning of your diet, why don’t you eat meat, and by the way, is it “Vaegan or Veggan or…”

Herb: No, no, no, Beef! It is “vegan” pronounced “vē-gən,” and it’s not a diet. Veganism is the term used to describe an ethical stance that opposes the use of animals for food, entertainment, fashion, and scientific research. In short, the “meaning,” as you put it, of being a vegan is that we think it is immoral for those who have easy access to an abundance of plant-based food, to exploit animals in the name of taste, fashion, amusement, practicality, or other trivial reasons. So, the question to us vegans is not, why we don’t eat meat, but rather why you meat eaters eat meat. To me it is like smoking cigarettes. You know when people say things like, “I am a non-smoker”? Well, that’s completely ludicrous to me. I am not a “non-smoker.” If you decide to smoke, then you are a smoker! But don’t call me a non-smoker. I am an air-breather, if anything. To ask why we don’t eat meat is insulting to some vegans; it certainly is to me at least because the question carries the implication that we, the vegans, are not normal or we are meat eaters’ dumb little brothers. It is a form of ethical food chauvinism. It is no better than a male chauvinist wondering why women want to be “equal.” They certainly don’t want to be equal to men. And even so, to which men? Just like women don’t regard themselves as males without genitals, we vegans do not think of ourselves as meat eaters without meat—a very queer category!

Beef: Okay, I understand now: you don’t eat meat. So vegans don’t eat meat. But what about fish?

Herb: Now, Beef, do fish grow on trees?

Beef: No, but fish is not meat.

Herb: Is it a vegetable that swims, then?

Beef: No, but it isn’t meat!

Herb: Look, Beef, the definition of meat is the flesh of an animal. Fish, unless you can prove otherwise, are animals and have flesh—that’s meat. Maybe where you come from fish are not animals, but as far as I know they are.

Beef: Okay, okay, fish is meat. Well, then are you saying that you are normal and we meat eaters are not? So why do you think we have been eating meat for millennia? And why do you think the majority of people in the world eat animals, huh?

Herb: First of all, let’s drop this normal or abnormal talk. We don’t think that we are normal and you are abnormal. True, we think that meat eaters don’t realize, due to a variety of reasons, that eating flesh is something morally wrong or, as I like to put it, meat eaters act in ways that are less than noble. Secondly, the fact that you have been eating animals for millennia does not make the practice of eating flesh a morally sound practice. Think about the number of atrocities and injustices that have been committed for millennia. Think about slavery, the subjugation of women, racism, and so on. These are as old as the universe. Still, they are wrong.  Bottom line, the number of years or eons doesn’t guarantee that a practice is moral. Furthermore, using animals for food, and other purposes, became a practice after the discovery of agriculture and the domestication of animals, both of which are relatively recent events. Prior to these events, and prior to the discovery and the capacity to control fire, arguably, humans would not have all these opportunities to eat meat that we have today. Consequently, for a long period of time, before farming, before slaughterhouses, before supermarkets, and before cooking, unless you are a natural-born predator, your folks ate plants. Thirdly, once again, why should we determine the morality of a practice on the basis of the number of individuals who adhere to that practice? If the majority were racist (hmm, is this the right example?) would it follow that racism is okay?

Beef: Okay but typically if the majority holds a certain belief, there must be an explanation. For example, the majority thinks it is wrong to torture innocent beings for fun. I am sure you think it is wrong to torture innocent humans for fun. Most individuals think that the universe is billions of years old. Most think democracy is the best form of government. So my point is that I agree with you that the number of individuals that hold a belief does not necessarily confirm the truth of that belief. However, when the number of individuals is so big, when the agreement is so remarkable, we have to pause and think what best explains that. And in my view, the fact that so many individuals where I come from choose to eat flesh, and despite your saying that humans have not been eating meat forever, and the fact that eating flesh is an ancient practice, I think these are best explained by saying that, yes, it is normal to eat flesh and therefore you, vegans, are, no offense, abnormal.

Herb: None taken, Beef! Now, to dot the is and cross the ts, I’m not as sure as you are that most believe that the universe is billions of years old. I know folks who think the universe is a few thousand years old. Heck, I know folks who swear that the Earth is flat! And that democracy is the best political system? I’m not sure about that either. But, this is not the issue here. The issue is whether it is normal to eat flesh. It seems to me that the reason why people eat flesh is very complex. But I don’t think it has anything to do with normality. The fact is that animal agriculture, hunting, scientific research, and the entertainment business have established very powerful mechanisms to subvert our moral feelings and our capacity to be logically consistent. Children are taught to eat animals in spite of their capacity of compassion toward animals. Young children, to begin with, are not asked for their opinions. They are fed animals, and in forms and shapes that do not resemble animals. They are fed things like mush, nuggets and things labeled “happy meals” on the one hand, and on the other, they are read “Hey, diddle, diddle...the cow jumped over the moon. And the dish ran away with the spoon,” though the cow often ends up being the dish!

In most cases, caregivers avoid discussing with children that the cow does not jump over the moon but she is slaughtered instead. Advertisements, meat trade, and hunting journals are deliberately deceptive about animals. They all work hard to make people believe that animals exist for our benefit, that eating meat is normal, and that we must eat it. How do you explain that the meat industry hides the truth behind pathetic euphemisms? Butcher shops prefer to be called “meat markets.” Slaughterhouses “meat plants” or “meat factories.” Terms such as pork, mountain oysters, drumsticks, and other euphemisms are used to refer to animal flesh. Vivisectionists prefer the term “dispatch,” or “sacrifice” instead of “kill.” Hunting is regarded as a “sport” of “harvesting” animals. Hollywood heroes eat meat. There are lobbyists pushing the government to advertise animal products—in short, every single second of our existence we are constantly bombarded by pro-meat messages and at the same time discouraged from, and ridiculed for, being vegans.

No, Beef, the truth is that deliberately deceitful language about meat pervades society like a tricky evil mist. Veganism is constantly ridiculed. Vegans are portrayed as obnoxious salad eaters who bother other people, feel superior, and pretend to save the world. The very term, “vegan” is nowadays ubiquitous and is associated with a cult-like diet. So, people eat flesh not because it is normal, but because the public is deliberately manipulated by a system of exploitation, which comprises the media, scientific research, meat and dairy industries, hunting, and the food industry. If you are constantly told these messages, you cannot be properly informed about the lives of animals, and therefore cannot sympathize with them. It isn’t consumers who create demand for animal products, my dear Beef; it’s those who own the production system who make decisions for the public. The point here is that there is no inherent or natural reason that people should eat animal products. Eating animal products is like smoking cigarettes or using gasoline as combustible—convenient to some, but certainly not necessary. In other words, animal products are just part of a long list of things that people consume because the market gives no serious options but to consume those products.

Beef: But Herb, you have to offer everything to children and then they make a decision when they are able to make decisions.

Herb: But what is “everything” Beef? And who decides the definition of everything? If you ask me, everything means all plant-based food. Your inclusion of flesh and animal-based products is just arbitrary.

Beef: No, Herb, it is not arbitrary because flesh and animal-based products are food.

Herb: No, no, no! Meat is the rotting flesh of cadavers! It’s not food.

Beef: Fine, Herb. I disagree with you there, but tell me, you’re saying that veganism is not a diet. So how do you explain vegan food and vegan restaurant?

Herb: Beef, as I said at the outset, veganism is not a diet, but an ethical position or a lifestyle, if you will. True, nowadays some claim to be vegans because they had salad for lunch or they like the idea of being vegans; some are fashionably vegans, some are “I’m-better-than-you” vegans, some are “I’m-gonna-lose-weight” vegans, some are confused vegans. At any rate, the point does not change that veganism is not a diet. Vegetarianism, the so-called Paleo, no-carb, high-carb, gluten-free, and pescatarian (and the list can go on for ages) are examples of diets. Now, notice what is the common denominator: diet focuses on the food. Diet is motivated by the belief that a certain regimen will be conducive to good health or perhaps motivated by spiritual or religious belief. Veganism, on the other hand, does not focus on food. Veganism is not based on the promise of longevity or on particular food. Veganism in its classical and purest form is about living in such a way as to avoid, as much as possible, the use of animals. What a vegan eats is not as important as what a vegan won’t eat—and he or she won’t eat animals or animal-based food. The question of what a vegan will eat is a different story. Some vegans eat faux meat, others don’t, others still don’t eat grains, but others do, and others, like myself for example, eat only uncooked and unprocessed fruit and vegetables.

Now about vegan food and vegan restaurant, calling a food vegan was a brilliant marketing ploy. The vegan industry certainly is growing stronger and even non-vegan companies such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts, Tyson, and more are producing and selling so-called vegan food. However, the fact that you call something with a funny name does not mean anything. At the end of the day, fruit, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds are what they are. You may call them vegan but they are plant-based food. The point is that veganism is not a diet whether or not vegan restaurants and food labeled as vegan exist.

Beef: Wait, what?! Did you say you eat uncooked vegetables and fruit? I don’t get it. What about rice? You eat rice?

Herb: You need to pay attention, Beef. If I say that I eat only uncooked vegetables and fruit, it means that I only eat uncooked vegetables and fruit and not that I eat rice. I do realize that mine comes across as a very wacky diet—even my own fellow vegans think so. And yes, this is a diet, known as raw veganism. I chose to be a vegan because I believe that it is the only noble way to live. But for a number of years now I have been eating only food in its raw state, nothing cooked. Eating directly the food that nature makes without processing it or cooking it, it seems to me, is the best possible diet for human beings. Other people approach raw veganism in many different ways. I eat only salad and fruit. I do not consume tea, coffee, alcohol, sugar or salt. Others might.

Beef: I don’t get it. Why would you eat that way? What’s wrong with cooking?

Herb: Cooking food changes its molecular structure—and not for the better. It destroys nutrients, creates acrylamides and other carcinogenic substances, and denatures proteins, which leads to many problems. Just to mention one problem: Leukocytosis is an increase in the body of white blood cells. This occurs as a reaction to inflammations or infections. In other words, when the body detects a threat, as a response it produces more white blood cells. This does not happen when we eat fruit and salad. However, it does happen whenever we consume any type of cooked food. There is a wealth of scientific research showing that cooked food—vegan or not—shortens our lives. Another interesting fact is to consider that humans have been around for about 350,000 years (not to mention that human-like creatures have been around for millions of years). During this time, no significant change occurred to our digestive system that enabled us to benefit from cooked food. Thus, considering that human beings are evolved creatures, adapted to their environment, it is obvious that there is a diet that is specific and optimal for our species. Cooking food is a relatively new practice for humans. For the longest time, as I mentioned earlier, humans have eaten fruit and tender leafy greens. This is a scientifically documented fact—humans are frugivores, not cookivores. Consequently, cooking food is in no way beneficial to human health. The only benefit is that it provides easy calories by heat-processing food that otherwise would be indigestible. I will give you that. But as far as I am concerned I don’t cook anything.

Beef: But meat tastes good and if something tastes good, I would argue, there must be a good explanation for it. Now, Herb, my explanation is that we are meant to eat meat. Most importantly, you must understand that since meat is so good, if we stopped eating meat, it would be a great loss. The taste of meat and experience of eating it are more important than animal suffering. Taste is not a trivial aspect of life at all, but rather an important value to a good life that justifies rearing sentient beings for food.  Eating well is a significant value to us, and eating meat is a significant part of eating well. Consequently, not eating meat is a significant value loss.

Herb: Good point, Beef. However, I do not dispute for a moment that eating well and the role of flavor are important values to anybody. However, I have three objections to your line of argument:
First, plant-based food tastes good—even better than meat according to many meat eaters who have become vegans. Most vegans used to eat meat and thus know what meat tastes like and yet prefer the taste of plant-based food.
Second, the argument that not eating meat is a significant value loss to the life of a meat eater is an exaggeration. I would grant this argument if meat tasted so good that it blew your socks right off every time and it were essential to you and without it you would get ill or your lives would be unbearable. Obviously these are not the case. You people can easily adjust your taste to plant-based food, and plant-based food tastes good.
Third, this notion that meat is delicious is very fishy (pun intended). Flesh is not intrinsically delicious. Think about fruit. Unlike meat, fruit is eaten for its characteristic flavor, but meat is not. Fruit and greens and even grains don’t require special preparation or seasoning. Mangos, bananas, watermelons, spinach, sweet potatoes, peppers, corn, and more, are flavorful in their raw state or just by minimally cooking them. Yes, there are vegetables that have little taste raw.  Broccoli and eggplants for example are not good.  However, they are not repulsive and by simply steaming them, they become flavorful.  On the other hand, flesh is foul when raw and requires certain steps necessary to render it edible.  Meat is cadaver parts and is never eaten for its characteristic taste.

Beef: But I like raw meat!

Herb: You mean that you eat blood-dripping flesh? How much raw flesh do you really eat and enjoy? How often do you eat raw flesh?

Beef: That’s kind of gross. I wash it and slice it thin and season it…

Herb: Yes! That’s my point. Meat is always aged, marinated, seasoned, and cooked.  For example, in Italy there is a dish called brasato, which is cattle flesh braised for hours in red wine and spices. After all, meat is decomposing flesh. All meat is prepared with some kinds of powerful spices, oils, or wine, and is cooked to modify its naturally foul flavor. So, meat is not consumed because it is good in itself. If it were delicious, I think most of you would eat it raw every single day. So, my argument is that meat is not inherently flavorful, but rather unappetizing, whatever is inherently unappetizing should not be eaten, and consequently meat should not be eaten.

Beef: But Herb, it is irrelevant whether flesh is good in itself. What matters is how it contributes to a dish. And most of us seem to think that flesh makes dishes taste better than they would without it. 

Herb: Okay, but my point is the following. Firstly, you have an abundance of nutritious and delicious plant-based food. Secondly, the reason you should avoid food that is inherently unappetizing like meat is to avoid self-deception. Since meat is not inherently tasty, certain steps must be taken to mask its unpleasant taste, appearance, smell, and texture by curing, seasoning, and cooking it. Taking such steps constitutes an act of self-deception. Since one should avoid deceiving oneself, one should avoid eating meat.  It is not the taste of meat itself that you like, but rather the taste of the seasoning, spices, and flavors created by the cooking process. And I think that this is a good reason to avoid eating meat.  I can see that this argument may not convince you. However, I argue that if you care about personal integrity, you should take my argument into consideration.

Beef: Yeah, well, I don’t buy that argument. But tell me this, isn’t it expensive to be a vegan; and I know you don’t like to call it vegan food, but isn’t it expensive, whatever you want to call it?

Herb: Beef, this is just a misconception. Being a vegan is not expensive at all. Why should it be? You went to school, right? And don’t you remember studying history? Well, which type of food would the wealthy, the lords, the royalty eat, and which type of food would the peasants, and the poor eat? It is a fact that the poor could not afford meat. Now, think about today’s poorest countries. What do people eat there? Don’t they eat rice, legumes, potatoes, corn, and vegetables?

Beef: Yes, but they eat meat too.

Herb: Yes, but very little. But that’s not the point. The point is that you wonder whether eating vegetables and fruit is expensive. And the fact is that it is not expensive. Granted, if you eat those fake meats and other processed foods the grocery bill can go up. Let’s say that you buy wine, plant-based burgers and cheese and pies, and so on. Those items can be expensive. If you choose to live that way you certainly have all the rights to do so. But you should not blame veganism for it. Think about this: I don’t know the prices of food where you come from, but I imagine that it is quite inexpensive to buy broccoli, potatoes, rice, lentils, beans, melons, oranges, apples, oatmeal, quinoa, bananas, squash, corn, and more.

Beef: Interesting, I never thought about that. Now, you see, Herb, I think that a good justification for eating meat is that eating meat is what made us intelligent.

Herb: Sure, sure. And can you explain to me why carnivore animals like lions and tigers are not the most intelligent beings? And let’s assume for the sake of argument that meat made you smart. Now how does it follow that you must continue eating meat? And what is going to happen if you stop eating meat. Are you afraid you will go back to being stupid?

Beef: But what would you say that religion tells people to eat meat. You know that thing that Jesus multiplied fish?

Herb: Ah, now you admit that fish is meat! Anyhow, I think you are referring to Matthew 14:13-21 in the Bible where Jesus feeds five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish. There are several aspects to your question that I want to address. First of all, why are you referring to the Bible? Why not the Agams, why not the Bhagavad Gita why not the Tao Te Ching why not the Vedas?

Beef: I never heard of those. I don’t know. We’re not even religious, but I hear Christianity is a popular religion.

Herb: Beef, you don’t think that Christianity is the only religion and that the Bible is the only religious text, do you?

Beef: Well, I heard that there are other religions but I don’t know them, and Jesus says that we can eat lower animals because they are here for our benefit.

Herb: Beef, are you a Christian?

Beef: No, we have no use for religion.

Herb: The point is that even if a religious text such as the Bible talks about eating animals, there are many other religions that say the opposite. If you read about the many religions and different cultures you will realize that many individuals were against using animals for religious reasons. So, which religion should we go by to figure out whether eating flesh is morally permissible? Furthermore, what are you going to tell people who are not religious like yourself? You said that your folks are not religious.

But I think the important point is the following: Religion does not order you to eat meat. Even the Bible and Jesus never said that you must eat meat or you go to hell.  In fact, consider that in Genesis 1:29–31 there is a passage that says that God gave all living beings seeds, grains, and fruit for food. This passage refers to humanity before the flood, so before the fall of man. Apparently, here God says that he created an abundance of plants for food. The fish and bread event is quite different from this. Consider that people were hungry and did not have an abundance of fruit, grains, and seeds. So Jesus took their five loaves of bread and two fish and fed five thousand hungry people. My point is that the bread and fish story tells about starving people who needed food. But you and I live comfortably and are not in the same predicament as the five thousand people. You can go to the store and buy bread, beans, rice, bananas, salad, and other vegetables. So consider this: God created animals and gave them the capacity to feel pain and pleasure. And he created intelligent beings like you and me and gave us, in addition to the capacity to feel pain and pleasure, the capacity to reason and to ask moral question. Now, if you are starving it’s one thing; but if you are not starving, and you live comfortably, considering that you don’t need meat to survive, and so you have good reasons not to eat flesh. And most importantly, from studying religions, my understanding is that while religions differ, virtually all religions teach love and compassion. When you think about what is required to produce meat, how could you possibly say that it is an expression of love and compassion? Go visit a slaughterhouse or watch what happens in one of those YouTube videos and then when you wipe off your tears, explain to me where you see love and compassion.

Beef: Wait, did you say that we don’t need meat to survive? That’s rich, as you people say. Then where do you get your protein, vitamins, and other micronutrients and macronutrients?

Herb: Where? From the same place where herbivore animals get them! And I’m surprised that you worry about protein, Beef. I have a hard time thinking about folks having barbeques, going to steakhouses, eating hamburgers, eggs, cheese, butter, lard, getting fatter and fatter—just for the protein. Is that why meat eaters wake up every morning and ingest an enormous amount of cholesterol and artery-clogging, heart-attack-causing saturated fat? Is that really why meat eaters have meat and animal products at every meal? How much protein are you trying to get? Don’t you know, Beef, that the body, even yours, breaks down the protein into amino acids? And don’t you know that there are 20 amino acids, 9 of which are essential? The body manufactures 11 amino acids and the other 9, which the body does not make, are found in vegetables and fruit? So that’s where I get my protein.

Beef: Okay but what if you are a bodybuilder or an athlete. Don’t you need more?

Herb: Professional athletes, and those who frequent gyms as a recreational activity, certainly burn way more calories than normally active and sedentary individuals. But I find it strange that you worry only about protein. If you burn more calories than you consume you will start losing muscle mass and fat because the body uses these as a source of calories. So athletes should make sure to consume enough calories to maintain the necessary strength to perform their specific activity. In other words, it does not follow that athletes should eat meat because they need more protein. Athletes should eat more calories to maintain their body weight and strength. There are many vegan athletes, bodybuilders, runners, skiers, cyclists, boxers, and martial artists. They just eat more food.

Beef: But we are on top of the food chain?

Herb: On top of the food chain? What chain? Perhaps what you have in mind is that you are aggressive and use weapons to control others and control less sophisticated and less intelligent beings. If that is what you mean by “on top,” then I guess you may say that you are on top. As far as I can see, without weapons and clothes and buildings and electronic devices, you are pretty weak compared to other animals. I know I would be screwed if I tried to survive in the wild. But the point is this: being on top, whether on top of the Empire State Building or on top of the garage or on top of your wife or on top of the ladder or on top of the so-called food chain, does not mean that you are morally justified in using other beings for food. Being on top of anything comes with responsibilities. It does not give you the license to kill and destroy just because you are “on top.” Most importantly, my dear Beef, you are not on top of the food chain. At best you are on top of the supermarkets chain.

Beef: But don’t vegans have lower B12 than meat eaters? If you don’t eat meat from where do you get it?

Herb: I am not so sure they do. Think about this, vegans make up around 1% of the world population. Now, do you think that pharmaceutical industries produce all that B12 for the 1% of the world population? The fact is that B12 deficiency is very common for a variety of reason. So many meat eaters have lower B12. Another interesting fact: have you ever though how pharmaceutical companies produce B12 supplements? They say eat meat for B12, but if you have low B12 doctors recommend taking B12 supplements. What you should find interesting is that B12 supplements are not made with pig blood or rat hair or chicken nuggets. B12 supplements are by definition all vegan because B12 is a substance produced by bacteria. Animals don’t make B12—bacteria do.

Furthermore, consider this: if eating meat is the only way to acquire B12, then where do rabbits, horses, gorillas, cows, deer, elephants, and other herbivores, get their dose of B12?

Beef: Herb, but don’t you know that we are animals and that animals eat animals? It is just nature. Why do you want to fight nature? The higher animal eats the lower.

Herb: Well first of all not all animals eat animals. Cows and pigs and lambs and horses and elephants and rhinoceroses and more, to name a few, never eat other animals. Only carnivores eat other animals. So essentially certain animals are born that way. You see Beef, lions and tigers and wolves cannot survive eating plants. You can’t feed them rice and beans either. They require flesh. You don’t require flesh. If you did require flesh, you would be a predator. Now, you can be a sexual predator for sure. But it is not within your capacities to chase animals and drink their blood to satisfy our appetite. You are very powerful, obviously. But without your weapons, would you be able to catch an animal and eat it? Moreover, you are intelligent and have options.

Beef: Yuk! Obviously I would never drink blood. Why should I drink blood?

Herb: Beef, I’m not saying that you should. I am just addressing your question here. The point is that not all animals eat animals. Some animals do not have the capacity or the physical disposition to eat animals. You do not have fangs and big claws and do not have the physical strength characteristic of those animals that eat animals.

Beef: Oh yeah, then how do you explain that we have canine teeth?

Herb: Those teeth in your mouth are not very scary, Beef. But is that how you determine the diet of an organism, by looking at its denture? That’s quite bizarre a method. I would suggest looking at a being’s anatomy and physiology. First of all, carnivores have a wider mouth opening than humans. Their teeth are very sharp and pointy, whereas your teeth are mostly flat like mine. Your so-called canine teeth are pretty lame tools for tearing flesh. Also, the saliva of carnivores does not contain any enzyme because they don’t chew their food but swallow it. Furthermore, the digestive tract of carnivores is short, yours is quite long. There are many other differences. But the point is that it is not possible to determine the diet of an organism just by looking at its teeth. In fact, one might come to the conclusion that camels, hippos, wild pigs, and other animals that have long and pointy teeth were carnivores when in reality they are not.

Beef: Why do vegans eat plants? Aren’t vegans supposed to be against eating things that suffer? If that is the case then, vegans should not accuse meat eaters of being immoral for eating meat. Plants are alive and they suffer. So you vegans are immoral.

Herb: Granted, plants are living organisms, but what does this mean? First of all, there is an important difference between pain and suffering. Let’s consider pain first. When we talk about pain it is necessary to consider nociception and experience of pain. Nociception is, as it were, potential pain. It is one requirement of pain but not a sufficient condition for pain. Nociception is a collection of nervous signals that are caused by an injury. You drop a bowling ball on your big toe, for example. This causes tissue damage that is immediately registered by cutaneous nociceptors (pain receptors in your skin). Your nociceptors become activated by the damaging stimuli caused by the bowling ball falling on your big toe; then these receptors send electrical signals to the brain via chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. In the brain, the signals go to the thalamus, which relays the signals on to different parts of the brain. Signals then are sent to the somatosensory cortex, which is responsible for physical sensation, the frontal cortex, which is in charge of thinking, and the limbic system, which is in charge of emotions. I know, this sounds quite complicated and it is even more complicated than I can explain here. In any case, pain requires two conditions: (1) nociception and (2) a brain that translates nociception into physical pain. Moreover, you need a subject that is aware of pain. Now, note that nociception does not always become pain. An example is general anesthesia. That is the purpose of anesthesia, after all. An anesthetized subject has all the nociceptive pathways fully functional, but there is no experience of pain because the subject is unconscious, which means that the anesthetic drug suppresses the central nervous system’s activity that makes a subject aware of being in pain.

It follows that feeling pain requires consciousness. So if plants can experience pain it means that they are self-conscious. This makes the issue even thornier because consciousness is possibly the most mysterious thing in the world. Since the ancient Greek scientists and philosophers, there have been many discoveries in neuroscience and psychology. Still, consciousness is mysterious. In the past, philosophers proposed that humans are conscious because they have a soul, or a mind, which is an immaterial substance or immaterial property. Others argued that conscious experience is identical to what the physical brain does; still others argued that conscious experience, in fact, mind, is a function of the physical brain. The general consensus nowadays, however, is that consciousness is not an all-or-nothing type of deal. Rather, it comes in degrees. In other words, some animals are conscious and are aware of being conscious, while other animals are conscious but lack self consciousness. Neuroscientists regard consciousness as neural events occurring within the brain.

In scientific research on pain physiology, the position generally accepted is that pain presupposes consciousness. In other words, pain has both physical and emotional components. The physical part of pain results from nerve stimulation, and the emotional part results from consciousness. In order to experience pain a being needs to have an emotional component and response. The emotional component is the one that informs the subject about his (or its, in the cases of plants) state of pain. To experience pain, an organism must feel an unpleasant sensation and be aware that he or she or it is in a state of pain. For example, when a dentist drills into my tooth without localized anesthesia, I feel pain. I have a notion of myself as a being that endure in time. I have a notion using memory and experience of what pain feels like. And I am aware, in my mind, that I am experiencing pain. It is not important that I scream or express my pain with a behavior. The point is that I am conscious and, through the events in my mind, I become aware that I am in a state of pain and I do not like this feeling. If I am asleep, or the dentist gives me a localized anesthesia, I lack the emotional component, and thus I’m not in pain.

Plants in general do not have behavioral responses to harmful stimuli. This might not mean much. However, consider that signals of pain in animals and humans are transmitted by the nervous system to the brain, where they are processed and translated into physical pain and emotional pain. The problem is that while plants respond to stimuli, they lack the required neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substances in order to have conscious experience and thus to be subjects aware of pain.

You have emotions like guilt, remorse, and shame. Also you have the ability to remember what a certain pain feels like, have a desire to avoid it, and so on—in short, you have the capacity to suffer because your mind is a complex nexus of information about the self and the physical world. Many animals can suffer, but not in the same way as you. Thus, suffering cannot be separated from cognition and cultural factors. Suffering is not a mere sensation, like pain. Suffering is a state of being. Therefore, plants cannot experience suffering. Nor can they experience pain; though it is possible that they do, to use an analogy from an earlier example, like patients on general anesthesia. That is, they might have the physical aspect of pain but they lack the mental component—the one that generates the sensation of pain and the same one that renders an organism aware that he, she, or it is in a state of pain.

So, plants are alive but their existence is obviously very different from that of animals in a way that makes it difficult to see in what sense it could be said that they suffer or that they are in pain. Consider mangoes, eggplants, bananas, lettuce, and oranges. In what sense eating these fruits causes them pain? Fruit doesn’t have conscious experiences, is not concerned about or aware of its existence.

Consider the instruments required to slaughter animals: Stunning Pen (also referred to as the knocking pen): A narrow enclosure into which the animal is rendered unconscious. Skinning Cradle: A metal or plastic rest for skinning and eviscerating animals. Collecting Troughs: These are containers for receiving blood or collecting gut material. Sticking Knife: A knife with a six-inch blade and a v-shaped end used in severing the blood vessels of the neck to bleed the animal. Skinning Knife: A knife specifically designed to remove the animal’s skin. Meat Saw: A handsaw used to saw through bone of animals. Meat Cleaver: A heavy axe used for separating heavy structures, such as the head from the neck. Meat Hooks: Metal devices with curved ends for holding parts of the slaughtered meat.

Judging by the facilities, the equipment, and the practices of animal farming, it is clear that they involve violence that undermine beauty and introduce ugliness in the world. Now one may point out that this is a subjective statement. But in fact it isn’t. Except perhaps for some deranged individuals, the sight of blood, organs, and the smell of animal corpses repulse virtually all people—including meat eaters. In other words, virtually all people recognize that the practices of slaughterhouses are violent and aesthetically unpleasant. Such practices prevent animals from living a good life. But in the case of plants, although they are living organisms, plat exploitation does not require the same cruel practices that inflict pain upon animals. Compare bone saws cutting through animal bones, cutting an animal’s throat with a sticking knife, skinning, and the stench emanated by such a process with picking a mango, slicing a melon, or uprooting a head of lettuce.

Furthermore, consider now some additional points. First, if you are truly concerned about suffering, then a vegan diet is the best option. Since farm animals are constantly brought into existence by the billions, naturally they eat more plants that humans eat. In fact, animals eat most of the plants, grains, and legumes that we grow on Earth. Thus, veganism means way fewer plants to be “killed.” Second, if we worry about pain and suffering, which is better, killing an animal or slicing an apple or peeling a banana?  Third, you claim that it is morally permissible to eat meat, right?

Beef: Yes, as long as it is done in an ethical way.

Herb: Well, then, to be consistent you should agree that eating plants is morally permissible provided that plants are treated humanely. First it is obviously much easier to treat plants humanely than animals. Perhaps spraying pesticides could be seen as mistreating plants. On the other hand it could be argued that pesticides are sprayed for the benefit of plants. No matter. Ideally plants should be grown organically. In such a case, plants are provided exactly what they require: water, soil, sun, and nutrients. But what is to treat a plant humanely. I suppose, then, that the difficulty is in killing plants and eating them. How is this to be done? When does a plant die? Is boiling them alive acceptable? Does uprooting a head of lettuce or a potato cause them pain? Now consider that in most cases people don’t actually eat plants, but fruit, grains, legumes. Does fruit also feel pain? What about lentils? Could anyone take seriously the suggestion that things like avocados, mangos, beans, blueberries, and other fruits experience pain and do not want to be eaten? What about seeds and nuts? I could continue, but I think, my dear Beef, that it is clear that plants do not experience pain and suffering.

Furthermore, you say that vegans are immoral for eating plants. What are vegans going to eat? It seems to me that the most sensible choice between eating animals and eating plants is eating plants. Even if plants experience pain, they experience exponentially less pain than animals. Consequently, I argue that the question of why vegans eat plants is a non-issue. I apologize for my long-winded answer.

Beef: Oh, no need to apologize. Well in the end, you know what, it is a personal choice. You don’t judge us and I don’t judge you. You want to do your vegan thing and I don’t tell you how to live. That’s the problem with vegans: that you want to tell us how to live, and that’s wrong.

Herb: Notice a curious thing here, Beef. You preclude me from making a moral judgment—by making a moral judgment. In other words, you say that it is wrong to judge but you yourself are making a moral judgment. The important point however is this: billions of animals are killed for food every year. How do you judge that? Consider that human beings bring all these animals into existence by way of artificial insemination. Artificial insemination means that some people masturbate the male, collect the semen, and impregnate the female. These animals are separated from their children and friends. Even those reared in the best possible conditions suffer tremendously and then lose their lives prematurely. The frighteningly large number of animals that are raised for food causes water waste and pollution, global warming, inefficient use of food because most grains, seeds, legumes and more are grown specifically to feed animals, deforestation, the spread of zoonotic diseases. Considering these factors, how could you possibly say that eating meat is just your prerogative? The fact is that animal-based diets are unsustainable, cause environmental degradation, and inflict unnecessary pain to animals. A lot of these problems can be fixed by discontinue the consumption of animals products. No, my dear Beef, eating animal or eating people is not your personal choice. Wearing Santa’s underwear, picking your nose on the train, and choosing wallpaper might be personal choices; eating animals clearly is not. Considering that it leads to the degradation and destruction of the environment and the suffering and death of billions of animals, it does not qualify as personal choice, my friend. These are the considerations that should make one choose to be a vegan.

Beef: Oh you shouldn’t worry about environmental degradation. We have the means to deal with that sort of issue. Besides, we are not planning to stay here, my friend, but to take you to our planet. And as to the cruelty, do not worry because we will make sure to treat you humanely.

Herb: But don’t you understand that treating people humanely means respecting them; and respecting them means not using them for food and, moreover, not killing them just because they taste good to you!

Beef: Who says that? That’s just your opinion, Herb. Life is a cycle…

Herb: But Beef, we discussed this point before. This has nothing to do with cycles!

Beef: Sorry, Herb, we’re done here. I have to go now.

Sadly, after those words, Beef left the room and the committee hearing ended on a negative note. Herb Green was the spokesperson of the human race or whatever was left of it. The future of humans was in the hands of Herb who tried to reason with them. Herb’s testimony was very adroit but unfortunately ineffective at convincing the legislative committee of my people, the Cattleres, not to raise humans for food. We Cattlers are a very advanced civilization from the planet Moo located in the Milky Way. My government sent a group of explorers to find more exotic meat, and found human beings. Upon their arrival to Earth, they tasted human flesh and enjoyed it very much. But as any civilized society ought to do, my government gave humans the opportunity to state their case against being used for food. Herb tried to explain why they should go vegan. The case was rejected. The officials of my government were not convinced that you could get enough protein without eating meat. Besides, there was the question of canine teeth. Yes, that’s a tough one! The Cattlers firmly believe that if you have canine teeth you must eat meat. Moreover, they believe that eating lower animals is natural. After all, humans are quite puny compared to us. It is the cycle of life. The higher animal eats the lower. Humans had destroyed the Earth as a result of their greed and desire to eat meat. They crippled that beautiful planet. They allowed the waters to be polluted, forests to be burned down for pasture, and caused great damage to the ozone layer. Our civilization is technologically advanced and has the means to deal with environmental issues. So, my people decided to take humans back to Moo and start raising them for food and especially for scientific research. 

I have to admit that humans, because of their capacity to talk, make better anatomical subjects than rats and so they are in high demand in our medical schools. This is what happened to the human race. Humans were a funny bunch: they had thousands of different religions, one more weird than the other; they moved around on primitive vehicles that ran on petrol engines that caused pollution; they smoked tubes filled with dry leaves that caused cancer; they drank alcohol—a disinfectant!—and burned seeds with hot water, which they call coffee, and other such absurdities as a sign of high culture. The most stunning aspect of the human race was that they had been around for quite a long time and despite their tumultuous past of war, discrimination, famine, and inequality, they continue to behave in ways that perpetuated those things. And despite the fact that they had the same exact genetic code, they would divide themselves into all sorts of curious groups, such as black, whites, gay, straight, Republicans, Democrats, and more. I have to admit it: humans were injudicious, greedy, and trivial little beings. Not surprisingly, they singlehandedly destroyed their own planet. And look at them now: they are being raised in farms just like they used to do to their animals. How ironic. Even if humans were so stupid, and technologically and intellectually inferior to us, some of them distinguished themselves for having intelligent thoughts. Mr. Herb Green the vegan is an example of this. The poor Herb and his friends have been roasted, fried, grilled, and eaten by now. Some might have been turned into cheap canned meat. But I think their message is right. And I will continue to try to make my people reason and realize that eating the flesh of cadavers is a barbaric and unnecessary tradition that has to stop.

- Dr. Carlo Alvaro is a moral philosopher whose research concerns meta-ethics, virtue, and food ethics. Recent and forthcoming topics include virtue ethics, health, and religion. Dr. Alvaro teaches at NYC College of Technology (CUNY). He is the author of Ethical Veganism, Virtue Ethics, And the Great Soul; Raw Veganism: The Philosophy of the Human Diet; and editor of Philosophy: A Short Introduction.