Do you really think that plants can feel pain?
When people’s deeply held beliefs are challenged, they will grasp at the slenderest of straws.
Let’s face it: nobody really believes that plants suffer identically to animals. If someone came along with a chain saw and trimmed some tree branches that were growing into your house, you would thank them. If they took the chain saw and cut a leg off of your dog, you would probably be pretty upset.
Sentience is the capacity to feel, perceive, or experience subjectively. Although plants can react to stimuli, these reactions do not constitute sentience because they lack pain receptors, sensory organs, and a central nervous system to process sensations. Animals are able to consciously perceive their environment and consciously respond with many different behaviors to it. Plants lack this variability of response, in that they will react in the same manner regardless of different scenarios. For example, they will grow towards a light source whether they are outdoors and reacting to the path of the sun or indoors reacting to a stationary window or electric light bulb.
Animals have evolved sentience because pain can help them to avoid harmful stimuli and pleasure can help them to seek and find beneficial stimuli. Plants have not evolved sentience because it doesn’t benefit them. Plants have no way to move away from drought, deluge, heat, or cold.
But just for the sake of argument, let’s overlook the complete absence of credible evidence and assume that it is somehow true that plants are conscious, that plants are sentient beings, or that “psycho-botany” is a legitimate science.
If you really believe that eating plants is no better or worse than eating animals, you need to consider that consuming animal flesh and secretions kills many times more plants than being vegan, because the farmed animals are fed enormous amounts of plants to be converted into a much smaller amount of flesh, milk, or eggs. Because of this, a non-vegan consumes more plants indirectly than a vegan does directly, because vegans don’t process their nutrients through someone else’s digestive system.
In fact, producing a single pound of animal flesh requires that up to 16 pounds of innocent plants lose their lives. In the United States alone, 56 million acres of arable land are dedicated to growing hay for livestock, whereas only 4 million acres are used to grow fruits and vegetables for human consumption. Over 30% of the Earth’s land surface, which is equivalent to 70% of all agricultural land on the planet, is dedicated to raising farmed animals and growing crops to feed them. About 80% of all corn grown in the U.S., along with 30 million tons of soybean meal, is consumed by farmed animals. Worldwide, approximately 75% of soybeans are used for animal feed. Of the world’s more than seven billion people, more than 840 million suffer from chronic hunger. It is estimated that a person dies of hunger or hunger-related causes every ten seconds, most of them children. That’s 3,153,600 people who die of hunger every year. EarthSave, quoting a 1994 study, states that 10 billion people could be sustained from present croplands if all ate a vegetarian diet.
Leave aside for now the fact that these figures demonstrate that animal agriculture requires an unsustainable depletion and unjust distribution of the Earth’s diminishing natural resources. Instead, for the moment, focus on the issue of suffering, which is bothering many meat-eaters so much that their only defense is to convince themselves that vegans must be just as guilty as they’re feeling, because after all, they inflict pain on innocent plants.
If you are really concerned about reducing the amount of suffering in the world, then you have absolutely no way to justify eating meat, especially if you believe that plants also suffer. The suffering of the 70 billion land animals slaughtered for food every year is multiplied by up to 16 times if you accept the claim that plants, as well as animals, are sentient and therefore suffer when they are harvested.
Confining, mutilating, forcibly impregnating, and killing animals for human consumption causes them to suffer. That’s undeniable. There has never been any proof from any controlled scientific experiment that planting, growing, pruning, and harvesting plants causes them to suffer.
Someone who uses the “plants have feelings too” argument is using a logical fallacy called Tu Quoque (You do it, too!). This fallacy involves accusing your opponent of being guilty of doing the same thing they accuse you of, even though the two situations being compared are not identical. Because plants are not sentient, comparing a plant’s reactions to stimuli and an animal’s proven sentience is not the same, and this renders such an argument fallacious.