New York Times: What About Plant Suffering?

March 15, 2011

Not since Nina Planck has the New York Times published such a pathetic article. That old, tired, and always insincerely-asked question about plant suffering is given and thoroughly incompetent treatment.

Near the start, Carol Kaesuk Yoon writes:

It’s just that as far as I was concerned, if eating a tofu dog was as much a crime against life as eating bratwurst, then pass the bratwurst, please.

Uh oh. You know where this is headed.

Unlike a lowing, running cow, a plant’s reactions to attack are much harder for us to detect. But just like a chicken running around without its head, the body of a corn plant torn from the soil or sliced into pieces struggles to save itself, just as vigorously and just as uselessly, if much less obviously to the human ear and eye.

The article doesn’t actually make any sort of coherent case that plants can suffer. Instead, it suggests that the defenses that some plants have evolved against being eaten are no different than pigs squealing in terror as they reach the kill floor.

The piece then goes on to suggest that ethical vegetarians are guilty of the same sort of thinking that leads to genocide. Yes, she actually uses the word genocide—and slavery too.

Maybe the real problem with the argument that it’s O.K. to kill plants because they don’t feel exactly as we do, though, is that it’s the same argument used to justify what we now view as unforgivable wrongs.

Slavery and genocide have been justified by the assertion that some kinds of people do not feel pain, do not feel love — are not truly human — in the same way as others.

Eat a veggieburger, build a concentration camp. And then, this:

Maybe this seems all nonsense to you. Perhaps you’re having trouble equating a radish to a lamb to a person whose politics you hate to your beloved firstborn. It’s not surprising. It is reliably difficult for us to accept new members into our tribe, the more so the less like us they seem. It can be infinitely inconvenient to take the part of every individual we come across, to share with it that most precious of commodities: compassion.

What should we have for dinner tonight? Who knows?

If she’s going to equate—her word, not mine—a radish to a lamb to your firstborn—the author should show some courage and take the argument where it leads and provide a recipe for cooking your first-born with radishes, since she apparently can’t see any moral distinctions whatsoever regarding what we put into our mouths. None of this argument is sincere. It’s feigned concern for the sake of bypassing the responsibility to make any ethical choices about food whatsoever.

And it does this topic a disservice to confine the subject solely to capacity to suffer. If in doubt, why not also use the capacity to show empathy as a basis for choosing one food over another? Just last week, a study revealed that chickens show empathy towards other chickens.

Finally, the author never mentions that even if plants deserve moral standing, the surest way to minimize their killing is to go vegan—since animal-based foods typically require the harvest of several pounds of plant matter for each pound of animal products eaten—never mind the suffering the animal goes through.

Quite possibly the most stupid article the New York Times has ever published. You have to ask: is the Gray Lady trolling us with a deliberately shitty article designed to generate page views? Link.

Update: Adam writes, “Apparently they need to run a ‘plants like to live’ story every fifteen months or so.”

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