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Eating Oysters Isn’t Vegan and Never Will Be, and Shame on Christopher Cox and Slate for Implying it Is Just to Drum Up Controversy on the Internet

A nice-looking wild oyster bed on the Cape Fear River in Wilmington, North Carolina. (Photo by Joe Brent on Flickr). By contrast, many commercial beds are just acre after acre of metal cages.

A nice-looking wild oyster bed on the Cape Fear River in Wilmington, North Carolina. (Photo by Joe Brent on Flickr). By contrast, many commercial beds are just acre after acre of metal cages.

There’s a lot of noise on the internet today about Christopher Cox’s “Consider the Oyster” which carries the slug/page title “It’s OK for vegans to eat oysters” and the subhead “Why even strict vegans should feel comfortable eating oysters by the boatload.”

Cox’s basic thesis is that oysters don’t feel pain and that commercial oyster production/harvesting is far more ecologically friendly than most other industrial food production. He goes out of his way to say that oysters are sustainable for food use in a way that clams and mussels are not. He gets a qualified endorsement from Peter Singer. One can certainly argue with these things, but he’s basically done his homework. Except for seeming to have no clue what it means to be vegan.

When I became a vegan, I didn’t draw an X through everything marked “Animalia” on the tree of life. And when I pick out my dinner, I don’t ask myself: What do I have to do to remain a vegan? I ask myself: What is the right choice in this situation? Eating ethically is not a purity pissing contest, and the more vegans or vegetarians pretend that it is, the more their diets start to resemble mere fashion—and thus risk being dismissed as such. Emerson wrote, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

The only way for me to read this is that Cox doesn’t know what “vegan” means. He never became a vegan, and needn’t worry himself over remaining a vegan. Because of our very consistency (foolish or not) there’s no gray area for vegans when it comes to eating animals. Cox is trying to be ethical about his consumerism, and that’s great. I just don’t understand how the hell anyone thinks the way he’s going about it can be described as any form of veganism. It isn’t.

Vegans do not knowingly/willingly/actively consume or purchase any part or bodily product of an animal that was taken from a living animal or for which an animal was killed. (I know that’s a lot to pack into a sentence, but there it is. End of story.) You can argue that this isn’t the most constructive approach to ethical consumerism, as Peter Singer does. But Peter Singer does not claim to be vegan, nor does he endorse the point of view that eating oysters can ever be vegan.

Cox makes some worthy arguments. I’m sure eating local oysters is (in an immediate, direct sense) more environmentally friendly than, say, eating vegan fake meat shipped from a factory halfway around the world. But that’s neither here nor there in regards to veganism.

He relates how his editor told him “I won’t lie—you’ll be attacked viciously for being a vegan, and attacked equally viciously for not being a strict enough vegan.” Both of her concerns are beside the point. As to the first, of course meat-trolls will jump at any mention of veganism on the web. As to the second, it’s not that he’s not a strict-enough vegan. It’s that he’s not even remotely vegan, by any definition. If you want to argue about strict-enough-veganism, discuss the ethics of riding on a leather seat or accepting animal-based medicine in the emergency room. Not eating fucking meat.

To Cox’s credit, he does say: “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.” Great! So then why did he and/or his editors plaster “vegan” all over the top of the piece and e-mail us (and presumably other vegan publications) with “thought you might enjoy an essay we published today on why it’s ethically OK for even strict vegans to eat oysters.”

I’d fully understand Cox saying he’s vegan in various situations as a shorthand to getting a better meal or whatever. (For years before I was vegetarian, I knew saying I was one would often get me fresher, more palatable food in institutional settings and airplanes.) But that’s a different from stating it in the lede of an essay in a very prominent web magazine. Slate is either being stupid or cynically trying to rile people up. Or, I worry, both.

It’s fair enough for Cox to say is that veganism can become disconnected from the reasons some people become vegans. But if a person starts eating eggs from backyard chickens, or knowingly consuming a modicum of butter, or eats vegan for only part of the day, they aren’t vegan, let alone strict ones.

Deciding to be vegan means you prioritize the avoidance of animal products over other concerns. That’s not what Cox is doing. Whether or not he considers himself vegan (I honestly can’t tell), his claiming so prominently that his oyster-eating has anything to do with veganism just muddies the waters in a way that works against the causes he means to advocate.

40 Comments

  1. Comment by

    susie

    on #

    Don’t they eat the eggs the chickens lay at the farm sanctuaries? That’s what I’ve heard, though curiously off the record, from a number of “vegans.” I’ll get you their names, Jason, and then you can personally excommunicate them all.

  2. Comment by

    beanmail

    on #

    Susie, when you say “they”, do you mean the animal-caring VEGANS who own most sanctuaries? No, they do not eat the eggs. Usually the unfertilized eggs that are layed are fed to other animals.

  3. Comment by

    Jason Das

    on #

    What Beanmail said is what I heard, too. Eggs are often fed right back to the chickens, in fact.

    Some people who work at farmed-animal sanctuaries aren’t vegan. Most people who support such sanctuaries aren’t vegan.

    There’s certainly room for debate about whether veganism is the best policy when it comes to ethical consumption, but eating eggs on purpose = not vegan. No way around that.

  4. Comment by

    susie

    on #

    Hmm, well, I really don’t feel it would be fair to name names, but these are specific things that specific people have told me. People who identify as vegan and do a lot of good work for animals.

    “There’s certainly room for debate about whether veganism is the best policy when it comes to ethical consumption” — Really? Then why don’t vegans want to talk about that?

  5. Comment by

    Jason Das

    on #

    The fact that these chicken-menstruation-eating self-identified-vegans aren’t writing “Why even strict vegans should feel comfortable eating eggs by the basketload” for a major publiction must mean something.

  6. Comment by

    Veganne

    on #

    OK, back to the article…two things call out for a response as far as I’m concerned:
    One: “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.”
    OK then, Christopher, why the fuck are you writing an article about what dietary choices vegans, or even vegetarians, should make? Why don’t you jump on the grass-fed beef band wagon or find yourself another issue that actually makes sense for you to write about.
    Two: “Oysters may be animals, but even the strictest ethicist should feel comfortable eating them by the boatload.”
    Really Christopher? It just doesn’t seem to me that you are in any position to make this decision, regardless of how much research you may have done for the article. Go and eat what you like and stop trying to make it sound far loftier than it actually is. You want to eat flesh, end of story. Stop making a big fuss about it and stop with the lame attempts to convert others with your sloppy, self-involved reasons.

  7. Comment by

    Deemer76

    on #

    Jason Das is not a vegan either. Neither am I. Neither are any of you. A classic definition of vegan is a person who does not eat or use animal products. In which case NONE of us is vegan. To quote PETA: “Frankly, some not-quite-vegan food is more vegan than the streets and tires we drive on, the houses we live in, the petroleum products we use, and many other animal-based products…”

    Stop focusing on labels of impossible purity and more on actions that reduce suffering.

  8. Comment by

    Cat Clyne

    on #

    Last time I checked, oysters were not plants. Vegans are plant-eaters. End o’ story. Nice job Jason. And I second what Veganne said. Cox and editors should stop wasting their time – and ours – spinning their wheels over bupkis.

  9. Comment by

    Chris W.

    on #

    Whether or not eating oysters is “vegan” or not, I’m definitely interested in why it’s ethically problematic–are any reasons given in this post?

  10. Comment by

    Ben

    on #

    Well, we vegans aren’t actually plant-eaters: we’re non-animal-eaters. Fungi are closer to animals than they are to plants, which is certainly a bizarre thing.

  11. Comment by

    J

    on #

    My understanding from a dietician friend is that mollusks are basically the mushrooms of the water world. They are not alive, they do not bleed, feel or think. So if eating mollusks is wrong then eating mushrooms is wrong too. It’s not an animal.

  12. Comment by

    whatever

    on #

    J, oysters are animals, and they are certainly alive. I think you may want to consider reading a biology textbook sometime.

  13. Comment by

    june

    on #

    Jason, I agree with you that Christopher Cox clearly isn’t vegan and is just using the word to drum up controversy. (On the plus side … apparently Slate thinks that the word “vegan” sells newspapers?)

    However, I do think there’s a point to considering the ethics involved here, not just rejecting Cox on account of the purity argument. The biggest problem I see with his post is that he believes some animals have the right to live and others don’t, and he’s apparently looking for a way to find out which ones aren’t worthy so that he can eat them. This is just so counter to the mindset of veganism. Veganism isn’t about finding workarounds–it’s about admitting that we don’t have the right to decide which animals get to live and which die. Oysters do have nervous systems and so they may or may not be capable of feeling pain–the point of veganism is to err on the side of caution.

    We don’t have to hurt other beings in order to live–we can be perfectly happy and healthy on a diet that avoids animals entirely. Attempting to justify eating one particular species is irrelevant and sleazy, and leads to precisely the kind of in-fighting that distracts us from getting real work done to help animals and makes the rest of the world look at us like we’re crazy.

  14. Comment by

    Jason Das

    on #

    This may be a little bit of a cop-out, but:

    By being vegan we opt out of active consumption of all animal flesh and thus don’t have to worry about the the ethics of eating one species versus another.

    I don’t mean that the ethics involved are irrelevant or unworthy of discussion. They certainly are. But I don’t see bringing veganism into that discussion helping anything.

  15. Comment by

    J

    on #

    Emerson wrote, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” i couldn’t agree more. nothing good comes from fundamentalism and conservatism

  16. Comment by

    think_it_through

    on #

    Labels won’t change the world, even if they’re completely accurate ones. I think it was silly and blatantly provocative to say eating any animal is vegan… that said, I think the conflict here is one of language — not ethics. The question being discussed isn’t ‘what’s the least-harm thing to do’… it’s about the definition of a word. I don’t care what anyone labels him/herself; I care what they actually DO, and how much harm is done or not done vis-a-vis other living things (and the environment we all share). We may disagree on HOW to do the least harm… we’re human beings, so of course we’re gonna disagree!… but let’s argue about the underlying ideas — I couldn’t care less about names.

  17. Comment by

    Peace Loving Vegan Police

    on #

    First of all I?ll say that I don?t care all that much what Christopher Cox eats. I?m surrounded by non-vegans eating all sorts of body parts around me so I can?t really get bent out of shape over someone following a mostly plant-based diet that includes oysters every once and a while. If he doesn?t wear leather or wool and avoids other non-food animal products that would help his claim as being ?vegan except for oysters.? Its? far better than ?vegan until dinner? anyway, ugh.

    As for the vegan status of oysters, well, wait, let?s back up. What about the vegetarian status of oysters?

    ?A vegetarian does not eat any shellfish, these are typically sea animals covered with a shell. The types of shellfish include crustaceans (crustacea) and molluscs (mollusca), which can be broken down further;
    Crustaceans (hard external shell)
    Large ? e.g. lobsters, crayfish, crabs
    Small ? e.g. prawns, shrimps
    Molluscs (most are protected by a shell)
    E.g. mussels, oysters, winkles, limpets, clams, etc. This also includes cephalopods such as cuttlefish, squid, octopus.?
    http://www.vegsoc.org/info/clothing.html

    So according to the Vegetarian Society, the source of Western vegetarianism, vegetarians don?t eat shellfish.

    Also, pearls have never been considered vegan, and they come from oysters. But besides just following dogma, the reason given is that the sand put into oysters irritates them and they form pearls and are exploited for this resource. That?s the term you always hear and read even from non-vegan sources, the sand ?irritates? the oysters so they attempt to alleviate the irritation.

    So it would seem odd to have oyster eating as vegan but pearls as not vegan and since the oysters can be irritated. It seems like their lives can be bothered in ways vegans would want to avoid especially if there is no compelling reason other than ?yumminess? to exploit them. It?s not like eating oysters is a pressing requirement.

    Peter Singer doesn?t consider himself vegan and he does deviate from a plant-based diet in situations where most vegans would not. I?m not saying this to be mean, it?s just factual and he would most likely agree (or did in that Satya article anyway).

    He comes to a plant-based diet through his utilitarian ethics, not through a vegan perspective. What?s the difference? Singer is an extremist. Whereas most non-vegan people are moderate animal welfarists, that is they think it?s okay to use animals so long as they are treated well, Singer requires such an extreme level of care for animals that he would otherwise exploit, that he instead opts out of eating them since the requirements cannot be met.

    Jonathan Safran Foer falls under the same extreme welfarism as well, he would eat animals if situations were ideal for him, but they never are. It?s a bizarre construction. Vegans are often painted as fanatical, but it?s the extreme welfarist who sets up the unrealistic criteria of pain free killing, harmless exploitation, and benevolent oppression to somehow attempt to pursue, and far more often than not, fail at.

    By contrast, the Vegan Society came up with a more elegant position. Instead of handwringing over how to treat animals all the while holding selfish intentions to benefit from their labor and bodies, they came up with the notion of not using animals in the first place since there are an abundance of alternatives.

    ?Today, the Society remains as determined as ever to promote vegan lifestyles – that is, ways of living that seek to exclude, as far as is possible and practical, all forms of exploitation of animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.?
    http://www.vegansociety.com/about/history.aspx

    It?s recognized that the diet is the easy part with clothing a close second, but while we live in a world built on animal exploitation it may not be so easy to avoid all animal use entirely, not at this time at least, that?s what the ?possible and practical? denotes. So unlike how vegans are characterized as purists, clearly there is some amount of leeway built in for unavoidable situations. ?I think x animal food tastes good? doesn?t generally qualify as unavoidable. Some rendered animal product in some manufactured good that may or may not be there but is never listed is generally left up to vegans to use their discretion in what to do.

    So when PETA says “Frankly, some not-quite-vegan food is more vegan than the streets and tires we drive on, the houses we live in, the petroleum products we use, and many other animal-based products…”

    And some people interpret this to mean that vegans cannot possibly be ever be vegan I?ll tell them to read the position statements of the Vegan Society that never mention anything about ?purity? or harp on this sloppy goal of ?reducing suffering? and stop listening to what Peter Singer or PETA or some other person or organization is telling you what veganism is or isn?t.

    If you want to call yourself vegan but don’t like how vegan is defined by the actual organization that came up with the term my suggestion to you is to make up your own term and organization and please do actual vegans a favor by not confusing non-vegans with nonsense like ?vegan-plus? or ?lacto vegan? or ?oyster vegan.?

    If Christopher Cox wants to include oysters in vegan cuisine he should join a vegan society (UK or US or wherever he lives) and have it voted on with the other members instead of writing proclamations in online newspapers in attempts to paint veganism in a negative cast to a mostly non-vegan audience.

    He may have been trying to rope non-vegans into the ethics through the side door of considering the lowest creatures. It almost worked since he has some decent fact on there pointing out the problems with animal exploitation, but his tone came off as condescending to vegans. ?Eating ethically is not a purity pissing contest?? Seriously, go screw yourself Cox, if you were trying to have a genuine conversation you messed it up there and a couple other times.

    In the Slate article we are given an environmental scenario where perhaps if more people ate oysters the environment would suffer less impact.

    Leonard Lopate recently had a show on oysters:
    http://www.wnyc.org/shows/lopate/episodes/2010/03/25/segments/152320

    95% of oysters are farmed because they have been so recklessly plundered. All the natural harvesting locations of oysters have been depleted which demonstrates one of the main problems with hunting and harvesting wild animals; we say we know how to manage (exploit) animal populations but we always manage to horribly bungle it. We?ve over harvested oysters, introduced viruses by introducing foreign oysters in attempts to get them to proliferate faster and we can never seem to eliminate or contain poaching.

    Pollution has helped decrease oyster numbers, but if we didn?t overharvest oysters they would have had the numbers to clean the water themselves. Oysters are far more useful to us in the environment than on our plates. But let?s say we farm oysters sustainably and promote demand, this will only escalate poaching since its essentially free to pull oysters up and difficult to adequately police the practice, so wild oyster stock will never be replenished. Until the environmental devastation committed against oysters is repaired and their wild populations are stabilized, the environmental argument loses before it even gets to the hypothetical oyster aquaculture utopia.

    As for reducing collateral damage of farming, how about we do just that. Let?s influence more people to become vegan. When more people eat less cows, pigs, and chickens then not only will we need to produce less crops but we?ll have more vegans that care about veganic farming and we can pressure farmers to not turn fields into petrochemical wastelands. This happens mostly because when you know your crops are going to fatten animals, you?ll care only about yield, not about the land quality or producing wholesome food for people to eat. Even if we were oyster eating vegans, we would still require crops and I don?t think we could eat enough oysters to reduce farming collateral damage in any meaningful degree, not more than addressing the problem with gentler farming.

    As for healthfulness of oysters as food, in the Leonard Lopate interview he asks about the 15 people who die every year from eating oysters and the oyster promoting guests laugh it off and say that?s pretty good odds compared to chickens and tomatoes. What jumped to my mind was that there are far more people eating chicken and tomatoes than oysters so even if say a 1000 people (made up number) die per year from eating tomatoes the odds would still be very low. Many people don?t eat oysters at all and others eat them infrequently so it seems like the odds of getting ill or dying from oysters is kind of high — still a low risk, but the risk is there and the death toll would be higher if more people consumed oysters regularly.

    It is important to note that though Peter Singer is not vegan instead following utilitarian extreme welfarism and he seems to make easy allowances for animal foods from time to time. If he?s served something by a host that did suffer, he?ll eat it anyway so as not to offend which is a strange double standard since we would never expect a practicing Hindu to dig in to some meat, or a Kosher Jew or practicing Muslim or Rastafarian to eat pork. Or an American dog owner to happily dig into dog meat while in Korea. But this works for Singer since his suffering quotient is still low overall. However, as a Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, even he is hesitant to suggest eating oysters.

    While we don?t dip in and out of plant-based diets out of convinces, vegans are similar to Peter Singer since we err on the side of caution as well, and we give benefit of doubt to simple animals when we can. Oysters most certainly have nerves cells and do feel, no, not like humans or other vertebrates, but certainly they are not on the same level as plants or fungi. Science has only has recently discovered, and continues to discover, how complex bees and other smaller animals are, but vegans had chosen not to exploit them for honey instead of waiting for absolute data to qualify their abilities. It?s not an arbitrary line since science and intuition has long granted us a decent understanding of the differences between plants and animals. Sure, this line between plants (including fungi) and animals isn?t a clean one, but it?s better to place the line where it is and offer too much consideration for seemingly less complex animals instead of mistakenly offering too little.

    I?m not much into spiritualism, but it works for some vegans. I?ll leave this up to Prince to explain in his song Animal Kingdom:

    ?What about clams on the shore?
    Souls in progress, here come the fisherman – soul no more.?

    http://www.lyricsfreak.com/p/prince/animal+kingdom_20111426.html
    (I may not believe in souls, human or animal, but I like how Prince honors animals by not eating them and doesn?t make honoring them an excuse to exploit them.)

    Finally, there is oft looked over issue of aesthetics to contend with as even many vegan?s don?t mention this issue often enough. An important part of vegetarianism and veganism is leaving behind the barbarity of animal flesh, blood, and gore in the abattoir and kitchen in favor of a humane diet that doesn?t offend the senses. It?s a way of eating and procuring other products without dealing with viscera, entrails and sinew that comes with exploiting the bodies of animals. Mock meat is meat like, but at no point was it attached to an anus.

    Oysters have mouths, stomachs and kidneys and produce mucus and feces (that?s what the anus is for); all the unappealing bits of animal anatomy that vegetarians and vegans quickly become unaccustomed to since it is unnecessary in our diets. There would just be something wrong with a vegan cookbook listing broccoli, mushrooms, kale, beans, strawberries, and oysters in its index. In a culinary sense, one of these things is not like the other.

    Really this is all similar to the hypothetical vat meat argument, ?Would you vegan?s eat it?? Well, already we eat have plenty of vegetables to eat and we have mock meat derived from time honored Asian traditions that non-vegans continually give us crap for it and tell us how ?unnatural? it is. The vat meat question is uninteresting because it doesn?t exist and the real question is ?If non-vegans would eat unnatural vat meat, why don?t they just eat plant based meat like we do?? The oyster questions isn?t very interesting because oysters as food has a risk association that vegetables don?t and the environmental status of oysters is abysmal ? even with simple animals their current welfare under the regime of exploitation sucks.

    The question isn?t why don?t vegans eat oysters, it?s why don?t more non-vegans eat oysters, since they say they can?t give up eating animals because they believe that there are magic nutrients in their bodies or ?lookit my pointy teeth? or something, why not eat farmed oysters much more often to at least remove themselves somewhat from factory farming of cows, pigs, and chickens that they all seem to acknowledge is so horrible?

  18. Comment by

    Jacqueline

    on #

    Absolutely, I agree with you. This was done to stir up controversy. Shame on them!

  19. Comment by

    Adair

    on #

    It’s worth pointing out that a big part of the argument for eating oysters is because it is better for the environment than plant agriculture, and fewer animals are killed as collateral damage. These unintended casualties have more complex nervous systems than oysters.

    I don’t think the use of the word “vegan” was merely to stir up controversy, although the apparent paradox of a vegan eating an animal was surely seen as a good way to get attention. But “vegan” is also the only word that conveys the concept of boycotting all products that cause animals harm.

    The question of whether eating oysters is ethical or not doesn’t make sense from the mainstream lens, which praises bacon, eggs, cheese, etc. It does make sense from the vegan lens, and I bet it even makes MORE sense to most omnivores applying the vegan lens than it does for the large number of vegans who already have a proscriptive solution to the ethical questions that lead to the transition from omnivore to vegan.

  20. Comment by

    yehadut

    on #

    This post is not about veganism. It’s about the “word police”, the prescriptive grammar set. This guy’s diet is closer to vegan that it is to any other word, so let him just use it.

    Most vegans I know — and that’s a lot, having worked at PETA — use the term to mean a lifestyle of minimizing animal suffering. Most still use tires, though they have animal products in them. Most still use regular sugar. They avoid products tested on animals, because animals were hurt in the process, but they don’t avoid corn, even though field animals are hurt during harvesting. So if indeed oysters don’t feel pain, then it is consistent with vegan ethics as practiced by most self-described vegans to eat them.

    (It’s noteworthy, though, that Cox provides no evidence to support his claim that oysters don’t feel pain.)

  21. Comment by

    think_it_through

    on #

    I think it comes down to whether the emphasis is placed on the linguistic definition or on the philosophy. Words aren’t reality; I do appreciate folks wanting to guard the definition, in the minds of omnis… it’s annoying to constantly explain what ‘vegan’ means… but the philosophy/ actions of an individual is what will change the world, for better or for worse. I’m not offended by people who call themselves ANYTHING… I think it’s a positive thing if it makes people think about food ethics/ why food choices matter. The rest is just words.

  22. Comment by

    elainevigneault

    on #

    I think a person is free to identify themselves however they want and if Cox feels that he is vegan whilst eating oysters, I’m OK with letting him call himself vegan.

    I’m also OK with creative strategies to get people to talk about eating animals and to keep the discussion alive in public discourse. I’m OK with a little issue re-framing.

    But I’m NOT OK with what I see in the Slate article. What I see there is the now go-to article for all the anti-vegans who want to say that vegans are hypocrites. What I see is an “authority” on veganism practically condoning fish-eating. What I see in the article is Cox outright telling vegans to eat oysters. NOT COOL.

  23. Comment by

    deemer76

    on #

    Cox is not “practically condoning fish-eating.” He is condoning eating oysters, which are not fish, incidentally. Also, he never says he is an “authority” on any subject. Finally, Cox isn’t instructing anyone, including vegans, to eat anything, including oysters. You can certainly disagree with what Cox writes about in his article, but first be clear about what he’s actually saying.

  24. Comment by

    Kay

    on #

    All you’re saying in this article, in a succinct three sentences, is: It’s totally fine by me if Cox has made that decision for himself. If he’s eating oysters, though, he’s surrendered the privilege of using the label “vegan.” It’s ours, and identifying yourself as one while breaking the agreed-upon rules is undermining the whole concept.

    I agree. It’s the same reason I don’t use the label.

  25. Comment by

    KM

    on #

    Calling yourself a “vegan” or even “vegetarian” while eating seafood or shellfish is like calling yourself a “virgin” because you “only take it in the @$$”

  26. Comment by

    John

    on #

    Veganism should have a pope……
    It would clear a lot of this up……..

  27. Comment by

    Care

    on #

    “[T]he word “veganism” denotes a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude ? as far as is possible and practical ? all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”

    The creed of The Vegan Society, started by Donald Watson who coined the term “vegan”, places the ethical objective foremost. It then lists the strategy to achieve it.

    I agree with that ordering. It seems to me the purpose is more important than the tactic.

    Do vegans care about how animals feel? Or do they care more about whether they eat animals or use animal products? These two things are closely related, but they are _not_ the same thing.

    What if you could eat meat grown in a vat, without any animals being made to suffer at all? And if you did so, it would help to destroy agribusiness and their cruel treatment of animals?

  28. Comment by

    Alex

    on #

    I want to know where do people who don’t want to eat animals or animal by-products draw the line? I mean bacteria and yeast are arguably animalia. At what point do you say “hey, this is what I recognize as an animal, and I won’t eat it?” Also, can you be vigilant “Vegan” and be pro-choice? I mean if you aren’t going to die by giving birth and the only real reason you don’t want a baby is because it will crimp the lifestyle you have become accustomed to (or aspire to have), is there any justification for killing something “living”. And if so, if you were to personally verify that an egg came from a truly free range chicken or an animal in the wild, and that the mother chicken wouldn’t feel emotional pain from having the egg removed, would you then be able to eat it?

  29. Comment by

    Lauren

    on #

    I think the problem is that there is no precise definition of “vegan” as applied to a person. One can accurately describe a product as vegan, but no one (living in modern society) completely eschews animals products. The Slate article is using “vegan” as shorthand for “person who avoids animals products for ethical reasons.” This describes a large number of people, and I think is appropriate.

  30. Comment by

    Omnivore

    on #

    http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/02/27/vegan-before-dinnertime/

    The fact that you linked to this page in a derogatory manner makes me think you care more about your moral superiority than you do actual animal welfare.

  31. Comment by

    Caity

    on #

    What about people who eat vegan for health reasons?? There are varying degrees of veganism and not all of them have to do with morality of a meal. It all just seems so high and mighty of you to carry on like this about the lack of someone’s “true vegan”ness. Like you know all there is to know. Considering vegan is only a label and not a license, shut your mouth and let people do what they want and call themselves what they want. Worry about yourself and leave the poor man alone!

  32. Comment by

    Thatguy

    on #

    So many of the comments here are exactly what Cox goes against, a dogmatic/purity POV. He is arguing an ethical stance that vegans endorse & questioning why oysters shouldn’t be considered as ethical under such a stance.

    In other words vegans arguments for avoiding animal products is usually due to the suffering involved in obtaining the animal product & the belief that an animal has an inherent right to its own body when it possesses some quality (usually sentience).
    Cox argues that Oysters don’t show any signs of sentience & such & thus are vegan by these ethics a vegan espouses. Instead 99% of the comments here are dogmatic ”vegan means no animal products period, if you eat animal products you are not a vegan”….thats not an ethical argument, thats a conclusion based on a definiton & is quite frankly the behavior that gives vegans their bad rep. Besides, if anything would this not do veganism good? So many of us have heard the ”you eat plants which are living” argument, that if eating oysters became the vegan norm you can damn well bet folks would understand it wasn’t ”living” that vegans have a problem with consuming but ”sentience” & make the diet even more attractive rathe than setting up one more hurdle

  33. Comment by

    Spiruleena

    on #

    there should not be an argument here. Eating oysters is not vegan.
    It is omnivorous.
    End of story.
    Why use the name “vegan” at all? To “feel” more ethical? You’re just a normal, yes, normal, omnivorous human being.
    Nothing wrong with that.
    Avoid causing confusion to people outside of the veg’n sphere.
    Ignore the senstionalism.
    The article will have no impact. Cox is a typical media harper and will use wording that siezes attention and makes waves (appropriate metaphor, huh?)
    give it a rest..
    Don’t feed the troll.

  34. Comment by

    OysterFarmer

    on #

    This article is a waste of time.
    People have opinions, deal with it.
    Oysters have been proven to not have brains.
    Yes, the have dull sensory receptors, but even then they’re the equivalent of a flower or a weed.
    Vegans just want to be self righteous…

  35. Comment by

    Keano Martinez

    on #

    REALLY!

    WHY BE VEGAN IF NOT FOR THE REASON OF NOT CAUSING HARM TO ANYTHING THAT LIVES AND FEELS PAIN. THINGS THAT SEPARATES US FROM PLANTS.

    NOW WHY CONDEMN SOMEONE WHO IS DOING WHAT MADE PEOPLE BECOME VEGAN IN THE FIRST PLACE… THINK! VEGAN IS NOT THE MOST HEALTHY WAY TO LIVE! SO UNLESS YOU ARE A DUMB ASS OR HAVE A MEDICAL PROBLEM YOU WOULDN’T BE VEGAN UNLESS IT WAS FOR MORAL REASONS!

    LET’S AS INTELLIGENT HUMAN BEINGS DO WHAT MAKES MORE SENSE. HOW ABOUT VEGANS STOP FOCUSING ON BEING VEGAN AND FOCUS ON DOING WHAT IS RIGHT!

    - Excuse me if i am too high right now but it’s legal in Seattle!
    SERIOUSLY WHY THE ARE YOU VEGAN?

  36. Comment by

    Brandon

    on #

    As someone interested in becoming vegan for ethical reasons it disheartens me quite a bit to see the comments.

    Every time I bring up the subject with a vegan or vegetarian I am given a laundry list of reasons to go vegan, and by far the biggest and most touted reason is animal suffering.

    Why are so many vegans so militant about definitions instead of the underlying reasons for veganism? You have such a knee jerk reaction to the fact that it is an “animal” that you have completely disregarded the facts. Why is it fundamentally better to kill and eat a soy plant than an oyster? When you compare your soy to a cow or chicken the differences are stark and obvious and you can clearly demonstrate how one causes more suffering. But if the animal has no brain and not even a central nervous system, then what exactly is your objection other than it doesn’t fit with your definition of what vegan is?

  37. Comment by

    unethical_vegan

    on #

    Hey Brandon, IMO, supervegan is run by vegan police who are aggressive about promoting their exclusionary cultic definition of veganism. Most vegans are far more relaxed, tolerant, inclusive, and rational. I, for example, consider honey, freegan meats, and oysters to be vegan even though I don’t eat them. (Note: if I had the opportunity to wear a vegan t-shirt while eating these things in front of Jason Das I would do so with gusto.) Most vegans care about ethics far more than they care about being a card-carrying member of the “supervegan” vegan club.

    PS: my handle is a joke at the expense of abolitionist vegans who often act as if utilitarian vegans are not ethical vegans.

  38. Comment by

    Elisa Verna

    on #

    Jason Das would totally cry a million delicious vegan tears if you did that, unethical_vegan.

  39. Comment by

    CT

    on #

    Mollusk: Kingdom- Animalia
    Oyster: Kingdom- Animalia

    That should put those two issues to bed.

  40. Comment by

    CT

    on #

    With respect to the questions and comments surrounding the issue of classification, an organism is considered an “animal” for a reason. At its most fundamental level, this consists of a functioning nervous system. Oysters have a nervous system; thus, they are considered animals. Soy plants have no nervous system; thus, they are not considered animals. The comments reflecting the view that animals such as oysters “feel no pain” are simply unfounded, I believe. How do you know oysters don’t feel pain? I’m not claiming that they do or do not (because I don’t know (hint)), but the presence of a central nervous system suggests that something more than mere photosynthesis or similar growth process is occurring (thus, justifying the classification “animalia”). Veganism at its broadest level characterizes “life” and “food” in accordance with the principles set forth above.Therefore, in order to form a foundational basis of what it is to be it is important to characterize each category in the proper manner.

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