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Consider the Oyster

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Consider the Oyster

By James McWilliams
May 2013

oyster mollusk veganismI’ll admit that oysters give me a case of the fits. When I ate them, I liked them. A lot. I don’t eat them anymore, but when people ask me why I forgo the oyster I have a harder time justifying my choice than I do for pigs, cows, chickens, and other obviously sentient animals. The literature on oyster sentience—in so far as I’ve broached it—seems ambiguous at best on the question of oyster sentience and, given that I rely so heavily on the clear non-sentience of plants as my justification for eating plants, I do find the oyster dilemma to be a real one.

The best I can say right now is that I prefer to err on the side of caution, awaiting evidence that definitively proved oyster non-sentience, evidence that I doubt will ever come. That said, “fruit of the sea” does not have a totally implausible ring to me.

This topic comes up a lot, I know. In one of the more intriguing cases, it came up a few years ago on Rhys Southan’s incisive blog Let Them Eat Meat. Check it out here. You will be annoyed by it, I imagine, and for good reason—Southan is extremely thoughtful and methodical in his argument that oysters pose a challenge to veganism. Notably, the responses that came into his post to counter his position did little to unravel his points, a failure that Southan himself summarizes with aplomb.

Sadly, it’s not enough in the instance of oysters to simply say that “I’m a vegan and therefore I don’t eat animals.” We need more a more qualitative justification than that. Nor is it really enough to say, as I do, that oysters might be sentient and therefore should be avoided. Insects might be sentient, too, but all vegans kill them on a daily basis in ways that, in many cases, could be avoided. In any case, I’m not trying to be a pain in the ass by granting some legitimacy to the oyster dilemma. I’m only writing out of sheer curiosity and intellectual honesty.

It goes without saying that I’m looking to readers for answers—ones that I will send to Southan to see if he’d like to respond. Rest assured, there will be no oyster slurping for me. But I’d like to have a better justification for my abstinence.