Tuesday, April 13, 2010

oysters & consistency

A friend of mine recently shared this article from Slate with me. The author, Christopher Cox, says that he doesn't eat meat, dairy, or eggs, but that he does eat oysters. His reasoning is that oyster farming is environmentally friendly and there's much question about what oysters can feel, as they have no central nervous system the way we and other animals do. Cox seems to believe that any vegan who wouldn't eat oysters is just being nitpicky. "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." I agree wholeheartedly. Being vegan isn't about a checklist of foods you can and can't eat, and you don't get a gold star for thinking you're the purest of the pure. But Cox implies that all vegans who don't eat oysters (which, sorry Cox, is all vegans) are taking part in this "purity pissing contest", and that is where I find real fault. To be vegan, you have to embrace the fact that it simply isn't possible to never, ever, ever use animal products in some way (however indirect). There are animal products in tires (yes, really), and even harvesting plants is going to kill some worms or mice. Such is life. Veganism is not being pure or obeying a set of dietary laws, it's about doing what is possible and practical to end oppression. It isn't really possible in our world today to not use tires somehow, it's not possible to not use medications tested on animals, it's not possible to harvest plants without killing some insects, and that's just how it is.

It is, however,
 possible to live and thrive without eating meat, dairy, or eggs, without wearing leather or fur, et cetera. And this is my problem with Cox's article. Oysters may not have central nervous systems, and farming them may be more environmentally friendly than farming other animals, but eating them - even at the exclusion of all other animal products - is still buying into speciesism, to the belief that "Well, I'm a human, and I want to eat this other animal, so I'm just going to because it's yummy." You don't have to eat oysters to live or thrive. You eat oysters because you want to and because they're there. When it comes to ethics, isn't it better to err on the side of caution? Doing so is not being an ascetic. It's being consistent. In my mind, making exceptions for oysters because it's so environmentally friendly to farm them starts one down on the slippery slope of other exceptions, other particular cases that hinge on technicalities but come down to the fact that something tastes good and is convenient for you.

And really - if you have reasons for consistency other than consistency's sake (like the fact that when you eat a consistently herbivorous diet, there's a very convenient word to describe it, and you don't have to deal with spoilsports like me and the other 571 people who have thus far commented on Cox's article lampooning his personal choices) why not just be consistent? I feel about oysters as I do about honey. It may not be as big of an issue as meat, dairy, or eggs, but you're already cutting so much out of your diet, is it really that big of a problem in your life to not eat it??

1 comment:

  1. "but eating them - even at the exclusion of all other animal products - is still buying into speciesism"

    How can you so miss the point. There is no reason to believe oysters have a capacity to suffer; the ethical distinction you make between plants species (yes, plants come in species too) and oyster species is completely arbitrary. What your argument comes down to is indeed a purity pissing match, or 'consistency for the sake of consistency' as you put it.Your argument has absolutely no weight to it.