Vegetarians’ choices not so simple

Being human, I cannot claim that all my reasoning is perfectly logical. But if the logic of vegetarians like me is “flawed at best,” Seth Lewin’s reasoning [“Plants have feelings, too,” April 8] is far more specious.

This omnivore clearly knows more than I do about botany. If making dietary choices were purely a matter of deciding between a pound of animal flesh and a pound of plant matter, Lewin’s argument would make much more sense.

I would still argue that animals suffer more than plants, but as there is no way to quantify and compare the suffering of animals, let alone plants, I admit this is a matter of opinion. The equation, however, is not so simple. When one eats meat, one is complicit not just in the killing (and other generally cruel treatment) of the animal that becomes part of one’s dinner, one is complicit in the killing of every plant that died to feed that animal in its lifetime.

It is true that there are many hungry people in this city alone who would be utterly grateful to receive the sandwich that Lewin offered a fellow partygoer. It is equally true that there are millions of starving people in the world who would love to eat the grain and legume products that are instead fed to livestock so that the elitists of the First World can enjoy a burger. No matter how much sentience plants may have and how much they may suffer – both ideas are strongly implied by the botanical processes Lewin mentions – the production of meat includes, and far surpasses, all the suffering and death that a vegetarian diet may bring.

The otherwise-brilliant Lenny Bruce may not have been the first person to accuse leather-shod vegetarians of hypocrisy, but he was certainly not the last, and Lewin joins the roster of meat-eaters who fall back on this clich�.

For one thing, leather and beef come from the same cows. As the average consumer buys leather items far less frequently than beef, it stands to reason that there will be a surplus of leather whether or not vegetarians choose to appear hypocritical in your eyes. There are also environmental dilemmas, as a good pair of leather shoes will likely provide much more use than, say, canvas.

The leather argument also falsely equates a moderate stance on an issue with hypocrisy. A vegetarian in leather shoes has taken a large, though arguably incomplete, step toward reducing the suffering and death of animals. This is not hypocrisy, any more than it is hypocrisy to contribute to a non-profit homeless shelter rather than inviting a dozen homeless people into your house every night.

I do not make a habit of criticizing meat-eaters for their dietary choices. However, when I am called a hypocrite, I have no qualms about holding a mirror up to the accuser. If, knowing what you know, you have no problem with eating meat that is your prerogative.

It is highly disingenuous, however, to prop up your argument with scientific information about the communicative value of the ethylene gas released by a cut leaf while ignoring the fact that you could not eat meat without indirectly perpetrating that same act of violence a million times over.

The real issue is choosing to kill a plant, versus killing that plant and all the hundreds or thousands of others that went into feeding an animal before it too was killed. How egotistical and shallow of us to think that just because we cannot see the tremendous waste of natural resources involved in the production of meat, it does not exist. If you do choose to eat meat, don’t be hypocritical and try to draw a moral equivalence between the killing that goes into the production of plant-based food and the killing that goes into the production of meat. Now that is insulting and makes you look like an ass.

Sean Cunnison Scott is pursuing a master’s degree in foreign literature and language at PSU.