An imperishable favorite marshaled by otherwise rational people who wish to defend the carnist world-view goes like this: "Plants have feelings, too! How can you kill all of those innocent cabbages and still claim that killing animals is wrong? Haven't you heard about that study where the guy proved that plants have feelings?”
My response, until recently, had always been something to the effect of, “Why, yes, I have heard about that study, but somehow no particular scientist, university, or institution is ever mentioned in association with it. Were the results of this study peer-reviewed or published in a scientific journal?” No one who has ever been on the vegan side of this conversation needs to be told how those on the other side of it inevitably respond. There are never any names given, sources cited, or particulars offered, giving their claim all the mystique (as well as credibility) of an urban legend.
But just for the sake of argument, let's overlook the complete absence of scientific merit that the claim possesses and assume that it is somehow true that plants are conscious. Let us ignore the fact that plants do not possess brains or nervous systems and assume on the basis of no credible evidence whatsoever, that plants are sentient beings and that “psycho-botany” is a legitimate science.
Taking this claim at face value actually weakens the carnist's case against the vegan. There is a very obvious and important objection to the argument that, from an ethical point of view, eating plants is no better or worse than eating animals. This objection concerns the sheer quantity of plants needed to produce meat. Producing a single pound of beef, for instance, requires sixteen pounds of grain. One pound of pork requires six pounds of grain and for every sixteen ounces of edible chicken flesh that is produced, at least five pounds of innocent plants must lose their lives. In the United States alone, fifty-six million acres of arable land are dedicated to growing hay for livestock production, whereas only four million acres are used to grow fruits and vegetables for people. Thirty percent of the Earth’s land surface, which is equivalent to seventy percent of all agricultural land on the planet, is devoted to growing crops for and raising farm animals. And according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the amount of grain fed to livestock in the U.S. alone could feed about 840 million people, roughly eleven times the number of people who die of starvation every year.
We'll leave aside for the moment that these figures represent an egregious, immoral, and unsustainable misappropriation of the world's dwindling natural resources and we'll concentrate instead on the issue of suffering, which is of such great concern to the many meat-eaters who are convinced that vegans bear the responsibility for inflicting pain and misery upon innocent fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and tubers.
If one is legitimately concerned with mitigating the amount of suffering in the world, then there is simply no way to justify eating meat, especially if one believes that plants also suffer. The misery and suffering of the tens of billions of animals raised and slaughtered for food every year are multiplied by hundreds of orders of magnitude if one accepts the claim that plants, as well as animals, possess consciousness and therefore suffer when they are harvested.
That killing and eating animals causes them to suffer is undeniable. That eating plants causes them to suffer is a proposition that has never been demonstrated in a controlled scientific experiment, despite the numerous efforts of scientists to determine the legitimacy of so-called “primary perception”. It's time we recognize the “Plants have feelings, too!” argument for what it is: a feckless attempt to undermine the ethical basis of veganism with pseudo-science and bad logic.
Your argument is invalid.