Are Oysters A Vegan-Friendly Food?

Start your engines, ethicists: Can oysters feel pain? If they can’t, does that mean vegans can go ahead and chow down on the slippery bivalves? Since they have no central nervous system, like other animals vegans don’t eat, Slate writer Christopher Cox, a self-proclaimed vegan who eats oysters, says its open season on the tasty delights.

In an effort to keep strict vegans off his back, he does admit he’s given up the “vegan badge of honor” because of his hankering for eating farmed oysters, while also laying out his reasons why it’s okay to indulge “by the boatload.”

His argument is basically this: Because they can be farmed without causing a lot of damage to the environment, pose little threat of collateral damage to other animals when harvested and, most importantly, probably don’t feel pain, oysters should be allowed in a vegan diet.

Cox writes:

No forests are cleared for oysters, no fertilizer is needed, and no grain goes to waste to feed them—they have a diet of plankton, which is about as close to the bottom of the food chain as you can get.

He also cites ethicist Peter Singer, who originally gave the stamp of approval to oyster ingestion in his book Animal Liberation, before reversing it for later editions. Contacted by email, Singer tells Cox he really does think it’s kopacetic to dine on bivalves, writing that the doubt is so slight that oysters feel pain, “that there is no good reason for avoiding eating sustainably produced oysters.”

And if oysters still aren’t your thing, might we suggest a Vegan Double Down?

Consider the Oyster [Slate Magazine]