Sunday, May 13, 2012

what say you, Buddhists? still wanna eat those plants?

Ethical vegetarianism in religions like Buddhism and Hinduism is rooted(!) in the concept of ahimsa, nonviolence or no-killing.* Animals are sentient beings; the eating of plants is permissible because plants, according to the wisdom of the elders, are non-sentient. Objections to this worldview, often facetious in tone, have focused on the possibility that plants, too, have inner lives and something approaching sentience. Now, it seems, those objections might have the beginnings of scientific backing. No longer should we visualize whirled peas. To whirl the peas is to make them scream.

From the article:

Evidently, empathy might not be the most appropriate ground for an ethics of vegetal life. But the novel indications concerning the responsiveness of plants, their interactions with the environment and with one another, are sufficient to undermine all simple, axiomatic solutions to eating in good conscience. When it comes to a plant, it turns out to be not only a what but also a who — an agent in its milieu, with its own intrinsic value or version of the good. Inquiring into justifications for consuming vegetal beings thus reconceived, we reach one of the final frontiers of dietary ethics.

*Obviously, I'm oversimplifying the situation. There are plenty of meat-eating Buddhists and Hindus. The Dalai Lama eats meat, and as my friend Sperwer has pointed out, meat-avoidance was never part of the original Buddhist Vinaya (monastic precepts). Ethical vegetarianism in the Buddhist tradition is a function of how the tradition evolved.



forex robot said...

thats rue the plants have also inner lives. but in india i thinks peoples eats the fruits of plants not the whole plant.

Kevin Kim said...

I wonder whether they use lumber in India. In that case, the entire tree is killed. Ah, the ethics of lumber!

As for eating only fruits... I think Indians eat more than just that part. Might be time for me to visit the Food Network again to see what's up.

Charles said...

Indians definitely eat more than just the fruit of a plant. Palak paneer, one of my favorite Indian dishes, is made from spinach, for example. There are plenty of other dishes that use the leaves and/or stalks of the plants as well. And then there are dishes made with ingredients such as potatoes or mushrooms, which necessitate killing the entire plant.

I suspect that an attempt to retroactively justify any vegetarian diet will be met with failure if these new findings are to be taken seriously. Either you give up the ethical justifications for the diet or you live with the cognitive dissonance.

(I guess you could starve to death, too, or find some way to live on synthetic nutrients, a la the Jetsons.)