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Hey Vegans! Consider the Oyster

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Hey Vegans! Consider the Oyster

It’s okay to eat fish; ‘Cause they don’t have any feelings –Nirvana

Back in the early 1990s, when rock band Nirvana was at the threshold stage of their colossal but short career, this particular sentiment on the closing song of their hit album “Nevermind” had a certain resonance with the ethical grunge set. I recall, it was often intoned and repeated by fans and those who had a hunger for fish tacos but didn’t want to take the ethical hit of eating an animal with actual feelings. The factual basis of this claim, that fish are devoid of feelings, is shoddy science/research at best, but was faithfully perpetuated by hungry grunge acolytes looking to latch onto some sort of lazy epicurean philosophy.

I was reminded of this refrain when I stumbled upon Christopher Cox’s ethical musing on whether or not it was acceptable to eat oysters, particularly for vegans. I know what you are thinking, isn’t the dictionary definition of vegan being someone who refrains from consuming any animal product? Well, by definition yes, but Cox breaks down his personal vegan rationale to two distinct points: “Raising animals for food 1) destroys the planet and 2) causes those animals to suffer.”

While this may not exactly define every vegan’s (or vegetarian‘s) raison d’etre, it does seem to provide a cursory perspective for a somewhat stringent lifestyle. So as these rules apply, the humble oyster gets a pass, and is therefore afforded a place on the vegan dinner table next to the marinated tempeh and grilled zucchini.

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.


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11:36AM PST on Feb 7, 2013

hey eric! no thanks.

8:24AM PDT on Jul 31, 2012

Food to me is a delight and I will try almost anything once. However I will avoid oysters as shell fish for some reason does not like allergic. Sigh! So will have to substitute other tasties such as pickerel instead or quinoa and pretend it is a greyish blob...maybe blobs of oatmeal?

1:27PM PDT on May 29, 2012

Ethically, the oyster really isn't sentient...there's no central nervous system, etc. As an ethical vegan, eating them really isn't a problem from that angle. The way they are collected may be an issue, though, since our oceans are constantly being damaged by the quest for seafood.

From a plain ol' icky standpoint, they are nature's water filter and with the gulf oil spill (the oil didn't just disappear, and they did not recover most of it) I wouldn't eat anything that came out of that mess, plant or oyster.

4:29AM PDT on Apr 1, 2012

it comes back to painism.

and the nature and science of pain

pain is to avoid body damage, you flinch and run away from "owies", so you don't do something dumb like bathe in fire. althouh some people are born with a disorder where they are indiffernt to pain. They could bite their tounge off, or, take touch fire and cook their hand.

so, even though these are our fellow humans, some would think this means it is ok to abuse or eat them, because they don't feel it.

there is pain, and awareness of it. Insects would feel the hurt, would they dwell on it, or react like a reflex? like when the doctor hits your knee?

perhaps then, what the "yay, kill and eat" people need, are animals that are masochistic. not feeling pain would result in body damage.

1:11PM PDT on Mar 31, 2012

No thanks...Oysters are subject to various diseases which disease control focuses on containing infections and breeding resistant strains and is the subject of much ongoing research.
Not sure I want to trust anyone to keep the disease infected oysters off my plate.. and I am a vegan and vegans do not eat living animals.. even slimy ones.

10:09AM PDT on Mar 31, 2012

A noise annoys an oyster. :-)

6:52AM PDT on Mar 29, 2012

This whole article and the comments following it are a blatant waste of space.

8:51PM PDT on Mar 27, 2012

I wouldn't call it vegan, but I'd definitely say this makes me feel better about eating oysters (which are packed with zinc, so a great stop-gap when you're catching a cold). Sounds like a very low to no guilt prospect!

7:54PM PDT on Mar 27, 2012

Umm, NO! won't consider...why would i want to eat an oyster when i can have an oyster mushroom?..Why would anyone want to eat a slimy creature that sits at the bottom of the sea absorbing all the toxins? there's enough plant life to eat without farming why try to convince us that oysters are like plants?

11:58AM PDT on Mar 27, 2012

Yes, we get that oysters are not "vegan" by the original definition. The point is that if rationality and logical consistency have anything to do with this than oysters are no less moral to consume than plants.

The resistance and proselytizing instead of rational analysis shows that veganism is more about dogma than logic or morality. Animal is a broad arbitrary category we made up and making blanket assumptions about the biology of all species in that group is absurd.

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