Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Vegetarian Reductio ad Absurdum

I can't tell whether this is a serious issue for the author, or some way to justify meat eating by pointing out plants want to live too (probably serious since it's in the Science section)... but the New York Times has an article on the ethical quandaries of eating plants:
When a plant is wounded, its body immediately kicks into protection mode. It releases a bouquet of volatile chemicals, which in some cases have been shown to induce neighboring plants to pre-emptively step up their own chemical defenses and in other cases to lure in predators of the beasts that may be causing the damage to the plants. Inside the plant, repair systems are engaged and defenses are mounted, the molecular details of which scientists are still working out, but which involve signaling molecules coursing through the body to rally the cellular troops, even the enlisting of the genome itself, which begins churning out defense-related proteins.

Plants don’t just react to attacks, though. They stand forever at the ready. Witness the endless thorns, stinging hairs and deadly poisons with which they are armed. If all this effort doesn’t look like an organism trying to survive, then I’m not sure what would. Plants are not the inert pantries of sustenance we might wish them to be.

If a plant’s myriad efforts to keep from being eaten aren’t enough to stop you from heedlessly laying into that quinoa salad, then maybe knowing that plants can do any number of things that we typically think of as animal-like would. They move, for one thing, carrying out activities that could only be called behaving, if at a pace visible only via time-lapse photography. Not too long ago, scientists even reported evidence that plants could detect and grow differently depending on whether they were in the presence of close relatives, a level of behavioral sophistication most animals have not yet been found to show.
Yeah, I dunno: I think I'll stick with the idea that if it doesn't have a central nervous system, then it's ok to kill it. I suppose that might make me History's Greatest Monster to my hypothetical grand kids who eat some sort of nutrient paste (though the fact that I eat meat seems a larger issue), but it feel like there are enough things to worry about in life that are significantly more important than that.