1. “Plant-Based Diets Are Not Nutritious”
A common myth is that plant-based diets are not nutritious because they do not contain enough nutrients. However, the truth is that it depends on your definition of “nutritious”. Some people think that all foods have to be low in calories or high in fiber, but these are just guidelines.
There are many different types of foods and each person’s body needs vary.
So what makes one type of food better than another?
The answer is that there is no single correct way to eat a particular food. Each individual’s nutritional requirements will determine which foods work best for them. For example, if someone eats a lot of meat, then they would need more calories from other sources like vegetables or fruits to maintain their weight. If someone eats a lot of fish, then they would need more protein from animal products like eggs or beans to maintain their weight. People who consume a lot of dairy products may need extra calcium to prevent osteoporosis. And so on…
2. “Protein Is Hard To Digest”
Another commonly held belief is that proteins are hard to digest and therefore do not provide adequate nutrition for humans. The truth is that plant-based foods contain all of the essential amino acids and are easier to digest than animal-based foods.
3. “You Need Meat For Protein”
Protein helps build and repair body tissue like muscle and skin. Many people think that you need meat to get enough protein, but this isn’t true. Almost all foods contain some protein, even fruits!
However, some foods like meat, eggs, and fish are considered “complete” proteins because they contain all of the essential amino acids our bodies need. Most foods like grains, vegetables, and fruits are “incomplete” and need to be combined to create a “complete” protein.
However, this doesn’t mean you can’t get enough protein without meat. It just means that you have to eat a variety of plant-based foods throughout the day to get what your body needs. You can combine foods like grains and beans or nuts and seeds to create a complete protein source.
It just takes a little more planning, but it’s not hard. There are many vegan bodybuilders who maintain their massive muscles without eating meat every day.
4. “You Can Get B12 From Meat”
It is true that most meats do contain vitamin B12, which is important for the nervous system. However, this vitamin is made by bacteria and it is not uncommon for people to be deficient in B12. Deficiency can lead to anemia, fatigue, and other health problems.
Vitamin B12 is only found in animal products like meat, fish, eggs, and dairy. Insects also contain B12, so vegans might consider swallowing a few ants every once in awhile.
5. “Plants Can’t Think,” Objected The Hunter
This is a tricky one because it really depends on your definition of thinking. If you define it as “being self-aware” then plants probably don’t think. But if you define thinking as a process that converts energy into a useable form (like how plants capture the energy from sunlight or chemical energy in the soil into physical structures like stems and leaves), then plants are “thinking”.
A more specific type of thinking is the process of “decision-making”. It is difficult to say if plants make decisions because they seem to react automatically to outside forces rather than making conscious choices, but scientific experiments have shown that plants do react differently when given a choice between two solutions. For example, a Mimosa plant will react differently when exposed to a solution containing a weed killer (it closes its leaves) vs.
a solution without the weed killer (it opens its leaves). So the plant recognized that one solution was harmful and reacted accordingly, which appears to be a type of decision making.
So in this limited sense, it is fair to say that plants DO think.
6. “Plants Are Sentient Beings”
The question then arises: if plants react to their environment and are capable of making decisions, does this mean they are sentient? Do they feel emotion or pleasure and pain? Can a plant go insane?
This is a very difficult (and very human-centric) question because we have not even been able to answer the question of sentience in animals, which at least have a central nervous system and sensory organs like eyes and ears (plants do have sensors like sunlight and moisture sensors).
There are several famous philosophical arguments about sentience. The most common one is the “Trolley Problem” which was first imagined as a “real” situation where a person is standing on a bridge over a trolley track. A trolley car is out of control and heading towards five people who don’t notice it.
You are the only one on the bridge and you notice the trolley, but you are too late to stop it. You also notice that you are standing right next to a switch that diverts the trolley onto a different track. However, there is one person on that track.
Do you throw the switch or do nothing?
No matter what you choose, one person will die.
Is it better to actively kill one person or allow five people to die?
In some variations of the problem, you are standing near a very large man. If you push him onto the track, he will stop the trolley and save the five people (killing himself in the process). This is an example of an “active” solution vs. the initial “passive” solution of simply throwing the switch.
Other variations of this problem explore other options such as having a gun or rope that can be used to stop the trolley.
Under most variation of this problem, most people choose to actively kill the one person (usually the large man) in order to save the others, despite the fact that this is technically “passive.” From a logical standpoint, choosing the active solution vs. the passive solution appears to be the “moral” thing to do.
Is this relevant to the question of plant sentience?
Possibly. The problem is we don’t really know how plants “think”. They definitely react to their environment, and they definitely appear to have some form of sensory system (which is not the same as sentience) given that they react to light, water and other stimuli.
For example, Mimosa plants (a type of plant) close their leaves when they are touched. If you play a very low frequency sound (inaudible to the human ear) the plant will react in such a way that it if you were to touch the plant, it would feel like a light breeze.
However, different types of plants react differently to stimuli. For example, mustard plants will turn towards the sun. If you were to rotate the container that the mustard plant is in, the mustard plant will continue to turn in order to face the sun (it appears that the mustard plant can sense the heat of the sun even though it cannot see it).
So can a plant feel pain?
As I mentioned, plants definitely react to stimuli in a way that appears “painful” to us. They recoil from fire and light and appear to close their leaves when touched.
Plants do not have a central nervous system. Pain is generally considered to involve having a central nervous system.
Without this complex sensory mechanism, it appears unlikely that plants would “feel pain”, although who know for sure?
Does it matter if plants can feel pain?
In humans, pain helps to protect us from harmful stimuli and encourage us to avoid those actions in the future. For example, if you touch a hot stove, you will pull your hand back immediately. This is due to the “pain” response that we experience when our hands (or other body parts) are exposed to potentially damaging stimuli.
If we assume that plants do not “feel pain” in the same way, how then do we explain their similar responses to stimuli?
We typically think of plants as being incapable of independent movement and only acting on instinct (like most other animals) or being completely inert (like rocks). However, even without attributes normally associated with life (at least from our experiences), all living things still respond to stimuli in some way. Even a plant will close its leaves when exposed to fire.
In order to explain this, we have to change our thinking about what it means to be alive. Most people (including myself) would argue that the ability to feel pain is necessary in order to be considered alive (I’m not talking about being sentient, just basic life functions). If you remove pain from the equation, then technically plants must be classified as non-living.
But if plants aren’t alive, then how do we explain their actions?
After all, we know that plants react to their environment. In order to explain this, philosophers have come up with a concept known as “vegetative force”. This is (as you might guess) is completely different from the “spirit” which separates humans from animals and other non-living things. The vegetative force allows plants to react to stimuli without being considered alive.
So, can plants feel pain?
The answer appears to be yes… and no.
Now you might be wondering how I can say that. After all, I’ve been saying for the past two paragraphs that in order to be alive, one must be able to feel pain.
However, while this is a common belief held by most people, it is not an absolute truth. Pain is a subjective experience.
What does this mean?
It means that pain is only real to you if you are the one experiencing it (this is also true of happiness and everything else). Pain is not a thing that exists in the environment. It is a response that your brain has to certain stimuli. This means that for pain to exist, you must have consciousness in order for it to matter.
Plants (like most other non-conscious things) do not experience the process of feeling pain in the way that we understand it. They do not feel pain as we feel pain because they are not conscious. They are still alive, but they do not feel anything.
Now you might be wondering if other animals feel pain. This is a more difficult question to answer because it involves speculating about the subjective experience of other creatures. However, most people believe that other animals do indeed feel pain in the same way that we do.
After all, they react to harmful stimuli in the same way that we do (even if it is via a simpler nervous system), so it is reasonable to assume that they feel something similar to our pain.
How can you tell if something is alive but does not feel pain or experience any sort of conscious thought?
An example of such a thing would be a robot. Most (if not all) robots do not feel pain in the same way that we do, but they are still considered to be alive. After all, they are capable of independent movement and reacting to their environment. They aren’t alive in the same way that you or I are, but they are still alive nonetheless.
This brings us back to the original question: can plants feel pain?
My personal opinion on this matter is that plants do not feel pain in the way that we would understand it, but they are still capable of reacting to their environment and independent of external stimuli. This means that they are alive…just in a different way than we are.
I hope this has helped you to better understand the concept of life. Thank you for using the “Ask a Philosopher” service. Please consider submitting payment using the bitcoin QR code at the bottom of this screen; your wallet ID is: 3E25395D568A87A62E6F705D203391295A52D627.
Have a wonderful day!
Ask a Philosopher!
Sources & references used in this article:
Adequacy of plant-based proteins in chronic kidney disease by S Joshi, S Shah, K Kalantar-Zadeh – Journal of Renal Nutrition, 2019 – Elsevier
Soy Myths Debunked by M Nagra – plantbasedonabudget.com
Debunking Nutrition Myths for the Vegan Strength Athlete by J Norris, V Messina – 2011 – Da Capo Lifelong Books
Protein Shakes: Are They Good Or Bad For You?| 8 Myths Debunked by M Schoenfeld – girlsgonestrong.com
Soy and Hormones: Debunking Myths By Amber Sewell-Green December 1, 2017 Green Food by C Tack – myprotein.co.in
Meat myths and marketing by F Intolerances, H Eating, L Beavis – newtownnutrition.com.au
Holistic Health by D Bogueva, I Phau – Impact of meat consumption on health and …, 2016 – igi-global.com