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Vegans Divided Over Oysters: Are They OK To Eat?

Sure, oysters are animals, which you’d think might make them out of bounds for people who don’t eat any animal products.

But according to some vegans, because oysters lack brains, a nervous system, and anything that might suggest they might feel even an inkling of pain, they’re no more problematic to chomp into than your average plant.

And the simple three-word question “Thoughts on Oysters?” has divided the Facebook group Sydney Vegans into warring tribes.

“Do they grow on trees?.... Are they plants? If you’re honestly a vegan… you won’t and don’t eat them,” wrote one group member.

But another replied, “do you agree with the facts that oysters are not sentient?? If it is not causing pain, suffering or death then vegans should be absolutely fine with it.”

Always check for hardcore vegans first
Always check for hardcore vegans first

It’s underlined the distinction between vegans who are trying to minimise pain and those who define their diet in more taxonomic terms.

But even then, some argued that oysters, brainless as they are, displayed signs of self-preservation that suggests they aren’t just sitting around, waiting to be eaten.

“When oysters sense danger, they snap their shells shut and hide,” another vegan added. “That tells me they don't want to die. I could never eat them.”

But that argument was countered with a comparison to the Venus fly trap – unquestionably part of the plant kingdom.

And as easy as it is to anthropomorphise a Venus fly trap, they’re actually as brainless as… well, an oyster.

Animals Australia seem to come down mildly on the pro-eating-oyster side, with an article by Edward Scott on their website pointing out that there are environmental benefits to chowing down on an oyster – primarily that they turn plentiful, but inedible to humans, plankton and algae into delicious mollusc protein.

“Broadly speaking, there are three reasons people go vegan: ethics (for the animals), environment (for the planet), and health (for your body),” Scott wrote.

“If eating oysters and some other molluscs wouldn't contradict any of these reasons, then to avoid them simply because they are technically animals would be to obey a kind of scaled-up speciesism. A kingdom-ism, if you like; treating plants and animals differently just because they are plants or animals, rather than asking what makes them different.”

Scott points out that even Australian philosopher Peter Singer, in his landmark 1975 book Animal Liberation, put oysters at one end of the sentient animal kingdom.

“In the popular mind the term ‘animal’ lumps together beings as different as oysters and chimpanzees,” Singer wrote.

In 2009, Singer suggested that it was “hard to imagine that they can feel pain. But if you have doubts about it, don’t eat them.”

Those doubts get to the heart of the debate, and it’s hard to see a definite answer arising. You’re certainly not going to get an answer out of an oyster, who, let’s not forget, are very, very stupid.

No disrespect meant to oysters. I mean, these are the creatures who are able to create pearls! But they’ll never be creating pearls of wisdom.

So as more people move towards a more plant-based diet, should they also be embracing the flavours of the ocean’s most idiotic creature?

Perhaps. All we can say for sure is that Oysters Kilpatrick are definitely not vegan.

One poster on Sydney Vegans raised an issue perhaps more pertinent than ethical technicalities.

“Personally I love them with fresh lime. However I can not afford either.”