Are Oysters Vegan?
The answer to the question may seem simple, but there are a surprising amount of arguments about the vegan or non-vegan status of oysters. The reason for choosing to live a vegan lifestyle can be different for each person, and many make the decision based on their love of animals. Typically, vegans do not eat any animal or animal-derived product, including honey, dairy products, and eggs. This decision can also be more complex, diving into sustainability issues, carbon emissions, and more. With that in mind, let’s talk a little bit more about the arguments surrounding oysters.
So, “Are oysters vegan?”
Oysters and Kingdom Animalia
At face value, this issue may seem open and shut. Oysters are bivalves and come from the kingdom of Animalia. Some argue that oysters are more closely related to plants than animals, but from a scientific perspective, that is not the case no matter how sedentary they may be. With that in mind, we come back to the traditional definition of veganism, i.e., the non-consumption of animals and animal-derived products. If we stop here, then sure enough, we can argue that oysters are in fact, not vegan. There have been growing schools of thought on the topic for a decade, so let’s talk a bit about the counter-arguments for vegan oyster consumption.
Do Oysters Feel Pain?
It has been argued that because oysters do not have a central nervous system, they are unlikely to experience pain, at least in the same way humans or other animals do. Even when injured, an oyster does not move.
Ethicist Peter Singer had written in early editions of his book Animal Liberation that oyster-eating was sanctioned in the vegan diet only to redact that statement later. His reasoning was, of course, “Because we cannot say with confidence that these creatures do feel pain, you can have equally similar confidence in that they do not feel pain.” With this same argument, one could argue that because we cannot understand forms of pain in plants that they do, or do not feel pain. However, we still eat vegetables, leafy greens, and legumes, etc.
Some people come to veganism from the realm of compassion for animals, so if oysters do not have a face, do not feel or react to what we understand as pain, and can be farmed sustainably without harming the rest of the environment is it vegan? Therein lies the argument.
Sustainability of Eating Oysters
Suppose you’re someone who is vegan or practices plant-based dieting for sustainability reasons. In that case, you may be interested in finding that 95% of all oysters consumed are from farms and create a minimal negative impact on their ecosystems. Many coalitions also devote time to oyster cultivation to help improve water quality in their area. When it comes to oyster farming, there is no deforestation, fertilizer, or grain feed needed to sustain them and little danger of overfishing. Although oysters can be collected sustainably in the wild, many other bivalves like clams and mussels cannot, often relying on seabed dredging which disrupts the ecosystem of many other creatures.
Oysters and Plant-Based Dieters
Although the argument for, or against, oyster consumption on a vegan diet is complicated, plant-based dieters can partake in the occasional oyster lunch without guilt. Whether you are for or against eating oysters, you should continue focusing your diet on whole foods that are organic, sustainable, and plant-based.