Typically something is vegan if it’s not an animal product. Vegans usually rationalize this choice by offering any or all of three justifications:
1. It’s better for the planet.
2. It’s better for the animal.
3. It’s better for my body.
Nothing is ever so grey as real life, even in the face of something that can seem very black and white. A question I’ve been pondering is “what about farmed shellfish?”
1. Is it better for the planet? After some research, I’ve learned that clams, oysters and mussels when farmed actually have a positive impact on their local environment when farmed. These organisms filter water of microscopic algae, plankton and other particulate from the water, leaving it cleaner than it was before the addition of the creatures. Because removing impurities from water is their food source, they require no outside food source like fish or corn meal, making them sustainable in terms of their nutritional requirements during farming. They can also be seeded on posts in shallow water, ropes in open water and bags in deeper water. These are retrieved when the bivalves are ready for consumption without bycatch or damage to the ocean floor (as opposed to dredging – the ocean’s environmental equivalent of clear-cutting a forest).
2. Is it better for the animals? Because I doubt the sentience of these organisms because of their highly simplified nervous systems. I subsequently doubt that they can suffer the was a suffocating fish can. If they’re also responsible for cleaning water, this improves the lives of other marine animals.
3. Is it better for my body? Molluscs offer a suite of nutrients that vegans often have trouble getting, including zinc and B12. The nutritional profiles of clams, mussels and oysters include copious omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, iron and protein. Unfortunately they’re also rich in cholesterol which I consider to be their only drawback.
Would I stop being a vegan if I decided to start occasionally including these organisms as food in my diet? I admit I would eat ants, grasshoppers, worms and snails if they were readily available so maybe this was inevitable. I’m curious as to what other vegans think.
This is Christie, signing off!
This is an interesting topic that caught my interest when I saw an article (in Slate?) about oysters being “ok” for vegans to eat. Since then, Neal and I have discussed the issue and have not come to any solid conclusions about whether or not oysters are sentient or not.
I won’t eat oysters/mollusks regardless. I have no scientific reason or logical argument for this right now other than it just wouldn’t feel right. I am interested in learning more about the issue though.
Whenever I see farmed oysters/mussels/clams at our market I think about it but I’m wasn’t a fan before I quit animals. I found the aftertaste off-putting and I can’t imagine my more sensitive palate would find any improvements. Who knows!