Driving down the road, I came across a billboard that had a picture of a chicken and the words, “I’m Me. Not meat. See the Individual. Go Vegan”. I gave this message a lot of thought because just a few days earlier I began reading a fascinating book called, “The Hidden Life of Trees; What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World” by German forester Peter Wohlleben. As science discovers more insight about the intelligence and complexities of things we’ve taken for granted, like plants, will vegans be forced to eat and wear nothing but their words?
Vegans do not consume meat, dairy products, eggs, honey, or any product that comes from an animal. The Vegan Society has this to say,
“Preventing the exploitation of animals is not the only reason for becoming vegan, but for many, it remains the key factor in their decision to go vegan and stay vegan. Having emotional attachments with animals may form part of that reason, while many believe that all sentient creatures have a right to life and freedom. Specifics aside, avoiding animal products is one of the most obvious ways you can take a stand against animal cruelty and animal exploitation everywhere.”https://www.vegansociety.com/go-vegan/why-go-vegan
I relate to the underlying good intentions of veganism. There is indeed a lot of unnecessary cruelty that happens in the mass-produced animal industry. No one with a feeling heart wants to be a part of the deliberate abuse of animals, even if those animals end up on a dinner plate. There is a big market for “responsibly raised” and “responsibly produced” goods, and that’s because there is a growing demand by consumers. And I see this as a good thing. But aside from the cruel treatment of animals, the other popular conviction that vegans hold is that, as quoted above, “all sentient creatures have a right to life and freedom”. Well, the discoveries of science could pose a problem here. The more we “dig” into life and the universe, the more we find that everything is not only encoded with intelligence but “alive”.
What does the word “sentient” mean, anyway? This adjective is defined as, “having the power of perception by the senses; conscious”. Now you might be thinking that the idea of plants having thoughts and feelings is just New Age, hippy nonsense. But remember, it is common that new discoveries are ridiculed by the established ways of thought. A popular adage highlights three stages for the recognition of truth; 1. Ridicule. 2. Violent Opposition. 3. Acceptance as self-evident. Ideas and instruments that are commonplace today, were once the outrage of the past (like doctors washing hands before medical procedures and the use of thermometers).
Let’s look at just a few of the amazing discoveries made about the stuff that makes up 99% of the biomass on Earth – plants. Please see below references for more details.
- Plants are capable of self-recognition. They know the difference between themselves and other plants.
- Plants can “see”. They even know if the person approaching them is wearing the colors red or blue.
- Plants make decisions about the future. For example, they decide if next year will be a good time to reproduce or not.
- Plants have at least 20 different senses.
- Plants are complex and wonderful communicators. They communicate with other plants and animals. They can even warn other plants of their species about nearby threats.
- Plants can recognize their relatives, and often live in families.
- Plants choose to share resources. Many species of trees will send nutrients (via their roots) to a member of their “family”, even after it is cut down, keeping the stump alive sometimes for hundreds of years.
- Plants can register trauma and “painful” sensations. They even release chemicals letting others nearby know about the danger.
- Plants have memory and change their reactions based on past events.
This is just a sampling of the scientific findings, and many more can be cited.
Not only do plants have some sort of consciousness, but they also respond to our intentions towards them, and there are many experiments that bear this out. For example, one plant was told beautiful, loving, kind words and feelings toward it. This plant was healthy and prospered. Another plant was told things like, “I hate you” and “you’re ugly”, etc. That plant withered and didn’t last long. Check out the Ikea bully experiment referenced below, or better yet, do the experiment for yourself.
Scientific research and discovery are only beginning to inch open the door of the knowledge of life. We live in a vast, complex universe in which consciousness, intelligence, and purposeful intention are encoded into literally everything. So what does this mean for vegans and us non-vegans? It means that The Lion King was right after all. Hakuna Matata. No worries – life is a circle. Many vegans, especially the militant activist ones, see humans as intruders invading the peaceful planet. But this simply isn’t so. We are part of Nature too! It seems silly to have to say this unless one believes that we were transported to Earth by alien spacecraft 100,000 years ago.
Life is about the experience, not achieving an end result. Why do I say this? Because what comes at the end of life? Death. Every life ends up the same way – dead. And one of the great paradigms is that life needs death in order to continue existing. The death of all things supports the life of all things, and life supports life. Micro-organisms support the life of plants, and plants support the life of insects, and insects support the life of animals, and animals support the life of humans, and animals support the life of plants, and humans support the life of micro-organisms, and animals support the life of other animals, and it just keeps going and going. Everything is connected harmoniously and with purpose. The pattern of creation, death, and re-birth, are everywhere. Life is cyclical.
Not only is humanity supposed to be here, but we are also stewards on behalf of the Creator. We have a role in the balance and harmony of all that is. Yes, we have collectively been bad stewards at times, and yes, we have acted contrary to the harmony and benefit of Nature and us all. But we also have the innate desire to better ourselves and our environments, and we learn from past errors and poor judgments. God loves and cares for all His creations, even the sparrows and the flowers. When we view and treat all living things with respect in the midst of the circle of life, we show appreciation and give honor to the One who made all things.
Too often we forget that life is good, and life is a gift, and one of the wonderful things about life is enjoying the exploration and experiences God has given to not only us but all His creations. The zebras enjoy eating the tasty grass, and lions take delight in their meaty meals. It’s ok for us to enjoy the side salad and our surf n turf dinners with appreciation and gratitude. It is also our duty to love and protect the delicate balance and well-being of the world we’ve inherited, and although this doesn’t require veganism, it does require making good choices that benefit and respect Nature as a whole.
I’d like to finish off with a short excerpt from Mr. Wohlleben’s excellent book, The Hidden Life of Trees, which I highly recommend every nature lover read.
“But why are trees such social beings? Why do they share food with their own species and sometimes even go so far as to nourish their competitors? The reasons are the same as for human communities: there are advantages to working together. A tree is not a forest. On its own, a tree cannot establish a consistent local climate. It is at the mercy of wind and weather. But together, many trees create an ecosystem that moderates extremes of heat and cold, stores a great deal of water, and generates a great deal of humidity. And in this protected environment, trees can live to be very old. To get to this point, the community must remain intact no matter what. If every tree were looking out only for itself, then quite a few of them would never reach old age. Regular fatalities would result in many large gaps in the tree canopy, which would make it easier for storms to get inside the forest and uproot more trees. The heat of summer would reach the forest floor and dry it out. Every tree would suffer.”
Every tree, therefore, is valuable to the community and worth keeping around for as long as possible. And that is why even sick individuals are supported and nourished until they recover. Next time, perhaps it will be the other way round, and the supporting tree might be the one in need of assistance…. Every tree is a member of this community, but there are different levels of membership.”
We are the gardeners of the Earth. We love, we support, we protect, and we enjoy.
- The Hidden Life of Trees
- NWF.org Smarty Plants
- Are plants intelligent? New book says yes
- A debate over plant consciousness is forcing us to confront the limitations of the human mind
- Plants are Sentient