Carnivorous Plants, Omnivorous Thoughts

Day before yesterday, the boyfriend and I visited Gothenburg.  Gothenburg is a very nice city on the West coast of Sweden, and we were there to see our friends, go to the dissertation defense party, and while we were there, we also took the time to visit the Gothenburg Botanical Garden.  (Very, very recommended if you are interested in botany, conservation, or just like to walk around in a pretty park and look at flowers.)

Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia sp.) – aren’t they cute?!

Among other things, the garden is famous for its collections of orchids and carnivorous plants, and while it was the orchid collection which originally drew me there, it was the carnivores which made me think.

These cute, fluffy red-patterned pitchers eat animals.  Specifically, they eat bugs – they lure them in, drown them, and digest them.  They photosynthesize too, like most other plants, but for their nutrients, they depend largely (if not solely) on killing and eating what flies or creeps their way.  They can, of course, survive without eating bugs – though not incredibly well – but they do far, far better if they can eat what is natural to them.

And, of course, I’ve never heard anyone say that it’s not ethical to feed them flies, or that it’s murder.  It’s – well, it’s natural, and that’s the end of it.

In general, I don’t care what other people eat, so long as they don’t hurt themselves and I don’t consequently have to pay for their health care via my taxes, and so long as they don’t tell me what I should and should not eat.

The former is an ongoing social problem.  People eat whatever the heck they feel like, and then think that others should pay for the problems they give themselves.  Rant for another time.  The latter is a problem with fewer people, but they are far more voiciferous.  I am talking about all those who scream that eating animals is not ethical and that I am a bad person for wanting to, and doing so.

The question I would like to ask is, why?  Why is it unethical and why is it bad, precisely?

A side note before I launch further into rant – I do my best to buy grass-fed meat, and free-range chickens (essentially more or less the only kind available in Sweden anyway), and I do not in any way condone bad conditions or treatment of livestock.  In fact, it is people like myself who pay a premium price for good-quality meat from well-treated animals who contribute to well-being of livestock in good herds.

Furthermore, while there is an argument that humans are not obligate carnivores, but rather omnivores, the latter term should not be taken to mean that humans can therefore subsist on vegetable matter only, or not easily or well.  In fact, omnivores cannot subsist by grazing at all – that would be the province of herbivores, which humans certainly are not (our digestive system is just not adapted to such diet).  Meaning, I am not about to give up eating fruit, grains, legumes or vegetables and greens – that’d be mad (not to mention constipating!), but I also do not see any ethical reason for me to stop eating animal tissue – so long as no animals live in horrible conditions because of it.  I mean, let’s face it – no sane carnivore would prefer a miserable and sick animal to eat to a fat and happily sleek one.  I am not mad either.  When I eat an animal, I want to know it was healthy and lived well – if nothing else, because it would taste better if so (nutrition aside).

As to nutrition – well yes, you can (with help of some intensive and environment-costly modern technology) survive on a purely vegetable and fungal diet.  But mind you, I can’t imagine that any manner of eating which requires serious industrial processing of said plant matter, and industrial-level extraction/synthesis of vitamins and other nutrietns, and heavy supplementation with those can be called anything like healthy or natural.  This is to say – ovo-lacto-vegetarians and pescetarians, for example, do just fine.  It’s vegans who have a real serious industry dependency.

The question which made me wonder is – why is it that some people (no names or links here, I am being nice!) feel the need to try to load me with guilt for wanting to eat what is natural to me?  (That, by the way, being, a nice selection of fruit, vegetables, grains, legumes, eggs and yes, meat.)  Is any of it more wrong for me to eat than for a carnivorous plant to get fed a few flies?  Why?  Because I am not red and fluffy and don’t live in a pot?  And what about the plants themselves – why is it that some people consider it to be perfectly fine to eat a cucumber but not a cow?  What makes plant life worse or less precious than animal life, precisely?  After all, plants are the reason why we, animls, have oxygen to breathe and something, anything to eat – they are the only form of life on this planet which converts inorganic matter into organic matter which the rest of kingdoms of life can eat.  I’d say that ought to make them more revered, not less!

So, here’s what I have to say – just like the adorable Sarracenia in the photo, and her many cohorts, I do not buy your “you shouldn’t eat animals because they are cute and have huge Disney-Bambi eyes“.  Animals are a natural part of my diet, they have proteins and nutrients I need (and yumminess I love), and I will continue to eat them untill and unless you come up with a better reason why me and my Pitcher plant buddies here should consider them off-limits.

P.S.  If you drive a car, then don’t even start on how it’s better for the environment – sell your car and take public transit or walk like I do, first.

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7 thoughts on “Carnivorous Plants, Omnivorous Thoughts

  1. “(…) why is it that some people consider it to be perfectly fine to eat a cucumber but not a cow? What makes plant life worse or less precious than animal life, precisely?”

    This is exactly my point as well. I love animals, I love plants, I love all living things. I even think bacteria and one celled organisms are awesome. (I might not like being infested with some bacteria, but I still think they are awesome.) I talk to plants and I find them very expressive. I can’t say they talk to me, in words, but neither does my snake. And both are probably as aware of any meaning in the tender, loving words I say to them.

    I probably take my love and care for All Living Things quite far, but not in a fluffy, rose-tinted way as many vegans do. Some of them release animals and then get heartbroken when the animals attack each other in a way that makes sense to them (the animals in question). But in some ways I think that they don’t want animals to be animals. They want all animals to be noble and awesome as they are in movies.

    I love aphids, even when they are on plants I try to grow for food. I think they are awesome. That doesn’t mean I won’t put lavender beside them or do nothing to make them move, or that I am above putting a few ladybugs there when I find them in the elevator (yes, it happens, and I have no idea why). I think one of the ways I show my love and appreciation for life is that I let it be what it is supposed to be and doesn’t try to bend it to my own sense of right and wrong.

    This turned into a long comment. I’m sorry.

    /Pao

    1. Pao, no reason to be sorry.

      And, I agree with you – people who want living things to act like cartoon characters are really, really messed up. I call it Disney syndrome – both, the unrealistic relationship expectations, and this horrific misunderstanding of how kingdoms of life coexist (or their place in them). And that is very, very sad.

  2. There are two points which I would make, not to judge or correct you but they may help you further understand the vegan side of things.

    1. Carnivorous plants have been found in soils with low nutrients and hence these carnivorous adaptations are a matter of survival. When you cook your ‘grass-fed steak’ you are not adapting for survival. They take from the insects, nutrients which are not available in their soil. We can just get up and find another food source. These plants don’t have that luxury.

    2. Unless you have reared and killed your own meat, you do not know what life it has led or indeed how healthy it was before being killed (in a way that you also do not know). The labels on food packages do not tell you that.

    Each to their own. Not all vegans are crazy zealots who think they have all the answers but these are the thoughts that came to mind when reading your questions.

    1. Chantelle, hi

      Thank you for stopping and commenting.

      First of all, I’d like to point out that 1. carnivorous plants are not always or necessarily found in soils with poor nutrient content. They are, in fact, found in many very different habitats. 2. I am not sure where you are located (United States?), but here in the Nordics it is very simple to verify what sort of life your meat has led before you have bought and eaten it – I frequently purchase meat from farms I have visited, as well as wild-shot moose, deer, and wild boar.

      That said, you are right – labels are often both, misleading and, frankly, bullshit, as I’ve learned over the years (the post you are commenting on is a few years old, I need to check the post to make sure it’s not outdated on this topic) – the ‘organic’ (‘luomu’, ‘eko’, ‘krav’) label generally means very little in terms of what you are getting, other than it being less (I wrote less, not more) environmentally friendly than conventional farmed produce. However, the source of your meat can be pinpointed and verified if you are a stickler for it and are willing to do some checking – at least in most of the European Union. As someone who has just finished a Master’s degree in EU Food Law with a focus on animal treatment and conditions, I know these things in decently good detail.

      1. I’m from the UK and am very new to this thing called veganism.

        I guess it all comes down to personal ethics, feelings and priorities.

        For me it is much easier to source my nutrients through plant based products rather than source “ethical” meat. I guess for me there is no such thing. I don’t want any sentient being killed for my own pleasure. As I said, I can source the nutrients elsewhere so animal products are nothing other than a choice at this point.

        I understand all of the counter arguments to veganism but for me it’s what feels right and I guess I just wanted to share that with you as I came across your post which seemed to question the thought process of a vegan.

        I get that some vegans can be very pushy and down right rude but the same can be said for meat eaters.

      2. There are rude and pushy people among every kind. In United Kingdom (I used to work there in the food industry for a few years actually), it is a lot harder to source ethically raised meat.

        If you do not want to eat animals, however, I do not see why you do not become a vegetarian instead – it is more environmentally friendly, it doesn’t rely on industrial processing, nor on rather unethical soy harvesting (which actually causes large numbers of field animal deaths due to the habit of growth of the crop).

        Is there a reason why you (admittedly new to veganism) eschew dairy, for example, or such brainless plant-like animals as mussels and other shellfish (oysters, clams), which are both, good for the environment, and contain entirely ethically sourced protein?

      3. I’ve never eaten much by way of seafood, don’t really have the palette for it.

        I do not choose to eat dairy for two reasons:
        1. The treatment of the animals by the industry
        2. I do not believe that we are supposed to be stealing the milk of another being. We have our own mother’s milk when young until an age when we naturally stop producing the enzyme to break down the lactose. If it was truly a component that we need in our diet then why do we stop producing this enzyme? And why are we not milking all other animals for their nutrients, only the ones seen as socially acceptable (in other words those that can be herded, farmed and milked easily).

        Also, in your post you mention in a plea for others not to mention the environment but surely you know the state of affairs where animal agriculture is concerned right?

        I was a vegetarian for 6 months before beginning a completely vegan diet and I’m extremely happy with that decision. I continue to research more and more into it every day and for me, this is the best way for me to live.

        I’ve tried life as a meat-eater, as a vegetarian and as a vegan and I’m happiest (I can obviously only speak from limited experience) with a vegan diet.

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