Monday, October 23, 2017

Are we strong enough to talk about mussels?


Ethics can be hard

When it comes to people challenging my veganism, there have not yet been many questions I couldn’t answer or ignore and still feel like I had a solid argument. One question that I have had difficulty providing a solid refutation to is, “What about oysters?”. I decided to do my research, and what I found was that I had no firm response for not consuming mussels. Now, at this point I know that there will be some that just stop reading, some will even share this berating me for my lack of veganism. That’s ok, you have that right but before you do, you should know that I actually don’t eat mussels as I haven’t been able to come to a definitive answer.

The question was posited by a friend of mine who is a vegetarian, mostly for environmental reasons but a vegetarian nonetheless. Initially I brushed it off as an attempt to undermine my veganism but the more I got to know him, the more I realised that this was a genuine question about ethics, morality, and environmental impact, he was engaging me on something that he himself struggles with.

Mussel farming is sustainable


Farming mussels has shown to be prodigious, ethical and sustainable.

The environmental impact of farming mussels is prodigious, ethical and sustainable. Some bivalves such as oysters, filter around 70 to 100 litres of water per hour. Some studies speculate that a 2D raft, 40 feet by 40 feet (12m x 12m), could filter up to five million litres per hour; to give some context that is roughly 2 Olympic sized swimming pools. Spain alone cultivates around 180,000 tonnes per year. The impacts on the environment are positive even after you take out the carbon footprint of setup. Environmentally that is probably a big green tick.

Do mussels feel pain?

Let’s look at the biology of an oyster. I use oysters as the example as they are, for the most part, the most commonly consumed bivalve. They have no brain, no central nervous system and it is unlikely that they feel pain the way that any sentient being does. That is to say that they have a nervous system that is there to detect predators and environmental changes but not for a pain response. The jury is still out on whether or not mussels feel pain. Much like Pascal’s Wager, it is probably safer to assume that they do feel pain. For me that is a little red cross.

The health issue

The health aspect could be something worth considering; the fat content is pretty average with 4.6g per 100, and 100mg of cholesterol. For those vegans that don’t get the B-12 we need, 100g of oysters offers 480% of our recommended daily intake. The same amount gives 19g of protein, even though it is animal protein which has been identified as a potential health risk.

When all cards are laid out on the table it is hard to say what the right choice is. Animal Liberation author, Peter Singer, has himself had difficulty making the ethical decision, although he describes himself as a ‘flexible vegan’ which is potentially something that stoic vegans will find a bit of a cop out.

Personally, I will continue to abstain, although the environmental impact is clearly a positive one the potential ethical and health implications are, in my opinion, not worth the risk.

Steamed mussels. Vietnamese style” by vietnamfriendly is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Polio Vaccination Campaign in South Sudan” by un_photo is licensed under CC BY 2.0


An interesting article. Here are my comments: - Environmental impact: I am glad that this article shows that farming oysters is beneficial for the environment. - Health impact: I disagree that animal proteins are automatically a health issue. I think it's a bit of a woo claim based on the common misunderstanding that the dose is the poison - ie, things can become bad for you based on the amount you consume. Water can kill you if you drink too much of it. Mussels and oysters are rich in Omega 3 and B12. Provided the environment isn't too dirty and provided you don't eat them every meal, they are very good for you. - Ethical issue: As this article points out, it's not proven that oysters or mussels can feel anything and it is very unlikely that they can feel anything. I am a free thinker (from Wikipedia: "Freethinkers are heavily committed to the use of scientific inquiry, and logic. The skeptical application of science implies freedom from the intellectually limiting effects of confirmation bias, cognitive bias, conventional wisdom, popular culture, prejudice, or sectarianism.") and as such I see no valid reason at this stage not to eat oysters and mussels if I want to. One of the most interesting parts of this article, in my eyes, is the introduction. The author took the question about oyster as "challenging his veganism", as "an attempt to undermine my veganism". I find this incredible, and a pity. I don't want to follow a rigid set of dogma which means I have to feel challenged or undermined by an intelligent question. My comment here is not a challenge and it's not aimed at undermining anybody, by the way:) I wish vegans weren't so indoctrinated and defensive. I am not saying this as an insult at all, by the way. To indoctrinate means "to teach (someone) to fully accept the ideas, opinions, and beliefs of a particular group and to not consider other ideas, opinions, and beliefs". It is what too many vegans do when we talk about non-sentient animals. Thankfully, Zane Worthington, the author of the article, went past this and demonstrated a reasonably open mind to examine the consequences of eating oysters and mussels. I don't share his conclusion but I appreciate the validity of the article.
Posted by Vincent Berraud on 2015-08-30 at 13:23. (Reply)
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just as a reply to Vincent. I suppose there are at least 2 aspects to your 'ethical' diet choices; (1) the direct impact that you personally have as a result of your choices; (2) the way your choices are interpreted by others, and the impact it has on them. The fact is that many people are looking for a chance to write-off the ethical commitments of others by proving that they are not 'absolute' and therefore not really principled. A claim of 'I am vegan but actually I only refuse to eat those foods that cause suffering to sentient creatures' is easily interpreted as 'I pretend I am vegan but I really just eat things I like and don't eat things I don't like'. Using a more nuanced criteria for ethical choices is good but it will probably be misconstrued by a huge segment of society. As for muscles, I am a vegetarian (and perhaps a hypocrite in that sense) and don't really want to begin drawing lines on the basis of sentience or other due to reasons of the dreaded slippery slope (I have visions of fashionable people adding a heap of faddish culinary choices to their diet - for example lizard tails). Perhaps my way of thinking is wrong, so I will be reconsidering this.
Posted by Cameron on 2015-08-31 at 12:08. (Reply)
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