This blog post is included in:
No Time to Spare
Thinking About What Matters
by Ursula K. Le Guin
Introduction by Karen Joy Fowler
December 5, 2017
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
It is time for humanity to ascend from our primitive condition as omnivores, carnivores, vegetarians, and vegans. We must take the inevitable next step to Oganism — the Way of the Aerovore — leading away from obesity, allergy, and cruelty towards blameless purity. Our motto must be, All we need is O.
Many people troubled by the suffering of animals — animals who would scarcely exist outside zoos, if we did not breed them for their meat, milk, and eggs — remain strangely indifferent to the endless, enormous ordeal of the vegetables we keep in captivity or capture wild. Consider, for one moment, what plants undergo at our hands. We breed them with ruthless selectivity, harass, torment, and poison them, crowd them into vast monocultures, caring for their wellbeing only as it affects our desires, raising many merely for their by-products such as seed, flower, or fruit. And we slaughter them without a thought of their suffering when “harvested,” uprooted, torn living from their earth or branch, slashed, chopped, mown, ripped to pieces – or when “cooked,” dropped to die in boiling water or oil or an oven — or, worst of all, eaten raw, stuffed into a human mouth and masticated by human teeth and swallowed, often while alive.
Do you think a bean is dead because you bought it at the store in a plastic bag? That a carrot is dead because it’s been in the refrigerator for a while? Have you ever planted a few of those beans in damp earth and waited a week or two, put the carrot top in a saucer of fresh water and waited a week or two?
The life in a plant may be less visible but far more intense and durable than the life in an animal. If you put an oyster in a saucer of fresh water and keep it for a week, the result will be quite different.
Why then, if it is immoral to subject an oyster to the degradation of becoming food, is it blameless, even virtuous, to do the same thing to a carrot or a piece of tofu?
“Because the carrot doesn’t suffer,” says the vegan. “Soybeans have no nervous system. They don’t feel pain. Plants have no feelings.”
That is exactly what many people said about animals for millennia, and what many still say about fish. As science has brought us – some of us – back to an awareness of our animality, we have been forced to acknowledge that all higher animals suffer pain and fear at least as intensely as we do. But, just as we once misused science to support the claim that animals are mindless machines, so now we misuse science to support the claim of knowing that non-animal living things – plants — have no feelings.
We know nothing of the sort.
Science has only just begun to investigate plant sensitivity and plant communication. The results are still meager, but positive, fascinating, and strange. The mechanisms and processes, being so very different from the senses and nervous systems of animals, are barely understood,. But so far what science has to say on the subject fails to justify the convenient belief that plants are insensate. We don’t know what the carrot feels.
In fact, we don’t know what the oyster feels. We don’t know the cow’s opinion on being milked, although we can hypothesize that if her udder was full she might feel relief. The assumptions we make about all other living creatures are mostly self-serving. And perhaps the most deeply entrenched of them is that plants are insensate, irrational, and dumb: thus “inferior to” animals, “here for our use.” This snap judgment allows even the most tender-hearted of us to disrespect plants, to kill vegetables without mercy, to congratulate ourselves on the purity of our conscience while in the very act of callously devouring a young kale stalk or a tender, delicate, curling, living, infant pea tendril.
I believe the only way to avoid such cruel hypocrisy and achieve true clarity of conscience is by becoming an Ogan.
It is a pity that the Ogan movement by its nature and principles is fated to be, in each individual case, rather short-lived. But surely the first martyrs of the cause will inspire multitudes to follow them in forswearing the grossly unnatural practice of supporting life by eating other living beings or their by-products. Ogans, ingesting only the unsullied purity of the O in the atmosphere and in H2O, will live in true amity with all animals and all vegetables, and will proudly preach their creed for as long as they possibly can. It could be for several weeks, sometimes.