It’s a conundrum that has divided vegans for many years. Even if the thought of the slimy things sliding down your throat is enough to turn your stomach as it does mine, vegans just seem unable to agree if oysters are actually ok to eat. And it is an argument that once again raised its head in a recent article in The Guardian newspaper.
According to the article, oysters are bivalves, and are therefore more closely related to other shell fish such as clams than to any plant. It should be an open and shut case – oysters are living animals. And according to the The Vegan Society, a vegan is a person who avoids “all animal foods such as meat (including fish, shellfish and insects), dairy, eggs and honey – as well as avoiding animal-derived materials, products tested on animals and places that use animals for entertainment.” Proof that oysters are well and truly out of bounds for vegans.
But wait! There are some who disagree, and say that oysters are indeed fine for a vegan to eat. So what is the argument that makes them reach this conclusion? Top chef Alexis Gauthier of top vegan-friendly restaurant Gauthier in Soho, is one who believes that it is fine to eat oysters. He takes what the Guardian describes as the “don’t eat anything with a face” approach to veganism. He argues, “For me, a vegan diet is fundamentally about compassion. And, as current research confirms, oysters are non-sentient beings with no brain or advanced central nervous system, so they’re unable to feel pain. That’s why I’m happy to eat them.” But he agrees that not every vegan shares his opinions, and that is why oysters do not appear on his vegan menu.
But other chefs are happy to go along with him. Jackson Boxer, another respected chef and restaurateur, agrees, although he says that he would never dream of foisting oysters on anyone who doesn’t want to eat them for whatever reason, ethical or otherwise. “But there is a case for saying that they’re less sentient even than trees,” he argues. “Unlike most farming, oysters have a demonstrably beneficial impact on the environment around them too – they filter and purify the water, which in turn encourages secondary ecosystems.”
Australian animal rights website Animals Australia isn’t quite so sure. While agreeing that there is a moral dilemma, as oysters have no brain or nervous system and are, they contrarily argue, therefore more closely related to plant life, there is reasonable doubt as to the legitimacy of the argument. It does make a valid point, that given the efficiency of oyster farming in comparison to traditional commercial farming, oysters could provide one solution to the ever increasing world hunger problem. Moreover, oysters’ nutritional benefits also make them appropriate to help alleviate famine. They contain 16g or protein per serving and high levels of vitamin C, and are also high in zinc, selenium and iron. But as the exploding population is one cause of world famine, perhaps giving a food that is recognised as an aphrodisiac is not the best solution!
We take the view, as we have previously discussed, that vegans as individuals can make up their own minds as to what they can and can’t eat. As Business Friends of Peta UK, who reflect that oysters do show signs of animal instincts through protecting their soft bodies by snapping their shells tightly shut when danger approaches, I am inclined to avoid oysters. But then again, Venus Fly Traps show similar instincts……but that’s another story!