Inspired by this question, that is a kind of a guide to "diplomatic relations" with non-veg*s, I'd like to ask what could be good answers to the oft-repeated assertion that "plants suffer too".

The dialogue goes roughly like:

A: "ok, so you're vegan, why?"
Me: "I want to avoid animal suffering"
A: "you're wrong, since plants suffer too"

How do you answer to that? How could you communicate that the respect for animals is not detracted from by the fact that plants show response to external stimuli?

  • The answer is the difference in level of consciousness of plants and animals.
    – roxaite
    Jun 6, 2017 at 16:58
  • 1
    There is actually a great documentary about this put out by George Miller, which captures a real world example of what plants actually feel. Viewer discretion is advised.
    – user967
    Sep 28, 2017 at 1:37

12 Answers 12


My favourite reply:

So you have compassion for plants?

You'd better go vegan, then, since it takes a lot more plants to feed to animals to feed to humans than it takes to feed humans directly with plants.

  • 4
    And the stupid counterreply goes: "Well, but you should just starve instead or feed on sunlight only in order to produe no suffering at all."
    – Turion
    Feb 4, 2017 at 8:55
  • 11
    @Turion but my reply has put the ball in the asker's court, and they can't effectively pass it back to me without answering for their own practices. The suggestion that I should starve to death can't be taken seriously, so I either nod and smile, or say "Of course I'm not perfect, but at least I'm trying to cause less harm."
    – Zanna
    Feb 4, 2017 at 9:04
  • 7
    This reply is a strawman argument. Arguing that plants may suffer too can justify the position "there is no reason to rank animals above plants since both suffer, therefore eating animals is as ethical as eating plants", which has nothing to do with having compassion for plants. This answer is a "shock answer" which actually most likely does not reflect the position of the person asking you this.
    – Fatalize
    Feb 24, 2017 at 10:41
  • 8
    @Fatalize you make a good point, but I think my reply still works in terms of total quantity of suffering - if all suffering is equal then it still takes less of it to feed a vegan. In any case, I freely admit that my reply is in part a refusal to take the other person seriously, since in my experience they are just trolling when they say this.
    – Zanna
    Feb 24, 2017 at 12:52
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    @Fatalize Re-read the part where it says "it takes a lot more plants to feed to animals to feed to humans than it takes to feed humans directly with plants."
    – C_Z_
    Mar 23, 2017 at 18:10

In addition to Zanna's answer, I would - depending on the situation - mention the uncertainty about the correctness of that statement. While with animals we can be pretty much sure about this, because of their nervous system, with plants there is no evidence for this. Simple responses to stimuli do not imply the ability to feel pain.

Despite this, in general I think the technique that Zanna mentioned is better from the argumentational point of view because it quickly and deftly turns what was meant as an argument against into an argument for eating only plants.

  • 1
    There are studies that show that some animals might not feel any pain (such as some invertebrates). On the other hand there are also studies that suggest that plants might react under stress. Your one-sided stance "with animals we can be pretty sure" is an unsubstantiated claim presented to convince people of your subjective stance. There is currently no consensus on whether all animals feel pain or all plants don't feel pain.
    – Fatalize
    Feb 24, 2017 at 10:32
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    1)There is currently no consensus whether senescence is inevitable because some creatures seem to be not affected by it. That does not mean that I will live my life believing I will never age nor die, just because, hey, there is no consensus. What I am trying to say is, while we cannot be 100% sure of it yet, we can see the responses of animal to what would be painful stimuli for humans and compare them with ours. They are almost identical and therefore we assume they do feel pain. We then look at their nervous system and see similarities and are reassured of this. continues in next comment Feb 24, 2017 at 10:46
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    2)As for the subset of animals that may not feel pain, I am not arguing against this. In fact, I do believe that invertebrates do not experience what we call pain. But most people are not vegan to avoid hurting invertebrates. And the question was not "Do invertebrates feel pain?". That is why I said with animals (those that people decide not to exploit and become vegan because of them) we can be pretty much sure. Now the plants, as I said in my answer, show response to some stimuli. You mentioned that they might react under stress. continues in the next comment Feb 24, 2017 at 10:50
  • 1
    3) I am not denying this. I am just saying that these responses do not necessarily imply pain. If you know of any evidence to the contrary, please share, I would love to know more. My whole point is, it is better (from minimizing the suffering point of view) to eat plants instead of animals based on what we currently know about the world. I am not ignorant to evidence - maybe plants feel much more pain than animals -, I just do not see any as of now. Sorry for the length of this response. Feb 24, 2017 at 10:54
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    'uncertain' is way to chartiable. 'Bogus' is more like it. May 12, 2017 at 18:05

I've become so fed up with people saying this to me that I usually just remind them the definition of veganism.

A vegan is a person who does not eat or use animal products. Nowhere does it say "a person who does not cause plants to suffer".

Usually at this point in the conversation though, I know it's time to leave, because the person making this statement without any interest in the actual answer. They've come to insult and jab.

  • This answer begs the question. The point of the (rhetorical) question is to lead veganism ad absurdum by 'showing' that it is inconsistent if it only considers animal and not plant 'suffering'. May 12, 2017 at 18:07
  • 1
    You mention a good point in the last part of your answer. Because of that exact reason, I'd rather just nodding, ah and not even that, instead of answering them with the definition. They can easily follow up on the definition with a simple "Why?" and you're in again. I think we need to either go very strong on them or just avoid discussions when we don't see a point.
    – user960
    Aug 31, 2017 at 18:31
  • Checkmate! I wish I've read this a long long time ago
    – istepaniuk
    Jun 27, 2019 at 13:17

Well, you've got to eat something. Could one not simply argue that consuming plants is the lesser (of many) evils?

We know that animals are conscious to some degree, have nervous systems, and experience pain. Surely that it is possible to fulfill our nutrient needs without exploiting animals ought to be enough. Considering that more plants (and water) are used for animal feed, in a sense we're eating less of them too (than if we ate them via animals).

  • "We know that animals are conscious to some degree, have nervous systems, and experience pain. " This is an unsubstantiated claim. Consciousness in animals has not been well-studied for the vast majority of animals (and is not a well-defined concept in the first place currently). There are also studies that suggest that not all animals feel pain (such as some invertebrates).
    – Fatalize
    Feb 24, 2017 at 10:36
  • 3
    Some animals (including ourselves) have been the subjects of extensive psychological and neuroscience studies. Is it not reasonable to suggest that at least those with comparable anatomic features experience at least some degree of suffering? That there is some evidence of this in animals (in contrast to plants, fungi, and microbes) should at least be considered. Plus the OP has assumed that animals at least experience suffering so that is not up for debate, only whether plants (which lack these features) do as well.
    – Tom Kelly
    Feb 24, 2017 at 11:05
  • "That there is some evidence of this in animals" In some animals, as far as we know. "In contrast to plants" there is no consensus on this currently.
    – Fatalize
    Feb 24, 2017 at 11:40
  • 3
    @Fatalize Actually, for almost all relevant animals (i.e. animals that humans eat), there is a strong consensus in the neuroscience community that they suffer as we do (even using the same neurological substrates). Not so with plants, obviously. You position is very fluffy - you need to make some claims.
    – user116
    Jun 7, 2017 at 6:12

My answer is:

If you think plant suffer, you should stop eating plants. (I leave out the part "instead of telling me to")

Sometimes, they come back with "But I don't care about what I eat, I eat everything."

To which, I say "So you don't care about what you eat, but care about what I eat?".

Note: This isn't really meant to convince anyone, but most people who ask this are not out looking for a reason to convince. I have little interest in changing other people's diets. Just want to be left alone with my vegan diet, without someone trying to tell me how illogical it is. And this question comes, not infrequently, from people who seem like they would never consider giving up meat. For those who are sincerely considering a veg. diet, I give considerate answers about the effect the diet has had on me, how I get around the things people most worry about (protein anxiety, for example). But these sincere folks never ask this stupid question.


No, they don't.

The burden of proof always rests with the person who makes a prima facie implausible statement. Otherwise you could 'prove' anything 'until disproved' (such as the existence of a huge spaghetti monster that floats above the clouds and has created the earth).

Someone who claims, unless disproved, that plants suffer (where suffering has a conventional meaning, presupposing at least sentience) commits the logical fallacy of 'argument from ignorance'.

  • 1
    You are correct but be careful invoking this. It's obviously not up for debate that "animals suffer" (in this forum) but the OP had technically claimed that they do. The burden of proof could be on them depending on whether those involve accept that some (non human) living organisms suffer (such as other animals) or if they're disputing the premise of animal suffering at all.
    – Tom Kelly
    Jun 7, 2017 at 6:37

This is how I would like to argue:

You need to show the sympathy to the things which you see first, If you are cutting a hen or a cow, it screams and shouts, you need to feel the pain what it is undergoing. When I cut a plant I don't hear or see anything.

Also first and foremost I am not vegetarian because I don't like to hurt animals. I am a vegetarian because I believe that I am also an animal just like cow or a buffalo, Me being an animal why should I kill another animal to survive, when I have plants.

But technically, when you eat any veggies or fruits, you are actually not killing anything there. You are eating an apple or an orange and leaving the tree to grow some more. This is not the case with non-vegetarian food.

  • 3
    Lots of foods (wheat, for a starter) require killing the plant. Also, when people buy meat, they don't hear and see anything about the animal pain either.
    – Turion
    Feb 4, 2017 at 8:56
  • 1
    When you are cutting a crab, it does not scream or shout. Therefore according to you eating crabs is ethical but eating cows isn't. Regarding your last point, according to you, harvesting crab claws for eating is ethical because they might survive and regrow them, which I doubt is a view held by most vegetarians/vegans.
    – Fatalize
    Feb 24, 2017 at 10:35
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    As I've said, it it sometimes possible to harvest food from animals without killing them (such as crab claws, or milk).
    – Fatalize
    Feb 27, 2017 at 15:35
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    Bacteria are not animals. They are a distinct group of living organisms, just as plants and fungi are
    – Tom Kelly
    Jun 7, 2017 at 6:26
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    As a scientist I disagree that it matters. That humans are also animals is a scientific fact. You can't choose science just when it is convenient for you. Regardless, basing an ethical argument on empathy is ludicrous. That's a slippery slope that could be used to justify anything from pescetarianism to cannibalism. Not all people were always viewed as equals.
    – Tom Kelly
    Jun 7, 2017 at 6:31

A slightly different perspective: It is true that plants also suffer/react. Refer J C Bose's experiments. But animals suffer more obviously.

To minimise even the harm caused to plants, there's a diet followed by some Indians : no food grains, no animal products. Only fruits and similar food. Why ? Because fruits often drop from the tree and the tree is not harmed, while to eat grains, one has to uproot the plant.

However, the basic argument will be that everyone has to choose their level of non-violence. It can't be imposed. And it is certainly easier to make a transition from non vegetarian​ to vegetarian but much more difficult for vegetarian to fruit diet.

  • 1
    Rebuttal: vegetarianism.stackexchange.com/a/853/207
    – Alex Hall
    May 8, 2017 at 21:51
  • Ok, but you agree plants are living beings and that given a choice, no plant would like to end up in a state where it is non existent. It might not "feel" pain, which is the case with rare human beings also, congenital analgesia. We don't think they are less human. So also for plants I'd say.
    – DS R
    May 9, 2017 at 3:59
  • I don't believe that merely being a living being is important, e.g. I don't care what happens to bacteria. I don't believe that plants like or dislike anything.
    – Alex Hall
    May 9, 2017 at 7:29
  • I understand your view. But there are people who explicitly try to avoid disturbances even in the realm of microorganisms. E.g. many Jain saints cover their mouth with a cloth; they filter water : both ostensibly to save microorganisms from death. You may not want to go so deep. But one is free to choose a stricter yardstick.
    – DS R
    May 9, 2017 at 7:33

It is said that "Eat to live rather than live to eat". Moreover one has to eat something to live. So why not choose the one that suffers least, if plants suffer at all!


Plants suffer too. The answer to this question depends on where you are coming from, so let me answer this from my religious point of view.

In order to minimise harming plants, you do not consume root vegetables. You do not completely cut down a plant, you allow it to grow. You take all necessary steps not to kill the plant. This is in sharp contrast to being non-vegetarian.

  • So is it okay to eat vegetables like tomatoes? Where you don't injure the plant by plucking them?
    – Riker
    May 29, 2017 at 14:24
  • Yes it is fine to eat plucked vegetables.
    – user736
    May 29, 2017 at 14:31
  • @Ramana actually that contains babies of tomatoes which we are eating..
    – Amruth A
    Sep 14, 2017 at 4:51

There are constructive and nonconstructive criticism or vegetarianism. I'm not sure whether one should dive into any kind of discussion with someone who is using argumentation of this level and quality however ok, one can answer following:

  1. Not all vegetarians are not consuming food because they think animal suffers. While it would be true in many cases, still, it's not about any moral reflection but rather than about the mere fact some someone eats only plant-based food.
  2. We have no scientific evidence of plants suffering and feeling pain in the way animals do.
  3. Even if vegetarianism or veganism was choosen on an ethical basis and even plants do suffer - as a live being we all just have to eat something. It's a reasonable trade off between staying alive and trying being ethical - even if plants are alive, animals are way more close to us than any plant could be.

Great question that any vegan has heard :-D Try one of the following:

  1. Well, yeah. That's why there are people who practice Sattvic or Jain diet. You wanna join?

    Some sattvic people even prefer only fruits fallen from the tree - since they are "given" - the highest form of accepting something (not taking forcefully).

  2. So is that a justification for you supporting animal suffering?

    We all know that these people argue because they feel threatened; they are not concerned about plants; they need to justify to themselves why they can stick to their diet without feeling bad. They may not know they are doing it. Make them conscious of it.

  3. Many more plants will be suffering due to your meat-based diet.

    ... since the amount of plants that the animal needs to eat will be much more than would be equivalent to the meat they produce.

  4. Organisms do not suffer the same way. The more intelligent the being is, the more it can be in resistance, and thus it can suffer more. The most suffering are thus humans, apes, then other mammals (cows, pigs), then birds, fish, and the most surrendered (and thus least suffering) are plants.

The last point goes to the core. Science won't confirm that plants suffer yet; so based on your belief, you can either argue that they are not suffering (but, being a honest scientist, you cannot be sure, right?), or, being more of an intuitive/spiritual person, you have to find answer elsewhere. This is very insightful and in-depth answer for this very question from Teal Swan (also listen at 15:16).

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