Regardless of whether the inquiry is tongue-in-cheek or serious, many vegans find themselves, at one time or another, being asked to discuss the question of whether plants feel pain.
Most people find genuine pleasure in the experience of harvesting fruit and vegetables, and would even be happy to invite their children to join in. Few would find it enjoyable to watch or participate in the killing of an animal. If you don’t share this perspective, try watching any one of the myriad of videos exposing the reality of animal slaughter.
Is it possible that plants feel pain?
From a purely scientific perspective, animals (including humans) process information with neural networks. Plants, on the other hand, process information hormonally, which is orders of magnitude slower than neural network processing. Given the extraordinarily slow information processing that occurs in plants (hundreds of billions of times slower than in animals), it is unreasonable to believe that plants are capable of actually experiencing pain, which is an evolutionary adaptation intended to provide animals with cues to escape danger, something plants are incapable of doing.
That said, we should be concerned with the essential role plants play with regard to the ecosystem and the environment. Vegan choices actually do more to protect plant life than eating an animal-based diet, which wastes vast quantities of plant food and other natural resources such as fresh water.
Animals are net consumers, not producers. This means that every animal raised for his/her flesh, eggs, milk, hair, skin or anything else, consumes more food and resources than he or she produces. For example, it can take up to 16 pounds of grain (or other plant material) along with 2500 gallons of water to produce just one pound of beef.
As you can see, while vegans may directly eat more plants than the average non-vegan, the harm to plant life caused by eating vegan is far, far less than that caused by the consumption and use of animal products.
It’s impossible to live on this earth without doing some damage, but becoming vegan is the first step towards significantly lightening one’s footprint.