Are oysters vegan? The debate explained

Whether oysters are sensitive animals that feel pain is often a matter of debate. At first glance, the answer to whether or not they are vegan seems like a simple “no”. However, a number of people in the plant community think they are okay to eat.

One of them is Peter Singer, the author of the 1975 book animal liberation. The book, which is often credited with being the key to launching the animal rights movement, will be reprinted next month. Singer was recently quoted in an interview as saying, “I think oysters are unlikely to feel pain. And even if you think they do, then because of the way they’re grown and harvested, you might not be responsible for more pain than if you eat plants. Because after all, plants also have to be cultivated and often rodents are killed during plowing or harvesting.

He added that we cannot be “100% sure”, but expressed his belief that eating oysters is “as pure as most foods we can get”.

The singer is not alone. His view is shared by many other people who consider themselves vegan. Another is chef Alexis Gauthier, who has run kitchens at Michelin-starred restaurants and became vegan for ethical reasons in 2016. “For me, a vegan diet is fundamentally about compassion,” he previously declared, before adding that oysters are non-susceptible. beings and therefore acceptable to eat.

The question of the sensitivity of oysters is often asked of vegans. Here’s everything you need to know to react.

What are oysters?

Adobe Stock Oyster farming is an important activity in many countries of the world

“Oyster” is the name given to a number of invertebrate bivalve molluscs. They naturally live in the ocean, but are often raised on farms. Oyster farms are usually located in natural or artificial water bodies. Oyster farming is considered by many to be sustainable, largely because the animals filter water while feeding. They are also able to extract carbon from the atmosphere and store it in their shells.

Oysters are consumed all over the world. They are extremely popular “seafood” and can be eaten raw and cooked. In 2022, the oyster market reached 7.11 million tons worldwide. They are often considered aphrodisiacs and are usually served still in their shells.

China is the largest producer of oysters in the world, and they are also popular in the United States, France, Canada, Japan, Aotearoa (New Zealand) and the United Kingdom.

Are oysters vegan?

In short, the answer is no. Oysters are animals, and therefore their consumption is not considered compatible with a vegan lifestyle. Yet many vegans are asked if they eat it. At first glance, this question may seem strange; oysters have long been a part of the animal kingdom, why would anyone think they are a reasonable part of a plant-based diet?

Part of that comes down to their experiences with pain and sensitivity.

Do oysters feel pain?

A seafood farmer harvesting oysters in a big bag
Adobe Stock Many people believe that oysters are incapable of feeling pain.

Some people claim that oysters are vegan due to the belief that they are not sentient creatures capable of feeling pain.

Pain is a subjective and unmeasurable experience in an animal. However, most people will classify an animal as capable of pain if it has a central nervous system and a brain. Oysters have neither, leading many to assume that they are not capable of such emotions. Although they are less likely to feel pain compared to animals like dogs, cats, fish and insects, there is no scientific evidence to prove this.

Oysters have a basic nervous system and a small heart and internal organs. Some scientists believe that even though they don’t feel pain the way we do, they can still react to negative stimuli. It may indicate that they are capable of something at least resembling pain. Other scientists argue, however, that such responses are reflex rather than pain-driven.

Should vegans eat oysters?

A person who eats oysters is a restaurant
Adobe Stock Are oysters really an ethical choice?

We don’t know if oysters feel pain, but that doesn’t mean vegans should eat them. Over the years, humans have mistakenly believed that many animals are not sentient, only to later discover, through scientific developments, that they are.

It is not because a being has a physiological constitution different from ours that it is necessarily incapable of feeling feelings similar or equivalent to those felt by humanity.

Oysters are not an essential part of our diet. But luckily for “seafood” fans, there are plant-based alternatives.

Vegan alternatives to oysters

The vegan “seafood” market is growing and it is likely that we will see a number of plant-based “oysters” appearing in restaurants and supermarkets in the coming years.

A company, named Pearlita Foods, created a prototype cell-based oyster last year, which came in a biodegradable shell.

Vegan oyster sauce

One ingredient that many vegans may miss is oyster sauce, which is extremely popular in a number of Asian cuisines. The savory condiment is created by simmering oysters in water, and it is often used in stir-fries.

Luckily, there are plenty of vegan alternatives you can use. Cupboard-friendly options are soy sauce, hoisin sauce, mushroom sauce, teriyaki sauce, and tamari sauce. Some retailers also offer oyster-flavored vegan sauces, which contain only plant-based ingredients.

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