When I’ve told some of my friends about my slightly unusual hobby of cooking insects, they replied with a, “Oh man…that’s why I’m a vegan…” This, dear vegan friends, brings up an interesting inquiry: If the ultimate goal of a vegan is to reduce the harm done to animals, then an exclusively plant-based diet is not the answer.
Here’s the dilemma: Vegans don’t eat animals, insects are animals, so vegans don’t eat insects. The end. But this overly simple syllogism does not entertain the very real possibility that vegans, by the nature of their quest to reduce animal suffering, may not only be permitted to eat insects—they may be obligated to do so. Let’s break down this argument bullet-point style:
- Untold numbers of sentient animals are killed each year to grow and harvest edible crops.
- Farmers routinely unleash arsenals of agricultural ammunition upon “pests” like squirrels, rabbits, mice, moles, deer, wolves, coyote, etc.
- Harvesters unavoidably shred millions of feeling animals who live among the crops. This suffering is just as palpable as the suffering of those animals slaughtered to feed us chicken, pork, beef…
This is the agricultural reality that we all too often ignore. Vegans might respond that incidental animal deaths caused from growing crops is ethically superior to directly killing animals to make burgers. Or that vegan-friendly farming techniques are being developed.
- With insects as an option, however, the choice is no longer between the incidental or non-incidental deaths of obviously sentient creatures.
- The new choice is between the death of animals who clearly do suffer and animals who likely suffer minimally or not at all (insects).
- There is no hard evidence to support the idea that insects suffer. The majority of entomologists insist that the idea of insect suffering is completely implausible.
- Hans Smid, expert on the brains of parasitic wasps (some of the most behaviorally sophisticated insects on Earth) told the Washington Post, “that insects do not feel pain.”
- Robert Elwood, professor of the biological sciences, notes that pain would provide insects no evolutionary advantages. The only reason for pain is that it enables long-term protection, but the average lifespan of a field cricket is a few weeks—its “protection” comes from its remarkable reproductive efficiency, not its ability to learn from mistakes through pain.
- If vegans are still unsure whether insects suffer, then they run a small risk. If they stick to a plant-based diet they ensure animals definitely will suffer.
As James McWilliams, brilliant vegan author, writes, “As a longtime vegan and vegan advocate, I’m well aware how this argument threatens the vegan identity. Of course, it’s much easier to declare, “I don’t eat animals or animal products” than it is to blur the lines that serve as clear ethical commandments. But as the prospect of eating insects gains traction, vegans may be forced to acknowledge the inconvenient fact that including these critters in our diet—yes, eating animals—is an essential way to achieve the ultimate vegan goal of reducing the suffering of animals who we know can suffer…
The more vegans replaced plant-based calories with insect-based calories, the fewer animals they’d end up harming. This is the vegan’s dilemma.”