Not a week goes by that I don’t hear another carnist bring up some version of “plant rights” in an attempt to justify consuming animals – and that’s the key point here, in an attempt to justify consuming animals.
People generally have no problem letting house plants die, stepping on grass and flowers, using chemicals on their lawns, letting fruits and vegetables rot in the fridge, cutting down a tree to make a wider driveway, growing a vegetable garden and apple picking – but mention that you’re vegan or advocate for animal rights and all of a sudden these acts are made equivalent to slitting an animal’s throat.
To be clear, I do believe that we drastically underestimate the complexity and interconnectedness of all life on earth. The world would be a much better place if we afforded plants even a fraction of the sensitivity and concern that we’re capable of affording human beings. But this is a far cry from equating them with animals so that one can feel better about eating pig flesh instead of lentils.
Simply put, while plants respond to stimuli, they lack subjective awareness, a nervous system, and pain receptors. It is imperative that we love and respect all life, but that doesn’t mean that there are not fundamentally different life forms that warrant different treatment. There is a reason why we don’t avoid stepping on grass but do avoid stepping on a dog’s tail. There is a reason why we take children to pick apples and not to slaughterhouses.
It is also worth noting that besides the sentience/subjectivity/pain part of the distinction, anyone who is genuinely concerned with protecting all life forms from death, as though they are equal, ought to be moved by the fact that it takes up to 15 pounds of plants to produce just 1 pound of meat. Consuming animal flesh and animal secretions requires far greater amounts of plants to be killed than if we eat the plants directly. In short, someone eating an omnivorous diet is responsible for far more death of every kind of life form than someone who consumes plants directly.
If anyone in your life is still not convinced that there is a fundamental difference between plants and animals, that the fact that plants are complex life forms does not justify killing animals, then propose the following to them: “I’ll make you a deal – you watch a series of ‘humane’ slaughter videos and I’ll watch a strawberry harvest.” Checkmate.