The Ethical Case for Eating Oysters and Mussels- Part 2

Pearl OysterIn the last blog, I made the case that there really wasn’t a good ethical reason not to eat mussels and oysters. As an astute commenter noted, I wasn’t really making a case FOR eating mussels and oysters so much as saying that the argument against lacked sufficient evidence from the perspective of reducing suffering. In this blog, I’m going to remedy that by outlining some positive effects that might result from the acceptance of oysters and mussels as ethical to eat if not defined as “vegan”. Specifically, I think that eating oysters and mussels 1) undermines the case that vegans are motivated by disgust and purity 2) offers some nutritional benefits that might make people more likely to eat (or continue eating) in a way that causes the least suffering.

Defining mussels and oysters as vegan undermines the case that vegans are purely motivated by disgust

Food choices are very strongly influenced by disgust. One school of thought considers disgust to have evolved initially to influence our food choices and has, throughout our evolutionary history, been extended to influence moral choices. Disgust works to influence attitudes the opposite way as well. Moral attitudes against meat serve to increase disgust (see 1, 2) . On the one hand, disgust serves to make it easier to avoid nonvegan foods but on the other hand rational people often don’t consider disgust to be a good foundation for a moral position. I think it’s for this reason that people often tell me veganism is a ‘religion’. In some cases it seems that vegan attitudes are more influenced by purity, much the same as in Kosher law, than by considerations of how best to prevent harm to animals (e.g.). Some of the criticism of my last post, and of eating oysters and mussels in general revolve around disgust and identity. I think when we have a better justification for what we eat than “that’s gross” or  “that’s not vegan” it will improve our case. There something to be said for deontic moral rules that are crystal clear and easy to follow such as not eating anything that comes from the animal kingdom whatsoever; However, I believe some of the other benefits I’ll outline more than make up for this.

Why do people stop being vegan or vegetarian and why do they resume eating vertebrates?

If everyone who was compelled to become vegan by ethical arguments did so and was vegan happily and healthily for all their days, I would say about eating oysters and mussels  “It’s not vegan so why the question?” and would probably never have bothered to write this blog or the previous blog. But, that isn’t the case.

A 2005 survey by CBS news found that, in the USA, there are three times more ex-vegetarians than current vegetarians (Herzog 2010 p. 200). Why do most vegetarians go back to eating meat? According to data collected by Hal Herzog the major reasons are, in order of frequency, declining health, hassles and social stigma, irresistible urges and shifts in moral thinking. Interestingly only 2/77 reported shifts in moral thinking made them go back to eating meat. This jives with what I’ve read about former vegans. From the small sample of ex-vegans interviews I’ve read, most seem to experience cravings or health problems and then rationalize their choices with changes in moral ideology. Unfortunately there isn’t hard data on this but most of the former vegans I know personally or have read about don’t just start eating dairy (the least deaths per calorie of animal foods) but go back to eating fish, chicken and other vertebrates whose ability to suffer is not in question.

There are a variety of possible reasons ex-vegans eat vertebrates. Perhaps once people stop being vegan they are shunned by their social circle and feel no need to adhere in any way to the ethical standards that had brought them together. Similarly, when you can no longer define yourself as vegan and other labels (even vegetarian) are so wishy washy, it’s easy to conform to what most other people eat. It certainly seems a lot harder to justify to strangers/family that you don’t eat chicken and do eat beef than simply to say ‘I’m vegetarian’. Finally, it’s hard to manage the dissonance of going back to eating some/a little meat without also justifying eating meat generally.

What if there was another option? What if eating mussels and oysters was considered ethical? I believe that two of the major reasons that people choose not to be vegan anymore, health problems and cravings could be ameliorated by adding oysters and mussels which would ultimately prevent people from doing a 180 degree turn on their previously held moral beliefs about the importance of animal suffering.

Nutritional benefits of eating oysters and mussels

Mussels and oysters (<–linked to complete nutrition information) contain nutrients that are not easily found or not found at all in plants and fungi (i.e. a vegan diet). Mussels and oysters are good sources of all the nutrients below.

B12 –The bugaboo of vegan diets, B12, a micronutrient only found reliably in animal based foods, supplements and fortified foods . If cultivated oysters and mussels were considered vegan, or at least permissible on an ethically based diet, we could reasonably say that this diet required no supplementation (for a rant on B12 supplementation see the footnote).

Heme Iron-One fairly common problem in vegans and vegetarians is anemia, or iron deficiency. There is a lot of nonheme iron to be found in plant foods, especially beans and leafy greens however heme iron, which is only found in animal foods (and plentiful in oysters and mussels), is, on average, more easily absorbed.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids –There is very mixed evidence on how bioavailable these nutrients are from vegetarian sources, oysters and mussels are a great source.

Zinc – (link about possible Zinc problems here)

I’m not fooling myself into saying that most people, especially disgust sensitive vegans, would find oysters and mussels to be very attractive foods. But if nutrient deficiency is a problem for some people on a vegan diet, (especially picky eaters who don’t like beans and greens) then eating these foods rich in nutrients not as easily available on a vegan diet could be useful. Moreover the “meat hunger” or cravings that some report is an itch that could easily be scratched with oysters and mussels. 

Some final thoughts

  • Many people rightly are skeptical of the claims of former vegans about their diets and the nearly miraculous effects that their first piece of meat had. Denise Minger said she felt she was “buzzing” when she first ate sushi after being vegan. Personally I think many of these stories of amazing health effects of resuming meat eating are just hyperbole used to manage the negative feelings that result from radically changing your worldview. Even if this is the case, wouldn’t it be better for people to test out the idea that eating meat will improve their health (or give them mind altering sensations) on animal products that are very unlikely to cause harm?*
  • I’ve heard that oysters and mussels are Paleo (the pic of a paleo entree on wikipedia even features mussels). I agree with the basic ideas that refined carbs and sugars are bad but I’m not really a devotee of Paleo (probably a followup on this after I finish Paleofantasy). However a huge number of my fellow evolutionary psychology colleagues are. I don’t think it would be that hard to design a Paleo diet that was also ostrovegan.
  • One way to lessen the impact that having a cat has on the suffering of the animals they eat would be to feed them a diet of oysters and mussels. I don’t see a cat food based on this anytime soon but for excellent podcasts on vegan cats see this and this.
  • Ostrovegan and bivalvegan aren’t very catchy names for vegans who eat oysters and mussels. Bivalvegan has a paltry 6 search results (but one more now I suppose) and doesn’t distinguish between eating oysters, mussels, clams, scallops etc. Ostrovegan sounds like you’re a vegan who comes from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Given that if you google “ostrovegan”  not very much comes up (and much of it is my twitter account) I suppose now is as good a time as any to rename this phenomenon of eating strictly vegan with the exception of oysters and mussels. Suggestions welcome, just don’t suggest “not vegan”.
  • Where do I eat bivalves? I’ve only eaten one raw oyster in my life (and a few fried oyster poboys before I was vegan) but I do eat mussels about 3-4 times a month. I go to Belgo Centraal and order a mussel entree with no dairy. Belgo’s mussels are rope grown. Most of the chain grocery stores here in Britain where I live also have cultivated mussels and when I was last in the USA my Dad bought enough cultivated mussels for 6 people for about $20 at Costco. 



One of the most frustrating criticisms against a vegan diet I get all the time is that it cannot be healthy or natural because vegans must supplement with B12. This is frustrating for many  reasons 1) it’s not a response to the ethical implications of eating nonhuman animals 2) B12 deficiency also occurs in those who eat meat 3) there are other diets (whose proponents often throw barbs at veganism) that supplement for reasons that seem uncomfortable to say the least.

*For what it’s worth I was very strictly vegan for a couple of years before eating mussels and I didn’t feel anything overwhelming/orgasmic.


68 thoughts on “The Ethical Case for Eating Oysters and Mussels- Part 2

    • hi Rhys,
      I have read that post but it’s been a long time since I took a look at it. I’ve considered jellyfish but they do not meet the sessile requirement that I laid out in the first blog post (but then again, some people have criticized that as being the weakest point of my case). Also, jellyfish, from what I’ve heard, aren’t very nutritious or tasty but given that they are a major ecological threat perhaps I should do some research and reconsider. Certainly in places where jellyfish are 95% of the biomass it wouldn’t be hard to catch them without much bycatch.
      I’d like to discount the likelihood of insect pain for many of the reasons you mention. It’s just horrible to think about all the suffering one might be causing simply eating products that require pesticide use. I’m sure you’re familiar with Brian Tomasik’s great essays on the subject (e.g. I still think vertebrate suffering is more important than invertebrate suffering on average and that being vegan causes less suffering on average (although in the last blog I mentioned that harvesting mussels and oysters doesn’t kill insects which might make it cause less suffering than plant harvest).

  1. My story is the (e.g.) link about me challenging a restaurant for cooking vegan food with non-vegan food. I would like to state my purist attitude about vegan food preparation is intrinsically and inseparably connected to the prevention of harm to animals. That story does not explicitly state my full attitude and reasons for demanding transparent vegan food service as I wrote from a place of assumption that the majority of my readers understand my attitude surrounding animal-harm reduction. I feel the post is linked out of context and with the intention to frame my interests in veganism as separated from animal welfare. I wanted to counter this by saying every choice I make in my life relating to veganism is underpinned by my desire to reduce animal harm.

  2. hi Sean,
    thanks for clarifying your point. After reading your blog(s) about the fryer and many of the comments I must say I still don’t understand how investigating and exposing this cross contamination helps animals directly or indirectly. You made a case that you “draw the line” in a different place than many people who, say, wouldn’t want their food cooked with animal fat. But in the one instance demand for animal fat (and thus animal suffering) is being increased and in the shared fryer instance there is no increase in demand for animal products. Moreover, the Gallery must use twice as much oil to operate two fryers. I don’t think your adherence to vegan ethics is religious but stuff like the fryer incident definitely reminds me of Kosher law given both do not have beneficial utilitarian outcome.
    I do think that your posts about all the pleasures of vegan food and drink all over the world and the vegan community around your events and media help support people who are vegan and veganism look attractive thereby really helping animals.

    • Ha – I realise I’m a bit late to the game here, but having had growing qualms about eating meat over the last few years, I rationalised along very similar grounds and recently took the plunge and became more or less vegetarian (so yes, I’ll eat mussels and oysters, which after some thought I decided are a good source of protein and seem ethically and environmentally neutral – or even environmentally positive) and partially vegan, insofar as I use almond milk for breakfast cereal and avoid eggs/milk to some degree. As a coeliac, who therefore has to avoid certain grains, I’ve not ‘taken the pledge’ to become fully vegan, largely because I feel I’d be limiting my options too dramatically to fit in with an averagely modern life in which I can’t devote massive chunks of time to sourcing nutrition. Interesting, therefore, to see that I’m not alone when it comes to bivalves. Looks like I’d better avoid those brainy clams and scallops from now on, though…

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  4. This is a great follow-up to your original post. However, I think you should have addressed the issue of contamination. I could be wrong, but I think oysters and mussels often have toxins due to run off from farms and industry, like lead and mercury, among other things. Otherwise, this is good research.

    These posts remind me of when I ate a ton of raw oysters when I was in the Caribbean just before I became a vegetarian about 15 years ago. They were quite tasty and filling; I think I had already stopped eating red meat by then, but was still eating chicken, fish, eggs and dairy. The oysters seemed more “ethical” at the time. Within a year and a half I was a vegetarian, and a few years after this, a vegan.

    • Hey, thanks. You’re right, I should address this issue at some point. In a few forays of reading around on the web I haven’t seen much convincing evidence that they’re dangerous.

    • I was concerned about contamination also. I asked someone about it who said it was not an issue with bivalves because they are so low on the food chain. They don’t have the biomagnification of the larger fish and so were quite a lot less toxic. I’d really like to hear/see actual evidence for that though.

  5. “Suggestions welcome, just don’t suggest “not vegan”.”
    Ok, but eating bivalves is not vegan by definition so this really does not make any sense. I understand your reasoning for eating bivalves, I don’t understand the need to keep identifying as vegan. My suggestion is call your diet “plant based”, because that is what it is.

    • I call myself a bivalvegan or an ostrovegan but obviously it’s difficult to self-label as something that’s not in common parlance. People don’t even know what pescetarian is and that’s far more common. I think plant based is a weak term that doesn’t really specify what you do and don’t eat for ethical reasons and is commonly used by health vegans. I’m very sensitive to the harm that I might cause by confusing people about what vegan means but in my experience talking about eating mussels with nonvegans has clarified rather than obfuscated the case for avoiding inflicting suffering

    • Maybe the need to identify as vegan still cause everything else apart from the oysters is vegan? Plant-based is just plants for health, no ethics implied. Vegan is an ethical lifestyle for reducing the suffering of animals. It is looking like more animals and ecosystems suffer in the production of wheat and other crops than oysters. When oysters will actually clean their environment rather than monocrop it and have it covered in chemical fertilisers and pesticides and can be picked off (how? This is important information to know the risk to other creatures in this process) rather than harvested with massive combine harvesters that definitely kill many vertebrate animals. Even working on a banana farm I saw lots of bats, rodents and snakes that were harmed in the harvesting, due to the cruelty of the workers.

      I understand that it doesn’t quite fit with the current definition of veganism but when oysters as a product cause less harm to animals than a vegan product, I think it is time to consider the spirit of veganism over the definition. The spirit is to reduce animal suffering and oysters fit that bill while providing valuable nutrition not readily available to vegans in our bacteriaphobic culture. I think it could keep more people on the track of prioritising animal suffering in their diet choices as opposed to going off vegan completely.

  6. I don’t have an enormous amount to say on this yet as I’m still in the process of researching, it’s something of which I was entirely unaware until recently (thanks to you) so can’t offer any informed opinion yet (I don’t think “ewww” counts but I guess I’m registering somewhere for the disgust argument!).

    However, a minor niggly point I will make is regarding the Herzog study. IIRC it relied on self identification which is massively flawed. Given that there are, according to Humane Research Council data, more than twice the amount of self reported veg*ns than actually exist I think the issue becomes hugely clouded by definition and intent. Not to mention people who went veg*n for a day or two but still count it.

    It doesn’t have any significant impact on the point you’re making I don’t think, other than potentially reducing the necessity of a “fallback food” for ex veg*ns, but then their value is made up by their representation of a food source for current omnivores I guess that’s maybe not so relevant.

    Anyway, I just wanted to point out that the margin of error is a bit shonky in that study, and generally register my annoyance with it.

    Great post, thank you 🙂

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  8. I really enjoyed your two posts on the subject! I’m not vegan, but I’ve been following a vegetarian-plus-bivalves diet similar to this for years, and I never knew what to call it. It’s definitely the easiest way for the average person to eat well without rigorous diet control and careful attention paid to whether they’re getting enough of various trace vitamins and minerals, and to me my decision to eat mussels always felt more ethical than my decision to eat milk (which I’m now phasing out).

      • I find your arguments about bi-valves to be quite compelling. Definitely thinking it may be a good route towards a cheap ethical cat food at the very least?

        Can you explain more about where you derive this from?
        “Dairy does have the lowest suffering footprint of any vertebrate animal products”

        Really? With the longer lifespans, yearly, dead bobby calves, baby theft and mastitis etc?

        Genuinely curious!

      • Be careful!

        In the article you correctly summarize the linked post by saying that dairy has “the least deaths per calorie of animal foods”.

        That post does not, at all, say that dairy has the “lowest suffering footprint”. Quite the opposite, in fact:

        “Figure 1 also shows that the number of animals killed for dairy products may be relatively small compared to other animal-derived foods, but animals forced to give milk for dairy products suffer a great deal, and this suffering is not something that can be quantified in a chart. Dairy cows are repeatedly artificially inseminated to keep them producing milk, and their calves are taken away from them within 48 hours of birth. This is traumatic for both the mother and the calf. Many dairy cows also suffer tail docking mutilations, and mastitis infections of their udders. Undercover investigations have shown sick dairy cows living in miserable conditions.”

        Thanks for the interesting article.

      • I agree with the other two commenters that dairy does not have the lowest suffering footprint. I would suggest that it has the highest suffering footprint all told. The physical suffering imposed by forced impregnation, childbirth, illnesses (mastitis, conjunctivitis leading to blindness, brittle bones leading to fractures), as well as the psychological suffering imposed by separating mother and baby, and the inevitable early death of all of these animals.
        Definitely, an ethical shellfish eater is preferable to an unthinking vegetarian. Please also address that vegetarianism includes chicken eggs – another animal product with a considerable suffering quotient in terms of repeated laying which modern chickens have been bred for, debeaking, culling of male chicks, forced molting by starvation and barren, cramped cages.

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  10. What is your source for the idea that B12 would come from normal agriculture products if not for a “sanitized agricultural system.” Does this refer to herbicide? Antibacterials? B12 is found only in bacteria, located usually in animal tissue and fermented plants.

    • You would find B12 on plant foods as it is a bacteria that lives in dirt. Animals ingest it while grazing, and also take in some by eating grasses or other feed with traces of manure (as manure and feces also contains B12). So if we didn’t have such a ‘sanitized’ agricultural system, there would be a lot more bacteria on the surface of our vegetables. As it stands, they are washed at numerous stages in the process before they make it to our plate, so the dirt (and as a result the B12) is gone.

  11. Who needs labels? Just call yourself healthy and conscientious. I really would like to see your feedback about this post,, which includes a point about oysters (number 13). Do you think oysters and mussels would satisfy the nutritional requirements and make it more or less unnecessary to not eat supplements? And at what quantity and frequency do you think we would have to eat them?

    • I haven’t thought much about how often one would have to eat mussels/oysters. Given that many people have no problem for years on a vegan diet I think it would largely depend on how much you were getting nutrients that are rare in a vegan diet. If you’re a careful vegan and often eat leafy greens, nuts and fats then eating bivalves may not be necessary. I eat a varied relatively high protein, high fat vegan diet. I’m not a fan of Minger generally but it’s refreshing to hear someone from the Paleo/low Carb world make suggestions that some vegans would find ethically satisfactory.

  12. Granted you didn’t feel anything orgasmic eating mussels or oysters, but do you feel/ think there’s any particular health benefit to eating them just once a month?

    • Sometimes I eat them more often and when I travel, especially to Spain, there are occasions when I would only be eating chips and bread if I didn’t eat mussels. Many of the nutrients I detail are not necessary in large quantities so yes, I believe it makes a difference.

  13. If pain is our basis in choosing whether we are going to eat this and that, I do wonder if people will switch back to their old diet because a cow died a painless death? I am not being sarcastic. I just wonder.

    I would like to know, out of curiousity, what was your basis of becoming a vegan before you ate oysters and mussels. Was it health reasons? Ethical reasons? Religious? Or out of compassion? Whenever a friend asks me how to switch into a plant-based diet, I tell her that she should be clear about her reasons first and foremost. These are the things that you hold on to. It is always the “why”.

  14. This makes me so very happy… I came to this in a bizarre manner almost 15 years ago. I was (and am) a vegetarian. But I became acquainted with a marine biologist and I explained my motivations for vegetarianism (avoid the cause of pain or suffering – I’m a Jain by heritage) and she quickly put back that many “animals” were not capable of pain detection, sentience, or motion. And I read on bivalves (clams, mussels, scallops, and oysters) and realized the case was strong. And for… YEARS… my friends have mocked me for my goofy ideas.

    I feel pretty vindicated. Thanks for presenting an amazing case.

    • There is a lot of pain and suffering in dairy and eggs, which are eaten by vegetarians. If your motivation is to avoid pain and suffering, please reconsider these animal products.

  15. Thanks for an science based well written articles. I will now go from vegan to occasionally eating oysters and Clams. Since I am sloppy with B12 and Omega fatty acids and my social life will be easier.

    I am also partly utilitarian so messing up the boundaries of being vegan feels more fun, and I think will be more effective in convincing other people.

    • One argument for eating clam from clam growing industries.

      The baltic sea suffers of a dead oxygen lacking seabed. This is from overgrowth due to Nitrogyn (N) rests from agriculture fields in Sweden.

      Clams eat vegetable plankton and alleviates these effects. So, helping this industry cleans the baltic sea. There is currently a lack of herbivores in the baltic sea compared to plantproduction.

      I could not find an english link for this only in swedish.

  16. I have been a vegan for about 5-6 months, and I have to say, your arguments in both blog posts are compelling and have convinced me, especially since I have tried going vegan once before and only lasted for 3 months (I’m up to 6 months now).

    I have to admit that though I try to avoid purist vegan attitudes, they do seep in on occasion, and the moment I considered eating bivalves, my brain screamed, “BUT YOU WON’T BE A VEGAN ANYMORE!!!” 🙂 I thought about this further, and then I realized, “I wouldn’t be a vegan to other vegans,” and then I came to the conclusion that I don’t care what people think. Since going vegan, I’ve had to deal with teasing, unsolicited debates and sometimes even cruel mockery at the hands of my carnivorous friends – so caring about what people think of me has become less of an issue for me over time.

    I will admit that I ate a can of smoked oysters yesterday and I DID feel that buzz/high for something like 3 hours afterwards. I don’t discount the “high” people report when eating meat – I experienced that when I stopped being vegan last time (that time it was beef that did it – I felt like I could pick up a truck), so my theory about this is that there’s something missing from my diet if eating a can of oysters gives me a mood lift and a pleasant buzz. I still consider myself to be a vegan, and though I feel a remnant of guilt, I have passed it off as my “religious” conditioning by the movement. I’m a vegan for environmental, humanitarian, ethical and health reasons, and since the evidence you and others have presented is convincing in regards to these 4 tenets, I see no reason to abstain from oysters and mussels. I won’t eat them very often (I’m thinking once a week should be more than adequate), but when I do, I can do it with a clear conscience.

    For the sake of staying part of the few online vegan communities I’m a part of, I’m going to start secretly eating bivalves and not bother to try explaining it to people who are so set in their purist ways since they wouldn’t understand anyway and it would only cause hard feelings and unwanted debates. Sometimes being vegan DOES feel like a religion – the false information being propagated (ie: Humans evolved to eat a vegan diet) is dismissible when you look at the archaeological evidence. I hold no illusions that this is what humans evolved to eat – but I choose to eat this way because I will not and cannot support the paradigm of cruelty that’s endemic in the meat production paradigm. Thank you for your articles, they’re well researched and well written, and it’s good to see a fellow vegan question some stubbornly held purist beliefs that have no basis in science.

    • God willing, I’ll buy my first bag of oysters next week. 😉

      Also, try going with ‘unorthodox vegan’ that’s what I go by.

      • I like unorthodox vegan! One day I considered to call myself (suffering) minimizer, but unorthodox vegan is cool

  17. I don’t understand why you place so much emphasis on “disgust.” At the end of the day, who cares what a persons motivation for being vegan is? If a person is “vegan” we know the motivation was for ethical reasons. It is a given. Veganism is not a diet, it is an ethical position. We know that a person who thinks it is disgusting to eat the bodies of animals and becomes vegan as a result, is acting on ethical principles of sorts.

    Too many vegans are worried about being labelled as pure. In other words, they are too concerned about their own egos, rather than the advancement of animal rights. Their desire to fit in is greater than their desire to do what is right. They even find themselves apologising for being vegan rather than having “Animal pride” (an excellent Animal Aid UK campaign). There is no evidence that a watered down, apologetic veganism is beneficial for the vegan movement. If anything it has a slippery slope effect that results in the relaxing of other ethical restrictions (now please don’t take issue with the word “restriction.” I am sure you agree that it is a good thing that humans are restricted in what they are allowed to do to other humans). The ‘humane’ meat movement, is an example of animal welfare organisations making it easier for consumers to *think* they have a clean conscious. There can be no doubt that this has had a significant negative impact on the animal rights movement.

    As a vegan of 18 years, I have seen the backward steps that have been taken. Years ago when vegans wore “Meat is Murder” t-shirts and told it how it was, people were forced out of their comfort zones and made to be accountable for their actions. Instead, today many vegans adopt a weak, compromised approach that makes sure meat eaters aren’t made to feel guilty and they can go on eating their grass fed, organic beef that came from a cow that was treated as property like any other cow and was sent to the same hellhole to have their lives stolen from them in a brutal fashion. I believe that the old, unapologetic method had a greater positive effect in producing long term ethical vegans than the new method that has resulted in higher drop out rates because people are made to feel it is OK to reject veganism and embrace an animal exploitation model that makes them feel comfortable about taking the lives of sentient animals.

    While I’d prefer people to eat mussels or oysters than animals we know to be sentient, the fact of the matter is, until there is 100% proof that they are incapable of feeling pain, it is best that people avoid eating them.

    As it has been mentioned by another contributor, eating mussels or oysters does not make you a vegan of any form. A vegan avoids (as far as practically possible) eating animal products. Since mussels and oysters are animal products, a person eating them cannot be considered vegan (even if they still want to be thought of as vegan). You can’t have your cake and eat it too. You can’t eat mussels and be vegan too. This isn’t about exclusivity. It is about preventing the watering down of a position that is the gold standard for how we should relate to animals.

    • “As it has been mentioned by another contributor, eating mussels or oysters does not make you a vegan of any form. A vegan avoids (as far as practically possible) eating animal products. Since mussels and oysters are animal products, a person eating them cannot be considered vegan (even if they still want to be thought of as vegan)”

      So basically, you’re against eating animals for the sake of of being against eating animals? That’s what you’re saying basically. You’re not vegan because its kinder to sentient lifeforms, you’re kinder because your special club’s little rules say that in order to fit in, you have to stop eating animal byproducts.

      Do you see now why people find vegans dogmatic and cult-like? That’s how you fucking act!!

    • “While I’d prefer people to eat mussels or oysters than animals we know to be sentient, the fact of the matter is, until there is 100% proof that they are incapable of feeling pain, it is best that people avoid eating them.”
      That same thing could be said for plants. We don’t know that plants don’t feel pain, and there is as much proof of plants feeling pain as there is of bivalves feeling pain, actually there’s more studies that suggest plants feel pain, than bivalves.
      If you want to eat a special way only to have the label, do that. Just don’t act as if you’re better than other people for it.
      Also “meat is murder” approach doesn’t work on most people. I didn’t work on me. I avoided vegetarianism, veganism and anything like that, because of that attacking way of presenting it. I didn’t even consider going vegan or try to understand, until someone said it in a kind way, that you describe as apologetic. Also veganism is spreading even more now, than it was then. Personally I think it’s because of the attitude change.

  18. Adam:

    Your argument is still basically about purity and you didn’t address the points the author made in both articles. Your argument IS about exclusivity, and you’ve fallen into dogmatism and mistake your opinion with fact (ie: “Their desire to fit in is greater than their desire to do what is right”) – you sound like someone from Westboro Baptist Church. Humans are SOCIAL animals, and whether you like it or not, MOST PEOPLE have a strong desire to fit in, because we’re genetically programmed to do so. It’s a FACT that many people stop being vegans because of social pressures, and religious organizations have learned how difficult it is to suppress biologically hardwired behaviours with their chosen flavour of “ethics” (ie: sexuality).

    Rather than make people feel guilty for being genetically hardwired for social acceptance, why not go to the root of the problem and work towards making veganism a more acceptable lifestyle choice? We’re not going to achieve this by preaching purity, gore and guilt – the majority of people don’t respond to this, and the multi-billion dollar marketing industry has proven that people respond to positive messages that make them feel good about themselves.

    It is my belief that it was the “meat is murder” vegans (ie: Gary Yourofsky) who set back the movement for decades, whereas prominent vegans like Kathy Freston (author of “Veganist”) have a more moderate message that isn’t laden with guilt and extreme dietary guidelines that resulted in an increase in veganism.

    Most religious organizations (even the Jehovah Witnesses) have realized that their “hellfire and damnation” apocalyptic message of fear, guilt and shame no longer increases church membership, it has actually resulted in a dramatic decline in churchgoers. They changed their message to a softer, “God is love/you have a special destiny/Jesus loves you regardless of your lifestyle” message, and membership has begun to grow again. Westboro Baptist Church continues to preach the hell & damnation message and are considered to be an embarrassment and extremists by both Christians and atheists alike, and are used as examples by the non-religious as to why religion is damaging to society (and rightly so).

    The vegan movement has had a similar trajectory – when they preached “Meat is murder,” held up signs of gore in protests and when they did stupid shit like raiding fur farms and whaling vessels, it does nothing but confirm the stereotype to otherwise sympathetic meat eaters that vegans are crazy, extreme and reckless.

    I didn’t become a vegan because someone made me feel guilty, nor did I become a vegan because some idiot got arrested in Russia for attacking a whaling vessel or because someone shoved a photo of a slaughtered animal in my face. I became a vegan because of rational arguments, evidence based on science, environmental reasons, health reasons, and because of the dissonance I felt from loving my companion animal and eating another with equal or greater intelligence.

    The vegan movement is growing, but they’re still mocked and seen as extremists thanks to the “Meat is murder” ass clowns whose doom and gloom message of guilt and gore set the movement back by several decades. If the vegan movement was less extreme and more like Kathy Freston from the beginning, I’m confident there would be a LOT more vegans and a LOT less discrimination, mockery and hostility from the meat-eating community. As it stands, vegans are becoming more accepted thanks to vegans with a more moderate and rational approach, but many governments still consider various animal rights groups to be terrorists, and often lump other vegans into the mix and view us with suspicion.

    The “meat is murder” message turned vegans into a joke, a fringe group of society, and if there’s anything that can be learned by this, it’s that the general public don’t WANT to guilt tripped by images of gore. The marketing industry thrives by promoting their products and services with a positive message that makes them feel good, not a negative one – and they make billions as a result. Many members of the vegan movement have learned from the evil geniuses of marketing and spin, and have used what they have learned for good to forward the movement. If we want to move veganism into the mainstream and to do what we actually set out to do – eliminate animal exploitation and suffering – the tone of our message has to change.

    If everyone stopped eating vertebrates, adopted plant-based diet with the exception of oysters or mussels, our environmental, ethical and humanitarian concerns wouldn’t exist. I’m sure there would still be a fringe group of people putting out YouTube videos on the plight of mussels and oysters, but it would cause about as much concern as the ethical quandary of exterminating a bedbug infestation. Most people aren’t purists, and rather than trying to force purity upon people, a reasonable, moderate approach would be far more effective.

    We need to change our message in a positive way that speaks to the general population, because our previous methods AREN’T WORKING ANYMORE. We can either adapt and bring about real change in this world, or we can stubbornly remain in our purist ways, remain on the fringe and eventually fade into irrelevance.

  19. And by the way, my initials are “SJH,” just wanted to put that out there because I’m working on a book about vegan choices that non-vegans can make. I’ve said similar things in my introduction that I have in my above comments, and I don’t want to get accused of plagiarizing someone named “Sammiches” on this comment board when it’s actually me. Lol!

    Sentientist, I’m going to do a chapter on bivalves and veganism, I’d love to interview and quote you when I begin that chapter. 🙂

  20. Pingback: Real Vegan Food « Pythagorean Crank

  21. Just an aside..I’ve always thought of humans as just another animal bent on killing and eating each other. But not like in a negative just seemed like the obvious conclusion.
    People slaughter each other by the thousands/millions over time; therefore I wouldn’t expect them to care about “lesser” animals.

  22. By the way, people who start to adopt a whole-foods, plant-based diet also report miraculous results like relief from depression. My point is that all kinds of dietary changes give people ‘highs’.

  23. Pingback: Getting omega-3′s: Science, texture and allergies | Ed v. Food

  24. I only just saw this Part 2 of your most interesting writing on eating oysters and mussels. I am stoked. I am also a vegan who eats mussels and oysters (and I am going to try sea urchins soon). I am also sadly familiar with nasty words from dogmatic vegans because of this…
    I completely agree with all the points you make here and thank you sincerely for publishing this. It is easy to share to complement my point of view.
    In case you are interested, I started this group on facebook:
    Friendly and Pragmatic Vegans and Vegetarians

  25. On the topic of eating non-sentient animals:

    I eat them. I don’t need to eat them: I am healthy without them, I can afford to choose what I eat and I have what I would call a very good knowledge of cooking and eating without animal products. Yet, I eat oysters or mussels every now and then (and to be honest, not as often as I’d like). I am also going to try sea urchins soon.

    I call myself a Vegan, too. It’s a term that I find convenient and it describes how I eat fairly accurately. I understand and accept that voluntarily eating animals, even non-sentient ones, does not fit the definition of a vegan and is unusual. I would be comfortable saying that I am vegan + I also eat non-sentient animals. I eat them because I have not found a good reason not to and because I enjoy eating them. I would not consider myself an activist for “veganism”, I would however consider myself an activist against speciesism, for a fair consideration of the interests of all animals, for animalism (an all-encompassing word I like – similar to humanism except with “animal” instead of the restrictive “human”). As such, I try to think of the consequences of what I and others do on all animals, humans and non-humans and I care about them.

    I invite you to read the three links I am providing after this post. I agree with them, but more importantly they provide plenty of information on why some (a few) of us vegans do indulge in eating mussels or oysters.

    Everyone who has looked into it has concluded that it is extremely unlikely to say the least that oysters and mussels could possibly be sentient. There is no proof that they are. We cannot say that they are sentient. We cannot even suspect that they could be sentient. I sincerely believe that they are non-sentient. They do not have eyes, they do not have a brain. They do not have a complex nervous system.
    In addition and just as importantly, growing them and harvesting them is also ethical. They can easily be farmed and harvested without killing or harming or depriving one single sentient being. This in itself cannot be said of cereals where a lot of rodents are killed during the harvest. They are also “natural filters” and help their environment become cleaner. As such, they actually do require a reasonably clean environment if they are to be safe to eat. Oyster and mussel farmers must remain vigilant and concerned regarding the quality of their environment.
    What’s more, and that’s just a lucky coincidence and a bonus, they are extremely rich in B12 and Omega 3 – the two things that happen to be the hardest to get without supplements or enriched food on a vegan diet.

    I understand that most vegans and animal activists have no desire to start eating non-sentient animals or prefer not to eat them just in case. That’s cool. It’s sensible. For my part, I have no intention to eat them less often, let alone stop eating them as I see no reason not to.
    In fact I enjoy showing and explaining that I eat them as I believe it is an open minded and pragmatic approach to veganism and because I believe it is beneficial for the environment.

    To the argument that I should not or must not call myself a vegan or that I am a pescatarian because of this, I say that mussels, oysters, clams or sea urchins are not at all comparable to fishes. I would not kill or eat a fish or even a crab or a shrimp as they are sentient and they have an interest to live and not to suffer. I am no pescatarian. I am a vegan and I also eat oysters.
    To the argument that it might make it harder for vegans to be served an actual vegan meal in the future because of people like me who call ourselves vegan and eat mussels, I say that I do not believe it is every going to be the case. If anything, someone may ask “So would you also eat oysters and mussels like so and so?”. Many vegans drink wine, any wine regardless how it was refined. Do they also make it harder for all vegans worldwide who are worried they might be served non-vegan wine one day in the future?

    I consider my reasoned and deliberate choice to eat non-sentient animals as part of my veganism, as part of the choices I make in my fight against speciesism and for animal equality. I accept that others find it unusual, perhaps even disturbing. I don’t accept being put down, excluded or insulted because of it.

    • So I’m not alone D: Thank god, cause I’ve always thought I was alone about this!!!! Thank you! The vegan cult gets really funny about non-sentient animals, I’ve been kicked off of vegan communities in social networks and called a couple of names. You can see more ridiculous and harsh responses to such a diet choice here –>

      Its like they’ve almost FORGOT why they became vegan. I’ve given up all makeup/toiletries that has been tested on animals, and I refuse to eat honey and eggs. I don’t go to circuses, and I don’t eat an animal that had to suffer to get on my plate. But yet, when I say that bivalves are ‘vegan friendly’ the dogmatic backlash is “Is it plant-based? I think not!” really?? And how many wild animals were shot down and killed by the USDA in the production of your soy-based ‘hamburgers’? Veganism is suppose to go BEYOND such cult-like thinking, and beyond “is it plant-based”, but dogmatic people ruin it because all they can see is rules, instead of WHY those rules were put there in the first place.

      Honestly, I’m just calling myself a ‘unorthodox vegan’, in that, I take my standard past “is it plant-based?”, I don’t care if the creature is a plant, or an animal, if it is a sentient lifeform, then I won’t eat it. Hopefully the vegan community will wake up and see this, instead of basing their ethics on a irrational dogma.

  26. Hi! Would you please share your thoughts about the possibility of including goose bernacles (pollicipes pollicipes) in a vegan/vegetarian diet? Since you’ve mentioned your visits to Spain, I guess you’ve thought about that peculiar kind of mollusc (they’re called “percebes” there).

  27. How do clams and scallops factor into this argument? Like oysters and mussles, they too are invertebrate bivalves, but they are noticeably absent from any mention in your two pieces.

  28. Thanks very much for this thoughtful and inspiring piece. I recently became another ostrovegan. My principle aim is to not to cause harm to any sentient beings and staying as healthy as I can and I feel that this is the best way to do this. I think it’s really important that vegans focus on the important point-not harming sentient beings.

  29. It’s fun to read these comments, and find some folks interested in what I would term “cruelty free” diets. It makes me feel more comfortable discussing how our food got to the table w/ people I meet. My approach is to basically eat a cruelty free diet to the best of my ability. Getting the eggs has been really difficult, as the definition of “free range” gets unnaturally stretched even by the most conscious of egg sellers. Whenever they start telling me how their chickens are fed this and that, I ask them, yes, but where are the chickens? How big is what you call their range? Are they kept in a coop? This line of questions eliminated all of the so called free range egg sellers in my area but one. When I asked that one seller, he said the chickens were on the roof, in the dirt, they were everywhere. It pays to ask questions.

    Dairy has been my next goal, and discovering how its such a cruelty driven business, even and especially the organic end of it, has caused me to switch to the fake plant based stuff. I DID find two Indian dairies here in the US that, apparently due to their religious beliefs, have cruelty free dairy products. Here they are:

    The last one is for a cashew vegan cheese recipe.

    I would imagine that the cruelty free dairy stuff is pretty pricey, so I haven’t ordered anything yet, but the cashew faux cheese sounds delicious. I still have not figured out how to get the B12, so once or twice a month I eat a little dead fish, but for sure the oysters and mussels sound less sentient, so I’ll switch to them. Nothing orgasmic happens when I eat the fish, just tons of guilt! Thank you everyone’s for your comments and this article. It’s tough feeling like you’re the only person interested in this, and good to know there’s others out there.

  30. Pingback: I don’t like Cecil because he exposes to me my own ethical hypocrisy. | The Trapezoid of Completion

  31. Pingback: Oysters and other bivalves | It's No Sacrifice: Vegan for the Animals

  32. Pingback: In Praise of Mussels – Take Less

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  34. Pingback: Ostroveganism | ENVS 3525-002 Sustainable Food Systems

  35. Diana, thanks very much for this post. I have been a vegetarian (and aspiring vegan) for several years. And I first started considering adding oysters to my diet after hearing Sam Harris speak on the subject. For all of us, it’s a matter of where we draw the line. For example, I’m sure that there are people who refuse antibiotics to avoid harming bacteria. (There are some very interesting videos on YouTube of a bacterium fleeing from a white blood cell. Sure looks like terror to me.) Most of us would probably consider that to be an extreme position. Personally, I avoid them when possible, but because of the problem of resistant microorganisms. If the antibiotic is necessary and beneficial to me, I take it.

    There is also growing evidence that at least some plants respond to their environment. It’s not too much of a stretch to think they might feel pain. What about organisms that are technically classified as animals, like sponges? Does anyone suggest that a sponge has anything we could call consciousness?

    I’m confident that any vertebrate experiences pain (and probably something like fear), and I can stretch that to include any animal with something resembling a central nervous system. So I don’t eat them. But in the case of oysters, there appears to be little if any evidence that they have anything resembling sentience or have the ability to suffer. If I can replace calories and nutrients from soy or wheat (with all the attendant collateral death of insects and rodents) with calories from a couple of oysters every now and then, that may be a more ethical choice.

    As for what to call someone who eats vegan with the exception of oysters and mussels, I would suggest that there’s no answer. We’re all on a continuum, whether we realize it or not. I know self-described vegans, who eat honey and get all kinds of abuse from the “more-vegan-than-thou” crowd. The sad truth is that we cannot live on this planet without harming other living creatures. The best we can do is to make a conscious effort to reduce the harm we inflict.

  36. Pingback: Simple clam bisque - Sweet As! - Delicious & Easy Recipes

  37. I know this is an old article, but I wanted to mention that I’m attempting an ostrovegan diet for ethical reasons, and the inclusion of bivalves makes it much more manageable for me, nutritionally and psychologically, than a full vegan diet. I’ve always gotten intense meat cravings when going vegetarian, and a big plate of oysters or clams satisfies that. To be fair, I don’t know how much of my feeling of satisfaction from meat or bivalves is basically placebo. But in a practical sense, until I’m able to invest large amounts of time and energy into figuring that out, it doesn’t matter that much.

    When ordering food at a place where I’m not planning to get oysters or clams, I’ll tend to say that I’m vegan, because it’s more efficient for everyone. The person preparing food or describing menu items to me needs to know what foods they can offer me, and they don’t care about my diet beyond that. It’s a nice communication shortcut.

  38. There is no ethical case for eating clams/oysters:

    1. eating clams/oysters is not necessary for human suvival and health

    2. clams/oysters are sentient

    3. plants are not sentient

    4. eating plants is necessary for human survival and health

    That’s all. The rest is just cognitive dissonance, ignorance or sophistry; self-serving speculations on the (non)suffering of creatures that have no way to prove to us if we’re wrong. It’s already wrong on the basis of the precautionary principle (otherwise known as the Golden Rule). Confirms whose problem the “other-minds problem” really is: It’s not our problem; it’s theirs: the victims of our idle or self-serving speculations.

  39. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

    – shellvegan (eat only plant, fungi and ‘shellfish’)
    – shell-ovo-vegetarian (sounds remotely Slavic, these mussel-and-egg eating ‘vegetarians’)
    – shell-ovo-lacto-vegetarian (non-fish and non-meat/poultry eaters).
    – ostrolactovo-plantaefungi vegetarian — (shellfish, milk, eggs, plants, mushrooms) It sounds Italian.

    Hey, Wikipedia lists mussels in the animalia kingdom. What say you?

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