It was five years ago this month that I became vegan, or…well, ostrovegan. In this blog I officially come out of the closet, err, shell. I am almost sure that cultivated mussels and oysters are ethical to eat. I argue eating these animals is completely consistent with the spirit if not the letter of ethical veganism and the tenet of causing less harm with our consumer choices 1. This blog is on bivalve sentience/ability to suffer; for further arguments, including nutrition arguments, see my second blog.
The mirror test is used to gauge self consciousness by ascertaining whether an organism can identify itself in the mirror. Usually, the experimenter puts some kind of ink or marking in a spot that can’t be seen without a mirror and then observes the animal. Examining or touching the spot or marking indicates that the animal knows the image is, in fact, not another individual but a reflection. Richard Byrne spoke about the mirror test last week at his talk at Portsmouth and showed us that elephants can recognize themselves in a mirror (or at least one elephant can, the other apparently showed no interest). He also told us that dogs and cats cannot recognize themselves in the mirror but eventually acclimate to having an intruder around all the time who they cannot smell.
When I was last in the States I was at a pet store and saw the betta fish display. Bettas, otherwise known as “Siamese fighting fish”, are colorful, aggressive, territorial fish that will display when put in proximity to other fish. Like many territorial species the males will size each other up with aggressive displays and it’s in both males’ interests if they can figure out who would win without actually fighting. Many places that sell Bettas put these fish close together where they will display all day to one another ultimately stressing them out and potentially reducing their longevity. Often Bettas will be put in front of mirrors which will get them really geared up as they prepare to fight a rival who is equally matched on all dimensions of strength, size, vigor, and display.
“Good evening,” it lowed and sat back heavily on its haunches, “I am the main Dish of the Day. May I interest you in parts of my body?” -Douglas Adams “The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”
Nonhuman animals raised for meat have been domesticated for thousands of years. Some characteristics that have been artificially selected for are earlier maturation, tolerance for crowding, reduced exploratory behavior and docility including an almost across the board decrease in brain size (and arguably intelligence, compared to their wild cousins).
As much as we have changed the behavior and responses of animals bred to be eaten we have not been able to breed out of them the desire to carry on living. What if animals could be bred who had no preferences about existing and who wanted to be eaten?