A Note On “OstroVeganism”


There is no such thing as “ostroVeganism.” The term Veganism has a specific meaning, and human animals using nonhuman animals for human interests is contradictory to that meaning.

I follow The Precautionary Principle and so I don’t advocate for the exploitation of any animal, regardless of the complexity of their biology. I advocate Veganism, which is a moral stance against human animals intentionally using nonhuman animals as replaceable resources for human interests, based on the nonhumans’ pre-legal moral right to not be used, which in turn is based on the fact that they are capable of feeling pain and so have the exact same right as humans do in this regard. We have no need to use any animals, and if someday we find out that whomever animal is insentient, since we lived Vegan, then no harm done. If we someday find out they are sentient, then also, since we lived Vegan, no harm done.

Some people mistakenly try to claim that plants are also sentient as a way of silencing Vegan advocates. A Vegan ethic destroys the least numbers of plants compared to a non-Vegan ethic, so if someday we discover that plants were sentient all along, then we will have harmed the least number of plants; especially if we are able to eat a fruitarian diet due to our financial situation and/or where we live. And if we discover that we were right all along and plants are insentient, then also, no harm done.

Also, using nonhuman animals of any species for human interests fosters speciesism and does not shift animals away from the “property paradigm.” Since most non-Vegans don’t know nor care what the difference between a sentient nonhuman and an insentient nonhuman would even be (if that even existed), it manifests to the public as a lack of a coherent and consistent moral stance.

Some people have brought up the idea that since most or all consumers are currently only capable of buying Vegan b12 in plastic bottles that are manufactured somewhere that may -or may not- be far from the consumer, and that therefore there is a need to use a lot of resources to obtain them, which is harmful to sentient beings, that justifies consuming oysters who have b12 in them, since there are less resources needed to obtain them. This doesn’t morally justify using nonhumans for our interests though. Rationally, we need to start fabricating some other conveyance for b12 instead of discarding the idea that nonhumans have the right not to be used.

Maybe we could campaign for Vegan B12 to be put in glass bottles and manufactured locally in many places? Or a campaign to get a law passed that all packaged food must have Vegan B12 added? Engaging in single-issue campaigns for human issues isn’t morally wrong as doing so for nonhuman issues is, after all. Changing the current paradigm from a non-Vegan one to a Vegan one through the education of non-Vegans on these issues as well as the overall understanding of the need for Veganism is a great start, in any case.

There has also been a general cry that using oysters for our interests has various other environmental benefits as well. Veganism does have implications for environmentalism, since withdrawing our participation from the worst causes of environmental destruction is a wonderful incidental benefit of living our moral stance  regarding nonhuman animals. Environmentalism is not the basis for Veganism though, so we can’t abandon our moral obligation to nonhumans in an effort to make environmentalist gains, especially since that would decrease the effectiveness of promoting the moral stance of Veganism to non-Vegans; and we should already understand that encouraging non-Veganism is the reason why our environment is as damaged as it is in the first place.

Some people also claim that since oysters don’t have a central nervous system, and plants also do not have a central nervous system, that oysters are more similar to plants than animals. My response is this: Number one, it’s incredibly disingenuous to claim that plants have a “nervous system” at all. It’s also disingenuous to claim that just because oysters don’t have a central nervous system that means that they are like plants. Either they have a nervous system (which they do), in which case they are animals (which they are), or they don’t, in which case they are like plants. You can’t have it both ways. Just because oysters don’t have a central nervous system does not make them plants.

Furthermore, even if we thought that it was justifiable from a moral standpoint to use individuals of some animal species we think are insentient for our interests, that argument would still never morally justify using every other species of animal, who can all be easily proven capable of feeling pain, for our interests. In other words, even if we’re confused about where to draw the line regarding who we use and don’t use, the line is still not rationally at “whoever we deem morally inferior, regardless of their ability to suffer.” So regardless of any other argument, Veganism is still the moral obligation of every single human reading this.

Instead of calling ourselves Vegans and then trying to figure out how much we can get away with exploiting anyone through a “loophole” of scientific proof, we should be starting off by drawing our moral line in order to eliminate even the possibility of the maximum amount of harm, and then intellectually examining whether we can make exceptions on the side of caution afterwards. Meaning that we don’t harm animals we think may or may not be sentient anyway, unless our very survival depends on it.

If you think animals matter morally, don’t try to find a nice way to do the wrong thing. Go Vegan and educate others about Veganism.


If you’re not already Vegan, and you think animals matter morally, then please go Vegan. It’s easy and great for you, incredible for the animals, and wonderful for the planet. If you’re already Vegan, please educate non-Vegans about why they should go Vegan. Please rescue, volunteer, adopt, foster, spay, and neuter the nonhuman refugees of domestication whenever you can. Please feed your nonhuman family Vegan where you can. These things are the most important, morally responsible things to do and are desperately needed by everyone.

To learn more about Abolitionist Veganism and the issues I’ve outlined in this post, check out The Master List Of Vegan Info:

Disclaimer: My only goal with this list is to produce as comprehensive a resource for Vegan information as possible. I am 100% Abolitionist Vegan and 100% against exploitation of nonhuman or human animals, any type of violence against human or nonhuman persons or property, welfare regulation, any form of speciesism, ethnic bigotry, genderism, ableism, heterosexism, etc., any of the large governmental or non-governmental nonhuman animal organizations, “happy meat,” vegetarianism, veg*nism, Meat-Free Mondays, or other forms of reductionism and anything else that makes it seem like any form of violence or exploitation of animals is ok. If any of those positions are endorsed on any site in this list, or any language is used to imply that, it’s not that I included that link because I agree, but simply because I don’t control every bit of information on all of these sites.


7 thoughts on “A Note On “OstroVeganism”

  1. I really enjoyed reading this. I’ve read this article when you copypasted in the comment section of another blog.

    While I’m already a vegan, this article helped me approach my principles in another way of thinking (namely the “moral agents” and “moral patients” way of thinking). My central principles revolve around minimizing suffering (and for moral consistency, but I’m not quite comfortable enough to base arguments on that), but this helps me understand my more deeper, more invisible convictions.

    Since you have a deeper perspective in the ethics of veganism than me (which is why I felt compelled to ask you to consider this upcoming request), I was hoping that you could address an issue that I cannot find an adequate answer to which has been bugging me. Based on my ethics, I cannot find any justifications to abstain from sessile bivalves, honey, and shellac. I’ve been building a list of the strongest arguments I’ve found in favour of abstaining from sessile bivalves (I presume that most of the anti-oyster arguments extends to honey and shellac to some extent), but so far none of them has persuaded me (though I do really like one of them—but “liking” something isn’t enough to turn it into a conviction). Right now just blindly abstaining from sessile bivalves, honey, and shellac feels like I’m following dogma rather than ethics.

    So I suppose that my question is: Exactly what is wrong with consuming sessile bivalves, honey, and shellac?

    I won’t post my justifications because I’m assuming that you already are familiar with the strongest arguments. (If you’d rather to just counter my arguments than guessing at what I consider to be the “strongest arguments”, then by all means ask me to supply them. I’m just hoping that you’ve already went through a struggle on this issue and found a solution to it.)

    Of course, my request would only work if you happened to have been against the consumption of those things. So the other question is, are you even against the consumption of sessile bivalves, honey, and shellac?

    If you’d rather me wait while you type a blog post addressing these issues, that’s fine with me. You might even address them separately if the nuances differ enough. On the other hand, I can see why you would want to avoid these topics as they are fringe issues that are indeed debated between vegans.

    • Wow! First, let me say thanks for the astute and considered comments. Always a rare and pleasant circumstance to reply to such as this.

      Regarding the issue of sentience: Scientists have concluded that due to at least the presence of nerve ganglia and/or the ability to move away from threats that all insects and almost all aquatic animals are most likely sentient, which means that they have interests in not being harmed. When it comes to animals such as sponges or certain bivalves, where there is no actual evidence that they can feel pain, such as the presence of ganglia or motility, our best tool to use is called The Precautionary Principle. This principle posits the idea that “it’s better to be safe than sorry.” There must be a line we draw as Vegans, and the line makes the most sense at the animal/plant boundary, for this reason as well as another: If someday we find out that whomever animal is insentient, since we lived Vegan, then no harm done. If we someday find out they are sentient, then also, since we lived Vegan, no harm done.

      The other reason is that, as Vegans we should be advocating for the most consistent notion of morality we can. If we start making exceptions for animals that some scientists believe have been proven insentient (which is doubtful in the first place), then non-Vegans will start claiming that we should make exceptions for whichever animals they think are insentient who are clearly not (such as bees or beetles). It makes much more sense to draw the line at plants. You might wonder, what if we someday find out that plants are sentient? That is a great argument for decreasing the number of plants we kill, not for increasing the number of sponges or bivalves.

      Ideally, we will progress to a point where humans all live in our contained cities with flourishing parks, formed on a resource-based economy, farming as few plants as we can with Veganic Permaculture and eating as close to a 100% raw fruitarian diet as possible. Please understand, I’m not saying that I think we’ll ever discover that plants are sentient, but that if we did, then hopefully we’ll have been living this way all along. If I had any say over my living situation right now, I’d probably found or live in a Veganic farming community already.

      In a case where there is a gray area, such as the idea that, prior to eliminating domestication completely, we could feed the small number of domesticated cats who can’t thrive as Vegans on bivalves instead of the much more harmful factory farm byproducts that are currently put into commercial cat food, then I can understand why we would choose to advocate the use of bivalves over plants. But for humans, no.

      If you want to discuss this further I’d love to, including if you want me to give you links to or better descriptions of any ideas or concepts I touched on.

      Also, taking your great advice about tags!

  2. Thank you for the reply! I’ve actually heard of The Precautionary Principle (though the proponents never actually used the term). It’s one of the arguments on my “list of the strongest arguments I’ve found”. (I think that you’ll soon find that, in argumentation, I’m fairly poor in brevity, and am probably excessively meticulous. These things are a massive time sink for me and observably has a negative effect on my health. The fact that I’m saying this demonstrates my weakness in brevity, exacerbated by my reluctance to delete unimportant chunks of text. I call this phenomenon “intellectual cognitive dissonance”.)


    I think that my biggest problem currently with The Precautionary Principle on sessile bivalves was that it assumes that there is meaningful distinction between plants and animals. You said, “It makes much more sense to draw the line at plants.” But how do we know that this is a sensible line to make? If we had started the principles from scratch and decided that sentience will be the dividing line—

    …I kind of mentally “clicked”. I had entered “debate mode”, and felt quite prepared to argue against The Precautionary Principle based on my research. But the main thing is that the ethics from the sources I’ve read was based on the principle of animal _suffering_ rather than of animal _sentience_.

    My main argument was going to be based on the fact that science is quite confident in sessile bivalves’ inability to feel pain (which certainly precludes suffering). The only justification to avoid eating them was just in case they have some “unknown mechanism” for feeling pain. The problem with assuming an “unknown mechanism” unlike anything we know of would be that we would need to accept that plants too would be equally likely to have possess such an “unknown mechanism”. “Equally likely” is a fair assessment, because we know for certain that both are devoid of known pain mechanisms, a brain/central ganglia (which makes “suffering” questionable in the first place even if they could sense pain), and are both of comparable mobility. If we were to nonetheless declare that the sessile bivalve is avoided simply for no other reason than because it’s technically an animal, then we would be being “Kingdom-ist” towards plants, and that would be dogmatic.

    However, if we replace “pain” with “sentience”, I cannot say “equally likely” as confidently. Sure, I could think that the odds are very low. But while we’re fairly confident about what anatomical structures are crucial for pain, we aren’t as confident as to what anatomical structures are crucial for sentience. In addition, since the ancestors of sessile bivalves are considered to be probably sentient, there’s no guarantee that the modern sessile bivalves had fully degraded their structures for sentience. And this is enough for sessile bivalves to be slightly more risky than plants.

    Is this all right?

    (Question: I realize that if we accept these conditions for something to be sentient, then we must be willing to accept the possibility that our colon by itself has the possibility of some degree of sentience. This would make no difference in the actual “doing” side of veganism, but on the intellectual side, would *you* personally be willing to accept the possibility that if sessile bivalves may be weakly sentient, then your colon by itself may be weakly sentient?)

    However, I’m not entirely sure if the “meaningful distinction between plants and animals” part has been fully satisfied in terms of sponges, though. Is it really likely that an organism which lacks tissues and nerves was ever sentient? Even plants possess tissues and arguably organ systems. To me, sponges are like a colonial organism comprising single-celled constituent organisms (like a man-of-war cnidarian, but with single-celled constituents). And what about placozoans, which are considered more basal than sponges (by some—this is in high contention)? If they’re more basal than sponges, we must assume that their even simpler ancestors (assumption) developed sentience in such a way that we don’t understand (recall the “unknown mechanism” problem with pain in sessile bivalves and plants). Unlike bivalves, I cannot find a reason why there’s a meaningful reason why sponges/placozoans must be assumed to possess sentience at a greater probability than plants, most of which are many times more complex. If there is no meaningful distinction between plants and animals in assuming sentience, then the plant–animal boundary assumption becomes dogma.

    (I just wanted to add that the debate between taxonomists as to whether sponges and placozoans were “animals” or not gave rise to the groups “parazoa” (beside the animals) and “eumetazoa” (true animals). If abolitionist vegans use “animals” as a shortcut for “eumetazoa”, which excludes sponges and placozoans, I can accept that (avoids needless technicality for non-technical people). This would be analogous to how I assume that their use of “plants” is a shortcut for plants, fungi, the distantly related red, brown, and green algae, all the other non-plant multicellular organisms, all single-celled organisms, and entities of questionable life-ness. I wanted to include “slime mold”, but I’m sure that there’s debate whether or not *that* is sentient, despite it being not an animal (and if there isn’t a debate, there should be—those things are amazing).)

    I think that I should mention that, at some point today, I had discovered the whole “abolitionism vs. welfarism” thing between vegans. Since then, I’ve read a few blogposts (yours included) and wiki articles on the subject, and I had no idea that there was this much contention between vegans. This kind of makes me uncomfortable since I now feel as though I must pick a side (although, in reality, most vegans probably don’t really “align” themselves anyway). (My now recently-lost ignorance of these issues probably would have made me a happier vegan. I suppose I could say the same about everything in veganism. And every other problem with the world which I’ve aware of.)

    “Moral consistency” was ultimately what really attracted me into veganism in the first place. “Minimize suffering” just turned out to be a useful principle as a way to extend my veganism into the external world (rather than simply assuaging the cognitive dissonance in my internal world). I also found that “minimize suffering” acted as a convenient ethical baseline from which I could make further arguments. For instance, I could say that “the purpose of giving a lifeform basic rights is to minimize its suffering”. With this ethical baseline established, I can then answer “Why should lifeforms be free from torture?” with “Because torture causes suffering!” Of course, this became an issue when the discussion involved the consumption of organisms who could not feel pain, and discussions on the net number of insects suffered in agriculture vs. honey-production. It became especially problematic when trying to criticize something like painless murder on the basis of “minimizing suffering”.

    Abolitionist theory’s “the right not to be treated as the property of others” certainly looks as though it would be better able to fill all the problems that simply basing “rights” on “minimizing suffering” could. However, while I find it more useful for argumentation, for some reason I cannot absorb it as my conviction (i.e., my intuition is rejecting it). Probably because the “minimizing suffer” mentality is really strong in me. When I wonder, “Why should someone not be treated as property?”, I automatically think, “Because enslavement causes suffering!” This then creates problems such as this hypothetical:

    Say that human slavery was never abolished, but slavery welfare had reached a point where slaves don’t suffer any more (and may indeed suffer even _less_) than the non-slave humans. The slaves themselves may even _like_ their slavery for whatever reasons they rationalize (e.g., they can achieve similar amounts of goals and happiness as a non-slave, but without the needlessly complicated lives of non-slaves). My “minimize suffering” principle cannot explain why this condition is still morally wrong. The abolitionist’s “basic rights” would say that this is morally wrong for the sole reason that the humans (sentient lifeforms, actually) are still being treated as property. But where are these “basic rights” coming from? Why is “being treated as property” intrinsically wrong? Is there an objective basis for this basic right?

    I’m having the same problem with justifying the vegan use of “sentience” rather than “suffering” for creating exploitation boundaries. Obviously if someone is able to suffer (or even feel pain), then they must be sentient. But, as we’ve demonstrated with sessile bivalves, we are accepting that something may be able to be sentient without actually being able to feel pain or suffering. Why is being sentient sufficient for receiving basic rights (“sentience” rights?)? It’s really easy to justify why causing “suffering” is morally wrong. How is suffering ever a good thing? (Except for maybe in the utilitarian basis of causing a criminal “suffering” in order to reduce society’s net suffering. …Though if the option of reducing society’s net suffering without causing the criminal suffering exists, then the former act would be morally wrong. I’ll need to think of a better utilitarian example. If there is one.) On the other hand, it’s hard to demonstrate why “being sentient” is sufficient for why causing exploitation being morally wrong. Why is it bad for someone to own coral in conditions superior to its natural environment (regarding the welfare of the coral) just because the coral is sentient? The only argument that I know of would be that whole “basic rights” thing, which I’ve discussed in the previous paragraph.

    My point is, “welfare” is easy to understand. “Rights” is not. But simply ease-of-understanding doesn’t really give me an excuse to exempt myself from trying to understand that side. On the other hand, I’m not the person to accept a position without understanding it first, either.

    Other points:

    “are most likely sentient, which means that they have interests in not being harmed.”

    What does “have interests” mean, exactly? (I can accept this as a teleological “shortcut” in terms of word-use, similar to how I use teleological shortcuts when discussing evolution.)

    “non-Vegans will start claiming that we should make exceptions for whichever animals they think are insentient who are clearly not (such as bees or beetles).”

    This may make sense on a pragmatic sense, but this isn’t enough of a reason on an intellectual sense. You would be essentially be exploiting people’s common understanding of words (pragmatic) rather than what the words mean in the real world (intellectual). Some degree of intellectual dishonesty is okay in a social movement, but these things matter to the people who care about absolute truth.

    “It makes much more sense to draw the line at plants. You might wonder, what if we someday find out that plants are sentient? That is a great argument for decreasing the number of plants we kill, not for increasing the number of sponges or bivalves.”

    I really like this point. This is further emphasized on your later “farming as few plants” and “fruitarian diet” points you later make, which really maintains your impressive consistency on the ethics which I’m trying to understand.

    “eating as close to a 100% raw fruitarian diet as possible.”

    I don’t understand the “raw” part in terms of ethics. If there is no ethical reason, it seems weird to me to give up cooking food when it releases more net nutrients (note “net”—eating some raw food is good when accounting for the nutrients which are destroyed) and when cooking food makes the food less hard on our teeth.

    “we could feed the small number of domesticated cats who can’t thrive as Vegans on bivalves”

    Some vegans made the point that they’d accept in vitro meat for our carnivorous companions. Of course, that would involve a one-time exploitation of animals and would go against the “we don’t need animal products” principle. This isn’t much of a concern for “minimizing suffering”, but it would concern “basic rights”. (I also want to talk about why I think that keeping certain pets is morally okay, but I’ve already talked too much.)

    I realize that much of this discussion is a bit off-topic from this “ostovegan” article. Sorry about that. Since I had decided to identify as a “vegan”, I feel as though I have an obligation to understand as many of the sides as possible (including most of the meat-eater’s sides—most of which I’m concluding is more based on pragmatics rather than pure, unbiased ethics). I’m still fairly young, so I also accept that I have lots of time to switch ethical “sides” when I find them superior, or even strengthen my current ethical “side” as I understand it more. (I also hope that I’ll remain this flexible when/if I become old, but I won’t be unjustifiably optimistic.)

    • Wow, you’re the only person who types as much as I usually do. That’s so cool. Also, your points are wonderfully nuanced and ripe for pleasant discourse. However, I’m currently both restricted to using a tablet since my desktop pc is down, and also pressed for time re: typing, among other problems. Are you in the USA? If so, might we talk on the phone? Would be much easier. I will still respond in written form here someday, but it might be months from now, knowing my schedule.

      • Thanks! And I _completely_ understand! I’m probably the most empathetic person for any life-based or especially time-based excuses for things (which means I’d likely fail abysmally as a corporate manager—or anything else which imposes punctuality on others).

        Anyway, no, I do not live in the USA (though you can probably narrow down my location to just a couple of places based on the fact that I use a combination of US and UK spelling standards). But even if I did, I’d be reluctant to communicate orally due to a couple of, um, psychiatric and personality-based reasons.

        But if you enjoy oral discourse, you may want to consider starting a talk channel on YouTube to complement your blog (and Disqus profile). If you go down that route, I’d suggest to first spend quite a lot of time watching a lot of those kinds of videos. Not just for the intellectual content, but primarily for analysing their **presentation**, what about their **presentation** you liked, what you didn’t like, what makes them successful or not (ignoring the fact that *luck* plays an important role), and all those kind of things. Maybe see how successful channels started off and how they since evolved. Everything other than the information they’re trying to communicate. Humans are very emotional and distractible creatures, so presentation is important. Oh, an execution. Presentation and execution. And probably other things. (And obviously don’t just restrict yourself to veganism/animal ethics if you’re studying **presentation**—there’s all kinds on topics such as religion, logic, skepticism, pseudo-science, politics, etc. which has channels you can model yourself off of.) If you find some other individuals with channels with the same or similar-enough views as you, then perhaps you’d want to create some form of communication with them on the **off-chance** that they promote or make references to your channel. Comment on their videos. Or something. Figure out how other people meet those individuals. Finding these individuals is also important for figuring out what kind of niche you wish to settle into. (A lot of these things probably applies to blogs and other communicative media as well.) Again, luck plays a huge factor, but the more runners you spread, the more likely that one of them will hit bountiful soil. Of course, the community on YouTube can be quite toxic, and gaining popularity/notoriety is very tricky, so you’ll need to figure out how much you’re willing to take and if your actions are worthwhile (something which I’m sure you’re very aware of as a blogger and… Disqusser(?)). Podcasts could be another option for oral communication, but I don’t really know anything about those (not to mention that I don’t know how often people of my generation _accidentally_ stumbles across *podcasts* like they do with YouTube channels—but maybe I’m a minority).

        Anyway, regarding our conversation, if you take months to respond to some things, that’s fine. If you never find time to respond to *everything*, that’s also fine. Next week my classes start, so I was hoping to drop thinking so much about animal ethics and to start thinking science again. I still have a lifetime (hopefully) to modify my ethical views, but I have a finite time to perform my best in university, so I should probably learn to better manage my priorities. Regardless, it was certainly a pleasure talking to you!

  3. Pingback: On Morality: Why Not Use Speciesist -And Other Kinds Of- Oppressive Language? | The Legacy Of Pythagoras

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