Awhile back, Slate published a great article on why vegans should eat oysters. The author writes, “Oysters may be animals, but even the strictest ethicist should feel comfortable eating them by the boatload.”
From my observations, the main reasons that vegans choose not to eat animal products are: 1) animal products are implicated in the greatest portion of the environmental destruction linked with food production; 2) many animals suffer when they are raised and killed for food; and 3) there are clear health reasons to limit meat and dairy. Oysters, savvy bivalves that they are, stand firm against these three points.
First, oysters are good for the environment. They are listed as a “Best Choice” on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch list. Most oysters are farmed, but unlike other farmed seafood, they require very few inputs. In fact, they can improve their local ecosystems by filtering the water. I used to think that oysters could actually break down or sequester chemical pollutants, but their main effect is to remove algae, sediment, and excess nutrients, which improves water clarity and the conditions for other organisms to thrive. They also build reef structures that provide habitat for other tiny organisms.
Second, oysters feel about as much pain as plants do. They have no central nervous system, and there is no evidence to suggest they suffer any more pain than, say, a portobello. Humans have labeled them animals within our classification system, but they clearly belong in a different category from creatures with brains.
Lastly, oysters are a good source of of zinc, iron, calcium, selenium, and Vitamin B12 – nutrients that are abundant in certain animal products but that vegans might have a harder time obtaining. I’d argue that a few oysters are a better choice than a multivitamin, considering that vitamin and mineral supplement pills may be ineffective or even harmful.
Writing this post definitely has me craving a half-dozen oysters on the half shell!