Why Do Some Vegans Eat Oysters?

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Why Do Some Vegans Eat Oysters?

You’re mindlessly watching people’s stories on Instagram until you see something that appears scandalous: Your vegan friend just posted a photo of a dozen oysters, implying that she is about to/already has consumed them. This is the same friend who won’t touch a Kraft single and even opts for agave over bee-produced honey. So, why is she okay with eating what’s very clearly an animal?

Yes, it’s true that oysters and other bivalves, including clams and mussels, are animals. And while some vegans are vehemently opposed to eating these animals, others are willing to indulge in a pre-dinner oyster (or six) without feeling any guilt. These types of vegans are often referred to as ostrovegans.

The Vegan Case for Eating Oysters

It’s important to remember that different people decide to follow a vegan diet and lifestyle for different reasons. Some are just after the health benefits that this kind of diet can provide, and others simply don’t like the way animal products taste. Other vegans are more ideologically motivated; they might abstain from animal products because they’re attempting to curb their negative environmental impact through their diets or because they care about the rights and livelihoods of animals.

Some animal rights-minded vegans choose to eat oysters and other bivalves because these animals lack a brain and a central nervous system. Therefore, many believe that they can’t feel pain. For people who want to reduce the suffering of animals through maintaining a vegan diet, killing oysters is inconsequential because oysters are not believed to be sentient (although we can’t know for sure). 

Vegans who are more concerned with environmental issues can also eat oysters guilt-free, as they’re one of the more environmentally friendly types of seafood on the market. There is evidence that oyster reefs play a role in sequestering carbon and can protect surrounding areas from erosion. Oysters are also incredibly easy to produce, requiring very few inputs and creating essentially no greenhouse gas emissions. It’s one of the few types of seafood we should arguably be eating more, not less, of.

Flexibility in a Vegan Diet

Vegans are sometimes characterized as all-or-nothing, holier-than-thou, tofu-touting extremists who can’t even be in the same room as a steak. This picture of veganism, though, doesn’t capture the nuance and flexibility that a lot of vegans display. Occasionally eating local, free-range eggs or enjoying some oysters from time to time can help make a mostly meat- and dairy-free diet easier to maintain in the long term. And even those of us who eat meat can adopt this same mindset: Choosing to eat vegan or vegetarian meals several times a week doesn’t mean we can never enjoy a well-cooked chicken thigh again.

Should You Eat Oysters?

Ultimately, it’s up to each individual vegan whether they want to eat oysters or not. For some, it’s not worth it. For others, the allure of particularly fresh raw oysters is just too much of a pleasure to resist. For the rest of us, though, who don’t identify as vegan, oysters are one of the more sustainable seafood options on the market. Swapping your tuna sashimi for a round of oysters certainly seems like a step in the right direction.

Samantha Maxwell is a food writer and editor based in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @samseating.

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