Many people seem to be worried about vegans eating plants, with memes such as: “You’re Killing Plants!!!!” sent to vegans on Facebook. I have been the recipient of several emails with links to articles entitled: “Plants have Feelings Too,” “Do Plants Think?” and “Plants Can Hear Themselves Being Eaten.” I do read each article sent to me, and amusingly, the words in the articles are at odds with their titles! Within each article it states that there is absolutely no evidence that plants feel pain, nor do they actually see, smell or hear. It is important to know that there is no published book or paper in a scientific journal that makes the claim that plants feel pain.
As most people will not be convinced that easily, I will give the
solution to anyone worried about causing plants pain. The answer is to
eat more plants! It may seem nonsensical, but here is the explanation:
Farm animals consume huge amounts of plants, many more than humans would
consume. Eating meat causes more plants to be killed in order to feed
those animals. Over nine billion livestock animals in the United States
consume seven times as much grain as is consumed directly by the entire
American population. So to save plants’ lives, eat as closely to vegan
as you can. Fill up on starches, and enjoy the many fruits, vegetables,
legumes and nuts that are readily available!
It is fascinating to find out what plants can do, as well as what
plants cannot do. Plants cannot feel pain because they do not have the
equipment to feel pain. People should breathe a collective sigh of
relief that farmers all over Illinois are not causing any pain when they
harvest corn and soy! Instead, a lot of people will downplay their
commonality with pigs due to their great intelligence, yet find articles
and videos about plant pain and revel in their “commonality” with
From my experience in dealing with this topic on plants, I have come
to the conclusion people are more emotional than rational. They strongly
proclaim that they do not care what the experts say, because even when
they were young they thought plants felt pain. Perhaps this feeling
comes from picking flowers such as dandelions as a child and then
feeling guilty by how quickly they wilt and die! Flowers are so
beautiful that we transfer our emotions to them, precisely because they
give us such good feelings! People do not feel this way toward fungi,
although we humans are more closely related to fungi than to plants!
There are no Facebook memes about “Screaming Fungi!”
Why are articles written in credible magazines such as Scientific
American with titles that suggest plants feel pain? The answer is that
articles often have titles contrary to the content to draw in viewers.
The same tactic has been used for this article! At some point in each
article, however, the author always states that plants have no brain, no
spinal cord, no neurons and no nociceptors, and therefore do not have
the ability to be able to hear, see or feel pain. One possible reason
plants are not equipped to feel pain is because plants are rooted to the
ground and cannot move, so there is no need for them to feel pain
because they would not be able to get away from it. The purpose of
articles giving human characteristics to plants is to show that plants
and animals have many traits in common, but the consequences of showing
our commonality through anthropomorphism is that the casual readers
misunderstand the articles! Worse yet, people use these articles with
their misleading titles about plant pain to create an imaginary battle,
using plants to try to thwart animals’ rights.
The following is a summary of plant capabilities:
Most plants bloom due to length of daylight known as circadian
rhythm. They can sense the sun because they need it to survive, and will
turn toward the sun. Responding to light is not the same as seeing by
forming images as humans do; when plants bend toward light it is because
cells gather on one side of a plant which elongates that side and makes
the plants bend. In strong light, a plant can store excess light and
use its energy for its own immunity.
There is one plant that is being touted as having a memory, but that
memory is more of a response that conserves energy. The mimosa plant
uses electric signals to move rapidly, closing quickly in response to
danger. If a substance is dropped on it over and over and is not
dangerous to the plant, the plant stops closing for that substance, and
for up to a month it continues to not close for that substance. This one
plant’s response is quite similar to memory, but most scientists still
put “memory” in quotes, and admit further studies need to be done.
Certainly these pathways can be seen as rudimentary structures similar
to humans since we all came from one source originally. However, plants
branched off the evolutionary tree very early in the development of life
on earth, and progressed in different ways than humans.
Plants produce electrical signals in response to light. An electrical
response can travel throughout the plant and it can take a couple of
hours to get from the cells on one side of the plant to the other. Some
authors call this “memory,” but this is simply slow movement of energy.
Plants can transfer signals through roots to each other, and while these
distress signals can warn other plants of danger, it is not known
whether these signals through roots are intentional or not. Many plants
make ultrasonic clicking sounds, so the world is noisier than we
realize! The reason we do not hear these clicking noises is because
human senses, especially smell and hearing, are weak.
Some plants can feel vibrations, but they cannot hear. Recently an
article called “Plants ‘Hear’ Themselves Being Eaten” has been
published, but again, the title is misleading. In the article, it simply
says that plants react chemically to seal up the area when they are
damaged, and they sense vibrations such as the vibrations from insects
chewing. It does not mean they actually hear nor does it mean they feel
Plants do not smell either. A few plants sense chemicals and prefer
one chemical over the other, but it is not by the sense of smell because
plants have no olfactory receptors. “Silent screams” is an example of
extreme anthropomorphism for the sake of a catchy title, when the
“screams” are simply a chemical released to protect the plant. It is not
known whether the chemical is to protect just that plant or other
plants as well. Either would make sense from an evolutionary standpoint
as a method of protecting a plant or a species. Sometimes the chemical
is noticed by bugs that respond by eating their predators, but it could
be more of a learned recognition on the bug’s part rather than an
intentional signal from the plant to the bug. In all of the instances
with plants giving off chemicals, the plant has no idea what it is doing
since it has no brain for reflection and acknowledgement.
What about those studies that show plants grow better with music?
When analyzing the results, researchers found out the plants grew best
to the type of music the researcher likes. Perhaps the researcher takes
better care of the plants because he likes the music! Much of the early
research on music and plants was not carried out using the scientific
method, so these tests did not have merit.
There is a shortened version of a Mythbusters YouTube Video called
“Plants Have Feelings” which is often sent to me. It gives a totally
different impression about plants than if the entire episode is
watched. In the full episode the Mythbuster staff realize they might
be recording their own reactions instead of those of the plant, because
of the way they hooked up the machine to the plant. Also, a “response”
was detected less than 1/3rd of the time, yet on the
shortened version it looked like a response was detected every single
time. Proper controls were not used for this experiment, yet the short
version of the video has been spread to make people think plants feel
Since plants, with all their capabilities, do not feel pain, they
make a wonderful and healthy source of food. At some point, a person
should start thinking logically and realize that animals, with their
highly evolved nervous systems very similar to ours, are the ones who
need protection from pain.
Again, the solution to all the worries about plants is to eat more
plants. The more you stuff yourself with healthy, energy providing
starches and nutrient dense fruits and vegetables, the less room there
will be for fatty animal consumption, and more plants will be saved.