In this brief guide, we will answer the query,” Can vegans eat oysters?” and will discuss why oysters are not considered vegan?
Can vegans eat oysters?
No, vegans cannot oysters. While scientists dispute whether oysters are sentient organisms capable of feeling pain or sensing their surroundings, there isn’t enough evidence to corroborate or disprove this claim. In any case, oyster relatives have long been thought to be very clever.
This means that oysters are not suitable for vegans. If you’re unsure about the health benefits of oysters or the thought of eating them makes you queasy, it’s better to stay away from them all together while following a vegan diet.
Throughout the globe, oysters are a well-loved seafood dish and considered a delicacy. A popular method of eating oysters is to crack them open and allow the oyster and liquids to spill out into your mouth while you eat them with a fork.
Seafood like oysters is significant source of protein and contains all the vital elements for human growth like fat (4%), carbohydrate (6%), vitamins (A, B, B12, etc.), minerals (Na, K, P, Ca), essential trace elements (selenium, zinc, iron and magnesium) and polyunsaturated omega 3 fatty acids. Out of the 4.7 million tons of annual consumption of oysters all around the world, about 92% of world production of oyster comes from Asia. In India, the commercial production of oysters is blooming and more than 50,000 tons of oysters is cultured annually for consumption (1).
Oceanic invertebrates including oysters, squid, octopus, clams, and mussels are all members of the Mollusca phylum, which also includes snails, octopus, squids, and other sea creatures (2).
What are Oysters?
The bivalve invertebrate mollusk oysters reside in saltwater or brackish water settings, where freshwater meets seawater, like clams, scallops, and mussels. They’re wrapped between two hard outer shells that hinge on a strong ligament and contain a plump interior body with no skeletal backbone.
Snails, octopuses, and squids are all members of the invertebrate phylum Mollusca, which includes oysters. In addition to filtering toxins from the water, they help keep the environment healthy. Other marine creatures utilize these reefs as home because they fuse and create rock-like structures.
Although shellfish are generally safe for consumption, their exposure to diverse habitats, the filter feeding nature
of shellfish such as oysters, clams, and mussels, and unhealthy farming and handling practices may occasionally entail health risks because of possible presence of various hazards. These hazards include pathogenic organisms, parasites, biotoxins, industrial and environmental pollutants, heavy metals, process-related additives such as antibiotics and bisulfite, and also presence of allergy-causing compounds in their bodies (2).
Oysters and the concept of consciousness
A vegan diet avoids as many animal products and items produced from animals as possible from its menu. In general, vegans believe that animals are sentient creatures, which means that they can notice their environment and experience bodily experiences such as suffering. They thus abstain from eating animals.
Some scientists now believe mollusks are more sentient than previously imagined. Invertebrate creatures are often seen as non-sentient because they cannot experience pain. This belief persists despite the lack of evidence to support it.
Before this study’s findings, scientists believed that cephalopods, which include octopuses, were incapable of experiencing pain. However, studies have shown that they are extremely intelligent and conscious entities. As a result, oysters might be included in the same group.
As regards mollusks, it’s important for our purposes to separate bivalves (clams, scallops, oysters, etc.) from cephalopods (octopuses, squid, and cuttlefish). Cephalopod mollusks (octopuses, squid, and cuttlefish) on the other hand, have highly developed brains and there is enough evidence that they are sentient. Though bivalves have quite a simple nervous system, there is some evidence that some mollusks such as snails may be sentient. However, in testing anesthetics in oysters, scientists noted that magnesium chloride induced ‘‘anesthesia quickly, allowing rapid recovery with minimal stress and mortality’’. Though consensus opinion holds that since bivalves lack a sufficiently complex nervous system they are probably not sentient, it appears that the jury is still out on the matter (3).
Oysters are vegan or not?
For a long time, vegans and non-vegans alike have disagreed over whether oysters and other aquatic creatures are vegan. Many individuals disagree, and others argue that whether or not oysters are vegan is a matter of personal perspective.
Ostro Vegans are vegans who consume bivalve invertebrates like oysters, clams, and scallops in their diet. Even though other invertebrate mollusks, such as cephalopods, are sentient, there is still research to support the idea that oysters are not non sentient.
The ostrovegans, or new omnivorous, claim that “No forests are cleared for oysters, no fertilizer is needed, and no grain goes to waste to feed them—they have a diet of plankton, which is about as close to the bottom of the food chain as you can get. Oyster cultivation also avoids many of the negative side effects of arable agriculture: There are no bees needed to pollinate oysters, no pesticides required to kill off other insects, and for the most part, oyster farms operate without the collateral damage of accidentally killing other animals during harvesting” (4).
If you follow the above definition of veganism and deny that oysters have any kind of consciousness, then oysters aren’t vegan food. It’s best to avoid oysters if you’re on the fence about whether or not they’re vegan, or if you follow a vegan diet and the thought of eating them makes you queasy.
Who are the bivalves and what do they eat?
Mollusks are invertebrates with soft bodies, divided into foot and visceral sections. They are subdivided into bivalves, cephalopods, and gastropods. The commercially important bivalves are mussels, oysters, clams, and scallops, while cephalopods include squid, cuttlefish, and octopus. The gastropod group contains abalone, sea snail, cockle, and whelks, among others. It is estimated that the ocean is inhabited by more than 1000 species of crustaceans, 50000 species of mollusks, besides 13000 species of finfish (2).
Animals in the class Bivalvia include bivalves. In the molluscan world, bivalves are mollusks with compressed bodies and a hinged shell. When attacked, bivalves will quickly seal their shells, even if they can open their shells to move about and feed. Some people believe that since oysters and bivalves seal their shells when threatened, they are capable of feeling fear. The modified leaves of Venus flytraps shut when an insect arrives on them, whereas the leaves of certain Mimosa plants close when touched. This is a physical reaction, not a conscious decision.
Is it possible for oysters to feel pain?
Because bivalves lack a brain, they are unable to respond to or sense pain or suffering. Despite their status as an animal, chimpanzees are not intelligent creatures like humans are.
“Ethics in the Kitchen: What We Eat and Why” According to Peter Singer and Jim Mason, it’s plausible that they aren’t aware of pain, but it’s difficult to know for sure. Do Fish Feel Pain? published just a few months ago, suggests otherwise. Research conducted by the world-famous biologist Victoria Braithwaite reveals conclusively that fish, like many other creatures, are sentient beings capable of suffering and agony. Although bivalves’ ability to experience pain is very doubtful, why take the chance? When it comes to fine dining, there are always vegan options like these vegan scallops prepared with king oyster mushrooms.
Other FAQs about Vegans that you may be interested in.
In this brief guide, we answered the query,” Can vegans eat oysters?” and discussed why oysters are not considered vegan?
- Satapathy, S., Panda, C.R. & Jena, B.S. Risk-based prediction of metal toxicity in sediment and impact on human health due to consumption of seafood (Saccostrea cucullata) found in two highly industrialised coastal estuarine regions of Eastern India: a food safety issue. Environ Geochem Health, 2019, 41, 1967–1985.
- Venugopal, Vazhiyil, and Kumarapanicker Gopakumar. Shellfish: Nutritive value, health benefits, and consumer safety. Comprehen Rev Food Sci Food Safe, 2017, 16, 1219-1242.
- Jones, R.C. Science, sentience, and animal welfare. Biol Philos, 2013, 28, 1–30.
- Milburn, J., Bobier, C. New Omnivorism: a Novel Approach to Food and Animal Ethics. Food ethics, 2022, 7, 5.