Taming Veganism and the Recognition of Plant Sentience and Intelligence

Taming Veganism and the Recognition of Plant Sentience and Intelligence

I appreciate vegans for their committed ethical stance on protecting animals from cruelty. We need more people speaking out on not only barbaric factory farming practices, but on the toxic chemicals and hormones fed to animals, our bodies, and environment as a whole.

There is, however, a glaring implication of the vegan stance, especially of the righteous belief that veganism is the only sane way to eat, and live. And that is that animals are more sentient than plants; that they are more intelligent, and feel more, when, in fact, plants are living, breathing, feeling beings, too.

Certain vegetation, for instance, have far more expansive neural networks than humans. Aspen old growth trees have roots running hundreds of acres, vastly further than what the human skull can hold. We can also look to the complex mycelia “information highway” as some call it, forming the “wood wide web” that connects trees and other vegetation together. There is brilliance under soiled foot, inter-sentience and intelligence human understanding has barely breached.

Looking further back in time, before laboratories and textbooks filled our cities, one may consider ancient and indigenous peoples and their practices with plant medicine for further evidence of sentience and intelligence. Skeptics and reductive scientists may wish to ask themselves how medicine men and women would know how to delicately harvest each particular plant, what to give for what ailment, and how to do so. By the scientific method? Through the analytical mind? Through pure luck? Rather, it was through heart perception, as the brilliant Stephen Buhner describes it in his breathtaking book, The Secret Teachings of Plants; by sitting, getting to know, and respectfully communing with each plant, being a humble student to its wise counsel.

Recently, the medicinal qualities of plants has come to the forefront of Western science, and of the minds of those seeking healing. There is a renaissance, so to speak, of plant-based psychotropics, such as peyote, iboga and ayahausca, being used in research of chronic illness and in trauma-release. As one who has found tremendous healing through ayahausca, I can tell you this is no dull twig. She is fierce, infinitely intelligent, and knows you better than you know yourself. One of Canada’s most respected authorities on health and healing, Dr. Gabor Mate, is not shy in speaking about the power of this plant to heal old trauma and treat addictions, and has been known to send his clients to work with shamans. Some who work in the field of psychology have gone so far as to say that ayahausca is the most potent somatic therapist.

Plants undeniably have profound intelligence, healing agents, communication abilities and sensorial capacities, far greater than our schools taught us to believe, and that reductive science is capable of perceiving. But because we have been trained through our schooling to rely on the intellect for our understanding of the world, our hearts, and their intelligence, have been denied. The brain has been made master, and sacred heart and plant intelligence has been forgotten.

“Recent discoveries in neuroscience have proven that over 50 percent of the heart is comprised of neural cells. The heart is, in fact, a brain in its own right. Heart-centered perception can be exceptionally accurate and detailed in its information gathering capacities as indigenous and ancient peoples assert.” ~ Stephen Buhner

Being ignorant of heart and plant intelligence simultaneously is thus no coincidence. For it is through the feeling-heart, not the linear mind, that we sense the unique gifts and wisdom held in vegetation. The mind must quiet enough to feel into and receive what each being has to offer. Quieting the mind, especially in our busy urban centers where intellect loves to play, can be difficult. It therefore only makes sense that we would exanimate and exile the plant kingdom from our senses, just as children, who intuitively know of, and feel, sentience in the natural world, are forced to exile their wondrous hearts for the confines of intellect and reason.

With sensorial-feeling skills numbed and perception of plant sentience and intelligence dimmed, a hierarchy of animals over plants forms in human paradigms, which then informs vegan worldviews. Animals are perceived as more important, more feeling, more alive, more intelligent, when this is far from true. This blind ranking is a derivative of the shallow waters anthropocentrism has swam in for millennia leading to man’s destructive reign above all.

Many vegans have their version of this reign, this above-ness, as I, and others I know, have felt when conversing with them about their views on eating and living. Their oft-overwhelming authority on such matters is dogmatic, highly one-sided, leaving little room for another point of view, another way. Given the cruelty they can’t turn away from, I understand… to a point. To the point that their rigid pronouncements on the right way do not consider and include a wider lens, a more holistic and sophisticated perspective. To the point that they do not take into consideration the complex, multivariate ecosystem we are inextricably linked to, and only just beginning to understand.

This elevation of animals over plants is seen in our language, as Buhner asserts, in how we call someone a “vegetable” when ridden with brain damage. We assume them to have lost touch with that which makes them alive, conscious, rendering them an inanimate object, a static backdrop, much like how we perceive the plant kingdom to be. Yet, if we find inspiration in stories of those we assume to be in a so-called “vegetative state”, who, when returned to enough health inform their family and physicians that they were aware and attuned all along, we may grok the deeper knowing that in plants, too, consciousness inconspicuously hums along from behind the veil of seeming hollow physicality.

Ostensibly, veganism makes sense, especially, as already mentioned, given how industrial farming practices are outright brutal, and how much toxicity is spread through their smoking machinery into the atmosphere, soil, water and our bodies. It makes sense to me enough to know where my meat comes from, to limit diary consumption, to only eat certified organic animal products, to frequent the farmer’s market, and to advocate for animal welfare through social media, conversations and donations to animal causes. I am an animal activist at heart. But in being unbearably righteous, as many vegans sadly are, they perpetuate old hierarchical perception, and in this, continue separation from the living body of life, from this organism we call Earth that is fully alive, sensing, feeling, responding to the subtle imprints we make, and that does not have a higher or lower, something or someone more conscious and feeling than another.

Being a vegan is not the problem. It is the strict attachment to and subsequent pontification of ideas—the fanatical idealism—that is. It is the myopia and forgetfulness that all are equal and breathing and feeling in this living system of Earth.

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Check out Vince’s book: Wild Empty Spaces ~ Poems for the Opening Heart

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