Scallops are one of the most popular meals and are sold in seafood restaurants around the world. They’re technically classified as shellfish. If you want to get even more technical, they’re a bivalve, which means that they’re in the same family of animals as mussels and clams.
So, are scallops vegan?
Since scallops are living animals that are killed for food, they are not vegan. Vegans don’t agree with eating any animals or living creatures that feel pain.
That being said, there are some vegans who allow shellfish in their diets, based on research showing that some shellfish aren’t capable of feeling pain.
It’s a bit of a complicated argument. So, below, I’ll take some time to explain both sides of the argument (both for and against eating shellfish like scallops). Then, I’ll answer some of the other questions I’ve received about eating shellfish on a vegan diet!
Who’s ready to get controversial?
Do Vegans Eat Scallops?
At first, this question may seem a bit obvious. When I’ve asked most vegans this question, 90% of them give me a resounding, “No.”
After all, scallops are animals. Vegans don’t eat animals. Case closed, right?
There’s actually some area of debate when it comes to consuming shellfish on a vegan diet. That’s because some types of shellfish (specifically bivalves) aren’t like most fish. Most fish have a central nervous system that allows them to feel and process pain.
Scallops, on the other hand, don’t possess the same capacity to feel pain (at least, based on current research). If you look at your average clam (which is where scallops come from), you’ll find that they’re a lot simpler than fish.
In some ways, bivalves like scallops behave more similarly to coral and other forms of oceanic plants like seaweed.
Vegans who eat scallops argue that since scallops can’t process pain, it’s okay to eat them.
To be clear, I’m not advocating that you go out and eat scallops. Personally, I still abstain from shellfish because it’s a “gray area” for me. I just don’t like the thought of eating any type of animal, regardless of how advanced its nervous system is.
Sometimes I even question sprinkling nutritional yeast on my food, as it was once a living organism!
However, I always do my best to try and understand why certain people believe in what they do. So, if you’re interested in learning more about the arguments for both sides, keep on reading…
Are Scallops Animals?
I’ll be the first to admit that I ate scallops many times (before going vegan) without knowing what they were or where they came from. I just assumed they were some type of fish, and never bothered to research what I was actually eating.
Scallops are, in fact, animals. They belong to the family Mollusca, which includes clams, scallops, snails, oysters, slugs, mussels, squid, and octopus.
Of the list, squid and octopus are arguably the most “advanced.” In fact, many octopus groups form complex communities with a social hierarchy similar to that of many mammals.
Most vegans would agree that they’d never eat octopus or squid because they’re more “alive” in our human eyes. However, many of these same vegans have no idea that octopus is in the same family as bivalve shellfish, which some vegans regularly eat.
Shellfish: Vegan or Non-Vegan?
Today, people are more disconnected from the foods they eat than ever before.
For example, many people have no idea where milk comes from or how honey is harvested. If most people knew about half of the animal cruelty it takes to produce simple everyday food items, there’d be a lot more vegans in the world.
However, commercial food companies have worked hard to keep their cruelty to animals a secret. While the occasional behind-the-scenes clip filmed by an animal activist surfaces on the internet, most of the cruelty goes unnoticed and unchecked.
The question, therefore, is:
Where do you draw the line at? Which animals do we respect as living creatures and which animals do we deem as food?
For me, all animals are deserving of life. While they may be eaten by other animals, humans are advanced enough to be able to survive on a purely plant-based diet. Therefore, I believe it’s our responsibility to avoid animal cruelty or death whenever possible.
So, why do some vegans eat shellfish like scallops?
To be fair, there’s a pretty good argument for why some vegans eat scallops.
Namely – scallops (like other bivalves) don’t have a central nervous system.
Unlike other sea creatures, which have complex nervous systems, scallops cannot “feel” in the same way that most animals can. They can only react to changes in their environment, which are perceived by ganglia that act as external sensors, allowing the scallops to move and react to changes.
In some ways, scallop-eating vegans argue, that scallops are more similar to plants than they are to animals. Like bivalves, plants don’t have a central nervous system and also rely on external “sensors” to respond to their environment.
That being said, we also know very little about shellfish.
Compared to other animals very few studies have been performed in scallops, clams, mussels, and oysters. While preliminary evidence shows that they can’t feel pain, this may not be the end of the road.
It may be that we just can’t comprehend how the nervous system of scallops works. For all we know, they can feel pain in their own unique way.
Only time will tell, though.
Do Shellfish Have A Nervous System?
If you look at most fish, you’ll find that they share a similar nervous system to humans. They have a brain, a spine, and bunches of nerves spread out throughout their bodies. These nerves allow them to perceive pain as well as changes in their environment.
Unlike most other fish, though, certain shellfish don’t have a central nervous system. More advanced species of shellfish like crabs, shrimp, and lobsters have animalistic nervous systems.
However, simple bivalves like clams, oysters, scallops, and mussels don’t have a central nervous system or a brain to receive nervous system signals.
This is the main reason why some vegans argue that consuming shellfish is ethical. Whether or not you agree with this is up to you.
However, I will note that while bivalves are a gray area, the other shellfish are not. Even if you are okay with eating scallops or oysters, don’t let that trick you into thinking that lobsters, shrimp, and crabs are also vegan-friendly.
Do Vegans Eat Mussels?
Mussels are one of the most common forms of bivalves in the ocean. They have a slim, oval-shaped, shiny black shell. The meat tastes very similar to clams and other bivalves.
Some vegans do eat mussels. They argue that since mussels can’t feel pain and don’t have a brain or central nervous system, it’s ethical to consume mussels.
While mussels are technically animals, the fact that they physically can’t “suffer” removes the guilt from some people’s minds. As I mentioned above, it’s a fair argument that’s rooted in real science.
Just to play Devil’s advocate, though – who are we to determine which animals live and die?
Do Vegans Eat Clams?
Clams are a lot larger than mussels and have large, thick shells. Like mussels, though, clams don’t possess a brain or central nervous system, so they represent a gray area for some vegans.
Although most vegans don’t eat clams, a small percentage of vegans believe that consuming bivalves is ethical. They argue that bivalves can’t feel pain and that clams don’t actually suffer when they’re captured, removed from the water, and cooked.
Seeing as the majority of clams are cooked alive, this is a fairly important question to answer.
Most people would agree that cooking any animal in boiling water while they’re still alive is unethical and cruel. If the clams can’t actually feel their bodies in pain and dying, though, does it still count?
These are the questions you should be asking yourself before you decide whether or not you’re the type of vegan who eats bivalves or not.
Do Vegans Eat Prawns (Shrimp)?
When some vegans learn that bivalves like scallops and oysters might be vegan, many mistakenly assume that all shellfish are therefore vegan. This is not the case. Prawns (or shrimp, depending on where you’re from) are far more advanced than their bivalve cousins.
Shrimp (prawns) have a four-part central nervous system that’s connected to a real brain. This means that they’re sentient, aware of life, and capable of feeling pain. Therefore, vegans never eat shrimp.
Most studies have shown that shrimp and other small shellfish are capable of feeling physical pain through their central nervous system. Although they might not “suffer” the same psychological pain as more advanced mammals, they still feel pain all the same.
Is Any Seafood Vegan?
When most people think of seafood, they think of fish, shrimp, lobsters, scallops, and other animals. While these are certainly the most popular type of seafood, they’re not the only type of seafood.
Most vegans agree that eating any animal from the sea is not vegan. However, there are a number of delicious, healthy plants that come from the sea! Vegans eat seaweed, algae, kelp, and other forms of oceanic plants.
Oceanic plants (which are still seafood) are a great choice for vegans. Not only are they loaded with natural trace minerals and vitamins but they also taste great. Many oceanic plants have a naturally salty, savory flavor that mimics certain flavors found in meat.
Whenever I’m having a craving for something savory, eating a few pieces of seaweed always helps to take care of it1
Can Fish Feel Pain?
Once, I had a conversation with a local fisher. He told me that fish “don’t feel pain,” and that, therefore, fishing was perfectly ethical. If you go based on word of mouth, then this argument makes sense.
However, all of the most recent science points to the fact that fish can feel pain.
Most fish have a central nervous system and a brain. This means that they can feel and respond to pain in an effort to avoid it and remove themselves from a safer environment.
What Do You Call A Vegan Who Eats Fish?
Technically, vegans who eat fish aren’t really vegans. Instead, they’re called pescatarians. Pescatarians typically eat a plant-based diet, allowing small amounts of fish in their diet.
While consuming fish is a little bit more sustainable than eating mammals like cows and pigs, it’s still not entirely ethical. Not only are fish populations dwindling due to pollution and overfishing but fish also feel pain.
What Is Vegan “Fish” Made Of?
If you’re really having a craving for fish, but don’t want to actually eat meat, then you may enjoy “vegan fish.” Vegan fish is typically made out of soy protein that’s mixed with starch and savory seasonings.
Most vegan fish comes in a fried form, which helps mask the odd flavor from the soy protein.
The Verdict – Are Scallops Vegan-Friendly?
Since scallops don’t have a brain or nervous system, they can’t feel pain in the way that most other animals can. So, some vegans advocate eating them.
That being said, this is a decision that you have to make for yourself. While they may not be able to feel pain, they’re still living creatures. But then again, plants are also “alive” by a similar definition. Just some food for thought…
To learn more about the argument, be sure to check out one of my most recent posts on the topic that answers, “Are Oysters Vegan?” next!