Veganism has been increasingly becoming popular lately. While this has led to its widespread adoption, it has also created several versions of veganism (as happens with anything the masses adopt). Bivalveganism is one of them!
What Is A Bivalvegan Diet?
A Bivalvegan diet is primarily plant-based but allows eating bivalves.
“What are bivalves?,” some of you may ask.
Bivalves are soft-bodied aquatic animals from the class Bivalvia enclosed within a hinged shell or two valves. Some of the most common bivalves include mussels, oysters, clams, and scallops. Since bivalves belong to the phylum Mollusca, people also sometimes refer to them as “bivalve mollusks”.
Bivalvegans are sometimes also referred to as Ostrovegans—ostro coming from the Latin word for oyster.
Is It Vegan To Eat Bivalves?
Certainly not from a purely vegan perspective. But it’s not that simple. There has been an ongoing debate on whether you can eat bivalves as a vegan or not.
On the one hand, vegans argue that bivalvegans cannot be classified as vegans because they eat animals, which is against the very basic principles of veganism. However, bivalvegans, on the other hand, argue that eating bivalves is justified for the same reasons that vegans use to justify eating plants.
How Bivalvegans Justify Their Diet?
According to the proponents of bivalveganism, bivalves do not have a central nervous system and are not sentient. Thus, they cannot feel or experience pain like humans or other animals. Vegans also use the non-sentient nature of plants as justification for eating them.
They also argue that bivalves can be farmed responsibly without causing any harm to the environment.
According to bivalvegans, bivalves are quite similar to plants in various ways. Hence, it’s okay to consume them.
Are Bivalves Really Non-Sentient?
The whole debate on bivalveganism is primarily based on this question, and unfortunately, people are divided on it as well.
While bivalvegans argue that the aquatic animals they eat cannot feel pain, vegans argue that bivalves are sentient beings based on the observation that they respond to their environment.
There is another group of vegans that discredit bivalveganism based on insufficient information. According to them, we do not have enough information to be certain whether bivalves feel pain or not, so they should benefit from the doubt and not be eaten. The problem with this argument is that bivalvegans can also use it to justify eating bivalves.
Let’s take a look at what science says about it to reach a conclusion.
Scientific research has made it evident that bivalves lack the brain and the complex central nervous system required to be mindfully aware of their environment and feel sensory inputs. Simply put, bivalves do not have the sensory equipment required for subjective awareness or experiencing pain.
But, Morphine Studies Suggest Otherwise…
Some research studies also suggest that bivalves may have the capability to sense their environments, although less than most other animals of their size, based on the observations made during morphine studies.
These studies found altered morphine levels in certain mussel species in response to trauma and concluded that they have μ opioid peptide receptors.
Not many agree with the conclusions made on the findings of morphine studies. Researchers, on the other hand of the spectrum, argue that the presence of μ opioid peptide receptors in mussels doesn’t necessarily mean that they are there for pain regulation.
According to them, mussels, or bivalves in general, cannot process pain. Instead, the μ opioid peptide in these aquatic animals most likely work as a neurotransmitter to alert the body, suppress unnecessary biological functions, and regulate the cardiovascular system in response to stress.
This response mechanism is similar to what is found in plants. Plants can detect injury and environmental stressors and respond to them by producing reactive oxygen species (ROS) and initiating phosphorylation and calcification processes. But does this make plants sentient beings? Certainly not!
The same goes for bivalves. They can sense damage but cannot feel pain, just like plants, because they lack the biological mechanism or equipment required. Instead, their response is similar to a nerve reflex called ‘nociception’.
Nociception is the term for reflex action or response that can be triggered without actually experiencing pain.
Based on these counter-arguments, many researchers and bivalvegans conclude that bivalves are non-sentient and cannot experience pain like other animals or we do.
What Are The Benefits Of Eating Bivalves?
The whole debate on bivalve’s (lack of) ability to feel pain would be pointless if these aquatic animals didn’t offer any real benefits. So, what health benefits can bivalves offer?
Bivalves supply the body with a range of nutrients that are difficult to acquire on a strictly plant-based diet. These include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Heme iron, which the body more readily absorbs than the non-heme iron that we get from plants
While all these nutrients are highly beneficial, the most significant nutritional advantage of consuming bivalves is that they are a great source of vitamin B12, which a vegan diet critically lacks.
Most long-term vegans have to incorporate vitamin B12 supplements in their daily routine to maintain healthy levels of this essential nutrient. However, bivalves are not only a good source of vitamin B12, but the nutrient in them is also more bioavailable than dietary supplements.
If you’ve been a vegan for any length of time and have not been taking or want to exclude synthetic vitamin B12 supplements from your diet, you may consider becoming a bivalvegan.
What Is The Environmental Impact Of A Bivalvegan Diet?
The only bivalve species often wild-caught and can have high environmental impacts is scallops. Mussels, clams, and oysters are typically farmed. Bivalve farms are generally known to have a very low environmental impact.
Many people also argue that bivalve farming has much less impact on the environment and is more sustainable than growing many plant species.
Types Of Bivalvegans
Bivalvegans can be divided into two distinct categories: those who only eat oysters and mussels and those who eat all bivalve mollusks.
Why Do Some Bivalvegans Only Eat Oysters and Mussels?
Some bivalvegans only eat oysters and mussels because they are sessile and, accordingly, are not sentient.
Researchers argue that the whole purpose of pain is to propel the subject away from the potentially damaging stimulus. What purpose would pain serve in living beings who cannot move, like sessile bivalves or plants?
The debate over non-sessile bivalves and if they can feel pain is still ongoing and can be regarded as somewhat inconclusive. So, the decision of whether to eat them or not is personal to everyone.
To Sum Up – Can You Eat Bivalves And Call Yourself A Vegan?
The proponents of bivalveganism often criticize vegans for focusing more on the definition of veganism than its core ideology. Veganism calls for eliminating animal products from your life because it aims to limit the exploitation, pain, and suffering that we (humans) cause to other living beings. However, most people miss the actual point of veganism here.
The key here is ‘sentience’ and not animals or living beings, as many vegans wrongly believe. Vegans eat plants and yeast because they are not sentient. The same goes for bivalves (or sessile bivalves, at least). Bivalvegans believe that it’s ethical to consume these aquatic animals because they cannot experience pain. Hence, one can consume bivalves and still remain vegan.
Here’s what a user on Reddit said on this issue:
To sum up, there is no right or wrong approach with regards to bivalveganism. Both sides have arguments supporting their stance, but there is no authority to decide which of them is right. Therefore, it all comes down to individuals. So, do your research on both sides instead, and then decide what you feel is right.
Did you find this discussion on bivalveganism informative or helpful? Then check out my article Vegan vs. Pescetarian to learn the difference between these two popular diets and the pros and cons of each.