Do Mussels Have Brains? Can Vegans Eat Mussels?

Mussels are small bivalve mollusks that cluster together along the Atlantic coastline. They have a similar flavor to clams, oysters, and other shellfish.

You may find it surprising that some vegans don’t consider mussels to be “animals” in the traditional sense and regularly consume them! Of course, this begs the question: do mussels have brains?

No, like several other shellfish, mussels do NOT have brains.

They do have an uncentralized nervous system that allows them to react to their environment, but most scientists conclude that their brain/nervous system isn’t advanced enough to perceive pain in the traditional sense that other animals can.

In today’s post, I’m going to tackle one of the more difficult questions that many vegans tend to struggle with. Some vegans believe that it’s ethical to consume mussels since they don’t feel pain, while others argue that consuming mussels still counts as consuming animals.

I’ll start by providing some basic research and background. Then, I’ll present both sides of the argument, so you can decide whether or not eating mussels is right for you and your diet.

Can Mussels Feel Pain?

Can Mussels Feel Pain?

At first, this sounds like one of those trick questions that your high school health teacher used to ask the class. We’re not talking about muscles, though, we’re talking about the tiny black-shelled crustaceans that cluster together on oceanic shores.

To answer this question, let’s start by looking at a definition of where pain comes from.

When you touch a mug that’s too hot, you immediately feel pain. It starts with the nerves on your finger.

They sense the extreme heat of the mug and then send a message to your brain explaining that your fingers have come into contact with something that could cause physical damage.

Then, your brain produces a host of chemicals and hormones which are perceived as “pain.”

The body experiences this uncomfortable sensation and associates a strong memory of it so that we avoid the action in the future.

The reason babies are always putting themselves at risk is that they still need to develop a pain associated with certain dangerous activities.
If you’re looking for a visual breakdown, check out this awesome video:

The current science says that it’s impossible to perceive pain (at least in the way that we humans do) without a brain. Given that mussels don’t have a brain, scientists argue that the small shellfish cannot feel pain.

Do Mussels Have A Central Nervous System?

Mussels have a nervous system, but it’s not centralized. Centralized nervous systems need a brain or centralized location to connect nervous impulses to. This is part of what makes pain possible. Without the means to process and interpret pain, mussels should not be able to feel pain.

That being said, mussels do have a nervous system. It consists of a few connected ganglia that run throughout its body. However, most scientists assume that these ganglia are only able to respond to the environment and are used to perform basic movements.

To provide you with an easy-to-understand example, let’s take a look at robotic vacuum cleaners.

Most robotic vacuum cleaners have sensors that can sense when they collide with a barrier and use that “sense” to navigate around the barrier. Since the vacuum has no brain, though, it feels no “pain” when it collides with a barrier.

Are Mussels Vegan?

Are Mussels Vegan?

This is the golden question. The main tenet of a vegan diet is to live a lifestyle that doesn’t harm animals or the environment. While mussels don’t feel pain, they are still technically classified as animals.

Unfortunately, I can’t give you a clear-cut answer on this. It seems as if vegans are divided on the topic. Personally, I choose not to consume mussels as it feels like a gray area that’s not fully understood.

I made a promise not to eat animals and I plan on sticking by it, even if the animals can’t feel or process pain.

That being said, I don’t judge any vegans who do choose to consume mussels, as they’re not causing pain to a living creature. So, if you can eat mussels with a clear conscience, then go ahead!

Health Benefits Of Consuming Mussels

Health Benefits Of Consuming Mussels

Since we’re on the topic, you’re probably wondering if there are any health benefits to consuming mussels, in the first place. As it turns out, there are several, including:

  • Mussels are high in Omega-3 fatty acids, which promote healthy brain function and fortify your joints.
  • Mussels are a great source of lean protein.
  • Mussels have very little fat.
  • Mussels have lots of zinc, which is great for your immunity, hair, skin, and nails.

Do Other Shellfish Have A Central Nervous System?

Do Other Shellfish Have A Central Nervous System?

Okay, so some vegans are okay eating mussels and oysters… What about other shellfish, though? If it’s okay to eat mussels and oysters, is it acceptable to consume crabs, lobsters, shrimp, and other shellfish?

To answer the question, most shellfish do, in fact, have a brain and a central nervous system.

Evolved Central Nervous SystemNo Central Nervous System
 Sea Urchins

Since they have brains and a central nervous system, this means that the majority of shellfish can process and feel pain. So, if you’re serious about being a vegan, you should stay away from shellfish and seafood, even if you do choose to make an exception for mussels and oysters.

The Argument For A Bivalvegan Diet

Recently, I wrote a post on so-called bivalvegan diets. People who subscribe to this school of veganism eat a primarily plant-based diet, while also consuming bivalves. Bivalves are a sect of crustacean animals, such as mussels, oysters, and clams.

They are called bivalves due to the two parts of their shell, which are scientifically referred to as “valves.”

The majority of scientific evidence points to the fact that bivalves cannot feel pain, for the reasons we’ve discussed above. Proponents of a bivalvegan diet argue that since bivalves can’t feel pain, it’s perfectly ethical to consume them as a source of food.

The Argument Against A Bivalvegan Diet

The Argument Against A Bivalvegan Diet

The argument against bivalveganism is that bivalves are still animals. The vegan creed doesn’t say, “Don’t eat most animals.” It clearly states, “Don’t eat any animals.” By eating bivalves, you’re still consuming animal flesh and thus are violating the terms of the diet.

Another compelling argument against bivalvegan diets is that the science is still up for debate. Scientists have only just begun studying bivalves and how their nervous systems work.

Just because the current science says they can’t feel pain, doesn’t mean that the science won’t change one day.

It could be that we just have a lot more to learn about the complexities of pain and how it’s perceived by various animals.


I hope I was able to provide you with some good context to decide whether or not it’s okay to eat mussels while following a vegan diet. I know it’s a bit of a confusing subject. Ultimately, I believe that it’s up to each vegan to decide whether or not they want to eat bivalves or not.

Research states that mussels don’t have a brain or central nervous system, meaning that they shouldn’t be able to feel pain. However, they are still animals.

While you aren’t contributing to animal cruelty, you’re still eating an animal. So, the choice is yours. I won’t judge you for it either way.

If you liked this article and you’re interested in reading more on the subject, then I encourage you to check out the recent blog post I made about eating oysters on a vegan diet!

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Author Bio
Im Emma and I’m the creator of Vegan Calm. When I became a vegan seven years ago, I mainly did it for health and ethical reasons. To my surprise, it had another amazing benefit; I became a much calmer and peaceful person. This change inspired me to create Vegan Calm. Whether you’ve been a vegan for a long time or just want to learn more, this website will have something for you!

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