I was going to open this blog with the accepted definition of life. Unfortunately, there is no accepted definition. According to the dictionary, life is:
…the condition that distinguishes organisms from inorganic objects and dead organisms, being manifested by growth through metabolism, reproduction and the power of adaptation to the environment through changes originating internally.
The definition of life has also involved being self-aware. Some add being carbon-based into the definition, although this only follows the way life on our plant exist. We have no way of knowing if life on other planets would be the same way.
There’s a lot of argument about life because, for every definition, there is at least one exception. Mules are born sterile, but we consider them to be alive. Crystals grow and react to stimuli, but we don’t consider them a living organism.
Why am I ponder the definition of life you might ask? In the beginning of the year, I became infatuated with vegetarianism and veganism after reading The China Study. My interest was purely for health reasons and, after further research throughout the year, I have come to the conclusion that veganism may be the healthiest diet.
I’m sure none of you will be surprised when I tell you a lot of sites on vegetarianism and veganism include information on animal rights. Many discuss the belief that animals are ‘sentient beings.’ Sentient is defined as having the power of perception by the senses or consciousness. In the context of plant-based diets, the idea that anything that feels and/or has a consciousness should not be slaughtered. They believe the sentient lifeforms deserve rights and freedoms.
I’m not going to argue for or against that because I’m on the fence. Animal rights is not the reason I started looking into these diets and, while I have some opinions, I have no factual information to back them up. I just find this whole side of vegetarianism and veganism intriguing. Who decides what is sentient? Certain insects and parasites react to pain. Are they sentient? I’ve hear there is some evidence that plants are self-aware. Does that grant them special privileges?
What’s really amazing to me is how strongly opinionated people are when it comes to the definition of life. What grants an organize freedoms and rights? Is it the ability to be self-sustaining? To reproduce? To feel pain?
It seems, regardless of the opinion held, people hold it strongly. Friends and coworkers have been aghast at my interest in eating less meat. “You’re not going vegetarian on me, are you?” they ask. “Plants are what rabbits eat,” they complain. On this flip side, many vegetarians and vegans get equally defensive, using words like torturer and murderer. As such, I am often equally afraid to engage any vegetarian or vegan in a discussion about the diet.
It’s not that I don’t care about animals, because I do. I’m not really against eating meat, but I am against the inhumane practices of many meat manufacturers. We have to pick and choose our battles, though. I’m also against the labor practices of most cell phone companies. I’m against blood diamonds. I’m against sweatshops. I’m against just about every war/armed conflict the United States involved in right now. Unfortunately, I can’t do it all. I have to pick my battles and animal rights isn’t that high on my list.
The whole discussion on what defines life and what rights variations of life has is fascinating. It’s one of those conversations that will never had an ending. That’s just the way of the world, I guess. Decades are spent answering a questions whose answers only breed more questions. At this point, I’m pretty sure if an answer doesn’t produce more questions, it’s probably not the right answer.
How do you define life? Do you consume animal products? Why or why not? What world issues are the most important to you? Have you ever changed they way you shopped, acted or ate in order to support those important issues?