This is a surprisingly common argument against veganism; despite the very obvious flaws in this logic. This is often not an attempted justification for eating animals so much as it is an attempted attack on vegans who believe that their lifestyle involves less cruelty than an omnivorous one. This is actually a logical fallacy known as tu quoche, which is to accuse your critic of being guilty of doing the same thing they accuse you of in cases where the two situations being compared are not identical. However, I will examine this argument in full nonetheless.
Firstly, it is clear that plants are living organisms which do respond to stimuli. However, as vegans we do not abstain from eating animals because they are alive or because they respond to stimuli, but because they are sentient. The claim that plants have sentience is based on little more than popular pseudoscience; which 36 prominent plant scientists have completely dismissed in a co-signed letter. We know that plants do not feel pain in the way that animals do, because they lack the basic requirements for sentience. Meanwhile, over 2,500 studies suggest and an overwhelming majority of the scientific community agree that at least some animals are sentient, including the animals we farm for food.
Even if we were extremely generous and accepted that plants are sentient, despite evidence to the contrary, that would still in no way justify choosing to eat animals instead of plants where a choice exists between the two. For this argument to make sense, we would have to be willing to accept that plants are even more sentient than animals are. We would then be in a situation where the challenge would be to consume as few plants as possible, however, unfortunately for those holding this position, the conclusion of that logic would be that we all need to go vegan as quickly as possible. This is because we feed considerably more plants to farmed animals than we ever eat ourselves and livestock take in far more calories in crop feed than they will ever give out in meat, meaning that your average omnivorous diet requires significantly more plant “suffering” than a vegan diet does. That isn’t even accounting for the vast swathes of rainforest cut down to make room for animal feed and grazing land for cattle.
Either plants are sentient or they are not; but either way a vegan diet is still the best course of action. A vegan lifestyle is not without harm or environmental destruction, which absolutely should be addressed and discussed. However, since we must consume food to survive, when that choice is between a food sourced from the bodies of clearly sentient beings or beings which are not sentient, which decision is the least harmful should be absolutely clear.