Today I read my essay (see below) and had them critique/grade it based on the rubric that I also gave them.
Overall, they gave me good scores. But they did have a couple of good criticisms that I think might make it an even better essay.
First, one student suggested that I start with the argument about cost. It's factual and really hard to argue with. She said that I should then use the argument about health. "Oh, it's cheaper and healthier for me too - cool!" And that I should end with the argument about suffering and compassion because she thought that was my weakest. As she pointed out, some people just don't care that cows have to die for them to eat hamburger.
The other major criticism was that I did not address the objection about plants having feelings. A few students brought up this response which I had neglected to include. They felt that it would have been a better essay if I had addressed that. One student claimed that plants do have feelings. I challenged him to bring in evidence backing up his assertion. We'll see if he does or not; I'm not holding my breath.
Which got me thinking... How could I respond to that objection about a vegan diet? I went to the Internet and found the information below from Don't Plants Have Feelings Too?:
1. What about plants? Don't plants have feelings too?
It is very possible that plants have sensitivities that we do not yet understand. Because plants do not have nervous systems and cannot run away from predators, it has generally been assumed that they do not experience pain and suffering. Recent scientific evidence suggests that this assumption may be incorrect. However, we do know that birds and other nonhuman vertebrates have well-developed nervous systems and pain receptors the same as humans. Like us, they show pleasure and pain and they present comparable evidence of fear and well-being. Animals cry out in pain, they nurse wounded body parts, and they seek to avoid those who have hurt them in the past.
In order to live, one has to eat. However, when we eat animal products, we consume many more plants indirectly than if we ate those plants directly, because the animals we eat are fed huge quantities of grasses, grains, and seeds to be converted into meat, milk, and eggs. As a vegan (one who eats no animal products) you cause fewer beings to suffer and die for you.
I also found this response at the MadSci Network:
Plants can sense light (phototropism, photomorphogenesis, photoperiodism) and gravity (gravitropism) and some can respond to touch (thigmotropism, thigmonasty) (Salisbury and Ross, 1985). As far as botanists have determined, plants do not have feelings, do not grow better when exposed to certain types of music, and cannot communicate with humans as claimed in the bestselling book "The Secret Life of Plants." Those claims have been debunked by real botanists (Hershey, 1995). Botany is unfortunately hampered by many misconceptions. However, the scientific aspects of plants are extremely fascinating, probably even more so than the false claims (Attenborough, 1995).
Even nonvegetarians are indirectly eating plants because photosynthetic plants are at the base of our food chain. So we either eat plants directly or we eat animals that eat plants. Medical research has clearly shown that it is better for your health to eat a mostly vegetarian diet. It is also better for the environment because domestic animals pollute the environment with massive amounts of waste and eating animals is less efficient. The land area to support a human population eating plants is about one-tenth the area needed to support the same population that eats meat (Starr and McMillan, 1995). Strange as it seems, if you want to help plants, become a vegetarian.
Those ideas should help me make my essay stronger.