A respectful diet: ethical botanical fruitarianism

On the previous three pages (The harm avoidance principle, Respecting the non-human life of our planet and Responding to objections to the harm avoidance principle as applied to the non-human life of our planet) I explain why I think we are ethically obligated to adopt a diet that does no avoidable harm to living beings, I make some references to what that diet consists of, and I explain that it is a type of fruitarianism [wikipedia] - fruitarianism in general being a diet sometimes adopted for health, lifestyle or religious reasons, but often also, as in my case, for ethical reasons. On this page, I describe in more detail this diet which for ease of reference, not knowing any existing term for it, I refer to as "ethical botanical fruitarianism". I also offer a few tips as to how to avoid nutritional deficiencies on it.

A preface: types of vegetarian diet

First, a preface: on this page, I sometimes refer to vegan-certified products rather than to fruitarian-certified products. You might be curious as to the distinction between veganism and fruitarianism, and also as to how these are distinct from vegetarianism. Briefly:

It is sometimes then more fitting for me to refer on this page to products suitable for vegans rather than those suitable for fruitarians even though I advocate for the latter, because veganism is a lot more mainstream, and is actually an ethical position, whereas fruitarianism is less popular and is not in general an ethical position, so that whilst there are quite a few products and supplements certified vegan, there are none that I know of certified fruitarian.

Pure fruitarianism

In its ultimate form, fruitarianism is conformance to a diet consisting solely of the raw flesh, excluding the seeds, of fruit, which we can be confident is the most ethical of (organic) foods for four reasons:

  1. Its procurement does not harm the plant, particularly if we are to also be procurement purists and consume only fruit that has fallen/detached naturally from the plant.
  2. Plants produce it for the very purpose of being eaten, to spread the plant's seeds far and wide, and so, producing it themselves to be eaten, in all likelihood plants produce it to be eaten without suffering.
  3. Even if fruit has some form of awareness and capacity for suffering, we minimise that by not subjecting it to extreme temperatures.
  4. The flesh of fruit is less likely to have any form of awareness and capacity for suffering than seeds (including nuts/beans/legumes), given that seeds have the capacity to persist for long periods of time and eventually grow into plants, whereas fruit flesh, uneaten, simply rots within a very short period.

This type of fruitarianism then would be the best diet from an ethical perspective if a person could survive on it. The problem is that if we are to trust the findings of modern, mainstream nutritional science, in particular the daily requirements of vitamins and minerals that have been developed from those findings, then it is very challenging if not impossible to construct a nutritionally complete pure fruitarian diet, especially in winter months when there is a relative lack of variety of available fruits.

For this reason, we might broaden the fruitarian diet to include types of foods which, even if we cannot be as unconditionally confident in their ethical permissibility as raw, non-seed fruit flesh, we can nevertheless take to be ethically permissible. Following is a description of that broadened diet.

Ethical botanical fruitarianism in a nutshell

In a nutshell, ethical botanical fruitarianism is conformance to a diet based in the following principle:

Eat only that which detaches harmlessly from a plant, or which otherwise causes no harm (e.g. salt, in moderation).

In other words, it is a fruitarian diet, but defining fruit more by the botanical than the culinary definition, i.e. as "that which detaches harmlessly from a plant"; or, in yet other words - it is a vegan diet minus non-fruit plant matter. It also minimises grains, cereals and legumes from Australia. This is because of (in Australia) the harm done to "pest" plague mice during the farming of these foods.

In other words, on top of the fruit we typically know as such - i.e. culinary fruit; apples, bananas, strawberries, melons, etc - it also includes the "fruits" more commonly known as nuts, seeds, grains, cereals, beans, legumes, and fruit "vegetables" such as tomatoes, pumpkins, zucchini, corn, capsicum, eggplant and peas.

Grains, cereals and legumes from Australia should be excluded or at least minimised on an ethical basis because during their cultivation their fields are often subject to mice plagues, which are typically dealt with by poisoning the poor creatures in large numbers. To the extent that grains, cereals and legumes are grown/sourced ethically, however, there is no prohibition against including them in an ethical botanical fruitarian diet.

Non-organic (in the sense of not being derived from living organisms, not necessarily in the chemical sense) dietary components - salt, vinegar, baking soda, etc - are permissible in an ethical botanical fruitarian diet except where their production/sourcing causes harm to living beings.

Cooking is permitted in an ethical botanical fruitarian diet even though discouraged due to the possibility of some form of awareness and capacity for temperature-induced suffering in botanical fruit.

Consumption of sprouted seeds/nuts/beans/legumes is not permitted in this diet for the reason described below.

An extended vegan ethic

Ethical botanical fruitarianism should probably be considered to be an ethical position akin to, and extending, veganism, because it is not really possible to follow an ethical botanical fruitarian diet for any other reason than ethical considering that whether or not some foods are included or excluded is specifically an ethical question - in other words, grains, cereals and legumes are included insofar as they can be sourced from farms which do not harm "pest" mice or insofar as their nutritional content is necessary, and excluded insofar as they cannot. There is no ethical-independent criteria by which to include or exclude such components of the diet, and so, absent an ethical motivation, the diet is not wholly defined.

Below, I explain in more detail the basis of the exclusions and inclusions of foods in this diet.

Definite exclusions

It might be easiest to start with what's definitely excluded from this diet, and why. If you feel a sense of disappointment whilst reading of these excluded foods, then take heart that there are in many cases ethical substitutes for these foods which do a reasonable, and sometimes exceptional job of making up for the loss of the originals.

Firstly, and for what I hope are obvious reasons, all meat, including (this might not be an exhaustive list, but hopefully it comes close) red meat, fish and other seafood, poultry and other birds, insects, grubs, organs and blood, is excluded. Certain exceptions, however, might be ethically permissible in this diet - for example, the consumption of roadkill can be ethically justified because those deaths are accidental, and increased consumption is not causally linked to increased supply (further death). There might well, however, be health reasons to avoid such foods.

Secondly, food products stolen from animals, particularly when the "production" causes great suffering, are excluded (if you are unaware of the suffering involved, then a bit of googling about factory farming will enlighten you. I hope in future to add a page containing links to pages and resources from other sites that do such a good job of revealing it that I feel no need to attempt to duplicate their efforts). These products are essentially eggs, dairy foods (milk, cheese, yoghurt, cream, ice cream, milk chocolate, etc), and honey. Some people might feel that it is justifiable to make an exception for certain types of eggs, in particular those produced in backyard chicken runs, where the hens are free to roam about where they will, and where there is no rooster and thus no fertilisation of eggs, and thus where the eggs serve no purpose to the hens and would only go to waste anyway. Personally, I don't make that exception, because I'm not comfortable with the idea of people "keeping" animals in such a way (not least of all because it is unfair to sever one gender from the other), but I recognise that some people might find compelling the argument that if the hens are given sufficient freedom, and are protected from predators, then there is no ethical problem with sourcing and consuming eggs from backyard chickens. Such people might, however, be dissuaded by the strong argument against ever taking eggs from chickens at all that Alisa Rutherford-Fortunati presents in her article, Do Chickens Mourn the Loss of Their Eggs?

Thirdly, vegetable foods whose procurement requires the destruction of the host plant, or avoidable damage to it, are excluded. This includes foods such as carrots, broccoli, cauliflower and spring onions, and also leafy vegetables such as spinach, lettuce, cabbage and rocket, and herbs such as basil, thyme and oregano - the latter two categories because evidence strongly suggests that plants are harmed and suffer in having their leaves ripped off.

Fourthly, and particularly if you source these products from Australia, grains, cereals and legumes are excluded or at least minimised, because, as noted above and in the "animal deaths in plant agriculture" argument on the previous page, they are subject whilst growing to semi-regular mice plagues, which are currently dealt with by poisoning those creatures in great numbers (that link provides details on why minimising consumption of grains, cereals and legumes rather than preferring grass-fed beef is ethically preferable even if the latter might superficially seem preferable).

Finally, sprouted seeds/nuts/beans/legumes are excluded. This is because, once sprouted, such living matter is no longer dormant, and is now actively living. This is significant because in all likelihood this living matter whilst dormant is non-sentient, whereas once actively living it is in all likelihood sentient, a unique being, and thus due ethical consideration. It is like the difference between eating an egg with a foetus inside it and eating one without: the former destroys a life; the latter does not.

Definite inclusions

What, then, out of what's left, might we be confident enough in the harmlessness of eating (granting that we can be most confident only in the raw, non-seed flesh of fruit)? Basically: nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, culinary fruit and fruit "vegetables". The latter - culinary fruit and fruit "vegetables" - are ethical for the reasons described above. The former - nuts, seeds, beans and legumes - are ethically permissible in that they can be detached from the plant without destroying or otherwise harming it, and that, whilst dormant and unsprouted, and thus not living in an active sense, they are unlikely to be sentient or capable of suffering - granting, though, that we can't be sure of this. Unfortunately, harmless harvest is not always the case under industrial farming methods: particularly during the harvesting of certain beans and legumes, entire plants might be ripped from the ground and destroyed. The mitigating factor in this destruction is that by the time the beans/legumes have dried out enough for harvest, their host plants are typically if not quite dead yet, then very near to death. There might exist, though, organic farms which harvest beans and legumes manually without destroying the plants - I have yet to investigate this fully, but if I find such a source, then I will switch to it.

To reiterate, by fruit "vegetables", I mean vegetables such as tomatoes, pumpkins, zucchini, corn, capsicum, eggplant and peas, all of which detach from their host plant without harm to that host plant.

The grey areas

It is unclear to me whether to consider certain types of living matter as "alive" and "vulnerable to harm" in the sense of being sentient, or "merely potential life" in the sense of being dormant like a seed and non-sentient. Living matter that fits this category in particular includes unsprouted root vegetables like potatoes and sweet potatoes, unsprouted rhizomes such as ginger and galangal, and unsprouted bulbs like onion and garlic.

It is also not clear to me whether microorganisms such as yeast are or might reasonably be guessed to be sentient, nor whether algae and seaweed deserve the same recognition.

My mind is subject to change on this, particularly pending evidence for/against the possibility of awareness in such living matter, but for the moment I continue to include all of these foods in my diet from time to time. [Update: subsequent to first writing this, I have, out of caution, stopped consuming those products containing or produced via yeast that I had been consuming, which essentially were alcoholic beverages. This is as much out of a desire to remain sober as to avoid exploitation of such life forms].

Healthy diet planning

As noted on the previous page, in the response to the argument from health (generic), the national dietetic associations of both Australia (from where I write) and the USA endorse at least vegan diets as healthy, and, tacitly, except perhaps for children, fruitarian diets too, as a subset of a vegan diet.

That said, there are some nutrients that fruitarians need to be aware of in their diets, at least if they trust mainstream nutritional science. I have no particular opinion as to whether that science is trustworthy, but out of caution, I assume that it is. I would recommend your doing some independent research on this, potentially in consultation with a sympathetic dietitian, but here are some brief notes from my own research (I will leave research of the effects of deficiency in each of these nutrients to the interested reader):

Nutrients to be aware of on an ethical botanical fruitarian diet

Even if you adopt the broader ethical botanical fruitarian diet rather than the purist fruitarian diet including no foods other than raw, non-seed fruit flesh, you still need be particularly concerned with getting sufficient quantities of at least the following nutrients: B12, D, Omega-3, especially EPA and DHA, selenium and iodine. Out of caution, I take (daily, when I remember) supplements for the first three, as well as high-availability foods for the final three (yes, the first and final three overlap).

The mainstream consensus is that vitamin B12 can only be obtained from animal products, other than supplementing with a synthetic source, and thus that supplementation is essential for vegans. There are, of course, vegans who dispute this, and who claim to have been living supplement-free for decades without suffering ill health. I am not going to take a position on this other than to reiterate that I play it safe and take supplements myself. Vegan-friendly vitamin B12 supplements can be sourced from almost any chemist, although many vegan products (e.g. non-dairy milks; vegan sausages/burgers) in the supermarket are fortified with B12, so that, depending on your shopping choices, you might get enough B12 in your diet without supplementation even if you do believe the mainstream consensus that supplementation is necessary (however, be aware that many vegan sausages/burgers and similar products are wheat-based).

Vitamin D, likewise, is rarely if ever found in vegan food, but can be manufactured by our bodies on exposure of our skin to sunlight. If you don't get outdoors a lot, and even if you do, as a vegan you might wish to supplement your vitamin D intake. Supplements come in two forms, D2 and D3, with D3 being considered to be a good deal more potent, but, until recently, not possible to obtain from vegan sources. Recently, though, a vegan-friendly D3 supplement supplier entered the market, and I've switched from D2 to their D3 product: Vitashine D3. Full disclosure: I have not been paid nor otherwise unduly influenced to mention this product, nor do I have nor have I ever had any relationship with its supplier other than as a customer. I mention it only because it is the only product I know of that meets this need.

Of the three essential types of Omega-3s [wikipedia], only one, ALA, is available in fruitarian sources: most notably flaxseed/linseed, chia seeds and walnuts. On days that I remember, I make myself a banana and almond milk smoothie with generous servings of LSA (linseed, sunflower and almond) mix and chia seeds, to make sure I get enough ALA. The body can convert ALA into the other two essential Omega-3s, EPA and DHA, but only in very small quantities, far below what the body (according to mainstream consensus) requires, and so supplementation is necessary. As with D3, vegan sources of EPA and DHA were not until recently available, but I have discovered a vegan-friendly (their product is algae-based) supplier from whom I have been purchasing for over a year now: Opti3. The same full disclosure applies as for my mention of Vitashine D3.

Brazil nuts are a potent source of selenium, otherwise difficult to obtain in a fruitarian diet, but we are warned not to consume too many of them lest we develop selenium toxicity. I consume one Brazil nut per day (also in a smoothie) to make sure that I get enough but not too much selenium.

Iodine is available in certain seaweeds and perhaps other sources, but I get my daily share by adding about half a teaspoon of iodised salt to a daily smoothie.

Additional nutrients to be aware of on a pure fruitarian diet

If you are eating raw, non-seed fruit flesh alone, you will, in addition to the nutrients listed above, also need to be aware of at least the following nutrients, which are difficult to obtain on such a diet: calcium, zinc and choline.

Most of one's daily calcium needs can best be met on a pure fruitarian diet by eating large quantities of oranges as well as sun-dried or semi-dried tomatoes, and the rest can be met by including a variety of other fruits containing lesser quantities of calcium. Those same two sources can best supply some of one's zinc requirements, but supplementation of this mineral on a pure fruitarian diet is probably necessary (again, assuming you trust mainstream nutrition science). Likewise, those same two sources can supply a good deal of one's choline needs, but it is probably impossible to get sufficient choline without doing something like I have been known to do: adding half a tablespoon of sunflower lecithin to a daily smoothie - not the most flavoursome ingredient, but in that quantity you'll hardly notice it.

See also

Jack Norris, Registered Dietitian, provides his own list of Daily Recommendations for the rarer vegan nutrients on his excellent site, VeganHealth.org.

Sample daily food plans and recipes

At some point I might put up some representative daily food plans that meet daily nutritional requirements, but I can't promise anything just yet. In the meantime, here are some recipes that I've vetted, and found to be tasty. You might like to hunt around the web for other suitable recipes because there are many to be found. This diet can be a vibrant, colourful, healthy, zesty and most especially flavoursome one!

Community

The fruitarian and vegan communities, including the online communities, are active and vibrant. As I wrote in the introduction, fruitarianism is a broad category, and not all fruitarians follow the exact diet that I've recommended on this page, and veganism of course includes foods that are not permissible on this diet - but even if you commit to this diet, you can nevertheless pick up some great tips and meet many like-minded people in these communities despite that they do not follow it in every respect.

Some of the online fruitarian and vegan communities of which I'm aware are:

There are other fruit festivals in addition to the Thai Fruit Festival, and Robert Kornacki of Fruitphile.com lists 2015 fruit festivals (he did the same for 2014 fruit festivals). One of them is The Woodstock Fruit Festival, a yearly festival in the USA focussed on raw fruitarianism, founded by Michael Arnstein. This festival also has a YouTube channel.

Many other fantastic and inspiring members of the fruitarian / vegan / raw food movements have YouTube channels and/or social media pages which support vibrant communities too. Some of whom I'm aware (and there are many more) are:

Changelog