Where do we draw the line?

In his latest piece for the Atlantic Food Channel, he [James McWilliams] attempts to refine his earlier argument by saying that animals are sentient beings, and therefore it is wrong to kill and eat them. Not an argument I personally agree with, but so far, so good. The trouble comes with his definition of “sentient.” If sentient means, according to McWilliams, “capable of suffering,” where do we draw the line? And if animals are so sentient, doesn’t that make a farm system where they suffer less, if at all, dramatically better than one that causes nothing but suffering for all of the animals and many of the people involved?

A fish does not register “pain” or “fear”. It might exhibit a rush of stress hormones when confronted with a lethal situation, but plants also release stress hormones, especially as a result of any sort of damage. Like when you snap a tree branch to pick an apple. Or shear off leaves from a spinach plant for salad. I’m not making the argument that plants are sentient beings, but as long as we’re “lifting veils” and performing “mental exercises,” to use McWilliams’ parlance, we might as well go whole hog, don’t you think?
~ Nicole Washington (January 11, 2011)