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"Above/Below Ground" Vegan?

I have a strange vegan question and wasn't sure where else to post this!

Back story:

Earlier this evening I was out with a friend and we ran into a couple of people she knew - one guy, one girl. There was some small chit-chat and then my friend mentioned that we were just about to grab vegan food at the store for me. The guy who was there - someone I've never met before - looked at me and said, "Well, as a vegan for six years, I have to ask if you're above or below ground." I looked at him oddly and asked him to explain. He responded, "Are you an 'above ground' vegan or 'below ground' vegan? Do you eat potatoes?" I told him that, yes, I do eat potatoes. He replied, "Well you might as well be eating chicken and fish, then." I was really put off by his attitude and gave some kind of vague response before turning away. I wasn't looking for a debate.

I'm very confused. What just happened? I was curious and tried to google this "above/below ground" concept but I didn't get much of anything. Maybe I didn't search hard enough! Is anyone else familiar with this? While I'm sure I'll never talk to this guy again (at least, I hope not) I'd like to understand what's behind this whole thing. It was really the "chicken and fish" comment that bothered me.

Hi, first of all it is ridiculous to suggest you are not a vegan because you eat underground plants.  Plants do not have the same sentience that animals have as they lack a nervous system.  There are a few vegans that consider themselves fruitarians, eating only parts of plants that do not kill the plant itself.  They believe that it is wrong to kill plants too.  Personally I think you have to draw the line somewhere, and it is not about personal purity.  No one can avoid killing something.  If you live in a house, drive a car, ride a bike, pay taxes, type on a computer, in some way you contribute to some kind of harm indirectly.  The point is to minimize suffering and stop exploiting animals/sentient beings for personal gain or greed or profit.  We all have to eat something.  For most of us it is not feasible to eat only above ground plants.  Eating underground plants still causes far far less suffering and destruction and exploitation than eating fish or chicken.  There is no comparison.  I wouldn't worry about it if I were you. 

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Some people like labels and classifying others. They need to pigeonhole the people around them; it makes them feel safe, I guess.

 

"They whine, and spew: Oh this one's a psychopath, and that one's a phrasemonger....and whenever they find someone they can't pigeonhole--that's "a most eccentric person." I love the forest; I don't eat meat--"a most eccentric person."

 

(Dr Astrov in "Vanya on 42nd Street", David Mamet's adaptation of Uncle Vanya by Antonin Chekov.

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I never heard of above/below vegan either!

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It sounds like he is a Jain vegetarian.

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Interesting. I just read a little about Jain vegetarianism and it sounds like that must be it! At first I assumed he was demonizing the potato because it is starchy! Haha. I will definitely continue to eat a lot of root vegetables but, unsurprisingly, I like a lot of the other ideas behind jain vegetarianism.

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