Ethical vegetarianism stems from multiple philosophies pertaining to the human consumption of food and its morality. It claims that humans, as evolved as we are, do not need to eat animals to survive or to be healthy, and should instead eat plants which, as far as we know, do not contain thought as we know it or consciousness, making them okay to eat. There’s other factors to it, like decreasing meat production to help the environment, the cruel treatment of animals in practically every step of their way to becoming food, and the easier transfer of diseases through meat then plants. For today’s topic though, we’ll mainly be discussing the first point, since the Mario world seems to be much less of a nightmare than our world in regard to other vegetarian benefits.
In the real world, plants don’t appear to be all too conscious. In the Mario world, however, this might not be the case. This is a world where the hills have eyes. Mushrooms have eyes, and are sometimes also anthropomorphic people. So it begs the question, would there be an ethical difference between eating vegetables and meat in the Mario universe?
The first living plant one can interact with in the Mario dimension is the Piranha Plant, first seen in Super Mario Bros. In its debut game it comes in and out of warp pipes chomping at Mario (or Luigi) and spitting fireballs. It, noticeably, does not have eyes. The piranha plant seems to take most of its inspiration from the Venus fly trap, a unique flower which looks to humans to have a maw. As opposed to the fly trap, though, which acts intuitively, unable to tell the difference between a fly landing on it and a precocious child poking it, the piranha plant appears to be able to think. When Mario stands on top of the warp pipe, it elects to not come out. In later games, the plant would be shown being able to walk and even chase after people, like in the Mario Party games. In Super Mario 64, it needs to sleep and is even grumpy upon being awakened. Eventually, the plant would even become playable in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Mario Tennis Aces, implying full sentience. Perhaps this species is just an outlier, though.
The next Mario game (in the US anyway) is Super Mario Bros. 2, which featured the characters defeating enemies with turnips. Some of these turnips had faces. In the Smash Bros. franchise all the turnips have faces, and in Captain Toad games down the line the turnips have eyes on them. Having a face, including with different expressions, seems to imply that they might have intelligence, although it’s also possible they evolved just to look that way to fool predators. …do herbivores count as plant predators? Questions for another time.
This facial question is very prevalent, as this is the most applicable question of sentience to most Mario plants. Mushrooms and Fire Flowers would eventually gain eyes, Banana Peels in Mario Kart would have eyes and smiling mouths. Even among non-plant life, things like clouds and fire have these faces, or at least eyes. Does this mean they’re all conscious, and thus unethical to consume?
Well, let’s look at the facts. Eyes aren’t necessary for sentience to be present, as shown with the piranha plant and its cousins Petey Piranha and Dino Piranha. So there’s not necessarily any correlation between eyes and sentience in the Mario ‘verse. Some of the creatures with eyes don’t even seem to be capable of all that much movement, not unlike a real world plant. Fire flowers just kinda sit there, waiting to be utilized in an unspecified way to grant fire powers. Certain enemies like Podaboos appear to just jump at random, automatically, without thought behind it. It’s very difficult to tell which of these necessitate consciousness or lack thereof, unfortunately.
Okay, so let’s ignore the question of all these things having faces. Even assuming they’d all be ineligible for ethical consumption, there’s still a ton of faceless Mario plants! Flowers can be seen in numerous games, as can trees and cacti! In Super Mario World, Yoshi can eat fruit off of bushes, and this fruit reappears again in later games like Super Mario Odyssey, similarly as faceless. In fact, if you look closer, lots of fruit can be seen. Strawberries are on cakes; all kinds of fruits like pineapples and durians are found on Isle Delfino; Yoshi’s Island features various watermelons as power-ups, and Yoshi’s Story has gameplay centered around eating numerous, faceless, real world-looking fruit.
It seems there’s ample enough faceless food items to have a regular and decently varied diet without concerns of eating thinking, feeling creatures that can cry their eyes out while you eat them.
But… wait a minute. Piranha Plants don’t have eyes and are sentient. And the fruit in Yoshi’s Story comes from the Super Happy Tree, a tree with a big smiling face. The piantas on Isle Delfino seem to be tree people, in fact. Do they sell fruit they grow on their tree heads? Are the fruit like their seeds, eggs, or children then, considering we don’t see any child piantas? And while Mario Odyssey features eyeless cacti, Pokeys have existed for a long time and we can see cacti that look like the Odyssey cacti with faces in Mario Party 3! Is there any recognizable pattern at all? How can one tell if the cactus without the face is any less sentient than the one WITH the face, just because it can’t converse with us?
Is any kind of consumption ethical in the Mario world? If you eat a koopa and leave its skeleton, is the resulting Dry Bones a new entity, birthed whole cloth as if anew, or is it the same Koopa, aware of its previous state and with full knowledge of what it is like to be eaten?
In fact, don’t Dry Piranha Plants exist? Does the nature of death and rebirth in the Mario world imply that even things seemingly without skeletons in life will be forcefully brought back as skeletal beats? And what about Boos? What are they ghosts from? Goombas? People? Mushrooms?
With the existence of ghosts, that implies that souls must exist. Which would lead one to believe that something without a soul would be okay to eat, right? We’ve seen Shy Guy ghosts, and people-looking ghosts in the Luigi’s Mansion game, and that seems reasonable. And they also feature Polterpup, a dog ghost, and later a cat ghost. But wait, a toad ghost can be seen in Paper Mario: the Thousand-Year Door, and those are fungus people! Is it feasible to assume plants can be ghosts too? Is a Crayzee Dayzee allowed to be whisked away to the afterlife upon its demise, but not a berry? How can one know?
Yes, it all makes sense now. In order to answer the question of if ethical vegetarianism is feasible in the Mario world, one must first kill and maim. Snuff out the life force of every known plant, plant-like, or animal/plant hybrid known to exist and see if a ghost will be made. Perhaps kill them and then immediately turn on the Poltergust, in case their spirit attempts to ascend. This is the only scientific way we can know about the true nature of what is moral to eat or not! Some might call you mad, but deep down you know that this brief stint of murder will be okay, as all future generations will have the knowledge all your forefathers were too cowardly to discover for themselves!
Could Ethical Vegetarianism Exist In The Mario World?