Last week The New York Times ran an article, Sedate a Plant, and It Seems to Lose Consciousness. Is It Conscious? The new evidence that plants have a type of “conscious,” joins a host of other research indicating that plants are intelligent, understand where they are in space, respond to threats and obstacles, and communicate with each other. We’ve known for years that plants grow faster and lusher when you play the right music or speak nicely to them, but now there is evidence that plants form memories. Does that mean they remember that you were kind to them? And what does it mean now to eat them? What, if any, are the moral or ethical implications?
Just to be clear, I’m pretty sure that we have to eat something, so I’m not advocating for fasting or breatharianism (the belief that one can survive on sunlight and fresh air – and yes, this is real). As an 80-90% vegetarian I’m already big on a plant based diet, and debating making the jump to full time veggie. Furthermore, what started as a simple recognition that I feel better when I eat less meat and more plants, has begun to take on ideological overtones as more is uncovered about the horrendous abuses in the meat industry. It is no longer possible to ignore the glaring cost of what we put on our plates in terms of animal suffering, environmental damage, and waste of resources. Continuing to support any part of this system with my food dollars has become untenable.
I think that in an ideal world there is a way to “ethically” eat an animal. Perhaps a Native American or indigenous rite of recognizing, honoring, asking permission and thanking the spirit of the animal before slaughter would come close. Eating nothing but what one has hunted oneself would likewise add a mindfulness to the process that is lacking now. My question today is, do plants deserve the same “soul” recognition and mindfulness in their handling and consumption?
I suspect the answer is yes. And while I’ve never been a big one for saying grace before meals, I have for years thanked the plants that I am dicing, chopping, sauteing, etc., for their nutrients and sacrifice on my behalf. I feel bad for unused food in a way that I didn’t before – now it’s not just a question of wasted money, but a needless sacrifice of an energy that was prepared to nourish me, if I had remained mindful. Thinking this way also means that I am more mindful of portion size and not being greedy, which may also explain why I feel and look better when I eat this way. And for that, I give thanks, too.