Monday, December 21, 2009

"sorry vegans: brussels sprouts like to live, too"

The best part about stumbling on the article "sorry vegans: brussels sprouts like to live, too" is that I'm a vegan and I had literally just washed the olive oil off my hands from munching on baked brussels sprouts before I touched my keyboard to hit up the New York Times. Funny.

Now back to the article. The overall science included in the article is fascinating:

Just because we humans can’t hear them doesn’t mean plants don’t howl. Some of the compounds that plants generate in response to insect mastication — their feedback, you might say — are volatile chemicals that serve as cries for help. Such airborne alarm calls have been shown to attract both large predatory insects like dragon flies, which delight in caterpillar meat, and tiny parasitic insects, which can infect a caterpillar and destroy it from within.

...Dr. Hilker and her colleagues, as well as other research teams, have found that certain plants can sense when insect eggs have been deposited on their leaves and will act immediately to rid themselves of the incubating menace.

...“Plants are not static or silly,” said Monika Hilker of the Institute of Biology at the Free University of Berlin. “They respond to tactile cues, they recognize different wavelengths of light, they listen to chemical signals, they can even talk” through chemical signals. Touch, sight, hearing, speech. “These are sensory modalities and abilities we normally think of as only being in animals,” Dr. Hilker said.

This is all great stuff (and so Avatar, if you've seen it). Although I have to say, the delivery is quite poor. The fact that the article is addressed to "ethical vegans" seems like the author is giving those who abstain from animal consumption the middle finger, as if our compassion for animals and environmental impact is now irrational because plants sense danger and can communicate.

First, let's get real--I'm not going to starve to death. Second, I am not convinced that some sort of chemical sensory perception and communication is the same as experiencing emotions, socializing, etc. Third, assuming arguendo that plants are on equal footing as animals, plants are not slowly tortured to death the way animals are to obtain flesh, lactation, and the like. Lastly, the environmental impact of farming animals is much larger than harvesting crops.

It's nothing new that ecosystems are inter-connected and inter-dependent. Shall I prance around and eat foie gras now because plants communicate with one another? I'm not really sure what the author is asking for, nor did I appreciate her method of framing what is otherwise extremely interesting scientific understandings of plant sophistication.

At the end of the day, ecosystems are alive. Make conscious choices, try to take only what you need, appreciate it, and give back as best you can.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Keep posting stuff like this i really like it.