Monday, April 20, 2009
A Stunning "Secret"
In 1975, I read a book that truly changed my world view forever. At the time, I was struggling with trying out a vegetarian lifestyle, not for health reasons, mind you, but because of a love for animals, in fact, a love of all living creatures. I had been raised on meat and potatoes. If beef wasn't on the menu for dinner, then it must be chicken. I was not enjoying my new diet.
My then boyfriend,(now husband) Mac, was an ethical vegetarian at that time and had been, for about ten years, refusing to consume anything; "that had ever been alive." By that, he specifically meant anything that walks, swims or flies. Anything else was fair game. Plants were not considered in his theory of alive things. Good thing, too, because at five feet, ten inches tall, he weighed in at only about one hundred and thirty pounds.
One day I took a stroll uptown and was browsing through the racks at my local library when I came upon "The Secret Life Of Plants" by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird. My thinking about what constitutes "life" and consciousness was about to be challenged in a major way.
The premise of the book was fascinating. What if plants possess a sort of consciousness, and can perceive their environment? What if they have an actual awareness of their surroundings, and of us? At first, it seemed too far-out to even consider, but then, I read the case that the authors had put forth, including experiments in which the leaves of various plants were attached to polygraph (lie detector) machines and registered reactions to water, a lighted match, music, and even human thoughts. The effect of the book on me was that I now have to consider that plants may be just as "alive" as animals, somehow aware, possibly capable of some kind of feeling, however different from our concept of such things as those feelings might be.
After reading the book, I gave up my vegetarian aspirations. My husband Mac started eating meat again shortly thereafter as well. If plants too were possibly sentient beings, or at least in some way conscious, how could I continue to eat them while eschewing animal flesh? How could I make the judgement that a bird or cow or fish was somehow more alive and thus, more important than a lettuce? And yet, we all have to eat something.
In the end, I decided that my approach would be to try to honor, respect and appreciate all living things to the best of my ability, and to eat from all food groups. I avoid the unnecessary killing of insects and "weeds" alike. It seems to me that "life" may be subjective, and the understanding of what constitutes "being" could possibly vary widely across the vast span of species found in creation.
I have also realized that I could not blame a carnivorous predator for eating me either, if I were ever to find myself in that situation.