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.


  1. I was a vegetarian for over 10 years, then tried vegan and after a short time failed at it, went back to eating as a did as a kid, with meat & fish, and now I am a vegetarian again. This works best for ME, but everyone has to find their own balance. Some people, if you took steak away from them, they'd die. ~Mary

  2. and you would be tasty too!!! heehee....growl. we do have to eat and whether your'e a vegan, vegetarian or suck the wings off chickens i say its all good. i don't believe we as a people started on dino burgers but it is how we evolved. protein from meat made us stronger and smarter too. you should eat want you want and you should eat as many different things you can find. add moderation to that[ quantity] and you shall be fine. but thats just me.........jc

  3. Thank you for this insightful view of taking part in the Council of All Beings--including plants, and our relationship to all our kin.

    The other issue about plant crops that gets missed is the enormous amount of habitat destruction, dewatering, pesticide/herbicide use etc that goes along with farming.

    Still, if we are planting crops to feed animals, there is a larger impact yet.

    That said, I do eat meat--though I try to be responsible by hunting it.

  4. Hi Deedee, wow, what an interesting book and an interestin theory, making us all think twice about what we put in our mouths! I have to admit, that I have spent a great deal of time thinking of this too, because I am convinced that plants feel something. Not on the same level as humans or animals, but to some point. They live and exist as we all do, so whý would there not be some level of thought or feeling! What a nice post, giving us all something to ponder! Take care, and thanks so much for all your wonderful comments on my blog! Always a pleasure for me to see that you have dropped by!! Debby

  5. I may have come across that book too... I fancied that even rocks had a slower consciousness, but we didn't have the means to test that.
    The world seems to be made in a way that forces us to make ethical decisions. Ego, need, spiritual vision..what really governs us?

  6. Michael Pollan has a great book on plants using us. I'll check on it for you. I bet you would find it interesting. He is Michael J Fox's father in law, btw.

  7. If one lives with a deep respect for Nature and all things living then our diet can be in harmony with it.
    Free range, hormone free, organic... are all part of the choices we can choose from. A backyard garden can also help to yield wonderful insight into the growing process.
    I enjoyed your dandelion post, there is nothing more stunning than an endless field of dandelions with the bees buzzing about and butterflies alighting on the delicate flowers.

  8. Hi Mary - yeah, it's all about balance, isn't it?

    Hi Jack - I think the caveman diet is probably the best- nuts, berries, roots, fruit, fish and the occasional small animal.

    Hi Eco - Just as I started typing this, Selfish Man by Flogging Molly started playing on my media player, and I remembered that you are a fan too :) Synchronicity!
    Yeah, it is sort of crazy to invest so much in farming to feed animals so we can eat them, when we could just farm to feed ourselves. I could never hunt, though - I guess it's cowardly of me, but I don't want to look into the eyes of a creature I've killed. I used to like fishing, but I stopped for that reason.

    Hi Debby - Thanks, I always enjoy a visit to your blog as well!

    Hi Lyn - I feel that rocks vibrate with an energy too...I've always felt this, even as a small child. Yes, you are right...everything seems to lead to ethical decisions...

    Hi CG - I would be very interested in reading that book. Maybe this is more of a symbiotic relationship than we imagine.

    Hi Susan - Thank you-I loved your last post. I look forward to your new blog!

  9. I do love Floggin' Molly, and have my daughter to thank for "introducing" me to the music when FM was part of the Warped Tour here in Montana some years ago. Mrs ER is not too down with the idea that I want "If I ever leave this world alive" played at my funeral (not that I'm in any hurry, either).

  10. Eco - Haha! You write the best comments.