I posted an article on social media about a scientists who believe that mushrooms “talk” to each other. Fascinating stuff. In response, someone made this comment to my post:
“my son and I were talking about this today… so now that plants, trees, fungi, animals, and so forth all talk to one another, what do we eat? The carrots are screaming when we pull them, the shrooms lose a huge part of their network. Cows love music. I’m really confused now.”
In response, I wrote:
I’ve been giving those subjects a lot of thought, more than I can put down in an FB comment. (I’m actually working on a book on these topics.) But, briefly, I would mention a few things:
First, there’s the fact that many vegetables and nearly all fruit can be harvested without harming the plant. In fact, many berry seeds, for example, germinate better once they’ve fermented in a digestive tract. Some plants respond positively to having their leaves picked. Any of the mints, for example, come back doubled after your pinch back their tips, which makes twice as many flowers, and hence seeds, on that stem. Such pinching back can be done multiple times per season. So there’s that—the plants that want us to eat from them.
With other greens, like Chard, Kale, Lettuce, etc., you pick the larger lower leaves as the plants grow—leaves that would eventually senesce, and stop photosynthesizing for the plant anyway. Such domestics have been bred to be picked without harming them.
As for roots, most are simply eaten and that’s the end of their lifecycle, though if you want, you can sprout and replant the tops of Carrots, Beets and a few others. Leeks you can cut off just above the soil line, and they will grow back for you to harvest again.
Another approach is to let some root veggies from each patch complete their lifecycle and go to flower and seed. That way, you are contributing to their continuation, and additionally are getting seeds to replant that are a step closer to being well-adapted (and thus, “happier”?) in your region. So that’s some “give” to balance out the “take.”
Coming from another angle, as a long-time farmer, I have often had the sensation that the consciousness of domesticated veggies like Carrots is very different than our own, and I would describe it as a “we without an I.” Just because you and I have an individuated urge of survival, doesn’t mean that every other living thing does. To Carrots, then, it’s about continuation of the species not the individual, so the death of one carrot is not an issue, but the eradication of all carrots would be. (BTW, the carrot is still alive in your refrigerator, and you’ll sometimes see them sprout new greens or put out tiny white roots. It’s not dead til you cook it.)
I would also add that our own individuated urge of survival is at this point in history quite addled by our over-accentuated egos. That is, I would say that we are hyperactively self-obsessed in a way that no longer reflects our true nature, and we are projecting that on animals, plants, etc., when we consider the idea of their consciousness, and in so doing, we are misunderstanding them. Put another way, as techno-civilized humans, we have taken on a fear of death that is unhealthy, and which twists our perception of life on the planet. We no longer know what it is to be truly alive, or to accept death, so we are poor judges of the consciousness of life and death of other creatures. Some people would call this “domestication.”
We no longer consider ourselves possible prey, and so we no longer understand how prey might feel. Is there a side to being prey where one is, in the final moment, willing? Is the experience of life all about clinging to it at all costs, or is it possible to be accepting of the end when it comes? I suspect that, in the wild, such acceptance might be a very real thing. In our cities, in our factory farms, in our monocropped fields—I really doubt it.
Personally, I won’t eat cows—or pigs or sheep or chickens or the other domesticated animals—because I find their slavery abhorrent. They are not free to go, or to give themselves up when they want. It feels like abuse to me. As for veggies, I prefer to grow my own, so that I can try to make respectful choices. I love gathering fruit from feral trees. I also love saving and replanting seeds, which is certainly a way to be a friend to the plants. As for mushrooms, it’s their fruiting bodies that we harvest, and in most cases we are not doing any harm.
Lastly, we must keep in mind that all life on the planet feeds off of other life, in one way or another. We don’t think birds are cruel for eating berries, squirrels for caching nuts, or deer for munching foliage. We might be squeamish about animals who eat other animals, but I believe that squeamishness comes from our alienation from nature, and is not a “natural” reaction per se.
As I see it, we must re-engage with the living things of the world, and see that EVERYTHING deserves consideration—animal, plant, mushroom, etc. No more drawing a line somewhere—like between plants and animals—and saying it’s okay to thoughtlessly eat things on one side but not the other. We must not be thoughtless about anything at all. Fortunately, pursuing such attentiveness offers its own rewards, in my experience.
I am convinced that, if our species survives another century, we will look back with horror at the attitudes of our current age, in which we are so opposed to viewing non-humans as being conscious.