They are here, just like us, subject to the same evolutionary forces struggling to survive and produce viable offspring.
In order to accomplish this they need to protect themselves. Most animals do this through physical defense mechanisms like strength, speed, claws, teeth, horns and antlers. Plants, on the other hand, cannot move and are forced to protect themselves through chemical defenses – toxins that act as herbicides, fungicides, insecticides and other repellents.
It is important to understand that ALL plants create and contain some sort of toxin!
Throughout our 3.5 million year long dietary past, our ancestors have created a number of approaches and technologies that allowed them to make resources safe, nutrient dense and bioavailable for their inefficient and weak bodies. For animal-based foods, most of the developments were focused on overcoming the animals’ physical defenses through hunting technologies like atlatls, bows and arrows and throwing sticks that allowed them to take down game from a safe distance and trapping which allowed them to harvest animals when they were off doing something else! Once an animal was harvested, all they needed was a sharp edge to access the nutrients inside the animal. The guts, blood and fat of the animal is the most nutrient dense and bioavailable food on the planet for us humans!
We don’t even need to do anything to most of it to access all of the nutrition the animal can provide.
The only exception is possibly meat where research by Harvard primatologist, Dr. Richard Wrangham, suggests that cooking helps make available the maximum nutrition possible from meat for the human body. There it is, once killed and butchered animals can provide us the safest, most nutrient dense and bioavailable food possible without any further work!
But, plants are something completely different.
The approaches and technologies we developed over millennia for plant-based food were focused on:
- Detoxifying plants to make them safe and,
- Making nutrients in plants fully available to our bodies.
Approaches and techniques our ancestors developed to accomplish detoxification and bioavailability include fermentation, drying, cooking, leaching, nixtamalizing and geophagy. The default hyper-seasonal aspect of foraging also provided a much needed limiting factor to consumption of certain plant toxins. Through 15,000 years of plant domestication, the industrial revolution, and the more recent advent of supermarkets, we have become so distanced from our food that we no longer realize how dangerous plants can be. We have this naive perception that if we want to be healthy we go directly to the produce section of the grocery store and that everything located there is inherently safe and nourishing for us. And, what’s worse, we believe that if some is good then more must be better! That couldn’t be further from the truth!
What we don’t realize is that the nutrition plants contain comes at a cost! ALL plants contain some level of toxin in them and that some of those toxins can build up on our bodies and become quite dangerous. Further, some of the nutrition these plants contain is not readily available to our bodies, at least not without first processing them the right way before we consume them.
Plants can absolutely be a healthy component of a human diet. We just need to reconnect with our relationship with plants in order to learn how to safely and most effectively access the nutrition they contain. Taking simple steps like foraging, eating seasonally, fermenting in your home and cooking from scratch are all incredibly empowering ways to inform yourself on how to best transform plants into their safest most nourishing forms for the human body.