If you had asked me about my knowledge of plants ten years ago, I would have responded with, “they are green, give us oxygen and make for good decoration”. Fast forwarding to the present day, I am now able to write an essay about my journey with plants.
Human evolution with plant life has always made me curious. I would often ask myself; why do we only eat certain plants? Why is it illegal to pick certain plants while others are planted to be picked? Is it ethical to genetically modify plants for human survival?
It was when I made the life changing decision of going vegan that I truly deepened my connection with plants and further developed my knowledge in botany. For years, plants have been the main source of nutrients in many parts of the world. However, the industrial revolution has given rise to the animal agricultural industry and factory farming. In this period, we have become reliant on monoculture to produce specific plants in large quantities. Furthermore, with the rising reliance on meat, many have forgotten the beautiful world of plant agriculture. Interestingly, for some, a plant-based staple diet is limited simply to rice, corn, wheat, broccoli and lettuce.
Another common misconception that has arisen in recent years is that we cannot get all your nutrients from plant foods. I was amongst the group of people who believed in this misconception, until I started researching more about plant-based diets and exploring plant nutrients. I soon discovered that there are approximately 400,000 plant species in the world, of which nearly 300,000 are edible with right knowledge of cooking, courage, and cultivation. However, humans have explored about 20,000 species for consumption, and sadly only about 10-100 species are available to us at the grocery stores globally. It is important to note that almost all the important nutrients can be obtained from plant-based foods (except for 1 or 2 which can be taken as supplements). Many of the toughest creatures on Earth are herbivores such as cows, elephants, gorillas, or rhinos.
In the early days of adopting veganism, I was unsure of living healthy with just plant foods. Then came along a wise piece of advice that changed my perspective on diet and health. This important revelation was that it is not the quantity but the quality and diversity of foods which matters the most. After that, I explored plants and plant by-products containing hidden nutrients, I had never heard of. Some of my favourite discoveries were chia seeds (high in omega-3 fatty acids and fibre), kabocha squash (high in vitamin A and C, and iron), and dark chocolate (rich in antioxidants). These are only some of the foods I would have never thought to try if I remained on my previous diet.
I began to fall in love with plants, discovering more of their nutritional, medicinal and commercial uses. They have anti-tumor, anti-depressant and choleretic properties that are used to heal and prevent diseases. They are hidden sources in our daily use products such as rubber, bioplastics, clothing, furniture and even biofuels.
Fortunately, I had an opportunity to work in an herbarium where I would preserve different species of pressed plants that were hundreds of years old. From this, I gained respect for the beauty of each unique plant and how there were so many of them, each with their own characteristics. There were even times when I would handle severely endangered plants, deeply saddened at the thought that these species might not grow on Earth again. Although some rare and important plant species are already extinct, there are ancient species that remain, and are of the greatest importance to preserve. The most important thing we can do today is to protect ancient forests that provide a rich environment for rare plant species, as well as, valuable resources we may need to rely on as our environment changes. We are currently taking the existence of forests and plants for granted, cutting nearly 10 billion trees a year.
A transition to a plant-based diet can help eliminate many forms of poverty including nutritional, ecological, and economical, and reduce greenhouse gases. It is an effective measure which individuals can take to reduce their carbon footprint. Furthermore, a plant-based diet may eventually be beneficial for preserving plant and human life on Earth. Each year, thousands of acres of forests are cleared to create space for domesticated animals and factory farms. These are forests that hold cures to diseases, food and medicine for native animals and humans, and have significant economic value. Land protection practices combined with reallocation of forest and urban spaces to enrich plant biodiversity may also decrease water use and greenhouse gas emissions compared to animal agriculture. It is encouraging that plant-based diets are gaining popularity and this trend will enhance people’s knowledge of plants and the discipline of botany. This is important because many of us take plants for granted, underestimating their importance and value in our life. We often forget that plants existed before humans evolved. It is critical that we nurture respect and care for nature while we receive its abundant valuable resources, now and in the future.
“Plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”
About the Author
Misha Patel is an undergraduate student at Western University in a double major program in medical sciences and ecosystem health. She loves hiking, exploring spirituality, travelling and is a veganism advocate. She is currently working for Environment and Climate Change Canada, hoping to study environmental health in the future.