Crazy-talk: Foods that Don't 'Want' to be Eaten
Something I’ve seen a lot this week in my reading has been this idea that certain foods “want” to be eaten while other foods don’t want to be eaten. Well, the theory goes that certain foods, like grains for example, have a lot of toxins. Plants are immobile. How do they protect themselves?
They don’t want to be eaten, and it’s almost been made to seem that they’ve decided to mount chemical defenses as a strategy to keep from being eaten.
This is a strange way of thinking about evolution and plants and food. It’s too human-centric.
For example…what food wants to be eaten? The only food in nature that I can think of that is actually “designed” as food is mammalian milk.
But if there are chemical compounds in that milk that make it toxic for some bacteria, would it make sense to say milk does not want to be eaten? Not really.
If seeds don’t want to be eaten, tell that to birds.
So, at the very least if we’re going to say a food doesn’t want to be eaten, we ought to include who it doesn’t want to be eaten by. You could say, “Seeds don’t want to be eaten by human beings, at least not in large quantities, and here’s why…”
But, instead of projecting this whole concept of desire onto plants, I think it’s more realistic to say “When humans eat large quantities of seeds, such and such is the result.”
There’s no need to talk about what they want — what plant-matter wants.
It’s not part of the evolutionary equation, at least not as far as we can tell. It might be fun to think of evolution in this way, but again, it’s just not realistic.
You could call a lion’s claws and fangs its defense mechanisms…but again…you really have to be more specific — more objective in your language, if you’re trying to make a scientific point.
Do his claws and fangs defend him against viruses? Nope.
Animals and plants arise out of nature with certain attributes. These attributes can be helpful in a given environment. And if they are, as generations pass, these attributes are often enhanced. Not so much from desire, but from natural selection.
The reason I’m making this point, is that it is sloppy thinking to say that a food should not be eaten because it doesn’t want to be eaten.
I mean can you show me a food that does want to be eaten? Does a cow want to be eaten?
Again, there’s nothing wrong with this line of thinking as a thought experiment…but the conclusions drawn are simply that: conclusions from a thought-experiment.
Now, I for example, suspect that nuts and seeds are getting a worse reputation these days than they deserve because of their Omega 6 content.
I’m always a little suspicious of purely nutritionism-based arguments. A whole food is much more than any one of it’s components. From evolutionary clues, we can gather that seeds and nuts were part of our diet for hundreds of thousands of years or more.
So how adapted are we at extracting the nutrients and benefiting from this food source?
That’s not to say it was a staple. That’s not to say we ate them in copious amounts, or that we preferred them to meat and vegetables. That’s not to say that we ought to grind them up and make them into cakes that we eat every day.
Our recent hunter-gatherer ancestors may have something to teach us here as well with the way they prepared these foods. By soaking, sprouting, fermenting and various other techniques used to help neutralize toxins while keeping the beneficial parts of the food intact.
Projecting what a plant may want or not want is a game — not good reasoning.
In the early days of the Paleo Diet as a modern diet (not during Paleolithic times, I’m talking Paleo Diet here…) nuts and seeds were considered fine to eat. It’s only been a recent development that these have been blacklisted by some, and it’s mostly because of the Omega-6 issue.
Sunflower seeds are a particular target. But did you know they are loaded with Vitamin E, manganese, magnesium, B1, copper, tryptophan, selenium, phosphorus, B5, folate, and so on?
Whether you think you should eat these or not is up to you — and maybe some cyclic moderation is called for — but I think we have to be careful not to throw out the baby with the bath water.
Especially when you look at a Paleo diet that is pretty strict, there can be room for a little extra Omega-6, even without supplementing Omega-3 (more than once in a while).
Well, just some food for thought…
This article is a transcript of the Moment of Paleo segment from Latest in Paleo #22: Don’t Eat Me. It’s original medium was the spoken word, and you can find the original audio on iTunes.