Do plants have feelings? A recent study says they have an awareness of sorts, particularly when they're about to be eaten.
Does this mean a vegetarian diet isn’t an ethical one?
According to Modern Farmer, which reported on the study out of the University of Missouri, “plants can tell when they’re being eaten, and they don’t like it.”
But don’t go all breatharian just yet. Things are (obviously) different for plants and animals. According to Modern Farmer:
The researchers were seeking to answer an unusual question: does a plant know when it’s being eaten? Clarification: The researchers, as well as many other researchers at many different institutions, are trying in general to learn how plants respond to attack stimuli, but these specific researchers discovered a specific element of that quest: that plants can respond to aural stimuli, sounds from their environment.
What the researchers found was that when a plant was “under attack”, which, in this case, was the munching done by a caterpillar, the plant (thale cress, a relative of broccoli) released mustard oils, which aims to deter predators. “The study showed that when the plants felt or heard the caterpillar-munching vibrations, they sent out extra mustard oils into the leaves. When they felt or heard other vibrations? Nothing,” Modern Farmer explained. “It’s a far more dynamic defense than scientists had realized: the plant is more aware of its surroundings and able to respond than expected.” But it doesn't really answer the question: do plants have feelings or don't they? It only tells us that things are a bit more complicated. We can only try to perceive it in terms of our own human minds, but without question, the awareness of a plant is far different than our reality.
Still, do the findings mean that eating plants is somehow unethical or inherently cruel? We need only look at the suffering of the billions of factory farm animals who are tortured and killed for their parts to see the obvious distinction. While a plant may sense a threat, it’s nowhere near the abuse livestock animals endure. That fact, in conjunction with research that shows how healthy eating plants is for humans and the planet (and how unhealthy excessive animal product consumption is), makes a pretty good case for sticking with a plant-based diet - even if those spinach leaves might sense salad dressing in their future.
Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger
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