AN ESSAY FOR THE DAY: To Eat a Talking Pea

“If peas can talk, should we eat them?” asked a very deep New York Times “think piece” a few years back.

To which more than a few people might retort: “Yes, but only after you drown them in hot butter!”

Michael Marder, author of “Plant-Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life,” posited that because research suggests common peas can “communicate” — and “inquiring into justifications for consuming vegetal beings thus reconceived” — we have reached “one of the final frontiers of dietary ethics.”

Do tell.

Mr. Marder cited the peer-reviewed findings of Israeli scientists “that a pea plant subjected to drought conditions communicated its stress to other such plants, with which it shared its soil.” Roots “talk” and other pea plants activate “appropriate defenses and adaptive responses,” he said.

Well, yes, they do.

But while the “renewable” aspects of perennial plants may be accepted by humans “as a gift of vegetal being” and integrated into their diets, he adds, “it would be harder to justify the cultivation of peas and other annual plants, the entire being of which humans devote to externally imposed ends.”


“In other words,” Marder attempted to translate, “ethically inspired decisions cannot postulate the abstract conceptual unity of all plants.”

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It seems, he says, the recent findings in cellular and molecular biology “mean that eating preferences … must practically differentiate between vegetal what-ness and who-ness, while striving to keep the latter intact.”

Thank goodness he cleared that up, eh?

Obviously, human rights for annual vegetable plants will be The Next Great Cause?

Marder’s book, by the way, generated a long Los Angeles Times review that, printed out, consumed 21 pages of standard copier paper. Offered the reviewer:

“(T)here is much of value in ‘Plant-Thinking’ for any reader interested in passionate arguments carefully designed to help us detox from our own humanist arrogance.”

Being a card-carrying member of the American Humanist Arrogance Society, there’s only one appropriate response:

“Hey, can I have the singing pearl onions with those talking peas?”

• Colin McNickle, the retired editorial page editor of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, now is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy. He began his journalism career at local newspapers and radio stations. A 1976 graduate of Martins Ferry High School, he grew up in Colerain.