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How many different species of plants do you eat?

If you've worked with me as a patient and especially if you know me on a personal level then one of the first things you'll quickly find out about me is that I am incredibly fascinated by the concept of wild vs. domesticated humans. If you've never heard this term before, then all modern humans are domesticated humans. We became domesticated (literally meaning, 'of the home') the moment that our ancestors began farming and staying in one place, as opposed to living a nomadic lifestyle, which all of our ancestors did to varying degrees. There are, of course, many benefits to being able to grow food and livestock and therefore not have to move around so much, but there are also drawbacks.

One of the drawbacks is that as we became more and more domesticated, so did everything around us including our food. The food that you buy at the grocery store is highly domesticated and is specifically grown and selected for specific flavour profiles, especially (and increasingly) sweetness to please the North American palate. We began to consume fewer plant species, and what we did consume was much less nutrient dense. One of the ways that plants become extremely nutritious is through having to survive in less than ideal circumstances. Once the human hand tends to it, ensures adequate water, optimal light conditions, fertilizer, etc, that plant doesn't need to rely so much on adapting in order to survive. The result of this is less nutrient-dense plants.

On average, a typical hunter-gatherer would consume about 100 different species of plants. By comparison the average North American consumes about 30. That's a vast difference. On top of that you also need to factor in that those 30 species that we eat are usually weaker, and a far cry from their wild ancestors.

So how can we include more species of plants? The first thing to know is which plants belong to which species. Many people tell me that they eat a diverse plant diet and go on to list off broccoli, kale and cauliflower as examples. All of these are excellent plants to consume, however they all belong to the same species (brassica oleracea-- which, by the way, also includes kohlrabi, cabbage, brussels sprouts and collard greens). So if you're having broccoli one night, and then a kale salad the next day, and coleslaw with cabbage the day after that then you're technically just eating one single species over and over again.

I created a list with all of the different plant species that my family consumes on a regular basis and we are currently up to 74 and counting.

Take a look at the plants you're consuming, group them into their respective species, and see if you can add a few extra species each week. This has been an activity that my family has come to enjoy-- perhaps you will too!

Additional Reading and Watching:

  1. Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson



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