Saturday, February 20, 2016

Natural vs. man-modified vegetables and plants

During the past decade or two, there has been an increasingly widespread idea among very diverse (and often completely unrelated) groups with regards to food, especially plants. New age spiritualists, a certain type of conspiracy theorists and denialists, vegans, and in some cases even some religious people (especially from some denominations of Christianity), have this concept that "natural" plants are the most healthy and nutritious form of food, while plants that have been modified by humans in some manner, are the cause of most of our health and dietary problems. (The most spiritualist people of course think that we are messing with "Mother Nature", whatever that may mean to them. Even the most pragmatic people think that man-modified plants are somehow "wrong", and that completely natural ones are better.)

The big irony is that, quite often, the very plant products that they promote have actually been heavily modified by humans, especially using artificial selection, ie. selective breeding (which makes it quite different from its original wild counterpart; often so much so that it cannot survive in the wild.)

Go to a big grocery store, go to the section that sells vegetables and fruits, and look around. Take a guess how much of everything you see is the product of artificial selection made by humans, and how much is something that you can find in the wild, with no human origin at all.

If you guessed that all that you see has been heavily modified by humans, you would probably be right. At the very least 90% of everything you see is something that you will not find in the wild (unless it has "escaped" human cultivations into the wild.)

Modern bananas? Do not exist in the wild, and didn't exist in their current form at all until a specific mutation was artificially selected in the 1800's. (It originates from the wild banana, which is very different in shape and contents, full of big seeds, and almost inedible.)

Carrots? Those bright orange things? Yep, you guessed it. A product of artificial selection and selective breeding. They originate from a wild variant that looks basically nothing like them (and are also almost inedible.)

Oranges? The original wild oranges were approximately the size of a ping pong ball, and not as nutritious or good tasting.

The list would be endless. Basically everything you will find on the store does not appear in the wild in that form, and has been heavily modified by human agriculture. (There might be some exceptions where the wild version resembles the cultivated version quite a lot, these examples are probably quite rare, and even then the cultivated version has probably been modified by selective breeding.)

Are these selectively bred, human-modified versions of all these plants worse for us than their original wild counterparts? No. In fact, it's usually the exact opposite. The cultivated versions are much more nutritious, and much more efficient in terms of cultivation (in other words, they require less land and less resources for the same amount of nutritious value than their wild ancestors.) They often contain more beneficial and healthy nutrients than their original ancestors did.

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