Plant Foods and Health

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About

Plant foods can provide us all the nourishment we need in order to live and thrive. Our primate ancestors started out eating little else, and many cultures still do. But meat and other animal foods became important to our species at its birth, when their concentrated energy and protein probably helped accelerate our evolution. Meat continued to have a deep biological appeal for us, and in societies that could afford to feed livestock on staple grains and roots, it became the most prized of foods. In the industrialized world, meat’s prestige and availability pushed grains, vegetables, and fruits to the side of the plate and the end of the meal. And for decades, nutritional science affirmed their accessory status. Fruits and vegetables in particular were considered to be the source of a few nutrients that we need only in small amounts, and of mechanically useful roughage. In recent years, though, we’ve begun to realize just how many valuable substances plant foods have always held for us. And we’re still learning.