Edible Plants: An Introduction to Fruits and Vegetables, Herbs and Spices

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About

We turn now from milk, eggs, meats, and fish, all expressions of animating protein and energizing fat, and enter the very different world that sustains them and us alike. The plant world encompasses earthy roots, bitter and pungent and refreshing leaves, perfumed flowers, mouth-filling fruits, nutty seeds, sweetness and tartness and astringency and pleasing pain, and aromas by the thousands! It turns out that this exuberantly diverse world was born of simple, harsh necessity. Plants can’t move as animals do. In order to survive their immobile, exposed condition, they became virtuosic chemists. They construct themselves from the simplest materials of the earth itself, water and rock and air and light, and thus transform the earth into food on which all animal life depends. Plants deter enemies and attract friends with colors, tastes, and scents, all chemical inventions that have shaped our ideas of beauty and deliciousness. And they protect themselves from the common chemical stresses of living with substances that protect us as well. So when we eat vegetables and fruits and grains and spices, we eat the foods that made us possible, and that opened our life to a kaleidoscopic world of sensation and delight.