Grass Eaters

Michael Ellis

In eastern and southern Africa dwell baboons. I have had the pleasure of spending hours watching large troops go about their daily activities. This includes fighting, mating, playing, resting, grooming, and much of their time is spent finding something to eat. Everything is considered edible by baboons unless proven otherwise. But most of their diet ends up being various kinds of grass, not only the flowers and the seeds but they consume the stems, leaves and even dig up and munch the underground parts. This ability to utilize grass has helped baboons become the second most successful and widespread primate on the Planet.
 
Number one, of course, is Homo sapiens. And we too are major gobblers of grass. What?! you say?? “I don’t eat grass; that’s in the yard.” Oh yes you do and a lot of it. The Poaceae is probably the single most essential plant family to the proliferation and continued existence of our human family.  Every day we consume grain from one or more of the various species of grass.
 
The grass that originated here in the Western Hemisphere is corn. It has been cultivated by ancient peoples like the Aztec and Incas for so long that the ancestral plant no longer exists in the wild. In elementary school we learned about that famous valley between the Tigris and the Euphrates River where wheat, another grass, was first grown and in large quantity. This surplus of food allowed the first known civilizations and therefore culture to arise.
 
Other important grasses include rye, oats, sorghum, sugar cane, barley, and millet. We ferment grains into alcohol or distill them into sugar laden products or mill them into flour to bake breads. 
 
But by far the most crucial grass to the welfare of most modern humans is rice. Nearly three billion people subsist on a daily portion of this grain. Originally found in tropical Asia rice has spread to every corner of the globe and is the most widespread source of nutrition.
 
So yes just like our baboon cousins we do eat grass. In fact I think I’ll have a bagel right now.  

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.   

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November 7, 2010