My wife Becky thinks about protein. A lot. She reads nutrition labels. She looks up foods which aren’t labeled to see how many grams of protein they contain. She can tell you why protein is important. She can explain why we need protein especially as we get older. When she learns something about protein, she shares it with me, so therefore I, too, know a bit about protein. Still, Becky sometimes claims I am not as enthusiastic about protein as is she. She might be right; perhaps I am not.
I will admit I was not really focusing on protein as the two of us picked the last of the peas in our garden. We planted sugar snap peas—the kind with edible pods—this year. it was a bountiful crop. And a beautiful one. Pea plants send out tendrils which cling and curl like art nouveau drawings around trellises, fences, anything that provides a space to climb. The pods develop and sometimes hide among the leaves. It becomes a pleasant challenge to find each and every one. Eventually, after our harvest we blanched and froze several bags which we plan to enjoy later on in the year.
From the start my goal was not to raise a crop of protein-producing plants. I am not sure if Becky had protein in mind last March when we dropped the seeds into the cool spring soil, but, no matter, the plants came up anyway. Life will happen.
Peas are legumes (beans are another) which are exceptional sources of protein. For two people who are mostly eaters of plant-based foods, peas are one of the go-to components in our diet. Depending on the type of pea, a person can get anywhere from 8.6 grams of protein per cup from green peas to a whopping 14.5 grams from chick peas.
Besides protein, peas contain vitamins A and C, potassium, antioxidants, dietary fiber, and minerals such as zinc and iron. The iron in peas is especially notable because iron is mostly found in animal flesh and can be hard for non-meat eaters to obtain. Research shows that peas stabilize blood sugars, improve gut health, reduce the risk of cancer and protect against heart disease.
In addition to the good things peas contribute to human health, the garden soil also benefits from peas. The roots of legumes form a relationship with a certain bacteria, Rhizobium, which takes nitrogen from the air and, after it has used it, “fixes” it into the soil. It’s all part of the process that some call symbiosis, some call an ecological relationship and I can’t help but think of as a Holy Mystery. So, when you gardeners out there think about next spring planting, you might want give peas a chance.
One of the many things I like about gardening is knowing that Becky and I are eating food we helped produce. I say “helped produce” because I try to keep in mind that we humans don’t “grow” these plants; our task is to help them thrive to maturity. We play but a small part in the larger process we call life. It is a part we should always strive to play with attention, understanding and care for the other actors and processes in this great drama.
I think Becky is mistaken that I am not enthusiastic about protein. I am. We are just enthusiastic in different ways. I think we both are in awe of how things work, including protein.
Actually, I believe we are like two peas in a pod.
Norman Knight, a retired Clark-Pleasant Middle School teacher, writes this weekly column for the Daily Journal. Send comments to [email protected]