Consider this: The act of eating, by simple definition, is the incorporation into the eater of the autonomy of the eaten. Through the collection, preparation and mastication there is no other way to describe it, this is a violent destructive act of that living autonomy.
If the consumption of any matter requires the taking of life, is it impossible to eat ethically? Is it possible to subsist on a diet of ingredients that were never alive to begin with and whose destruction doesn’t have a negative impact on living organisms?
Regardless of your worldly socioeconomic position, it is fairly safe to assume that we are all bound by a set of rules — be they symbolic, traditional or value based — that surround our consumption.
The great majority of these rules have traditionally been handed down and bound by the evolution of historical or geographical memes in the form of religious or cultural guidelines.
Even in this modern day western world where political correctness and an embracing attitude exist, relatively few consumption guidelines are based on laws. Of those laws that do exist, the greatest majority are focused on the governance of public safety, sanitation and, (increasingly in this modern age) sustaining or protection of ecological resources.
Be this as it may, it effectively means that no form of dietary philosophy can provide a symbolic refuge to those who care about the moral choices they make along with their menu selections.
In short, there is no such thing as dietary righteousness.
Is the morality over what we eat given any form of ranking? Are individual beliefs greater than community benefits? Should one life have a greater moral weight over another? How does one provide a ranking to such factors?
When it comes to the question of feeding an ever increasing global population, do these questions even matter? Would there be far greater factors than a matter of personal choice? Would the goal of egalitarian global satiation be a matter requiring a political-economic reorganisation?
Is the choice between respect for animals and plants, whilst in pursuit of the elimination of hunger, a false one? They are, after all, determined by highly ideological considerations. What judicial weight do we apply to other factors such as agro-capitalism, for example?
Ultimately, is not the common root of artificially created scarcity and violence against life (human and nonhuman alike) corporate entities? Are there not greater harm caused to environment and life — whether vegetal or animal — in the pursuit of maximizing corporate profits? Not the actions and menu choices of individuals as utilitarians would want to make us believe?
Perhaps a shifting of our thinking away from ‘economic efficient’ systems of food production that create monocultures and CAFOs needs to be part of the equation? A form of ‘welfarist production’ that does not exclude a mode of cohabitation – nutritive not excluded – with other living matter?
The complexity of the question should not be a matter of despondency. Nor should it be taken as reluctant support for the indiscriminate consumption of any living matter whatsoever. On the contrary, it should assist us to clarify the choices we make and rank the aspects of value (e.g. ethical) assignment we place upon the food production we support as well as stimulate further thinking about what we actually do when we choose what we eat.
No food is without guilt. So what choices do we make? Can we lessen the ethical impacts? Do we draw arbitrary lines based on complexity of life? On waste? Do we consider environmental impacts? When your choices are made – do they trump the choices of others?
All eating is unethical. We simply choose a level we are comfortable with.
[Originally published on MEDIUM 23.07.13]
SUGGESTED FURTHER READING
- Is morality evolutionary? — And does it matter if it is?
- Can the world go Vegan? — Can we feasibly change our omnivorous farming practices?
- Lierre Keith : The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability — We’ve been told that a vegetarian diet can feed the hungry, honor the animals, and save the planet. But, is it true?
- Michael Marder Online — Michael Marder is Ikerbasque Research Professor of Philosophy at the University of the Basque Country, Vitoria-Gasteiz and has written extensively on plant ethics.
- Judith D. Schwartz : Cows Save the Planet — Journalist Judith D. Schwartz looks at soil as a crucible for our many overlapping environmental, economic, and social crises.
- Michael Pollan : The Botany of Desire — In The Botany of Desire, Pollan illustrates how the plants have evolved to satisfy humankind’s most basic yearnings. And just as we’ve benefited from these plants, we have also done well by them. So who is really domesticating whom?
- Michael Pollan : In Defense of Food — Food. There’s plenty of it around, and we all love to eat it. So why should anyone need to defend it?
- Healthy Soils, Healthy People: the Legacy of William Albrecht — a good abstract and overview of the some 1400 pages across six volumes. You should also seek out “The Albrecht Papers” and specifically: Vol I : Foundation Concepts and Vol II : Soil Fertility and Animal Health
- Environmental Ethics and Land Management – Timothy C. Weiskel — Our environmental circumstances pose problems of value and choice for each of us and challenge us to reconsider the way we act individually and collectively in an ever changing ecosystem. Whether we like it or not there is no escaping the fact that ethical values are embedded in the premises and assumptions of all decisions we make concerning land and resource use.
- Julian Cribb : The Coming Famine — In The Coming Famine, Julian lays out a vivid picture of impending planetary crisis—a global food shortage that threatens to hit by mid-century—that would dwarf any in our previous experience.The Coming Famine offers a strong and positive call to action, exploring the greatest issue of our age and providing practical suggestions for addressing each of the major challenges it raises.