Sunday, March 23, 2014

The 500 Year Farm Manifesto Part 4

Time to address ethics and how they apply to my philosophy of food production.
Ethics can be a strange beast to cover, especially as they apply to food and food production. Some think ethics are subjective, others think they are part of greater belief systems up to and including formalized beliefs in the form of an organized religion. I want, dear reader, to be assured, that my view of food ethics lay much more in scientific understanding than in a higher power. My own personal ethics stem from how I perceive life and the world around me through the lens of scientific reasoning.
The most ethical food systems, at least in my opinion, are the ones that originated out of our evolutionary history. We didn't appear on the earth out of no where. We are not, as some believe, aliens to this world, who's lot is to throw natural systems into chaos and destruction. We evolved as a part of an ecosystem. We, at least at some point in our history, where as important to a natural ecosystems survival as the grasslands and savannas we evolved out of. Where we went astray, as I see it, was when we stopped participating in the ecosystem and started dominating it with technology. Now, I'm certainly not saying that we need to go back to living in small villages in the subtropical regions of the world, far from it in fact What I'm saying is that we can use our scientific understanding of ecology and biology to create constructed ecosystems that feed humans in as close to balance with nature as possible.
So, if we are to start constructing an ecosystem around humans, we first must identify our role in it. Looking at the conclusions drawn by anthropology and paleontology we see that humans have likely been omnivorous for around 3.5 million years. This means that humans have evolved over that time to eat both plants, mostly succulents and fruits, as well as meat. I have heard some argue that humans began eating meat around the same time we discovered how to create and manage fire for cooking the meat. However, there is no current evidence of this speculation. As far a science is concerned, there is nothing to prove we cooked our meat until around 800,000 years ago. Our eating of meat seems rather to coincide with our use of tools, namely flinted stone knives. To me, this makes our role in our ecosystem as an omnivorous alpha predator and that as far as science is concerned it is part of our evolutionary history, and there for ethical, to eat meat. What I would call the line between ethically eating meat and unethically eating meat is by judging if the animals being preyed upon are living a life cycle that is at least as humane as their natural, wild one would be or, more ideally, better.
Now ecosystems rarely have one predator in them, but rather a few that compete for resources and occasionally prey on each other. Where I would put non scientifically based ethics into my constructed ecosystem would be to say that one rule is that, no humans should die or come to harm in any way from it. That is of course unnatural to evolutionary history but one I don't find much objection to from pretty much anyone. One way we can simulate a more balanced ecosystem, however, is by using domesticated predators, the most common of whom we likely convolved in a symbiotic relationship with, e.g. the domesticated dog. I also see a valuable role for the domesticated cat in this ecosystem. The dogs role is to provide protection for this protected ecosystem from outside predator pressure who's role belongs in a totally natural environment and not this constructed one. The cats role is to prey on non-predatory animals who humans would not themselves view as food. Together these predators round out the closest approximations we can make for a full compliment of predatory animals.
If we are to have prey for our predators, or for the sake of lessening confusion, livestock, we need to also provide, through as natural a means as possible, the sources for their diet as well. An ethical ecosystem as I see it can not rely on inputs from outside sources indefinably otherwise we can never achieve a balance that allows the ecosystem to survive during our hypothetical goal of 500 years.
We do have to make some concessions in order to achieve our goal, there are compromises to be made in order to be realistic but the fewer compromises we make the more resilient and less vulnerable this constructed ecosystems is as a whole.
To summarize this writing, ethical food is one that exists in some sort of balance with it's ecosystem and barring catastrophic outside forces will survive indefinitely.
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