I believe that high quality food is the basis of society. I have a hypothesis that as you increase the distance from your food sourcing, you change the breadth of your ethical involvement. I believe that there are four distinct food sourcing events in our history.
1. Pre-agriculture (hunter gatherer)
2. Agriculture revolution
3. Conventional agriculture
4. Post conventional agriculture.
The breadth of our empathy changes as our involvement in food changes. In the pre-agriculture (hunter gatherer) societies the culture is ripe with nature. These people have great empathy for all things in nature. As we move towards agriculture we remove ourselves from our food sourcing to some extent. At this time we begin to focus on humans primarily. Agriculture however allowed us to maintain a strong connection to the land. Agriculture has also allowed us an oppurtunity to focus on improving society in general. Conventional agriculture further removes us from our food sourcing through CAFO and massive farms. At this point many people are unable to identify the source of many once common foods. The post conventional agricultural revolution is upon us now. This is the farmers markets and backyard gardens that are popping up all over the US. This system of food sourcing is allowing us to rekindle our previous connection to nature.
I believe this trend is reversible. Each of these systems has a specific way in which people relate to food.
Pre-Agriculture (hunter gatherer)
The culture of the hunter gatherer was rich with food and stories. There was an incredible amount of physical effort put forth to hunt and to gather food. However this was all completed in short order which allowed for a healthy social society to evolve. These people understood a direct connection to nature through the daily interaction with it. These people had great stories of their gods and a daily connection to the spirits of nature. These people thanked the animals for the sacrifice that they made for the continued survival of the human. These people respected the land and their place in the land. They understood that nature and humans must live cooperatively. They understood that humans were a part of nature, not a domineering force in nature.
Individuals were very healthy in mind and body. The creation of cooking increased the ease of consumption of meat products and therefore allowed a dramatic increase in capability. Everything one ate at this time was food and nourishing. Individuals had regular exercise.
Upon the advent of agriculture humans had more time to create modern civilization. With modern agriculture humans were able to become masters of the land. They were able to look at the land as something to be conquered. At this time human civilizations became more permanent and land was viewed as a means to sustain the human population. Spare time increased and food was locked up which led to the creation of jobs. Now one must perform a duty for food. The connection to food was still quite close due to the close proximity of that food, however the daily interaction with food changed. Previously to agriculture everyone spent the days working towards feeding themselves and the group. With the advent of agriculture a smaller percentage of people were involved with the production of food. Furthermore, those that were involved with the production of food were manipulating the land to get the food that they desired. The direct connection to nature had then been lost and this led to a change in our ethics and connection to spirit. This has led to a culture of domination.
Food was healthy when eaten fresh. Spoiled food would cause illness among the people. In general food was healthy though and other diseases of living in close quarters were the primary causes of disease. Individuals had decreasing amounts of exercise but generally remained fit.
Conventional agriculture has accelerated the distance we have from our food sources. The invention of chemical and petroleum products to use as fertilizer and mechanization to increase the amount of food production capable have continued to distance ourselves from our food. Now scientists break down each item into it’s smallest compound to manipulate the crop. There is a minuscule amount of people who actually farm or garden. Now there are huge CAFO’s (concentrated animal feeding operation) and monstrous monoculture farms that produce a massive amount of food like substances. Food is now engineered in a lab instead of being naturally produced. This has allowed the average individual to go through life with hardly ever seeing food. The idea that food must be separated from people is absurd, however in this society it is necessary because of the horrific treatment of the animals that become meat products. This style of agriculture is a complete domination of nature. It is however very damaging to nature. It also demonstrates an ethics of supremacy. The culture we have created with a food sourcing such as this is one of people verse nature. Mankind is no longer attempting to cooperate with nature. Mankind has completed it’s domination over nature and our ethics have evolved to focus only on the issues of specific importance to mankind. Mankind is now able to ignore any ethical question of nature as a whole. Mankind no longer believes that it exists as a part of a holistic system.
Food becomes unhealthy. “Food like substances” are now considered to be food by most. Food is now the cause of disease. Individuals do not get enough exercise.
Post Conventional Agriculture
I believe that the slow food movement is bringing mankind into a post conventional agricultural society. It is a slow process that is developing as we speak now. This process is one of understanding that nature and mankind are intimately involved. This process also acknowledges a more holistic approach to the world. One of the greatest examples of this is demonstrated through the Cuban special period. This was a period of time where Cuba lost the support of the Soviet Union. When this happened Cuba was forced to evolve it’s conventional agricultural system into a post conventional agricultural system. The new system broke up the massive monoculture farms into smaller family farms, promoted balcony and backyard gardening and led to a more cooperative and far reaching system of organic agriculture. We have many examples of this all over the world and in many cities in the US. This system of food sourcing is allowing a reconnection to food and nature. This system is bringing healthy food to the tables of those who participate. This system is allowing individuals to take charge of their health. I believe this system is the beginning of the reversal in our ethical thought processes. This system is the beginning of a larger understanding that humans exist in the holistic system of nature. With this connection people begin to view nature differently. No longer is nature something to be dominated. Nature is now something to be cooperated with.
Food is once again healthy. Food is once again food. People start to exercise more through either gardening or a greater understanding of the holistic approach to health and wellness. We have a reconnection to spirit.