How should we live? This question and its infinite answers have shaped human civilization since we first moved away from our primal selves. Whether we are realize it or not, we are answering that question with every decision we make. If you choose to take a job, take a class, buy a car, get a dishwasher, eat organic, eat local, be healthy, rely on pharmaceuticals as a substitute for health, drink, do drugs, abstain, be yourself, be who others want you to be, get married, stay single, have children, use birth control, keep pets, buy furniture, be fashionable, live simply… you are making decisions about how you should live.
Of course, in a political sense, this question relates more to how we set-up and operate communal institutions, and whether those institutions should be designed to either broaden or narrow the number of questions citizens are allowed to answer for themselves. But even within strict political structures, citizens still have the choice to adhere or rebel, to uphold or subvert. Of course, subversion or rebellion may end in negative consequences if you are unsuccessful and some societies are less forgiving than others. Still, the choice exists.
This question is on my mind because last night Matt and I watched a documentary called Food Choices. It wasn’t as much about food choices as is was about advocating for a plant-based lifestyle. But I still found the film engaging food for thought.
Before we started asking ourselves the big question “how should we live?” we had to first survive. And that meant answering the question, “how should we eat?” That may have even been the question that started the drive towards complex civilization in the first place. By working together, sharing knowledge and resources, gatherer-hunters could up their odds of eating daily. Over thousands of years, that kind of cooperation eventually led to more focus on agriculture – as in food cultivation practices. And the ability to cultivate a food supply led to increasing societal complication such as the need for food storage, rules about food distribution,and dispute resolution by way of more sophisticated leadership and governance. Property and ideas of ownership came into existence.
OK, I’m not really qualified to make these assumptions on my own. But I’ve read enough books and essays by people who are that I am convinced, the question “how should we eat?” is pretty central to how we started down the road to the level of human sophistication that we have today. I also don’t think there was much point in asking the broader question about how we should live until we had secured reliable sources of food and water. Less pressing considerations like permanent shelter, beauty, art, community relationships, personal enrichment, etc. could only take shape against a backdrop of food security.
As a small farmer, homesteader, self-sufficiency seeker, or whatever other label fits, this question “how should we eat?” is at the forefront of our attempts to create a life for ourselves. It seems like we should have answered this question long before we got to the level of complication in our other life-decision making that is now absolutely ordinary for anyone living at some point above subsistence. Yet, we haven’t come up with satisfactory answers.
Our current collective answers result in illness, obesity, world conflict, unfair allocation of resources, and a lot of other negative consequences. Frankly, those are the problems that drove us to homestead. We don’t trust our food supply and we are searching for a better answer.
In the film, the necessity of the high levels protein and calcium that our current food guidelines recommend were called into question. A repeating theme was “who decided so much protein or calcium were good for us?”. The speakers made a lot of valid points like maybe milk really is only being beneficial for babies because it is loaded with growth hormones that mature adults don’t need and can’t process.
Earlier, I wrote the words “gatherer-hunter” instead of the more common “hunter-gatherer” in relation to our primitive origins. This was intentionally done and a point also raised in the film. In primitive cultures, and even in the last few remaining indigenous foraging cultures around the globe today, meat is and was a much appreciated bonus to the daily diet. Gathered food kept people going day to day and meat was a luxury enjoyed when found and killed.
I don’t want to spoil the film for you. It’s worth watching if you are interested in food from a health and environmental perspective. I agreed with some of it, but not all of it. I personally believe meat should be a condiment, enjoyed daily in small quantities as part of a primarily plant based diet. I believe this specifically because I know that this is all we can sustain on a small farm. Without animals, our vegetables suffer. Without vegetables our animals suffer. There must be a balance between these two life sources for our farm to work well. And I also know first-hand that there is a soul-prices for taking an animal’s life. For me, it can only be paid through good stewardship of the animals and perpetuation of their lineages. It’s a bargain struck in blood, sweat, and tears.
There must also be a source of B12 for any plant-based diet to be sustainable long-term. The film addressed this by acknowledging the need for taking supplements. Cultivating B12 is beyond the scope of what we can do on our homestead without raising and eating animals. So if you are attempting to raise and grow a nutritionally balanced diet, without offsite purchases, eating meat becomes a must.
Given that modern, affluent humans spend significantly more time answering the question “how should I live?” even though it is pretty clear from all the dietary related health conditions and starvation taking place on our planet today, that we haven’t adequately answered that original question “how should we eat?” – I think we need to re-prioritize. And so I appreciate the film for raising the question.
The main reason I can’t agree with everything in the film is that it offers a blanket answer rather than regional answers. In several scenes, pineapples were being placed in shopping carts. Avocados were also at the forefront. Though delicious and nutritious, these foods are simply not something the entire world can enjoy. Pound for pound, I would be willing to bet that they rank close to CAFO fed cattle on the sustainability front.
Repeatedly the idea that there was no silver bullet food answers came up in the film. Yet, the point of the film seemed to be to offer one. Eat a plant-based diet, bought at the grocery store if necessary, and everything will be better.
Our questions are more complex than this. We can’t just walk into a grocery store and make good choices. We need to go back to the beginning and figure out what foods we can source locally and still be healthy. We need to eliminate the grocery store as we know it today and instead grow food in our communities.
Our answers to the fundamental question “how should we eat?” are going to make a huge difference for our collective future. Food Choices, the film, offers a good solution working with the existing options. But this is barely a drop in the bucket to the kind of change we need to make if we want to survive as civilized societies in the long run.
Real and lasting food security, will require a connection to the land where we live, the people who steward it, and respect for locally available resources. Whether we hunt at the grocery store or the farmer’s market, the things we eat, must come from our communities and be produced in ways that improve, rather than degrade our environments. And this is absolutely possible. Don’t let anyone tell you different!