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MODULE EIGHT WILLIAM TARA EATING AS IF LIFE · PDF fileSome avoid meat for ethical reasons...

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  • MODULE EIGHT DIET AND HUMAN ECOLOGY

    We tend to view the world we live, and

    often all other life except perhaps

    domestic animals, as 'other'. But we do

    not exist outside of the intricate

    composition of the biosphere. When

    we examine nutrition as a fundamental

    aspect of our relationship with the

    planet we come to a better

    understanding of the problems

    surrounding the human diet.

    WILLIAM TARA EATING AS IF LIFE MATTERS

  • 2

    MODULE EIGHT

    DIET AND HUMAN ECOLOGY

    The biosphere is a delicate and dynamic system of energy, organic and

    inorganic matter. When we disrupt any part of it, the results ripple out and have

    far-reaching effects, often seemingly unrelated to their source. We search in vain

    to find some alien cause. Our attitudes regarding degenerative disease are a good

    example. When we focus on specific nutrients in our diet we fail to see the

    bigger, truer picture. We often fail to see how our food choices are driven by

    emotional and social influences and not physical need.

    In 1943 the famed psychologist Abraham Maslow published a paper called

    'A Theory of Human Motivation'. This groundbreaking work laid the foundations

    for the next three decades of developmental psychology. Maslow was looking for

    defining principles of human happiness, for what makes us feel complete. His

    conclusions were simple yet profound.

    In identifying what he called a hierarchy of needs, he established that we

    must meet our basic physical requirements before addressing other areas of

    fulfillment and joy. The first level of need includes Air, Food, Water, Shelter,

    Warmth, Sex and Sleep. When these needs are attained, we seek the second level

    - Safety, Protection from the elements, Security, Order, Stability and Freedom

    from Fear. Our desires for love, esteem, self-expression, creativity and the

    realization of our full potential rest on the foundation of these first two levels. If

    they are not met, we risk living with constant anxiety, stress and ill health. It

    would be fair to say that those first two levels were talking about health.

    The number of people living in urban areas exceeded 50% of the worlds

    population for the first time in 2014.1 It looks like it will be 70% by 2050. The

    WHO report lists resulting health challenges such as poor water quality,

    environmental pollutants, violence and injury, increased non-communicable

    diseases (cardiovascular diseases, cancers, diabetes and chronic respiratory

    diseases), unhealthy diets and physical inactivity, harmful use of alcohol and

    increased exposure to disease outbreaks. In an unintended irony one of the few

    advantages of urban living is listed as access to better health care.

    When I started studying food and nutrition, I was intrigued by the

    connection between what I was eating and the environment. I discovered that

    many of the foods that had questionable or negative effects on health also had

    an adverse environmental impact. This should not have surprised me. We do not

    1 World Health Organization, Global Health Observatory data

  • 3

    MODULE EIGHT

    need new products or even more studies to create a wholesome way of eating.

    What we need is a new way of looking at the whole issue of food and health. We

    need a user-friendly, common sense approach to understanding food that is

    healthy and sustainable for society and the environment. To accomplish this

    requires us to question everything we have been told about nutrition, and review

    some very basic questions about the role of food in our life and in our culture.

    Much of the Eastern philosophy that I had read pointed to a particular

    relationship between the individual and nature. The word 'health' originates in

    old English, and means to be complete. Food is certainly an important part of

    being whole being connected. To be healthy we eat food that allows us to

    operate at our full potential. That potential includes the sensitivity and capacity

    to adapt to environmental change. Health enables us to nurture the bond

    between nature and ourselves. Ecology is a central theme of the ancient systems

    of understanding food.

    Ecology is rarely acknowledged when discussing nutrition, and yet is central

    to understanding our food choices, and how different foods affect us, both

    directly and indirectly. Rachel Carson, the American biologist, author of The Silent

    Spring,2 and the accepted mother of modern ecology, says:

    'If we have been slow to develop the general concepts of ecology and

    conservation, we have been even more tardy in recognizing the facts of the

    ecology and conservation of man himself. We may hope that this will be the

    next major phase in the development of biology. Here and there awareness is

    growing that man, far from being the overlord of all creation, is himself part of

    nature, subject to the same cosmic forces that control all other life. Man's

    future welfare and probably even his survival depend upon his learning to live

    in harmony, rather than in combat, with these forces.'3

    This view of our relationship with nature is more crucial now than ever.

    Carson's vision of an evolution in biological science that unifies human life with

    the environment has been steadily sidelined. If man is 'a part of nature, subject to

    the same cosmic forces that control all other life', then natural law exists for us, as

    well as for every other creature, plant and aspect of the planet. If we do not learn

    to cooperate with the laws of nature, we will harm ourselves. We don't need an

    2 Silent Spring (Penguin Modern Classics), original publication 1962 3 "Essay on the Biological Sciences" in Good Reading (1958)

    http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Biology

  • 4

    MODULE EIGHT

    environmental degree to understand natural law.

    We tend to view the world we live, and often all other life except perhaps

    domestic animals, as 'other'. But we do not exist outside of the intricate

    composition of the biosphere. When we examine nutrition as a fundamental

    aspect of our relationship with the planet we come to a better understanding of

    the problems surrounding the human diet.

    Our belief in human supremacy, often referred to as Anthropocentric

    thinking, allows us to place ourselves at the center of the universe. We view our

    uniqueness as a sign of separation from the rest of life that swirls around us and

    within us. The belief that we are superior to other life forms permits us to use the

    natural world according to our desires and whims. As we pull away from any

    physical interaction with nature we fortify those mythologies that lie at the

    foundation of our most harmful behaviors.

    In ecological studies, there are several kinds of relationships between an

    organism and its environment. The first thing we need to know about any new

    creature we discover is how it procreates and what it eats. These are the driving

    forces of evolution; they dictate physical form, function and most behavior.

    One class of relationship is called 'commensalism', from the Latin 'to eat at

    the same table'. These are relationships where one organism gains benefits and

    the other is not affected. Another type of relationship is 'mutualism', where both

    organisms benefit. In sharp contrast is the 'parasitism' relationship, where one

    organism benefits while the other is harmed. Creating a commensal relationship

    with the planet is primary for humanity. Our well-being is inter-dependent with

    the well-being of the planet. It is also the key to a comprehensive vision of human

    nutrition.

    Planet Earth is host to human life. The natural world makes human life

    possible. Our current relationship with the planet is almost entirely parasitic. The

    famous British naturalist, David Attenborough recently referred to humanity as 'a

    plague on the planet'.4 The chemist and co-creator of the Gaia Theory, James

    Lovelock, said that humans are too stupid to prevent climate change.5 What

    does our casual disregard for the environment say about us?

    We like to imagine that our relationship with nature is a kind of benign

    mutualism, one where we take from nature in exchange for nature having the

    4 The Guardian, September 10, 2013 5 The Guardian, March 29, 2010

  • 5

    MODULE EIGHT

    pleasure of our company. The conundrum we face is that our whole economy is

    based on endless consumption; we are eating up the environment. But as

    economist E.F Schumacher said Infinite growth of material consumption in a

    finite world in an impossibility.

    Protein provides a good example of a human obsession becoming an

    environmental problem. Obtaining adequate protein in our diet is easy. A diet

    with a variety of grains, beans, vegetables, nuts and seeds provides more than

    sufficient protein for health and vitality. (You can refer to Section Two for some

    great, protein-rich recipes.) Asians (who eat less meat than westerners) have

    produced concentrated, vegan, protein-rich foods for centuries, such as miso,

    soya sauce, tempeh and tofu.

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