Is Eating an Act of Violence?

Abstract: The title of this article reflects the rhetorical question by a respondent who sought to ridicule Optionality's non-violent principles by arguing that logic implied that Optionality's views did not make sense. The article suggest that non-violence and logic do not override each other, and they override the concept optionality even less. Moreover, neither the principles of morality and non-violence, nor logic give complete and definitive answers on what to eat. The article concludes that optionality is the best approach.

A. The importance of Food

The food debate touches on issues that everyone is familiar with. Ask anyone in the street about food and they will tell you which food is bad for you. Many people's life evolves around eating and drinking. If it is not the act of eating and drinking itself, it is the shopping, preparing, cleaning afterwards and talking about it that keeps them busy. Most people spend most of their money on food; the house and the car - the next biggest expenses - are used for a large part to eat in, prepare, transport or store food in, go to restaurants in and even grow food in (i.e., in the garden). Clearly, food is not a trivial matter.

B. Earlier Articles on Food

Given the importance of food in people's lives, it makes sense to discuss food in a magazine such as this. And in fact, we have already discussed many issues associated with food in earlier articles. In December 1991, we wrote about a change in attitude towards environmental issues. We wrote that in the past over-population, pollution and extinction of rare species of animals were all seen as issues that did not seem to affect Australia very much. Malnutrition of people in the third world was seen as one of the biggest global problems. Improving the produce of the land by supporting irrigation projects and donating pesticides and fertilizers, was seen as commendable foreign policy. We wrote that since that time issues such as de-forestation, driftnet-fishing, farming practices and many environmental problems had been recognized by the Australian media as genuine domestic issues as well.

We pointed at the role of the Government in all this. Water supply, garbage and sewage management and marketing of farm products abroad are services that are largely monopolized by the Government. Regulation further affects vexed issues such as food labels, food additives, handling animals, prices of eggs and milk and sale of drugs and alcohol.

We wrote in August 1991 that government control over health care had resulted in an unhealthy proportion of health spending on treating illness - 99.4% according to a recent estimate by Dr Ellyard, former head of the 'Australian Commission for the Future'. The Government does not seem to care about 'fitness', e.g. better diets, lyfestyle in general and prevention of stress, accidents and addictions. So-called 'smart' drugs are prohibited, poisoning and addictions are dealt with by the law, rather than by doctors. Billions are spent by the Government on education, but do we know what is healthy food? Does the Health System tell us what to eat in order to improve our health?

We have written against zoning of shops and regulation of trading hours in many articles. Every time we concluded that government control and regulation does not make sense.

In last month's issue, we pointed at the role of legislation on public holidays behind the over-eating, consumer over-spending and excessive use of alcohol so common around Christmas time. So, yes, we have given a fair amount of consideration to food in all its complexity.

C. Eating an Act of Violence?

But quite frankly, we were flabbergasted when we recently received comments from a reader, who said: Your non-violent logic is fake! If there is no room for violence in your interpretation of optionality, how do you eat (which is essentially an act of violence) and sleep at night? The comments came from a reader who wondered whether optionality cannot accommodate some degree of violence, which question is also worked out in the article What is Optionality?, elsewhere in this issue.

We can follow the logic of people who prefer 'natural' food because they want to get back to nature. They hate the huge commercial enterprises that put food in pots and cans in the supermarkets. Instead, they dream of a world in which humans live in greater harmony with their natural environment. But this is another discussion that we will leave for another article. We were focusing on violence. Nature can be violent and those who want to get back to nature generally accept this. This is one of the reasons why we hesitate to go back to nature; logic and our non-violent principles prompt us to look for alternatives.

Is eating an act of violence? is a question that takes the debate on vegetarian food a step further. We can follow the logic of those who argue that it is better to eat chicken or fish than 'red' meat because mammals are closer to us genetically. Similarly, it is then even better to be a vegetarian. But isn't this self-centred rhetoric, or just a form of egoism? Are mammals more important than plants for our well-being? Is a mammal perhaps closer to God than a plant? What is the philosophy behind vegetarianism, if eating plants is elevated to such a divine kind of righteousness?

Then there is the argument that plants want us to eat their fruits and berries, because that way, we distribute their seeds. This kind of symbiose is regarded as morally higher than eating, say, a pig that does not ask to be eaten by us. But if the essence of the argument is that we help the plant in its procreation, isn't it then similarly better to eat the pig? The more pig you eat, the more profit for pig-farmers, who will expand their operations in the prospect of even more profits. The individual pig may dislike being eaten, but doesn't logic say that eating pigs benefits their procreation? Isn't this symbiose argument just another version of the 'Garden of Eden' story? How do you know if the tree wants us to eat its fruit more than the pig wants us to eat it? Because God told Adam to eat specific food only? Is there any logic behind all this? Does it make any sense?

How much is the apple the product of selective farming that started with a seed that, by genetic accident, had a bit weaker outer parts than its relatives? Is farming of plants a lesser form of slavery than farming animals? Are plants only genetically compelled to grow and multiply, or do they really want us to eat their fruits?

D. Technology the Answer?

If the symbiose argument has any substance left to be taken further, should we then welcome bio-technological efforts to improve the share of modified fruits and berries in our diet?

Or do we need to be absolutely sure that our food agrees to be eaten? Should we perhaps cultivate our own tissue and eat this for meat? Or should we turn entirely to synthetic food and drinks, completely assembled from substances such as water, minerals, additives and further chemicals? Is diet Coke better than Coca Cola with natural sugar, because the sugar cane plant or whatever plant it was that provided the sugar, may not like to be eaten? Is caffeine-free Diet Coke even better?

E. Let's have Optionality!

There is no simple answer to many of such questions. In many cases it comes down to personal preference that are based on motives that are hard to formulate in simple words. We suggest that whatever logical and moral principles are applied to such questions, logic or morality will not provide any definitive answers. We cherish non-violent principles and a logical approach. But morality and logic are not the final determining factors in our position. Instead, our perspective is optionality. In that sense, we do provide a simple answer to many questions: optionality!

Appendix Is what we eat a Political Issue?

For a growing number of people, food is not so much a health issue, but a moral issue and a political stand. They say that in a country such as Australia, people do not so much eat to be healthy, but because of taste, addiction, lifestyle or for social reasons. That makes the choice of what we eat primarily a moral or political one.

From this point of view, the effect of farming practices on the native fauna, using animals in laboratories to test food, breeding of animals, all this becomes the hot debate about animal rights. Selective breeding has created animals that can no longer live 'in the wild'; the sole purpose of those animals seems to be to satisfy the lust of humans for meat. Will genetic engineering create animals and plants that are even further remote from their natural origin?

Is it better to be a vegetarian? Is some food more politically correct than other food? How often is food discussed among colleagues, friends, relatives and neighbours? Yes, the discussion on animal rights is largely a discussion about food that is being held outside Parliament buildings. And even politicians who insist that Parliament is the place to take political decisions, make most of their deals over dinner.

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