As our human impact on the environment grows in pace and magnitude, it is becoming more important to consider the moral implications of our actions on the natural world. Our aspirations to improve ourselves, our quality of life, to decrease human suffering, and grow in both population and economy has led us to distance ourselves from the natural world, and, in turn, made it easy to “conquer” the natural world rather than exist within it. One of the many areas of our lives that we can see the effects of this process is in food. How we produce, purchase, eat, treat, and consume our food has changed, in many people’s minds, for the worse.
One of the most philosophical (and I think important) topics that arose in our class so far was the discussion of the worth of nonhuman beings. When thinking about our food it is important to consider from where it came. The disconnection from our food is a topic that most people do not delve into, but starting the discussion may alter the fundamental ways we think about food. The way we currently produce our food involves treating animals only as a means to an end rather than giving them equal consideration regarding their inherent value.
When approaching the issue of nonhuman beings’ worth it is easy to take an anthropocentric stance. After all, this stance has widespread appeal to human self-interest in a way that a more holistic approach does not. Anthropocentric views are not entirely negative as they often aim to protect the natural world. The conflict is that these views make the assumption that human concerns are the only good reason to protect nature. In doing so policies revolve around the connection between human and nonhuman welfare rather than considering the welfare of nonhumans independently. This can be seen when considering more ethical or “natural” treatment of animals for the purpose of making them taste better or more like our grandparents remember. In this case, treating animals better is for the preference of humans rather than the animals.
Some would limit the equal treatment of nonhumans to those who are sentient rather than encompassing all of which have interests. A more far reaching argument is made by Aldo Leopold in The Land Ethic in which Leopold seems to wish to extend considerations to all aspects of the Bio community. Energy in the life cycle travels upwards and downwards from soil up to predators and back down to the dirt through death of all animals. As a result of the complexity of this process he contends that we should not take lightly the impact and importance of all forms of life and even the soil and rivers that support it.
It is important to remember that thinking of nonhuman beings in this way would not make them undeniably equal in every respect, but instead that they are all deserving of equal consideration. I believe changing the way we perceive the worth of nonhuman beings from a worth to humans to an inherent worth is an important starting point for changing the way we think about our food and our means of food production.