Tuesday, 6 March 2012

What does nature have to do with it?

Having been engaged recently in a number of vivid discussions regarding nature and food, particularly in relation to our ethical eating challenge for International Women's Week 2012, I have begun to think a lot about how our views of nature shape our own nature. In a great conversation with Dr. Toivo Koivukoski (one of NUPRI's fearless leaders) today I was inspired to write about the connection between Peace-building and our relationship with nature.

As part of the Agents of Peace project we have had the pleasure of speaking with a number of activists and professionals (namely, Jessica Wilson of Greenpeace and Brennain Lloyd of Northwatch) who believe that with the plight for peace comes a responsibility to respect the earth. I would also add that with the plight for peace comes a responsibility to nature. I find it necessary to make the distinction between the environment and nature because when we use the word "environment" in those general terms - of "save the environment" and "environmentalism" - the planet becomes something "other than" ourselves. Nature, to me, means something more personal...more connected. The way we interact with nature on this personal level says a lot about who we are as individuals, as a culture, and as a species.

This brings me to the discussion of factory farming and mass production of "food", which is the theme for this week. It is my contention that we must begin truly thinking about what we eat. This is not some rant about eating healthily or becoming vegetarian; rather what I mean to say is that we need to reshape the way that we think about food. When we treat  plants and animals as though their soul value lies in our willingness or desire to consume them, we lose something of ourselves. If this is the way that we think about "nature" and its parts then we, being part of nature, become objects for mass consumption ourselves. To paraphrase Dr. Koivukoski, in making our food "other" we are made "other" in turn - through the mass homogenization of our food, we become homogenized.

You know what they say, "you are what you eat".

What does this mean for peace? Well, in fact it means a tremendous amount. Consider the implication of mass consumption of "produce" on our relations with others. We sit in our car outside a "restaurant", we shout our order through a microphone, drive to the window and trade a few coins for a bag of food that does not remotely resemble the animals and plants from whence it came, and then we drive off. Our entire lives are characterized by these faceless, nameless interactions with not only our food, but also the people who produce it.  I believe that these daily, mechanical interactions (drive through banking, ordering fast food etc.) are incredibly indicative of our  relationship with the rest of the world. We have turned animals and plants into "produce" to be consumed, just as we have turned human beings into instruments through which we are able to consume more "produce" more quickly.

So how do we change this nameless, faceless way of, as Dr. Koivukoski puts it, "being" with the world? Well, to be honest I have no idea, nor would I want to prescribe any overarching solution to such a huge problem. What I am going to do, though, is start interacting more vigorously with my food. Tonight, when I sit down to dinner, I am going to ask myself: what is this made of? What was it before it was food? Is there a better way for me to consume this food that will make my relationship with nature more personal and respectful?

We would love to hear your thoughts on this. How do you interact with your food? Do you buy local food? Do you grow your own?

And please let us know your thoughts on the connection between the way we treat our food and the way we treat our fellow human beings.

Happy eating!

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