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Degrees of ethics in eating

Last night I re-watched an episode of Chef's Table, with Alex Atala of D.O.M in São Paulo. What makes Alex unique among this group of interesting personalities and visionaries is stated by chef David Chang, "Being a chef is just one part of who he is. He's some kind of new, strange millennial renaissance man.” When watching the episode, you see Atala's close connectivity to the Amazon rainforest, which dominates much of that region. He treks in search of new ingredients, harvests birds, grills fish near the ocean while in the middle of nowhere.

Illustrious intro aside, Atala said something worth reflecting on, "Behind every dish there is death & people only close their own eyes to it."

When we think of death associated with food, we tend to think of animal life. But as I heard from another chef, Chris Young of Chef Steps, he described that spinach produces a mildly toxic oxalic acid. Its not potent enough to affect humans in reasonable doses but is designed to repel insects from eating it. As Young went on to say, “this is spinach’s way of telling us, ‘it doesn't want to die.’” The lush summer strawberry nor the hearty winter squash came into being with the hope of being consumed. Sure it is part of our ecosystem and the “circle of life” but its reason for existing is not solely to be consumed but rather to flourish.

With this in mind, I would venture to say we must revisit the argument for being vegetarian or vegan, when people state its solely about the ethics of harvesting animals. We must remember that plants are harvested too for consumption. I am not advocating people choose one diet or another but that at the end of the day, I think this is something we must all remind ourselves of when we sit down to eat. Something had to die in order for us to nourish ourselves.

Important disclaimer: this is in no way a rebuke of vegetarianism or veganism. For people who choose this path, I have no qualms and am very open to discussing degrees of ethics at play when it comes to harvesting sentient beings vs. plant life. But at the end of the day, our survival is tied to organic matter of one type or another, giving up its life to sustain ours.

Go Forth Boldly

"If you want to be in New England and you want to improve the ecological conditions of where you are, you’re eating meat. There’s no question about it. There is no healthy ecological system that I’ve ever seen that doesn’t include animals. It just doesn’t because the manure from the animals is a free ecological resource that amends the soil, that gives you better-tasting and healthful vegetables. That’s been around since the beginning of time. So to say that vegetarians live on this higher plane of ethics — and I’m not here to argue that slaughtering animals doesn’t carry with it some weight, but you have blood on your hands when you eat vegetarian as well, especially if you’re in the northeast. Because food’s coming from somewhere, and your cows are coming from somewhere in the winter. And if they’re traveling hundreds of miles, in many cases, thousands of miles, you are burning fossil fuels to get them there. And generally they’re produced in monocultures, and that has a huge cost on natural living systems. They might be animals that you and I can identify with, but they’re insects and bugs and whole types of flora and fauna that are dying to produce those vegetables. That’s not an ethical way to eat, I don’t think, in the future." Dan Barber, Blue Hill Farm

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