Thinking Unconstrained

Examining the world with a critical eye. Topics span a wide range including but not limited to, observations, insights, problems, solutions, proposals, and hypothetical scenarios.
As corporeal entities, all living beings need to eat food in order to stay alive. In the vast observable universe, we're aware of this kind of organic life only on this tiny planet of ours. With respect to our diets, what distinguishes humans from the rest of the living beings on this planet however is that we for the most part process our food externally before consuming it. This takes on many forms, but in essence, we grow our food, transport it and then cook it before eating it. While it takes more energy to do these things, we're able to work cooperatively and achieve better overall yield and higher nutrition than many other life forms who engage in hunting and foraging activities. Through domestication, we've willingly accepted some of these life forms into our farming communities, while others were reluctantly brought on as parasitic and symbiotic partners. In many ways, they are just as much a part of our society as us, albeit not entirely aware of the breath of the situation. Granted, to bestow equal rights to a cow and treating it as if it was a human would only work in Hindu communities, we should still ask whether treating these members of society without any form of respect is justifiable. And if so, how far does the justification extend in our grand community? Where do we draw the line to bestow respect and dignity to a living being? Can we set up a set of standards where we can still achieve high nutritional yield and at the same time maximize the dignity due to all living creatures?

To adequately answer these questions, we should first intuitively understand what the words "respect" and "dignity" mean. I do not say these words lightly with casual meaning and I do not equate them with concepts of morality and ethics. These terms are often confused with one another, either through ignorance or by intentional obfuscation. Therefore let us unlink the associations and refine their meanings first. The terms respect and dignity denote that there is something inherently noble in a thing rather than something that is bestowed upon by externalities. It is a recognition that the subject/object must be viewed not merely as a thing for a particular task or a circumstance but must be considered as having value in a broader context. This value is not contingent upon passing an exercise in reason or decreed by an authority. It is about humbling ourselves in recognizing that we are equals and we can relate at some level that is innately common between us. The attitude bestowed upon the other is a reciprocation of our expectation that hopefully others have on us. When this condition is satisfied, it is referred to as mutual respect. But what can we say about respect and dignity in the context of food? Doesn't the fact that you're eating a living thing constitute a lack of respect? Well, not quite.

It is true that it's not "nice" to kill a thing to eat it. Herbivores eat plants but only because they're hungry. They eat the leaves and fruits, but those grow back in time and do not necessarily kill the plants. Carnivores on the other hand eat other animals, but again they do so out of hunger. The relationship between hunter and prey is innately respectful because they each are allowed to be free to be themselves and to be true to their natures. It can be cruel and horrific but the prey is dignified in its death as it gives its life to the hunter, and in turn the hunter is thankful for the flesh that is given. Omnivores however are not as specially equipped as Herbivores and Carnivores but the same respect still exists as they live in nature and depend on the bounties she offers. Although humans are omnivores, for the most part they are no longer part of nature and do not fit into the ecosystem as it chooses not to be bound by its laws. But does that mean that respect and dignity cannot exist in the psyche of man in relation to nature and her children? After all, why abide by rules when one no longer finds it necessary to be bound by them? Why not exploit nature as we see fit?

This mode of thinking can be summed up as hubris and an excuse to be reckless, cruel, and without shame. A closed loop system will go unstable given a series of stimuli that pushes it outside of its operating range. Since man relies on this system for survival, wrecking it is an act of war on future generations and living beings who are particularly sensitive to it. Some may say that their motives are not as insidious and that they have no choice given their circumstances. Perhaps so. Then it's a matter of changing those circumstances but the mode thinking also needs to change if it is to be meaningful and lasting. If man is no longer a part of ecology, then he must remove himself from it so as to minimize his influence. We must grow our food for our needs but do not take the existing food away from others. To do so is to be the negative stimuli that nudges the system towards instability. This is respect for nature and all she needs is for us to just to let her be as she should be. But that's a separate topic of ecological conservation, which detracts from the current subject. It is enough for now that we understand the concept of respect and dignity in a larger setting so that we can apply it effectively in our context.

Now that we understand one another (as able as I can bridge), let us go back to discussing our foods. Do we have respect for those who give us their lives to sustain us? Do we let them be true to their natures and allow them to be valued in our communities? Can we really say that we respect something when we refer to them as "commodities" and "resources"? If dehumanization of man is a tool to excuse atrocities, what then is commercialization of life? To say that we must be compassionate is hopelessly inadequate, as compassion is an overused term, which does not capture the full scope of the sentiment. Rather we must view the problem with genuine love and affection for living creatures and their shared existence on this planet of ours as neighbors.
The process of agricultural cultivation and animal husbandry of eons ago was an act of enslavement. We shaped nature and forced it into submission to give us what we need and want. We've been doing the same thing with natural resources and even to each other throughout the entire span of recorded history. The mentality itself should be considered a baseline human tendency rather than something of a character flaw in select individuals. i.e. We're all capable of this and are guilty of the same mindset since we fail to even recognize it as such in our daily existence as participants in an industrialized society.

Commoditizing living beings is also a very monetize-ic point of view, where the value of the thing is expressed using currency issued by the overseeing hegemony. It need not be of course, but pegging the value of life to something that is materially translatable will always result in the same setup. The only way to prevent this is to place life above the reaches of material value and never let it be expressed in terms of coin. But does this approach work when you want to raise chickens for their meat or eggs rather than as pets? The arithmetic of chicken to pounds of meat or eggs per season is an all too quick cognitive exercise to have any room for something as abstract and materially useless as "sanctity of life". If our purpose for a chicken is to give its flesh and its young to feed a human being, then the least we could do as higher sentient lifeforms is to let the chicken have a happy life to be as it wants to be in our wider human-based society. In material terms, the quality of life must be included in the arithmetic.

"Free-range", "local", and "organic" labels thus result in more expensive produce in the markets. However the happy "free-range, local, organic, farm-raised, family-owned, no-hormone, no-antibiotics" chicken is not as economical as a "value chicken" from Hades offered at half the price. It's far cheaper to treat life as food from its birth to its death than it is to treat it as an individual life that will give up its flesh as food upon its death. Such is the mindset that also prevails among humans with respect (or lack thereof) with one another. The person purchasing the food is merely a consumer, a thing that gives money in exchange for the food. There is no difference between the chicken and the person. Both are things rather than lives. Both have only material value. Getting a higher standard of food then necessitates the abolition of factory horrors and establishing in place something that works just as well in terms of both efficiency and dignity. Animals in our care need to be brought back to do their jobs, and we must pay them a fair recompense and treat them as valued members in our family. Maybe once we start doing this we might remember what respect means, and remember how to treat our fellow human beings in a proper way.
Farmers markets and small-scale operations in general are thought to be more ethical compared to supermarket produce. Local is better for the environment. Organic is healthier for you. Support your community etc. But they're expensive, and those products go bad quickly as their shelf life is drastically shorter, and the options are limited and seasonal. The foods need to either be used up quickly or they're discarded. It would be better if they can be stored (canned, pickled etc.) at a local level as a service to offset the fresh-food waste. In an ideal setting, the surplus would also make their way into kitchens to feed the impoverished. Any remaining waste would be composted and sold back into the local market. But what about cost? Surely all of these things cost money. Money that most people would rather spend on high calorie and cheaper alternatives at convenient locations. Why would anyone with a tight budget support a local operation selling subpar products at elevated prices?

Well, it would make sense if it was more convenient and cheaper to do so. For instance, a barter system or a local currency might be better suited when it comes to local economies. Utilizing an online market place for coordinating local produce and veggie/fruit hampers paid for by using a bartered service or a local crypto currency is well within the realm of possibility. The currency can be tied to the geographical location and managed/issued by the local municipality. The actual running of that micro-economy and its interface/relation with the state deserves a separate topic, but I will only state here that it is possible for the local economy to have a superior purchasing incentive using this setup. Not all goods can be locally produced however and therefore such things will need to be bought using the state currency. As long as the local operation is independent of the external goods, it should be sustainable. But what about the producers and their need to convert the local currency to purchasing other external goods? Surely life is not just about growing and selling farm produce?

The exchange rate for the local currency to the national currency would likely need to be 1:1. Having a fluctuating exchange rate would be confusing and not very practical for day-to-day living needs. The actual management of the money supply would be handled by the local credit union types of banks who can then interface with the state and central bank systems. The holder of the crypto currency will need to go through those credit union banks to exchange for the state currency. But if there's no price difference between the local currency and the state currency then how can the overall local production be more economical? There are a couple of way of addressing this. One is to treat the local currency as a coupon that can be redeemed for other local services at a discount rate. The difference will be picked up by the state/municipality out of its public operating cost. Another approach is to treat the local currency as a tax offset that can be used to deduct or reduce the taxable income. Therefore supporting the local produce would save you money for the tax year. Alternative forms can certainly exist, but these are just a couple of possibilities beyond the usual price-fixing measures such as import tariffs and local subsidies. Additionally, a local currency may open doors to other benefits as well, which may not be apparent at this stage. But suffice it to say, it has the potential for creating micro-economies operated using high tech and minimal bureaucracy, which can lead to distributed power and economic independence for geographically-dependent participants.
Growing vegetables require fertilizer (nitrogen), which is usually fossil-fuel-based and that's not a locally available resource. Fossil fuels are also required to operate the various machinery in the farming process, and are used to create pesticides. So going local with its own sustainable food economy will need to break these dependencies. There are alternative sources of fertilizers and pesticides of course, but they're currently not as cheap or as efficient as the fossil-fuel kind. For example, seaweed/kelp, animal manure, and various composting methods can create excellent fertilizers. Pesticides can also be made using less harsh ingredients than those used in chemical varieties but whether they can be as effective is questionable, since agent orange and the like are far better bio-weapons against hungry critters than vinegar-soap cocktails.

As for expenses, a large chunk of it will go to labor, but that can likely be offset with machines equipped with rudimentary AI. This may be more appropriate in warehouse/glasshouse hydroponic types of operations, where they can have clear paths as in assembly lines of factories. But for outdoor types of farming, the machines likely won't be as effective as the terrain and weather will make maintenance difficult. Although that may be the case, it could be that the energy required to power them and paying for the repairs may be more economical than paying field workers. It depends on the situation. Smaller operations would likely be better suited to running traditional farm setups rather than relying on AI machines. Whichever may be the case, a completely sealed off, self-sustaining food economy is not going to be possible as there's much interplay between the macro-economy and the micro-economy. What you suggest with the coupons and tax incentives is in essence subsidies. Rather than taking that approach, a different way of incentivizing people to invest in local economies would be to implement tariffs based on the quality of the product.

Let us for instance imagine a setup where each product can be traced such that its entire development cycle can be recorded and pulled up by the end consumer. The raw goods and materials used to make the product are likewise recorded. Each segment of the supply chain must undergo a quality check and be rated. Those ratings are inherited by the products that used them. For example, let's say company X produces an apple sauce product. It's facilities, packaging, and logistics are excellent and the inspecting body gives it a rating of AAA. It sources its apples from various suppliers, each having lower ratings such that the average comes out to be BBA. Company X can potentially be penalized for using lower quality suppliers such that its rating is now knocked down to BAA. The governing bodies can use the ratings system to impose additional tax as an effort to improve the quality. The consumers need not see the full report of the product quality and should be able trust the ratings labels, but they should also be able to bring up the information if desired. This type of a system is implementable today using ioT, big data, and blockchain technologies.

The system need not be only constrained to food items but could also be a standardized way of ensuring higher quality and transparency for everyone involved in any commodity-based business processes. What constitutes low or high quality and what the varying grades are will need to be worked out. But this can establish a floor on what is considered acceptable by consumers and in full transparency on what it is that they're consciously consuming. Thus higher quality would be incentivized and the lower quality penalized.