International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
IVU logo

IVU News

Calories, Dollars and Compassion
A Philosophical Look at Food
By Claude Pasquini
IVU News - August 1999

Could we agree with the idea that ecology and economics deal with the same thing, namely our natural resources, and that they are merely using different languages, different concepts or different terms to describe these resources? If so, this idea might help us to understand why the global environment and the global economy are both in a deplorable condition. In fact, if one is in bad shape, the other one has to be in bad shape, too, since, what is actually in a lousy condition is nothing else but our natural resources.

Natural resources are simply there

When the ecologist studies our natural resources, he does it in terms of energy, of calories. When the economist looks at our natural resources, a monetary value such as the dollar or the euro will be his/her reference.

We may look at our natural resources in an ecological or an economic or even, why not, in a spiritual way. What changes is the way we look at them. What doesn't change is that natural resources are simply there, that they are made of energy, of matter that lives and dies, of matter that feels and thinks. And these natural resources will always be there, no matter how we look at them, unless of course, matter and energy - one day - will not be resources anymore to anyone, to any creature. This will be the case when life and life's needs for resources will have vanished from this planet.

We are the food problem

Matter and energy are simply there. Independent - as they are - of how we value them, they cannot be the problem. In fact our way of valuing them is the problem, which is to say, that we are the problem! Don't let anyone get away who tells you that we have an environmental problem, that we have a food problem, be it local, regional, national or global. Tell her or him that we haven't, but that we are the environmental problem, that we are the food problem.

The oneness of ecology and economy

As long as we believe, for example, that a thriving economy inevitably comes along with a degrading environment or that too much protection of the environment will have a negative impact on our economic development and welfare, as long as we think that way, we still imagine the ecological state of the world and the economic state of the world to be two different things, when in fact they are not.

When we talk about getting economics and the ecology back together again, our wishful thinking hides from us that the two have been apart only in our minds. By keeping ecology and economics separate in our minds, we keep ourselves apart from our natural resources, which constitute - after all - our natural environment, which is, at the same time and in a wide sense, our natural food.

Thus, the global environmental crisis is the global food crisis. Our global food crisis is our global environmental crisis and neither ecology nor economics will ever resolve that crisis until we come to see ourselves at least as an integral part of our natural resources.

We are food, we are environment. Are we compassion?

When we eat, we eat environment. When we digest, we become what we eat, we become environment. When we excrete, we excrete environment into environment. If - as the saying goes - we are what we eat, we are environment.

Once we fully realize this, our minds will become a natural resource, which - at last - will not distinguish anymore between food and environment, a mind which will try to do as little harm as possible to the environment, to food and, last but not least, to itself.

Such a mind can't but put us back on the nonviolent, in its ecological sense, conservative way of living and eating. This is the royal way out, or more appropriately, this is the vegan way out of our global food and environmental crisis. It is the vegan way out of that wasteland of calories and dollars, towards yet unknown horizons where these concepts fade away into a compassion for life which, after having been a beautiful vision, at last will have become a lived reality.

Contributions to IVU News are welcomed. Material published does not necessarily reflect the views of the editor or the policy of the International Vegetarian Union.