I was thinking the other day that as we all race towards this thing called progress, we appear to be leaving many of our human values behind. This is especially true in our constant competition for profit-making, derived from the acquisition of increasingly scarce resources such as land, water, natural gas, mineral deposits, and so forth. In terms of lost values, what immediately comes to mind in this regard is the ancient notion of stewardship. This is the idea that humankind is best placed to act as guardian for the natural environment and other living creatures on this earth, due to our “superior intelligence.” If this is indeed our responsibility, then, it is plain to see that we are failing miserably, since we in fact cause suffering to the environmental flora and fauna because of the careless and wasteful demands we place upon them.
Take for example the consumption habits of city dwellers. Gone are the days when women would spend many back-breaking hours gathering edible roots and vegetables, alongside whatever they were able to grow themselves. Similarly, men no longer need to engage in several days of dangerous hunting expeditions for hard-to-find game. Instead, most urbanites have access to a variety of local and imported foodstuff (both basic and luxury items), which might not necessarily be affordable for everyone. Industrialization, globalization and rapid urbanization make it possible for the well-off to eat what they want when they want; however, there is a price to pay for all of this easy living.
Unfortunately, much of the food that is sold to us in supermarkets comes as a result of inhumane farming practices, where chickens, sheep and cows are maltreated before being slaughtered en masse in order to meet the needs of growing numbers of consumers. Additionally, for every perfect fish lying on ice in the store, there are several others that have been tossed into the garbage because they are damaged or bruised; therefore, do not come up to market standards or that of its fussy customers. There is also the fact that the high demand for certain luxury items like chocolate and candy has led to the exclusive use of land for related cash crops (e.g., cocoa and sugar cane), at the expense of diverse land-use practices.
Our distance from historic hunting-and-gathering activities has resulted in a lack of sensitivity about the way in which the food we eat is grown, reared or butchered; hence, the general absence of rituals traditionally used to placate the souls of the animals we kill and the land we till. It appears, back then, we had a greater sense of our duty as stewards for the land; protecting it and other creatures living upon it – even if from ourselves. This is something we seem to have lost in the process of our development.
Now, far be it from me to start moralizing about the environment, especially as I also shop in those supermarkets with impunity. Still I found myself forced to take pause in this way recently, after reading the following slogan posted on Facebook: “The savage is not the one who lives in the wild. The savage is rather the one who destroys it.” Truly these words to the wise are more than enough.