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Freedom & Food Sovereignty ? Is That Our Ethical Stance ?


In his tweet, Dr. Shawn Baker enters the terrain of ethics, our conception of the good life, and stakes out a position for the Carnivore diet. Here, I want to develop my response more fully, and stimulate further discussion.


I'm sure this is not the first time Shawn Baker has presented an ethical case for carnivore. However, it is the first explicit statement of his to appear since this blog was launched last month, and therefore my first opportunity to respond directly. Exploring the ethical aspects of the debates over diet and nutrition is THE central purpose of this blog, hence the 'like it' comment. So is Shawn Baker correct ? Is Carnivore fundamentally about freedom and food sovereignty ?

I certainly have no problem with either concept, but as with all questions of ethics - there is more to be said. Let's unpack his tweet a little further.

'The Carnivore diet is not about who's diet is best'. By this I understand Shawn Baker to mean that carnivore may not work for everyone, not everyone has to adopt it for this form of eating to justify its existence. This is something he has said many times, and I think it is absolutely critical. What it does is set carnivore out from a vegan position, and the difference is crucial. Veganism is essentially a MORAL stance, it argues eating and exploiting animals is WRONG, it is wrong for everyone and all time, NO ONE should eat meat, ever. This is why vegans escalate quickly to apply strong pressure and even violence to impose their viewpoint. Morality always leads directly to violence and war, because there is only one right and one wrong, and everything else is subordinate to what is 'right'. We have seen this play out countless times in human history, its not pretty.

Shawn Baker's framing of the issue places it firmly on the terrain of ETHICS rather than morality. The Carnivore diet may not necessarily be the best for everyone, but it is good, not good as opposed to evil, but good as opposed to bad. An example of a bad way of eating is the Standard American Diet, which in our eyes is bad because it makes people fat and sick.

This, however, is debatable, the nutrition mainstream has its defenders. In fact, EVERY position on the nutrition spectrum is defendable (for a map of the main positions see here), even a vegan one, for contained in each are competing conceptions of 'the good life', they are VALUE statements. Vegans value animals over humans, those who eat fast food value pleasure over health, and these are LEGITIMATE options, they can be defended with arguments and many people find such arguments persuasive. The nutrition mainstream is an expression of our current way of life, a direct reflection of it, and if you believe this is a good way of living then you will gravitate towards their way of eating, just as if you are critical of it then you will gravitate towards one of the alternatives.

Ethics are always subject to debate, to disagreement. This is because there is more than one conception of the good life, there is more than one way for human beings to live well. Societies, cultures, civilisations have provided a whole variety of answers to the question of ethics, 'how are we to live ?', and there is room for a whole variety of more answers in the future. It is the defence of THIS possibility that I understand in the word 'freedom', the possibility of ETHICS, of different conceptions of the good life to be allowed to exist and to flourish.

Shawn Baker may or may not have this same meaning in mind. He can speak for himself. Freedom is a very loaded word in an American context, and it usually means individual, personal freedom. My definition shifts the focus to a collective meaning, because the question of ethics is always a 'WE' question, not an 'I' question. It asks how WE want to live, as a community, a society, what WE consider to be important, OUR priorities, OUR values. This is also how I pose the question of food sovereignty, which is usually understood in terms of nations, in the face of globalisation. I am not opposed to this way of defining sovereignty, but I am not restricted to it - the 'we' does not have to be an existing state, an existing people.

In fact, the question 'who is this WE ?' is the most fundamental problem of ethics. This is because it is an OPEN question, there is no given WE, there is no guarantee any such WE even exists at all, or will ever come into being. It is up to us to DECIDE who is this we, and to make it happen, to bring it into life, if we want to, if it matters enough to us. The Gods have something to say on this too, it is not simply our choice.

Among philosophers, Heidegger first develops this idea in his 'The Origin of the Work of Art'. Alexandr Dugin captures its present day sense best with his concept of 'Dasein'. I recommend both for those interested in exploring this further.

For us, therefore, the issue is not simply 'what is Carnivore', what does it stand for ? It is also a 'who' question - 'who' are the followers of this way of eating, who are the Carnivore tribe, and what kind of a 'who' is this ? If we consider the wider aspects of this diet, the commitment to regenerative agriculture, the humane treatment of animals, to the environment, to viable rural communities, all of these are needed just to make meat available as a personal choice, so much more is required even if individual freedom is our highest value, as it has been historically in the United States. This is why the 'freedom' in Shawn Baker's statement has to be considered in much broader terms. It is OUR freedom that is at stake, the possibility that WE can explore and develop OUR conception of the good life, that we can LIVE it, that our children can live it too, that we can show how good a life it is in practice, in reality, by the kind of people we are as a result of living this way.

This is what I take from Shawn Baker's tweet. Its not the final word, when it comes to ethical questions there is NEVER a final word, because the ethical realm is an open one, it is in fact THE open realm of freedom. Right now it is under threat, our task is to understand what is at stake, and to take our stand.

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