In the past, cultures have created environmental chaos and suffered from it. Throughout history, we humans have created uninhabitable environments. Author Jared Diamond — who won the Pulitzer Prize for his book Guns, Germs, and Steel — has written about this in his most recent book, Collapse. He focuses on several cultures that have created their own downfall by causing environmental changes. Among them are the Mayans, the Anasazi of the American Southwest, and the Easter Islanders. These were all thriving cultures that destroyed the natural ecosystem to the degree that it could no longer support human life. The most profound result in these situations was the impact on the food supply. We need to learn from the past.
The Missing Link
Our modern world is dependent on the international movement of food. Human society has never collapsed on a global scale, but then we haven’t had the physical or chemical technology to make that happen until now. We cannot discuss nutrition without addressing the quality and quantity of a diverse selection of food. If quality food is not available, all other discussion is futile.
Over the past ten thousand years, human societies have dramatically changed the environment. The changes were mostly unintended and largely unnoticed since they were so slow that they spanned generations. Now we can clearly see the human impact and have the opportunity to change course if we wish. Human culture has made forests disappear, changed the courses of rivers, altered the atmosphere, and changed the composition of the seas.
Our attitudes about food are a significant part of this process. Many of our foods are extraordinarily destructive to the environment and are not nutritious. People are often attracted to products that promise specific nutritional benefits without regard to their environmental damage. In some cases, we are focused on imagined benefits of products with only small or even no real nutritional benefit. There are unintended consequences to our limited thinking.