In this global, connected world we live in, things seem to simply pop up into our hands - be it a smartphone, a tomato, or even a baby. The time, energy, materials, and sweat needed to get to this “finished product” seem to be irrelevant. Failing to understand how things and beings are “made” puts us at the mercy of marketers and the lies of our politicians, and distorts the way we perceive our species in the natural world.
Most adults still haven’t really asked themselves how food is made. Judging by the packaging of food, one could conclude that food is grown in harmony with nature and animals, taken care of by a loving farmer. Yet behind the scenes lies an industry that doesn’t care about any of those, not about the health of consumers. By treating food as industrial outputs, one fails to see their origins and consequences: that to make milk, a cow grown needs to grow at an unnaturally fast pace, be kept under miserable conditions, and become pregnant - most often artificially inseminated every year. That when making eggs, mostly all male chicks are slaughtered right after birth, as they cannot serve as egg-laying hens. Or that to grow vegetables, toxic fertilizer is sprayed upon the ground, killing other plants and animals, and contaminating the water we drink.
We need to ask: where did my beef, milk, and vegetables come from? How are animals fed and kept healthy? And what is in the fertilizer which gets sprayed onto our vegetables? If we do not understand what goes into our food and how it’s made, it’s safe to bet that our bodies will end up toxic and that our consumption is damaging to species and places in the natural world.
Apple and Co may want you to think their shiny products are a leap towards the future, but they covering up an ugly reality. Smartphones contain a myriad of materials, among which cobalt - often mined in war-struck regions, then built together in health-damaging conditions for the workers. Child labor is a recurring topic, across the supply chain.
How do you go about buying your next phone, knowing that it actively funds slavery and child labor, and damages the health of people across the globe (including yourself)?
Yes, babies! Having recently become a father, I was able to experience the full birth of a new human being. And I mean the real thing - witnessing birth next to my partner from start to finish, with all the blood, sweat, pooh, screams and tears. Yet I recently learned that this kind of experience is still avoided (or banned) by many - and it highly varies across countries. There still are many men, it seems, who are either afraid, disgusted or simply not curious about being part of this essential process of life.
On the woman’s side, the mounting fear of letting natural processes manifest themselves is one of the reasons for the rapidly increasing number of C-sections worldwide. While the C-section is life-saving in certain cases, its use in non-essential ones shows a preference for quicker, transactional processes.
Again, “the finished product” is preferred. The man waiting outside the medical room magically gets a tidy baby in his arms. The woman doing a C-section misses out on an essential life process and only gets the advertised result.
If we don’t witness birth as it is, how can we know who we are as a person and species? And if we cannot accept how we are born, how can we accept our own nature?
Beyond the finished product
Surely, there are some bigger themes at play here. On the one hand, the system is to blame: consumerism has succeeded in making us think we are just a buy away from bliss, and that it’s ok to focus on the result instead of the process. On the other hand, the fault is with ourselves: we lack curiosity, we fear change, and we tend to see humankind above nature instead of a part of it. It is the responsibility of each of us to find the courage to ask questions about processes and origins, instead of merely accepting “the finished product”. By changing ourselves, we are also changing the system itself.