Towards an Evolving Ethical Eating Manifesto: An Integral Approach v.0.1 (Part 1)

I’ll be writing the first draft of this manifesto over the course of several blog posts and collecting them into a separate page that I will update as I learn more, get smarter (or dumber!) or otherwise change my opinion. 


Why Do I Need a Manifesto?

I don’t know if you need a manifesto (my guess is it might be helpful), but I sure do. Choosing what to eat these days is extremely complex. The conflicting information is really confusing if, like me, you want to eat in an ethical, responsible, healthy, and tasty way.

Previously, I sought to simplify this complexity by adhering to strictly defined diets. I was a Pescetarian (with ambitions of being a Vegan) for 20 years. More recently, I’ve dabbled in the Zone, Slow-Carb and Paleo diets. I started eating meat again due to “Neocarn” literature (Neocarn definition) rationales. The first cracks in my vegetarian ethos appeared when I started the Slow-Carb diet as outlined in Tim Ferris’ 4-Hour Body. He notes that it is possible to be a vegetarian on a Slow-Carb diet, but high performance athletics requires extra care. I looked to the footnotes to see the incredibly complex, expensive and detailed diet and supplement regimen of a professional vegetarian athlete on Slow-Carb. Sometimes I train hard in Gicheon (a Korean internal martial art). Would I need to do the same?

A few months later I finally read The Vegetarian Myth. That put the nail in the coffin of my vegetarianism. It attacked the 3 pillars that must be addressed in any ethical diet: environmental impact, animal welfare and health. Vegetarianism was not left as a viable option by the end of the book and now meat was not the enemy, wheat was. I started eating meat again, deciding ultimately unsuccessfully to commit to eating more local and eco-friendly foods (i.e. non-factory farmed) and avoiding grains..

But now I’ve been pointed in the direction of The Vegetarian Myth Myth, which is one of many sites and articles severely questioning the validity and accuracy of The Vegetarian Myth. Reading the comments on one of those articles reveals an impassioned exchange between Neocarns and Vegans citing their favorite statistics, studies and sources.

What to believe? If you don’t do your own research into primary sources, it’s really hard to say. It seems like it pretty much comes down to what you want to believe.

“Man has an infinite capacity to rationalize – especially when it comes to what he wants to eat.” – Cleveland Amory

This quote is from a pro-animal welfare activist criticizing meat-eating, but I think it applies equally well to any diet.

I really don’t want to have to do my own research into primary sources. I’m not qualified in any of the relevant fields to speak on them and I do not relish the enormous amount of work it would take. Most importantly, it wouldn’t solve the fundamental confirmation bias problem. I might just choose to believe the research I wanted to according to my own pre-existing values and assumptions.

So instead, I decided to examine my values and assumptions about food and food choices, evaluate, clarify and reform them, and then draw up some general heuristics to making better eating choices for the big 3: environment, compassion for living beings and personal health.

Why Integral?

First of all, I like Integal Theory. Secondly, Integral Theory recognizes that every perspective, while maybe not equally valid and correct, each has a grain of truth to it. This is often stated as something like “Any one perspective can’t be 100% wrong.” Third, Integral Theory includes some tools for evaluating complex moral and ethical dilemmas, like considering the “greatest depth for the greatest span”. Fourth, Integral Theory recognizes both subjective and objective truths. And Fifth, Integral Theory recognizes as real and deeply incorporates Spirituality.

Why Evolving? Why a Version Number?

I intend to update this document regularly as new information becomes available, as people comment and challenge my views, and as I change my thinking about certain points. These are complex, evolving issues and we have incomplete information about them. A fixed set of rules isn’t going to work.

The Manifesto

Core Values: Responsibility to the Environment, Maximal Personal Health, Compassion for Living Beings

These are the most important considerations for me in making food choices, roughly in that order: environmental, personal and compassion for living beings.

Integral Theory includes lines of moral development. “Selfishness” generally progress from concern for only oneself, to the family, to the tribe, to the ethnic group/nation, to humankind, to all living beings, to the earth, to the cosmos. If we followed this progression, we would have a ranking of values from personal health, to compassion to all living beings, to the environment. In a selfish survival (Spiral Dynamics Integral “red” or lower level of consciousness) mindset, that’s the order I would choose as well. But living at “green” or higher as a privileged first-worlder, I have the luxury to recognize the primacy of a healthy environment to my individual well-being and that of other living beings. So it gets a slight edge.

To be continued…

  • Lee

    You are not alone in this struggle to make sense of this. I look forward to what you come up with, 🙂

    • sungwon

      Thank you, Lee! I look forward to your comments and thoughts as well.

  • I’d be interested to talk about this sometime.

    • sungwon

      Great! I’d love to get your take on it.

  • Andrew Sedlak

    Maybe you could start polling some integral communities to understand people’s relationship to food who have an understanding of integral. I’d be happy to help!

  • Besides my integral interest, I’m a radical left-liberal, compassionate egalitarian, and tree-hugging environmentalist who was raised in a new agey Christian church. I was vegetarian for a time. Also, I’ve known and lived with numerous vegetarians and vegans, including many family members (brothers, sister-in-laws, nieces, nephew, grandmother, aunt, and cousins).

    Yet I’m now an carnivore. I go so far as to argue that a carnivore diet could be the most ethical and environmental-friendly diet, assuming it it is based on animal foods that are local, pasture-raised, and regeneratively farmed. If ‘vegan’ means causing the least harm, carnivore potentially could be vegan. Certainly, I do my best to follow such a diet, to the extent I’m able within the present system.

    My other reason is simply for health. The most optimal and ancestrally-based diet is low-carb, nutrient-dense, animal-based, and nose-to-tail (along with avoiding grains, seed oils, and other ingredients of industrially-processed foods). Obviously, we can’t have psychological, cognitive, moral, and social health without a foundation of physical health.