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Natureculture, Moral Purity, and Cultural Boundaries

Planted May 18, 2021
Last tended Jul 29, 2021
Cultured Meat

Nature is flourishing down at my local Sainsbury's. The mineral water is natural. The unrefined cane sugar is natural. The low-fat Greek style yogurt is natural. The gluten-free buckwheat toasted muesli is natural. The anti-oxidising cranberry, chocolate, and coconut vegan protein bars are natural.

"Natural" has become both a ubiquitous and meaningless label on food packaging. This observation is nothing profound. Hundreds of op-ed authors have lamented the lack of governmental regulation stopping producers from putting "natural," "free-range," "wholegrain," "authentic," "superfood," and "organic" on their shiny cereal box of sugar puffs. We have all become comfortably jaded with the empty, hyperbolic language of our food. At least enough to not take it seriously.

But this is not a diatribe about food packaging. The bone I'm picking is not with the label on my chicken, but the chicken's supposed origin – nature.

At its core, nature defines the world without humans in it. It is everything that the birds, bacteria, forests, fish, and ocean currents do without our input. We consider it distinct and opposed to the expansion pack that humans brought to life; culture. We think of culture as everything humans layer on top of the natural world; the icing on the cosmic cake.

At least, this is one version of the mythological story; the one most of us accept as historical fact. Hominids sprang up in South Africa 40,000 years ago and began carving wooden digging sticks, smearing red ochre on one another, and threading long necklaces made from shards of ostrich eggs. While they were busy decorating, the cosmic fabric split and created a division. The world before the humans, and the world after. At least this is the story we, the humans, tell ourselves.


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Maggie Appleton © 2021