Aren’t humans at the top of the food chain?

Do you really think that humans are apex predators?

Justifications for needless violence and oppression are often based on concepts of power and supremacy: the notion that “might makes right.” Unfortunately, the belief that might makes right has justified the worst atrocities of human history.

A “food chain” is a human invention that assumes a linear hierarchy among species. It’s a form of biological determinism, and implies that our behavior regarding food is innate, and determined by genes, or other biological attributes. It ignores the fact that we are moral agents, and are able to make decisions based on notions of right and wrong and be held accountable for those decisions.

But let’s say we could define a hierarchy based on what each species eats. Scientists call this a trophic hierarchy, where the trophic level (or “rank” in a “food chain”) is based on diet. On the low end of the 1 to 5 scale are primary producers like plants, and on the high end are apex predators (animals that eat only other animals and have few or no predators of their own, such as tigers, crocodiles, or boa constrictors).

In 2013, for the first time ever, ecologists used a statistical method of calculating a species’s trophic level and published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This study didn’t look at humans living in the natural world, competing with other species for food, where their only choices are based on what they could obtain without technology. In doing so, it failed to take into account the important distinction that comes from humans’ ability to choose from a wide variety of food options, in contrast to other animals in the wild, who have no choice but to eat what is available to them.

Even so, even looking at humans with factory farms, knives, trucks, grocery stores, skillets, indoor kitchens, refrigerators, plates, forks, etc., their findings scored humans at 2.21 roughly equal to an anchovy or a pig.

So we humans, even with all our technology, are not at the top of anything. We are just one part of an interdependent web of life that forms complex ecosystems. We can choose to either protect of these fragile natural systems, or destroy them and our very existence.

By choosing to eat plant foods, we can get all of our nutrients from primary producers, in the most environmentally responsible and resource-efficient way possible, minimizing harm to ourselves, other humans, other animals, and the planet.

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