Nourishing Earth, Nourishing Ourselves Part 2: Chefs, Diets, Ecological Doctors, Fossil Fuels, and Changing Climates

Frederick D. Provenza, PhD


Issue: Volume 73 Winter 2023

Online Publication Date: 21 December 2023


Homo sapiens have lived on Earth for roughly 300,000 years. Our ancestors were hunters and gatherers who used hundreds of plants and animals for food, medicine, clothing, and shelter. Only in the past 10,000 years did we transition from hunters and gatherers to pastoralists and small-scale farmers and ranchers. And only during the past century did we create civilizations reliant on industrial agriculture and fossil fuels. In the process, we transformed from sunlight-driven ecological economies linked with the landscapes that once nourished and sustained us to money-centric economies disconnected from nature and dependent on fossil fuels. Diet, human, and environmental health are now topics of great contention, but the terrain that links food production and nutrition with human and planetary health is not as simple as a holy war of plant vs meat eaters. Most humans are omnivores, and given the diversity of settings people inhabit, one-sizefits- all approaches to diets are bound to fail. We must value the many ways people sustain themselves globally and consider the vital roles plants and animals play in nourishing human and environmental health on a warming planet. If the projected lack of oil and natural gas by midcentury is correct, life in the decades ahead will likely become increasingly local and smaller in scale. These changes will create opportunities to produce foods locally in ways that nurture relationships among soil, water, plants, herbivores, farmers, ranchers, and consumers, who will all need to learn what it means to be locally adapted to our environments. Livestock can be our partners in fashioning diverse plant communities that create health for herbivores, omnivores, and carnivores below and above ground.