Climate change is challenging food systems, livelihoods, and human and ecosystem health [1
]. There is high confidence that the global food system is the most predominant contributor to current environmental degradation [1
]. Led by agriculture, planetary boundaries have been surpassed in biosphere integrity, biogeochemical flows, and land-system changes [2
]. Globally, 40% of land is used for agriculture [4
] with unprecedented rates of expansion intensifying productivity and supporting increased consumption [1
]. Impacting marine ecosystems, fishing livelihoods, and sustainable fisheries, 60% and 30% of global fish stocks are completely exhausted or over-fished, respectively [5
]. Pasture and cropland conversion have been chief causes of species extinction and deforestation [6
], and cropland expansion results in larger declines in biodiversity [1
]. Eutrophication from overuse of nitrogen and phosphorus [7
] has been coupled with the consumption of 70% of the world’s fresh water for agriculture [8
]. Estimates of 25–30% of global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) are owed to livestock and agricultural production [9
]. These GHGs have caused a rise in global temperatures, changes in precipitation, and a negative feedback loop impacting food systems [10
Over the past several decades, the global food system has changed dramatically [11
]. Increased demand for food, fuel, and fiber biomass “has been met by converting ecosystems into [global] production ecosystems” [12
]. Highly-varied food production systems across the globe have shifted into supply chains that are increasingly more specialized, complex, and vertically integrated (i.e. corporations own intermediate means of production) [11
]. With greater distances between producers and consumers, fewer people are growing their own food and more are buying from markets [11
]. There is a transition from the direct consumption of raw ingredients to increased agricultural production for ultra-processed food ingredients [11
]. Given such changes, the power of the private sector has increased, and labor, power, capital, and values have been concentrated in large agribusinesses and food industry [11
]. At the same time, nutrition transitions in diets have set food production systems at odds with the provision of ecosystem services, increased the diet-related noncommunicable disease prevalence, and have contributed disproportionately to depletion of natural resources [13
]. Reciprocally, many food system changes are driven or exacerbated by population growth, disparities in income distribution, urbanization, and dietary consumption practices [13
The current environmental crisis has been much debated as a product of human action and has been called ‘The Anthropocene’ [14
]. The Anthropocene is recognized as the current geological epoch catalyzed by substantial human impacts on the planet [16
]. There is strong debate around the exact dates and definition of the Anthropocene concept [18
]. Yet, the assertion of the Anthropocene as a distinct, human-centered geological era has pressed humanity to rethink our relationship to future generations and non-human entities in the world [19
]. Turns in ontologies that underlie these relations are proposed as a novel means of approaching the end of the Anthropocene epoch [21
Much literature focusing on sustainable future food systems give many, practical guidelines for how transformations can be made now. Such proposed actions include an increase in intensive production through efficient technological solutions, narrowing production yield gaps while minimizing negative externalities, avoiding overconsumption and food waste, and transforming diets to incorporate fewer animal-based, ultra-processed, and sugar-sweetened foods [13
]. Though these are consistent and practical solutions, they fall short of addressing the deeper philosophical turn needed for humans to enact changes in reality.
Discussion of food systems and diets have generally only extended to 2050 [13
]. To address the environmental crisis of the Anthropocene, several fundamental changes to the global food system and transformations in human action have been proposed. Such actions include full-supply chain policy interventions [26
], redirection of finance for sustainability, radical transparency and traceability, and including keystone actors (e.g., transnational corporations) as global drivers of change [12
]. However, movement beyond 2050 short-term recommendations will be needed for providing more temporally distant (i.e. several future generations) diets from future sustainable food systems.
The use of the term ‘Anthropocene’ is inherently an assertion of temporality and invokes the possibility of both a ‘pre-‘ and ‘post-Anthropocene’. Temporality means existing within and having relation to time. The timely issues of the Anthropocene related to sustainable diets have been addressed through the wisdom of indigenous peoples whose practices will exemplify a ‘pre-Anthropocene’ [27
]. A time after the anthropocentric, consumptive dominance of the planet—a post-Anthropocene—is theorized as possible [28
]. In this post-Anthropocene humans are de-centralized as the sole subjects of consideration in a sustainable food system. Such non-anthropocentric sustainable food systems remain within planetary boundaries where consumers have remade themselves more cognizant members of the global community through deeper ontological turns [11
The transformation of current diets to sustainable diets has been widely promoted. Diet transformations have been proposed as one way to address the nutrition transition as well as the global food systems challenges contributing to the environmental crisis [13
]. Diets are defined as the eating patterns across the lifespan and the types of foods consumed by a person habitually [31
]. Sustainable diets are those with “low environmental impacts which contribute to food and nutrition security and to a healthy life for present and future generations” [32
]. Since value-based social norms and self-efficacy will drive diet transformations more than pressures of perceived climate change or health risk [33
], we argue deeper philosophical perspective shifts could help with the transition to sustainable diets.
Diets are one of the most profound, intimate connections humans have to their external environment. External realities—or ontologies—deal with the questions of existence and the nature of relations to what exists. The ontologies behind diets define the way people, as eaters, understand the nature of reality and their relation to that reality through the consumption of constitutive nutrients. Larger, systemic diet transformations may not come independently of turns in underlying world-views [34
]. Possible approaches to the “require[d] radical shifts in deeply held values” [12
] are suggested in this article through the guidelines for ontological turns (indigenous and object-oriented ecosophy), temporality considerations (past/future connection and present opportunity), and technological orientations (slow/low and high tech) for post-Anthropocene futures.
It must be recognized that the terms ‘ontology’, ‘Anthropocene’, and ‘sustainability’ are creations of the western academic canon. As Hunt [35
] notes “western ontological possibilities are bounded in ways that limit their ability to fully account for indigenous worldviews”. Recognizing these limitations, the terms are used here in the western context as a means to work towards commensurate discussions of the current environmental crisis—widely agreed upon by western scientists [36
]. Through learning from indigeneity, western scholarship can go beyond current ontological limits for turning from anthropocentric worldviews [35
Indigenous ontologies are proposed to respond to anthropocentric challenges we face. Indigenous ontologies outline diets where foods have significant relationships with human and nonhuman communities in temporally deep, spatially local, and complex ways [37
]. Such ontological outlines are presented to give current consumption practices the ability to move to temporally distant consideration needed to exit the Anthropocene [21
To connect indigenous ontologies to western academic contexts that have already proposed an Anthropocene exit, object-oriented ecosophy is also used in this article. Developed from object-oriented ontology and ecological philosophy, object-oriented ecosophy parallels much of pre-Anthropocene indigenous ontologies [21
]. The theory of object-oriented ontology radically asserts that worldviews cannot solely consider human subjects but must also encompass other objects (e.g., crops, crude oil, oceans) and their fundamental characteristics [38
]. Object-oriented ecosophy presents an outline for the transition to ontologies which both de-center humans and consider the relationality of objects [21
There is a current—spatial and temporal—disconnect among the people, places, and things consumed and those entities impacted by that consumption [40
]. The food system of the Anthropocene is predicated on anthropocentrism, excessive consumption, negative human and non-human externalities, and an irrational separation of actions and consequences [10
]. The era of post-Anthropocene will need non-anthropocentric philosophies, practices, and institutions. We will need sustainable relations among humans and non-humans and internalization of the effects of anthropogenic influences. To exit this Anthropocene era, a deliberate connection of the time and space of current and future diets—including the food systems which provide those—will need interdisciplinary understanding and approaches that go beyond any one paradigm or system [20
Assuming we are in the Anthropocene epoch and that we must exit this era for a sustainable future, the purpose of this article is to argue that turns in ontologies are needed, informing and driving transformations in diets. We conceptually address two central research questions: how can pre-Anthropocene ontologies guide an exit of current approaches to diets? And, considering temporality, what post-Anthropocene ontologies are possible in future diets for sustainable food systems? To advance conceptual discussions of future diets, this paper draws upon literature describing indigenous food systems and the unsustainable Anthropocene context. We advance this discussion to address ontological turns for the post-Anthropocene. The theories and examples of indigenous worldviews paralleled with object-oriented ecosophy are used herein. This article addresses the philosophical paradigm shift needed to exit the Anthropocene through the conceptual discussion of eating, thinking, and being constituted of The Post-Anthropocene Diet.
5. Ontologically-Based Dietary Guidelines
A summary of the three temporal epochs presented through their ontologies, consideration of temporality in decision making, and practical examples of diets (Section 2
, Section 3
and Section 4
) is outlined in Table 1
. The pre-Anthropocene is presented through indigenous worldviews. The Anthropocene defines a temporal worldview that disregards future generations through unsustainable diets. A proposed post-Anthropocene ontological turn is presented as paralleling the indigenous pre-Anthropocene. Such turns can work to define a new era through object-oriented ecosophy, reconsideration of temporality, and practical or technological transformations in diets.
presents possible outlines for turns in ontologies to theorize and realize sustainable futures. This is partly an application of what Heikkurinen et al. [21
] offer as an ontological outline—their object-oriented ecosophy—for the transition to a post-Anthropocene society. For them, this means the transition to ecological organization theory and the practice that reimagines object-object relations for “the peaceful coexistence of objects” [21
For diets, this means using the inherent qualities of objects to reduce the instrumentalization of foods and natural resources. These diets outline an ontological future which releases the eater from anthropocentrism. It is proposed here that such an ontological turn is needed to reach a sustainable post-Anthropocene.
We recognize humans will still need to eat and use resources for the provisioning of those foods. Post-Anthropocene diets are proposed as those which reduce the bias of yield maximization, agricultural industrialization, and commercial food production. We propose an indigenous or object-oriented ecosophy that will position consumers with ontologies to catalyze a philosophical paradigm shift. Non-anthropocentric, pre-Anthropocene diets have been exemplified in indigenous food systems. These diets are informed by an indigenous ontology that has an inherent and relational understanding of how local foods are adapted to local environments.
It has been asserted that the indigenous ways of eating are more resilient in the face of climate challenges [27
]. As ontologies turn, post-Anthropocene diets would be composed of fewer industrially monocultured foods. The post-Anthropocene diet will transition from foods furnished through unsustainable agricultural practices of the global-industrial Anthropocene. Diets will consist of sustainably produced, gathered, hunted, or fished foods. Consumption patterns would be led by seasonality and availability, which, though obvious, could be drastically different in a post-Anthropocene world given changing global climate conditions.
As a presentation of possible ways forward, we posit ‘Ontologically-based dietary guidelines.’ Potential ontological turns, temporality considerations, and technological orientations are recommended as guidelines for the post-Anthropocene diet. Firstly, the ontological turn requires a de-centering of humans. Such de-centering necessitates an understanding of the relationality of foods as objects given their essential qualities: autonomy, intrinsicality, uniqueness and/or through indigenous worldviews [21
]. Secondly, diets may be considered through consideration of temporality: the questions of when and how much to act or consume are raised. The temporal considerations that embody the post-Anthropocene diet will be guided by asking (i) for what quantity of time in the future is this decision made for a sustainable future food system—to exit the Anthropocene? and (ii) for what quality of present or future is this decision to consume?
We present low- and high-tech examples for understanding technological orientation in future temporalities. A slow or low-tech future may embrace gardening, canning, drying, and preserving foods. Sustainable production and extensive farming systems may be combined with hunting, gathering, and foraging for wild foods. Localization of markets and community-supported agriculture are models that embrace slower food futures. The technological orientation of high-tech futures may embrace sustainable production models of cellular agriculture, vertical farming, biotechnology, and ‘smart’ agro-technology. In-home or large-scale biodigesters that run on renewable energy and produce biofuels may become more common. These examples are presented around a future diet situated in high-tech and slow/low-tech solutions. Neither example is necessarily superior to the other but would both be equally possible outcomes of this line of reasoning and ontological turn for the post-Anthropocene diet. Future sustainable food systems would most likely consist of some amalgamation of both low- and high-tech futures.
There are limitations to adopting these worldviews and making decisions that redefine food systems outside of efficiency and productivity. It takes time and money to establish technologies for sustainable consumption. Further, there is not one single, simple, or all-encompassing technology that will transform diets for health and sustainability. Using cell-cultured meat as an example, several negative environmental outcomes can be reduced, but this technology requires large amounts of energy and comes at a high cost [66
]. There are also barriers to entry and access to such technologies. Lack of individual knowledge and funding for more research are limitations in this field. Moreover, dependency on technological solutions still ties consumers to markets or spaces of production. This dependency may be lessened through owning smaller, home-based means of technological production, but again these come with barriers of money and resources.
It is also recognized that there are many challenges and restrictions on individual decision making for transforming diets. Many people are restricted by time, space, and knowledge to gather, grow, cook, and process their own foods. However, this article is set to challenge the centrality of constant growth, efficiency, and productivity and embraces now as the time to make transformations even if small but sustainable. Current diets can take small steps to de-centering humans in the food system. We can choose to move towards this epochal exit through consumption. Choices that leave more space for temporally and spatially distant humans and non-humans in the world to be their autonomous, intrinsic, unique selves.
The feasibility of ontological turns compared to more engineered steering of the global food system must also be considered. Policy interventions are possible. Yet, the correct actors need to be targeted, knowledge of effective changes is limited, and enforcement can be a challenge [26
]. Redirecting finance and engaging keystone transnational corporations can be key leverage points for systemic transformations in global production ecosystems [12
]. However, there is often an opaque link between financial flows and environmental change [12
]. Such neoliberal expansion led by large corporations is asserted as a main driver of environmental degradation of the Anthropocene [10
]. Radical transparency and traceability in sustainability issues may be influential in aligning consumer purchasing with sustainable thinking [12
]. However, given “the urgency and complexity of this challenge” [12
], the transformative change will also require radical shifts in current economic paradigms. Such change cannot come independently of transformations in deeply held values, education, and social structures underpinning consumer behaviors [12
]. Ontological turns de-centering humans in diets presents one option for the feasible unfolding of reality where consumption behaviors can influence health and sustainability outcomes [21
We conceptually addressed two central research questions: how can pre-Anthropocene ontologies guide an exit of current approaches to diets? Considering temporality, what post-Anthropocene ontologies are possible in future diets for sustainable food systems? This paper asks eaters to question, ‘How should we make dietary choices (e.g., eat/consume) in the present and also balance consideration of the future in a way that works to exit the Anthropocene?’ As an answer, we present ontologically-based guidelines for the post-Anthropocene diet, proposing a philosophical paradigm shift needed to exit the Anthropocene. Through the conceptual discussion of eating, thinking, and being, a suggestion of how the Anthropocene might come to an end is made. Indigenous ontologies and object-oriented ecosophy are invoked to turn ontologies.
There are broader implications of this conceptual model for future diets and research. This article contributes an ontological perspective to the growing discussion (and debate) around the Anthropocene. Discussion of indigenous ontologies and object-oriented ecosophies adds novel contributions to conceptual papers of future sustainable food systems. Recent conversations around sustainable dietary recommendations have largely disregarded philosophical transitions. We hope to help initiate deeper considerations. We also add to a mostly natural sciences-based discussion of the Anthropocene through the interdisciplinary, conceptual approach of this work. There is a recognized need for both the natural and social sciences in facing the challenges of modernity and moving to sustainable futures.
Limitations of this approach include consideration of only temporality. Temporality as the outline for this discussion prevented the full consideration of the relational and spatial aspects of diets and food consumption. More discussion of relations within and among humans and food objects is needed. Complex systems theories may add to discussions of food systems and relationality. Spatial considerations of how food is grown and distributed in the globalized economy would add to this discussion. Deeper understanding, informed by more dimensions of reality, will allow for further turns of ontologies. More work is needed to find ways to practically apply theorizing presented here to go beyond philosophical navel-gazing.
We also recognize the potential of idealizing or appropriating indigenous ontologies. The intention here was to present indigenous ontologies, not as one, all-encompassing, distinct worldview. We recognize the myriad indigenous ways of knowing and seeing the world. These indigenous ontologies are used as edifying examples that work in the world and have practice consistently dealing with anthropocentric climate and cultural destabilization. The many indigenous worldviews are not to be romanticized or exoticized. Often neglected indigenous worldviews should be seen as dynamic contributions to the global discussion of how to live in and face the challenges of the present dystopic environmental crisis.
We present one set of guiding considerations to enable the epochal transformation needed to exit the Anthropocene. This work gives practical considerations for turning ontologies with examples of indigenous ontologies and object-oriented ecosophy applied to diets. In reality, such ontological turns are not so simple and practical. This work suggests a small piece for the larger puzzle of moving toward sustainable futures.
Suggesting we change worldviews is strikingly easier than actually changing them. Changes to education, policies, economic and social structures are required. More research on how to exit this epoch and how to turn ontologies is needed. This article suggests guidelines for one place to start. The conceptualization of the post-Anthropocene diet in this article is just one presentation of a small ‘slice’ of the larger model of ontologically-based dietary guidelines. There is much future work to be done to move eaters to diets for future sustainable food systems.