Article By Kali Nelson
What does it mean to be at the “top of the food chain”?
We’ve thrown this term around so often, especially when examining dietary ethics, that it
almost seems self-explanatory. Some consider it a reason to eat animals. It’s often paired
with the idea of the “circle of life.” But how well does this concept stand up to some
What Is The Food Chain?
The “food chain” is a construct we created to describe the feeding hierarchy. It explains how
living beings are linked to each other in terms of who eats whom. As for where we rank in
this chain, it’s not the triumphant “top” that’s been suggested.
In reality, a study published in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences shows
that, from a scientific perspective, we are actually somewhere in the middle. That dominant
title belongs to one of the true apex predators, such as the polar bear or killer whale. These
powerful animals have few or no predators and are almost completely carnivorous. Even
the prey they consume are high up on the food chain.
Humans, alternatively, eat from a vast variety of plant-based sources. As Sylvain
Bonhommeau, head of the study’s research team, explained: “We are closer to herbivore
What’s Natural About Our Food Chain?
Our food chain construct implies there’s a natural order to things. But there’s nothing
natural about factory farming. We selectively breed animals to grow at an unforgiving pace,
leading to deformities, organ failure, and other health problems.
In Canada, we slaughter over 800 million land animals a year. To reach that massive of a
target, we keep animals in cramped conditions, completely the opposite of an instinctual or
comfortable environment. This unsanitary overcrowding leads to disease and excessive
Animal agriculture contributes to species extinction, greenhouse gas emissions, water
pollution, and deforestation. It’s also the leading cause of ocean dead zones. If an optimal
food chain is one that best supports all life on the planet – including our own – then it
wouldn’t include factory farming.
What Does It Mean To Be At The Top?
Looking at the “might makes right” philosophy attached to this food chain concept reveals
holes in the logic. Even if we were the uncontested top of the chain, is that all the
justification needed to do whatever we want to those who are powerless? Does being stronger than someone mean you automatically have the right to abuse them? That sinister
argument has been used to defend some of humanity’s worst oppression.
Being part of the evolved human species, we have the resources to treat the more
vulnerable with kindness. Animals want to live and are subject to intense suffering when we
exploit them for food. Unlike a lion prowling for a meal, we don’t need to take a life in order
to live. We have a choice. Instead of supporting a cruel industry, we can eat in a way where
no sentient beings will be harmed.
This is especially true today, when being vegan has never been more accessible (and
tastier)! If you’re curious to see just how easy adapting to a vegan diet can be, check out
Challenge 22. It’s a hub of resources, recipes, and free support.