Most of us are insulated from the realities of consumption. Even for vegans, the production of food is a messy, sometimes unappetizing business, one that brings us closer to our own animal natures. It’s easy to fall into delusion when we eat only factory-processed foods. Processing your own food forces you to notice how things live—and how they die.

Reader Steve V. poses this question: Does any other animal take care of another for an extended period for the purpose of eventually eating it? I haven’t come up with any so far. Certain ants keep aphids and feed them; the ants eat the honeydew the aphids secrete. That’s closer to dairy farming than butchery, however. Some parasites confer accidental benefits on their victims. For example, some intestinal worms reduce the allergic response in humans. But this is a long way from actually feeding the victim.

Perhaps the closest parallel with our habit of raising animals for food occurs in lichens. The lichen is a symbiote, part fungus, part alga. Both partners get benefits, but the alga does all the work of feeding both through photosynthesis. In effect, the fungus is a farmer. There are even fungi that take over the brains of ants and cause them to climb trees. Once up the tree, the ant undergoes a peculiar metamorphosis. Its brain sprouts a fungus, which disperses spores over the jungle floor.

So that’s my best answer, until somebody points out a better: We’re like fungi. Some of us more than others.


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