Is Nature ‘Sending Us A Message'?
Very Interesting|September/October 2020
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Is Nature ‘Sending Us A Message'?
Experts and celebrities alike have suggested that this new coronavirus outbreak is a form of punishment from the planet, inspiring the ‘humans are the virus’ meme online. But can the idea that natural means better and everything else is harmful have troubling consequences?
Prof Alan Levinowitz

Chinese wet markets offer meat in its natural state: unrefrigerated, unprocessed, unpackaged, uncooked, and sometimes unslaughtered. When I lived in China, wandering through the open-air stalls felt liberating and authentic, a welcome change from sterile supermarkets where the chicken lies behind glass, plastic-wrapped by faceless corporations.

Similarly, Chinese medicine represents a natural alternative to the pills pushed by Big Pharma.

Gnarled roots, ground herbs, wizened mushrooms, and exotic animal parts line the traditional pharmacy’s walls. These claim to be Mother Nature’s cures that will realign us with her rhythms, unlike the synthetic chemicals that, according to some, will end up making society sicker.

Now, of course, we are reckoning with the catastrophic shortcomings of unregulated open-air wet markets. Calls for change within China will hopefully lead to safer food standards and reduced exotic animal trade. But beyond reforms of specific practices, there is a broader lesson to be learned, one that humans persistently ignore: natural does not necessarily mean better.

Clearly, we have some way to go, since responses to the pandemic have framed it as a ‘punishment from nature’ for our unnatural lifestyle.


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September/October 2020