Modern Western agricultural processes are generally not considered to be sustainable in the long run.  It’s only a matter of time before we exhaust the Earth’s finite resources and can no longer supply our population with the food it needs to survive.  There are many problems associated with modern Western methods, which include its reliance of fossil fuels, its inefficiency, its environmentally damaging nature, and many more.  On the other hand, traditional ecological knowledge is both locally specific, and holistic (Menzies et. al. 2006).  It takes into account the full complexity of each individual ecosystem and its populations instead of creating a large scale, one-size-fits-all, monopolistic food production empire to provide food to the population.  Traditional ecological knowledge is also both a dynamic and a long-term accumulation of information which aids in its environmental sustainability (Menzies et. al. 2006).  These sustainable methods are also often build on a reciprocal relationship of mutual respect between humans and nature, something many people have lost touch with in our modern world (Menzies et. al. 2006).  Many advocates of traditional ecological knowledge claim that it’s the spiritual and moral aspects of its processes built on this respect that allow it to be more environmentally friendly than modern methods (Menzies et. al. 2006).

Is it possible for humans to change their ways and revert to traditional methods of food production?  Gregory Bateson suggests that it “is man’s habit of changing his environment rather than changing himself” (1972).  We are constantly changing things around us to that we may remain the same and don’t have to deal with a large-scale societal change.  However, to solve the problems of food production plaguing our population we are most certainly going to need a revolutionary change in our current system.  We are going to need a system that isn’t reliant on non-renewable resources like oil; one that is sustainable and can support our population indefinitely (Wright 2004).  Such a system existed amongst many populations much smaller than ours in the past, such as the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast, which utilized traditional knowledge to survive in symbiotic harmony with their ecosystem (Menzies et. al. 2006).  The question of how possible it is to implement such a system within an exponentially growing population as large as ours has not been answered yet but will hopefully provide us with a framework on how to better out food production methods and allow us to maintain the environment and our population before our system collapses.


Bateson, Gregory (1972).  Effects of Conscious Purpose on Human Adaptation.  From steps to an Ecology of Min, pp 440-447. New York: Ballantine Books.

Menzies, Charles R., and Butler, Caroline F.
2006  Understanding Ecological Knowledge.  From Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Natural Resource Management.  Charles R. Menzies, ed.  Pp.  1-20.  Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Wright, R. (2004). A Short History of Progress. Anansi Press.