Sunday, March 30, 2014

Rather Like A Gold Coin Once Held In Julius Caesar's Pocket--If Romans Had Pockets

Here is a philosophical question:  If you had a gold coin that had once been owned by a famous ancient statesman and somehow this could be proven, would it be more valuable than an otherwise identical coin?*

I think most people would understand that this particular coin would be worth more than an otherwise identical coin that lacked such provenance.  There is nothing intrinsic about the coin that makes it different, it is only how we feel about it which is different.

* Seems pretty unlikely but how about this:  The statesman was found buried in Pompeii and had the coins on his person.  There had been an unbroken chain of custody since the discovery.

This kind of meaning is where pretty much all of the value, to the extent that there is positive value, comes from when we concern ourselves with the provenance of our food.  So terms like halal,  kosher, GMO free and organic are mostly alike as a category.*

*If I feel like it, it does seem pointless to spell-out things which should be obvious to anyone with a rudimentary education in biology, I will explain why there is no intrinsic differences between the above rarefied categories and regular food.
There are real differences in how special foods (the above categories) are produced and handled.  In the religious categories, the differences in how the foods are handled is important to the observant because they put some value into following the commands laid out by their faith.  The organic and GMO free are similar in that there are very real differences in how the food is produced:  Organic will not use GMO seeds, nor chemically derived fertilizer or most pesticides.  In general, it takes more land and more labor to produce such food and this accounts for the higher prices.  One can debate the relative value of refraining from adding artificial chemicals to soil versus using chemicals but leaving more land uncultivated.  It becomes more of a metaphysical question if one tries to differentiate between nitrogen supplied by horse manure or the Haber process. A growing plant can't tell the difference, because there is no difference between these molecules.

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