Eating ethically.

**Heads up! – The following post is a bit of a ramble on the ethics of food. If you’re just keen to see some pictures of delicious food, scroll to the bottom! (I won’t judge you).

So I did have a huge, in depth post about the philosophies I follow around food, but it got deleted. Looking on the positive side, this is probably good, as you now don’t have to endure such a ramble about food ethics. Nevertheless, I shall recap a little of what I had, so I don’t feel like I wasted hours thinking about this.

The other day, I went to lunch at one of my favourite vegan eateries in Adelaide. My friend pointed out a delicious-sounding dish on the menu. Being 100% organic (and of course vegan), eating at this particular place is usually so simple, because you don’t have to consider each item on the menu for its suitability to your diet. However on this occasion, something really struck me about this dish. Eggplant and tomato. Had it been summer, I would definitely have gone for this delectable curry, however standing there in my scarf and jacket, I couldn’t help but feel something was wrong. I couldn’t possibly choose to eat this curry when eggplants and tomatoes are summer fruits.

So here’s the thing. Joe and I are house-sitting at the moment. We decided that this would be a great opportunity to actively pursue food choices that fit with our ideals around eating as ethically as possible. What does this look like? Mostly fruit and vegetables grown in our own or our friends’ gardens, and trying to get everything else locally from farmers markets. To ensure we were still eating a nutritionally balanced diet, we also allowed organic legumes (namely lentils and chickpeas) grown within 500km. Challenging? It sounds like it, but actually, it’s been a brilliant insight into eating seasonally, and being creative in the kitchen using ingredients that are available.

Everyone values different things when it comes to food. Some people will prioritise convenience, price, flavour, or preferred brand, while others with consider things like brand ethics, seasonality, the environment, or production method. Each person’s “rules” around food are different, and that’s okay! Diversity is wonderful, and conversations about food are a great way of challenging your own ideas and philosophies.

So here are mine. They are very much a work in progress, and constantly being challenged. ‘Tis quite the journey.

I eat a predominantly vegan diet, due mainly to the ethical/environmental problems associated with industrial production. I don’t eat meat, dairy, or other animal products (such as gelatine). I do, however eat eggs if they are from happy chickens (store bought eggs are not happy eggs). This means chickens that are valued as part of a greater system (eg contributing to fertility and pest/weed control in a vegetable garden). I avoid eating honey unless it is from happy bees (similar philosophy) – lucky my friends produce honey in their backyards!

In the past year or so, I’ve also become very aware of the ethics of vegetables and other food products too. To me, there is not much use in avoiding meat and dairy due to their environmental implications, without also considering the vast distances much of our food travels to get to us. Where possible, I am now trying to only eat food that is in season, and produced locally. I prefer organic, but also recognise that organic certification certainly doesn’t indicate that the food has been produced in a sustainable way. On a predominantly vegan diet, soy products have also started to ring alarm bells. Would it be better for me to get my calcium from fortified soy made from beans grown as a monoculture in Switzerland? Or would finding a system I am comfortable with involving a local with a cow, farming Joel Salatin style be better? I’m still working on this one.

I do think it’s important to be flexible. If I am a guest at someone’s house, and they offer me a cheesy veg lasagne, I will hardly decline. I also ate goats cheese, milk and yoghurt while wwoofing recently. It made sense. Likewise, I am very open to the idea of eating meat and dairy, if I were to find a system I was okay with. At the moment, this would probably be home-produced dairy animals (eg cow or goat), and either roadkill or elimination of pest species (eg rabbits, fish). I would also need to be okay with butchering the animal though, and I’m definitely not there yet. To me, it comes down to knowing how my food is produced, and being okay with it.

Maybe I sound like the fun-police here, and you are wondering how anyone could live on such a boring and strict diet – no meat or dairy, minimal soy and rice, no tomatoes or eggplants in winter, and never shopping at Woolworths and Coles (did I mention I loathe them?)…

I do want to just point out that eating ethically (whatever that means to you), doesn’t need to be a drag. In the past few weeks of house-sitting, I have eaten so incredibly well, and the kitchen has seen a lot of exciting food being prepared. There is something quite wonderful about coming up with a meal based on what you have, rather than nipping down to the shops to get the ingredients you need for a recipe you had in mind.

Agree or disagree, I think it’s always good to have conversations about where our food comes from. If you like, leave a comment below about your food philosophy. I would love to hear what you think! For more info, you might like to check out some writings by Michael Pollan, watch some episodes of River Cottage on ABC iview (love Hugh!), or maybe even have a listen to the annoying vegetarian debating the much more convincing meat-eater on last week’s Triple J Hack program.

And so, I will leave you with some pictures of the things we’ve been eating on our as-ethical-as-possible diet. Yes, it does help that Joe’s family produces wheat on their farm (hello bread and pasta!)

Food!

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9 thoughts on “Eating ethically.

  1. This is pretty much what I expected, but I’m curious as to why you specify that you would be open to eating meat if it were an invasive species? If it’s sustainable and you were ok with butchering the animal either way, what is the difference for you?
    PS I’m definitely getting you and Yasmin together when I’m back in Adelaide for some cooking adventures and discoveries.

    • Good point T. I still haven’t really worked out what (for me) sustainable meat production looks like. I guess in theory if I had my own animals I would be okay with eating them, but in practice I recognise that I’m not quite there yet. I think the invasive species thing is a stepping stone… getting rid of something that is a pest seems (somehow) easier to swallow (haha) than raising an animal with the intent to eat it. I think about this one a lot, so thanks for raising it! Lots to ponder :)

      • What about wild-caught animals? Take kangaroo in Australia for example. I agree about raising for killing being iffy, but to me sustainably ‘harvested’ wild animal meat would be the way to go about it.

        I love how much enthusiasm you have for good food G.

      • Thanks T.

        I agree on sustainably harvested wild meat, I’d just prefer to do it myself I think. Pretty sure hunter-gatherers were onto something!

  2. Hi. The seasonal element of food choice is definitely something I haven’t recognised enough in my own diet and will pay more attention to now.

    It is quite true that hunter-gatherers were onto something in their living/eating style. It was more economic in terms of energy used/energy gained. However, the debates about the commercial interests involved and unethical hunting, storage, and health risks associated to kangaroo meat sort of rules out the seemingly engrained rationalisation Australians have for eating the flesh of another animal.

    I was wondering, when it comes to eating meat, how it could be made ethical? How would you propose the removal of the suffering caused by farming, no matter its form. That is, unless you would wait for the animals to die from natural causes (which may or may not cause suffering) before eating them.

    • Hi Eyan,

      Really good points. I think you’re spot on in identifying the possible problems associated with commercial ‘hunting’ of wild meats – it kind of ceases to become hunting and starts to look a lot more like any other industrial meat enterprise.
      In terms of ethical farming, I think that what is deemed ‘ethical’ will obviously vary from person to person depending on their values and opinions. I recognise that a lot of vegetarians/vegans have a fundamental problem with eating animals (eg causing suffering in their death, as you mentioned). Personally, I am okay with the idea of humans eating animals (occasionally), as I see us as animals ourselves, part of a food chain. I suppose in this instance it is about finding a system of producing meat that you are comfortable with. For me, I’m not sure that this would be anything commercial, where the sole purpose of the animal’s life is to provide meat. I suppose that’s why eating animals you’ve accidentally killed (roadkill) seems appealing if I were to eat meat… Definitely a lot to think about – thanks for your thought-provoking comment!

      Georgia

  3. Great post Georgia. I came across it having seen your comment on She Cooks She Gardens.

    I’d like to address one thing;

    You said that you cannot _buy_ “happy” eggs or honey. I’m glad you said that. The marketing compels us to believe that industrialisation and humane can exist. Surely, this is a claim that should be taken with great caution. I’m a vegan. I don’t consume any animal products and distance myself from the exploitation completely–so, no leather, silk, pets, rodeos, horse racing, etc. I don’t necessarily oppose people keeping chickens and consuming their eggs. I would probably do the same. Though, I can’t bring myself to accept these animals as utilities. If I had chickens, they’d be rescues, and I would treat them as refugees; not “happy” production things.

    I’ve been reading a lot about permaculture of late and find the concept of “chicken tractors” interesting but, somewhat, concerning. Again, it seems to come back to treating the animal as a utility.

    I’m in a similar position to you now. I need to think about the issues more and address it within myself.

    • Thanks for your comment Paul.

      You raise a really great point and it’s definitely one to consider. I am quite interested in permaculture, and agree with you that the idea of using animals as utilities is a bit dubious. I guess the thing with including chickens and other animals in permaculture is that they are valued as part of a whole system, rather than just to lay eggs, as production things. They are free to roam and forage, while adding nutrients to the soil and eliminating pests. I can definitely see how this is a very human-centric view of animals in a system, which is perhaps not so great, and making me ponder. Again, everyone will have their own opinions on including animals in farming, and it’s definitely something I often think about, as of course I want to pursue the most ethical and environmentally friendly lifestyle possible. I came across an interesting video a while ago about a completely vegan farm, which I can’t find at the moment, but it’s definitely an interesting idea!

      Thanks again for your input and I’m definitely thinking more about the points you’ve raised.

      • “I guess the thing with including chickens and other animals in permaculture is that they are valued as part of a whole system, rather than just to lay eggs, as production things.”

        Really? I think we can stretch language in order for that to be the case, but language isn’t always descriptive–or can be used to talk descriptively about mind states rather than observable concepts. Just as I can say “I loved the animal I slaughtered” doesn’t make it so, in an objective sense.

        Systems are analysed and valued based on the sum of their parts. If one part isn’t working, it will impact on the sum. That part must be fixed in order for the system to work again. Therefore, if a systems effectiveness is important, and the chickens aren’t pulling their weight, a value judgement is made. Something will be done to fix that part.

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