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How 'ethical' is your eating?


#1

There’s a lot of talk around ethical eating at the moment.

We’ve had Iceland’s banned anti-palm oil advert, @JulianFox got me thinking about sustainable fishing in the sea bass topic, and the other day I saw a really eye-opening Instagram Story by Riverford Organic about how free-range eggs aren’t necessarily that kind.

Plus, in the year we’ve added a section for vegan and vegetarian wines on our website, I also read this thought-provoking piece which calls into question how good for the planet veganism really is:

Clearly, the world is getting more ‘woke’ about food ethics!

But there’s a lot of information flying about, and it can be confusing to know the best way to limit your own ‘damage’ to the issues.

For my part, I try to do my best, but I’m wondering: what do you all think of these issues? Does it play a big part in your food choices? Are there other food issues you care about? Any tips for people who’d like to do more?


#2

There’s no one better to demystify the world of ethical eating than Joanna:


#3

Getting a balanced, holistic view - it’s one of the besetting problems of trying to do anything with a consciously ethical mindset. It’s understandable that people want to do something when they hear of problems, but it often seems the human race can only pay attention to one thing at a time. So we pile out of one thing straight into something else, causing all sorts of new problems on the way.

OK - rant over. I loved your first post, @laura. I don’t have any easy answers because there aren’t any. The whole point about ecology is that it studies the way things are interlinked. But I think there are valuable principles, and if we steered our course by them we would all be better off. Some obvious ones are -

  • eat local and seasonal
  • have a varied diet
  • meat and fish are valuable way beyond their financial cost - treat them accordingly
  • eat enough and no more

I suppose that’s my message really - it’s not just ecosystems but also humans who/which are interconnected. Everything we eat has an impact somewhere. It’s more a question of understanding what and where those impacts are.

Or so it seems to me.


#4

I would also add to your list (1) buy only what you eat and (2) reduce your processed food purchases. I think these two small steps will make your eating significantly more ethical.


#5

I must say I am starting to move away from meat and am actually looking at a few vegetarian options. I know my dad’s generation, a special treat was a roast chicken on Sunday as it wasn’t a cheap meat - I was genuinely upset when I saw that I can now get 3 chickens for £10 at a supermarket.

I feel that we should look to countries such as India where there are a lot of vegetarians and a vegetable curry is quite common. Also looking to the far east where meat is used sparingly rather than the main part of the dish. And also look to some of the Scandinavian countries where its about simply purity of flavour and let each ingredient speak for itself - cooking things simply.

Hopefully there is a trend towards meat/fish the same as the current trend towards wine - less but better.


#6

Excellent topic, @laura!

I guess ‘ethical’ is a value judgement. What I consider to be ethical eating, would definitely not be so for others. So I can only speak for myself.

As a family, we have definitely been moving away from eating lots of meat - even more so now that my daughter had become a vegetarian. When we do eat meat, it’s only bought from our trusted local butcher or - and this has been a major change for us, we concentrate on Game. Not farmed, if possible, and shot locally.

I adore animals - wanted to be a vet as a child- but I’ve never been sentimental about eating them. My feeling is that in our rich, well-fed and comfortable Western world, some will always imagine there are ‘purer’ ways of living, if only we subtract this or that from our diet. Some things make sense - too much farmed meat, fish from non-sustainable fishing practices, processed food (does it qualify as food anyway?) and so on. I’m not convinced about dairy-free, gluten-free, or, frankly, veganism. The arguments for removing these from one’s diet just don’t convince me.

Incidentally, I feel similarly about rejecting vaccination for children. There is something of a ‘choice’ about it that irritates me - a choice that people in less fortunate circumstances don’t really have, and indeed - are dying as a lack of. But probably best not going into this!

Back to food - anything smelling of a fad puts me off (in all aspects of life), but I agree that those of us who eat meat and fish should pay more to source the best and most sustainable options, and like @M1tch, I agree that moving towards eating less meat in general is the way forward.

This is a mantra we live by in our house. We plan meals two weeks ahead, with a good spread of vegetables, meat, fish and seafood, and when we shop we only buy what we need, plus usual cupboard necessities. Over the last couple of years we virtually reduced our food waste to zero. But I’m sure people got other creative ways of reducing their food waste.


#7

Not a problem in our house, I never ever leave anything uneaten :joy:


#8

Some really interesting points here!

I hadn’t even considered food waste @szaki1974 and @Inbar - that’s something Mr Laura and I are REALLY hot on - we barely waste a scrap of food. Like you, Inbar, we plan our weekly menu ahead so we only buy what we need. It doesn’t take much and it means I can dream about what I’m having for dinner all day… :heart_eyes:

@Ghost-of-Mr-Tallis I’m glad you said about eating locally and seasonally - that’s really important in terms of reducing those food miles! I guess that would rule out nearly all processed foods too, which is a bonus (I rarely eat any!)

Interesting to see a move towards eating vegetarian from a few of you here - that’s something we’ve been doing too. I can’t believe how easy it is now to plan meat-free meals - if you’d asked me a year or so ago I’d have thought it was impossible. Maybe we should share some our fave veggie recipes here more often?

@NW3Andre - interesting takes on how ‘healthy’ (and trendy) foods can actually cause environmental issues. I must admit I’m not a fan of Joanna Blythman’s writing generally (her Good Food column is the only page of the magazine that leaves a bitter taste for me - I find myself disagreeing with her more often than not) but I can’t argue with her on these two issues.

So should I be buying organic milk as well as eggs if I want to be friendly to the planet?

And what about dreaded readymade pasta and curry sauces - are there ANY good ones? I cook from scratch every day but it scares me how many readymade versions there are, and all pumped full of sugar and salt. If I ever do need a quick dinner/night off from cooking I’d feel really guilty about using one of them…


#9

PLEASE no nonsense about food miles (especially in a Community devoted to a traded commodity). What matters to the environment is the total of emissions from all stages of production. For transport, this is mainly the final stage, from supermarket (or TWS) to you. For production, you need to ask whether each crop/meat/etc. is more efficiently produced here or in a more suitable country. To take just one stage of the production as a fetish is not helpful. Or do you want to say all wine should come from grapes grown in the UK, even if this means using artificial heating and lighting?
Economist’s rant over.


#10

Haha, fair point @SPmember, I hadn’t thought about wine miles! :smile: But unlike wine (of which we only make a few styles successfully in the UK), there’s lots of foods we could buy locally that are just as good, aren’t there? An awful lot more choice than wine, anyway. And if choosing local where we can helps the environment, why not?


#11

Because you need to check if it really does help. Check all stages of production (including all stages of production of the fertiliser used in UK, for example) to see its effect. And if all the inputs were correctly priced, you wouldn’t need to do this yourself. Concentrate on getting sensible energy pricing, and then it will be easier to see the impact of different products.


#12

This is my first post!

When people talk about ethical eating, I think they are talking about food taken from the wild. For example, game. If pheasants in-the-wild are shot, then I can see how eating them might be considered unethical. But very often, pheasants are reared before they are released. In that case shooting and eating them is OK.

Most of us don’t shoot. So we buy our game from the local butcher. Exactly as we would buy a pound of cod from the fishmonger.


#13

I am lucky in that I have the option of growing some of my own food and it gives one an interesting perspective. Some thoughts that have struck me over the years as I froze or burnt to bits on the allotment…

It is very difficult to grow anywhere near enough food for even a small family when you have a full-time job and the usual commitments/distractions of a modern life.

It becomes very obvious how potentially close we are from food chaos when weather or pests or disease decimates a crop that would otherwise keep one fed over winter (think potato famine extrapolated). Winter was feared because of the very real danger of running out of food.

The food supply chain in the UK is very organised and time critical, allowing us unlimited luxury in what we can choose to eat. Go back just 70 or 80 years and our food choices were extremely limited; we are SO lucky to live now!!!

It is surprising what you can make into a delicious, nutritious meal, given some garlic, herbs or spices. A vegetable soup using up the bits left in the fridge is a quick, great weekday meal that can be made at the weekend and used when you’re too tired to think of anything else.

It is amazing what food is available for free, but often wasted - wild blackberries, apples etc are often there for the picking - nothing more ethical, surely.

Processed food is so energy dense - a diet with lots of vegetables, pulses and a small amount of good quality meat or fish, on occasion, is the best way to control ones weight and promote health; it’s a win-win situation.

As a country we should grow more of our own food - we even import half of our onions from the Netherlands!


#14

I am big fan of most of Joanna Blythman’s writing - she was one of the first to expose the farmed salmon disasters - probably one of the least ethical foods you can eat, and it is to the Scottish Government’s shame that they continue to turn blind eyes to the various major environmental problems it causes.

I fish, I used to shoot (only gave up because of the hassles in retaining a shotgun licence in the nanny state), and I ate what I killed or returned it quickly (clearly only fish!). Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall writes very well on the ethics of meat and meat production.

Grow a lot of my own veg but don’t delude myself that I can grow it all. Also agree that the art of foraging wild food be it brambles, mushrooms etc has largely gone, and too many people throw away too much - ‘best before’ dates often partly responsible. Mould on cheese is natural - cut the rind/mould off, don’t throw it away. Probably my parents who instilled the no waste mentality in me, which was in turn a product of wartime rationing for them.

One of the main problems is too many people on the planet too…

My little rant over…for now!


#15

Not sure I follow the logic in the above…? Apart from anything else, pheasants are an introduced species and most, or almost all have been reared at some point.


#16

I’m mostly vegetarian (I occasionally eat fish, but not farmed) and have been for nearly forty years but I love, and eat a lot of cheese. Now I’m no farming expert so I’m happy to be corrected on this but I do question the ethics of being vegetarian and eating dairy (specifically milk) based products. My understanding is that in order to have a cow produce milk it must first be pregnant and once the calf is weaned continuing milking will keep it producing and, with the assistance of, I believe, hormones can be kept producing for over a year but not much more. So ultimately in order for me, a vegetarian, to get my cheese fix, the cows must keep producing calves in order to keep producing milk. So what’s going to happen to all those calves? They’ll be slaughtered for meat, of course. Um I did say I’m a veggie didn’t I?

Bottom line, it’s really difficult to be a purist about these things. As has been commented on above, everything is interlinked in often surprising ways.


#17

I believe there’s a similar issues with goats, whereby it’s only the nanny goat which is 'required ’ for its milk - and so male kids are a unneeded, and are slaughtered without the meat being used, due to “lack of demand”.
I was shocked when I first saw a programme about it - the waste of a perfectly edible meat was just baffling. Not sure if there has been progress on this front, but I know there were a couple campaigns to raise awareness and change this practice.
I actually asked my butcher if they would stock it, and they said they would - if they had any connections with goat breeders, which they currently don’t.


#18

Goat meat (kid) is delicious. I’ve no idea why it doesn’t get offered more frequently.

Fortunately we have a couple of goat breeders who offer their meat at the farmers market, and one of the butchers in town often has it in stock.

On the subject of veganism, there are extensive semi-arid areas around the world which are never going to support any vegetable crops, but which will support herds of goats (and certain hardy sheep)- usually not sedentary. So reducing or cutting meat consumption in these areas will lower the amount of general food availability.

On the subject of male calves, you can buy beef from Jersey cattle. It has yellow fat for the same reason that the milk is yellow. It is in fact quite highly sought after by those in the know and is a definite “buy” recommendation if you come across it - delicious stuff. Woodlands Jersey Beef is one local to here, and I believe they often attend several London farmers markets too. I think they got into developing a market for their steers as they objected to slaughtering half their calves at birth.


#19

My eating. Not ethical at all and not concerned.
Not going to change and couldn’t care less about vegans, veggies
If a restaurant is looking to source locally or ethically I’m not against it but won’t go out of my way to care too much though it’s a nice ideal or side issue.


#20

Excellent thread - especially because there are such (food for) thoughtful replies.

“Carnivore with a conscience” is my stance. Each sat morning, I buy meat & fresh veg from the W.I. stall in Holmfirth - the meat is from a farm overlooking the town, veg is similarly local and fresh out of the ground. Eggs from a friend who keeps chickens. Just finishing the last of my home grown summer’s tomatoes. The quality & flavour is absolutely fantastic - and I know my money goes pretty much direct to the producer.

Everything I buy, gets eaten. I try to achieve zero food waste.

Buying wine from TWS is a similar choice - I like to think that with fewer links in the supply chain, more of my £ ends up at the vineyard. As a bonus, the wine I get is always interesting and excellent value for money.

And all of the above ‘lifestyle’ choices, cost me LESS than if I shopped at a supermarket. But I can see that for those living in a city (shudder!) these choices are not available.