The Ethics of Eating

This semester I’m taking a class called the Political Ecology of Food and Agriculture.  It’s one of my favorite classes I’ve taken, and one of the most enlightening.  But coming up is a challenge that goes beyond the classroom:  eating ethically for a week.

What does that mean?  Well, it could mean a lot of things.  It may be going vegetarian or vegan for a week, or maybe eating locally.  It could be eating fair trade products that maintain a good environment for the workers, or avoiding products that have a lot of “food miles”– that is, have traveled long distances and thus used up a lot of oil.  Maybe I could go organic, and thus avoid the absurd amount petroleum and chemicals that go into artificial fertilizers and pesticides.  Someone suggested to me that my ethics could be that I don’t steal the food– but I don’t think that will get me a good grade on my paper.  The hard thing is, it’s impossible to have food that is healthy, environmentally sound and humanely produced — while also being affordable on a college student budget.

I think my ethics will be formed around a livable, affordable set of ethics– basically, choosing the best of the options available to me.  It’s not realistic for me to take a bus to a Whole Foods or farmer’s market and buy all my groceries there, when there’s a Giant two blocks away from my apartment.  I might be willing to pay a bit more for grass-fed local beef, or cage-free poultry.  I wish I could commit to a vegetarian, or even vegan, diet; the meat industry is incredibly destructive to the environment on a number of levels, regardless of how you feel about killing animals.

We’ll see how my week goes, if I’m able to stick to a certain level of environmental and moral standards for my food choices.  It’s hard to look forward to a week’s worth of meals, wondering about all the times I’ll be eating out and not in charge of providing my own food.  I’d hate to be the annoying person quizzing the waiter about where they get their steak, but I might have to be.

What do you think about your eating habits?  Do you try to eat “ethically,” or is it just too expensive or inconvenient?

4 thoughts on “The Ethics of Eating

  1. LeeB.

    It’s definitely too hard to eat ethically. Though I try to eat healthy foods, most times it’s hard because organic fruits and veg are so expensive compared to their non-organic counterparts.

  2. Missie

    Very, very intriguing. And yes, “ethically” can mean so many different things to so many different people, both from a consumer and a producer POV.

    The bottom line is, we have to eat — that’s one of the three basic needs (water, food, shelter). We try to eat as healthily as we can — which, for us, means lean, low, and/or reduced-fat foods. I would like to have only organic foods, but we just can’t afford it, as much as we’d prefer to do only that.

    But most of us are limited by our finances, as well as by our local choices, not to mention our personal preferences, and hence the complexities with “ethical” eating. I’ll be curious to see how your week ends up, and what choices — and compromises — you had to make…as well as what lovely discoveries you made.

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