20 August 2012

The Ethical Omnivore's Dilemma

What started for me in 2007 as I read the Michael Pollan book, The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, has led me to make a decision about how I will spend money on food.


Food Choice in my Youth

I grew up as a child. My parents were not concerned so much with the ethics of what our family ate but more in the cost of the food. They wanted the biggest bang for their buck; they wanted a bargain; we were also poor and didn't have a lot of money to spend on food so we participated in things like the free school lunch program and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program to stretch our food dollars.

My parents were somewhat health conscious and tried to serve a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats. I think most of the foods they chose to eat are moderately good choices for our nutrition and their longevity reflects that.

Later, while still living at home, I became interested in sports nutrition and in using nutrition to optimize my athletic performance. I asked for superfoods like avocado, olive oil, berries, and bananas to fuel my growing appettite for high quality nutrition; I ordered protein supplements and counted calories. All these things I did without any regard for the origins of the food, without any ethical considerations.

A Change in my Nutrition Perspective

I studied, among other things, human nutrition in college. My current food choices are built from that basic knowledge that I gained from those studies. I built my diet around physical activity, healty fats and oils, plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole grains*. But it wasn't in those classes that I learned about where food comes from. That happened much later.

I did learn more about who prepared our food. I learned of the farm laborer; the minimum wage workers that served our meals in the college dining halls; the servers at the restaurants. I became familiar with their struggle for a living wage and I worked with other students to bring attention to those issues and to promote a dialouge that would improve their condition.

It was at this time that I began to see the surface of the ethical choices I made when I chose where to spend my food dolllars and I chose accordingly. I avoided places that had a reputation for treating workers poorly or for low wages.

The Omnivore's Dilemma

Social justice became an integral part of my life in college. One of the results of that was that I began to follow the Axis of Justice book list. I read books like Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. This is when I learned about things like grass fed beef, confined animal feeding operations, and humane animal treatment. It was eye opening. Since then, I have been keenly aware that the food I purchase affects people and animals around me and I have made decisions that I think were better.

Enter Peter Singer

Then I read the Ethics of What We Eat by Peter Singer & Jim Mason and if my eyes were open before, I could never shut them again. I could never shut them from the frightening reality that we live in a world that has no regard for human or animal life when it comes to food consumption.

My food choices

My future food choices will reflect the following:

  • Transparency. I have the right to know how my food is produced and I will seek out accurate information on the food that I purchase to eat.
  • Fairness. The food that I purchase should not impose any costs on others.
  • Humanity. My food choices will reflect kindness and compassion towards animals.
  • Social responsibility. Workers should have decent living wages and working conditions.
  • Needs. Preserving life and health justifies more than other desires.

I'd like to hear about the framework that guides how you decide to eat; write it out in the comments.

14 August 2012

My vision for the world

I want to tell you about a small part of my life, or more accurately, I want to try and paint a picture for you that will tell you about my past, my present, and our future.

Comic books. If we were to sit down and have a conversation about a significant part of my past and what my biggest influence was, I would say comic books.

Why comics? First - they’re fun. Second - they’re an excellent medium for story telling. Third - I liked the stories. Fourth, taking a careful look to examine the structure of the american comic book leads us to a fascinating world where readers see beautifully drawn stories of perseverance and a fight for justice and equality. This juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence can inspire us to deal with real world issues by showing us worlds of possibilities.

One of my favorite and most well known characters is the Batman. Here is a story of a guy that grew up a wealthy orphan. Eventually, he becomes a vigilante that hunts down the most dangerous criminals. He chooses that fight because he believes in justice and that people in his community should not have to live in fear.

Batman - Original

Stories like those called to me as a child because I could empathize with the people that he dedicated his life to protect.

For my present I want you to know about some of my strengths. These aren’t physical strengths but key aspects of who I am as a person. Here are my top 5*,

  1. appreciation of beauty and excellence,
  2. fairness equity and justice,
  3. love of learning,
  4. perspective (wisdom),
  5. curiosity and interest in the world
These matter because I try to incorporate the practice of these strengths into my daily life. For example, I am usually involved in the study of some craft or skill, at the time that I'm writing this, I'm studying ballroom dance, drawing, guitar, and the principles of strength and conditioning coaching. This is my daily practice of a love of learning.

My passion is to make my life meaningful; to make each day matter; each day to move us to a future that we can all believe in.

I believe in a world where certain basic things would be abundant enough to be taken out of the money system and be available-free-to everyone: food, housing, health care, education, and transportation.

I was inspired to hope for those things because of something I read by Howard Zinn in his book, the People’s History of the United States. Like Zinn, I believe that this can be accomplished by using incentives of cooperation and win-win situations. I believe that practicing my strength of fairness and justice will help us get there.

I learned a lot from comic books. That everyone is a hero in their own way; everyone has villains they must face; everyone has a responsibility to their community. I take an active role in planning my daily life to practice and take advantage of my signature strengths with the hope that I can turn my vision into a reality.

04 August 2012

To err on the side of humanity

What do you do when you see someone on the side of the road, broken down, waving for help?

Here is what I did

I often brag about helping people jump start their poorly maintained vehicles. As a matter of fact, less than a week ago, I made a rare trip to the casino, to meet friends for dinner, when walking through the parking lot I noticed a man on the phone, trying to start his car. I stopped to help. But, that is another story. Here is what happened to me the other day.

I was driving to meet Leticia for dinner and a HIIT workout. Traffic was thick. I was merging to the right lane so that I could exit the freeway, I hate to be in traffic, when I noticed that there was a car on the shoulder, two men standing next to it, waving for help. Nobody had stopped yet. I arrogantly thought, "I guess I'll help them, shouldn't take too long".

When I stop, one of the guys walks over, we'll call him William, and asked if I spoke Spanish. I do. He went on to tell me that he doesn't know what's going on and that it had been struggling for a while now. They were driving from Houston to Indio and their car broke down in Downtown Phoenix at peak rush hour. Sucks for them, right? Yeah, it did. After about 15 minutes we finally got the car started using the time tested jump start method and then things got worse.

For some reason, whether it was user error or it was a mechanical error, the engine was revving, way too much. I imagine the tachometer was way past the red line. William starts gesturing for me to move my car out of the way and I do. I move ahead a couple of car lengths, expecting them to peel out and drive into someone other than me, but nothing. They weren't moving.

I could see, from my rear view mirror that there was a lot of smoke coming from the engine and a lot of fluid pouring out from under the car. They get out.

I back the car up and when we raise the hood, there is oil everywhere. They blew an engine. There was nothing more that I could for them.

Unfortunately, they were traveling and didn't know anyone in Phoenix. The closest person that they knew lived in Indio. He began speaking to me, sincerely saying, "If I were to pay you, would you drive us to Indio?"

Long story short; I politely refused and left."

The Dilemma

The problem was that, they were stranded, in an unfamiliar land, with no one to help them. The problem that I faced, was feeling responsible for their plight. Had I continued on, driving past them, I would not have had to make that choice to refuse to drive them. From my perspective, it would have been better on my conscience if I had never heard their story. I certainly could not have driven them to their destination, no matter what reward they were offering me.

What would you do?

Were you in my place, what would you have done? Would you have stopped in the first place? Would you have taken them to Indio? Maybe you would have been more clever and came up with win-win solution. I'd like to hear what you would have done. Post it in the comments.