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.

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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.

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