Wednesday, June 13, 2012

What is Ethical Eating?

[Can someone please explain to me why blogger won't let me publish posts with pictures anymore?]

      I've mentioned Ethical Eating a number of times on this blog, and I wrote about it a good bit over at Cheap Wine and Cookies.  The Ethical Eating phenomenon is spreading fast around the world, but many people are still in the dark as to what, exactly, this movement entails.  I am here to tell you.

      Ethical Eating is NOT a diet.  It is not a "never eat this;" "only eat this;" "carbs are the devil;" "grapefruit is the answer;" or any other random consumerist weight loss phenomenon.  Weight loss is completely off the radar of Ethical Eating.  It isn't a goal; it isn't a discussion point; it barely even figures in.  Except that, when practiced with any degree of devotion, Ethical Eating does result in weight loss and increased health, but that is more of a bonus than an aim.

       Ethical Eating is a lifestyle of mindfulness of the effects our food choices have on us and the world around  us.  It is at once simple and exeptionally complicated.  It's simplicity is in it's personal nature.  You don't need a book or a kit or an app (though there are plenty of apps you can use to help you out if you want; I've downloaded a couple, but always forget to use them).  You just think before you eat - or, I should say, consume - because really the decision should come even before you purchase the product,  not only before you eat it.  You look at the food and you are mindful of everything that went into bringing that product before you, and you consider whether you feel it is ethical to consume it based on those circumstances.

      The complexity comes in trying to wrap your brain around just how much STUFF there is behind every food or beverage you might consume: the health consequences for you and your family - is it covered in pesticides? Is it processed? Full of extra sugar, fat, salt, colors, and preservatives?  Has it been artificially ripened or had the nutritional value otherwise stripped away?  What about the producer?  Was it produced by a major corporation?  A sustainable farmer?  Local or far-flung?  How far was it transported to get to you?  How were the farm workers involved in it's production treated?  Were they paid a fair wage?  Were they exposed to toxic chemicals?  Were they children?  If it contains animal products, how were the animals treated?  Were they tortured and pumped full of chemicals?  Were hundreds of thousands of baby chicks thrown into a grinder alive in the egg factory?  All that sort of fun stuff.

      And then the headache sets in.  This apple is local but not organic, but this one over here is organic, but was shipped from Mexico...

      Don't worry; it's not quite as mind numbing as it seems at first.  And once you actually start practicing Ethical Eating, you find yourself wondering how you ever consumed some of the things you once did.  It becomes second nature.

       And yet I still haven't given you a great definition of Ethical Eating.  Truthfully, there isn't one overall definition.  I haven't even been able to find a reliable source for who invented the word, but it is clear and largely accepted that the UUA is responsible for fleshing out, implementing, and popularizing the Ethical Eating movement (in addition to probably coining the term).  They even published the FREE comprehensive Ethical Eating Guide - an beautiful Ethical Eating resource and the first step for anyone looking to eat more ethically.  Seriously, it's free, and it's amazing.  Download it now.  I'll wait.

      Got it?  Ok, on we go...

      The UUA is the go-to source for Ethical Eating in formation.  It is not the only source.  Ethical Eating is not a fad or a consumer product, and as the movement grows, many people and organizations are jumping on board and adding their own take, but for my part - and I've been actively studying Ethical Eating for years - the UUA is the first and most complete source for Ethical Eating information

      It's about mindfulness of food choices.  And it is a really beautiful thing.  It's not a hassle.  It's not a chore.  It is a to be more closely connected to your life, to your health, and to your world.  What starts out as a simple contemplation of where your food comes from opens doors to a connection with life many  "average Joe consumers" never contemplate or experience.  And it is different for everyone - another beauty of it!  Whether your food conscience leads you to be vegan or to visit your local pig farm, it doesn't matter, the point is the awareness.

      I challenge anyone - everyone - to try it, wholeheartedly, for one month.  I promise it will change the way you look at a whole lot more than food.  And if you're eating like "average Jane consumer" right now, you'll probably get that added bonus I mentioned above (a slimmer waist).

      Some people feel like Ethical Eating is restrictive.  They get all focused on the "can't."  "I can't have meat."  "I can't shop at my regular grocery store."  And all sorts of similar nonesense.  And none of that "can't" is true.  We still eat meat about once a week.  We are just very mindful of where it comes from.  We shop at a regular local grocery store, we just don't buy things we think are unethical there.  We shop at the Farmer's Market because we love it, not because it is some sort of "rule" of Ethical Eating.

      Some people worry that Ethical Eating will be too expensive.  It's not.  Or, I should say, it doesn't have to be.  I'm currently working on a much longer post on the ins and outs of Ethical Eating on a Budget, but for now, I'll simply say that people who believe Ethical Eating is expensive are focusing too much on one part - whether that be organics, local, Fair Trade, humane meat, whatever.  They forget that by combining and balancing all those factors, Ethical Eating can actually be cheaper that standard consumerism - especially when you figure in the amount of nutrition you get from Ethical Eating compared to many of the alternatives.  And there are also reduced medical costs, but there will be more on that in the future post.

      This is taken from the UUA's Ethical Eating Statement of Conscience:
"We acknowledge that aggressive action needs to be taken that will ensure an adequate food supply for the world population; reduce the use of energy, water, fertilizer, pesticides, and hormones in food production; mitigate climate change; and end the inhumane treatment of animals. These steps call for an evolution of our eating habits to include more locally grown, minimally processed whole foods. We acknowledge that this evolution must respect diversity in cultures, nutritional requirements, and religious practices.
Some of us believe that it is ethical only to eat plants while others of us believe that it is ethical to eat both plants and animals. We do not call here for a single dietary approach. We encourage a knowledgeable choice of food based on understanding the demands of feeding a growing world population, the health effects of particular foods, and the consequences of production, worker treatment, and transportation methods. We commit to applying this knowledge to both personal and public actions. [...] Therefore, we affirm that the natural world exists not for the sole benefit of one nation, one race, one gender, one religion, or even one species, but for all. [...]
As individuals and as congregations, we recognize the need to examine the impact of our food choices and our practices and make changes that will lighten the burden we place on the world. We also recognize that many food decisions will require us to make trade-offs between competing priorities. These priorities include: taste, selection, price, human health, environmental protection, sustainability, adequate food supply, humane treatment of animals used for food, and fair treatment of farm and food workers."
       Please, please, visit this page for a plethora of Ethical Eating resources and mountains of information (most of it in simple, "bite sized" portions ;-P).

      Ethical Eating has it's detractors.  There are people who (usually without doing any actual research into the subject) like to proclaim that Ethical Eating is elitest, hipster, hippie, or philisophical blather.  I've never found one of these people who actually gave Ethical Eating and honest try, or really did any actual research into it.  They read some book reviews, maybe maybe watched Food, Inc. and were made so insecure by the implications of it all, that they strike out against it.  Mostly, I feel sad for these people.  They are people afraid of change.  Afraid of truth.  And usually blatantly insecure about various things.

      And it is to those detractors in particular (as well as to everyone else!!!) that I recommend this enlightening and skillfully crafted article by Alan Richman.

      Alan Richman was not a detractor, but he was far from a believer.  He believed Ethical Eating to be elitist and hipster.  But instead of attacking the movement blindly or simply ignoring it as a fad, he took the 30 day challenge:
"I wasn't seeking audiences with our Aristotles, writer-philosophers such as Michael Pollan. I wanted our artisans. My plan was to listen to them, ask to be led through the riot of morality that has overwhelmed this seemingly honorable cause, find a way to sort through a dizzying and growing array of ethical beliefs: local, seasonable, sustainable, organic, biodynamic, green, environmentally friendly, nontoxic, grass-fed, and labor-friendly, to note most. In addition, I decided that for the thirty days of my trip, I would try to eat not by whatever feeble guidelines of ethical eating I might have picked up in the past few years—primarily avoidance of mushy farm-raised fish—but by paying attention to those I met. No matter where I went, I asked this fundamental question: What does ethical eating mean to you?"
       The article is a wonderful read.  And come on; it's Alan Richman.  Go.  Again, I'll wait.

      So that, in a nutshell (a really, really big overstuffed nutshell) is what Ethical Eating is.  In the future, I'll be writing about what Ethical Eating is to Me, how Ethical Eating Ties in to My Religion, and Ethical Eating on a Budget - for starters.  In the meantime, please do not hesitate to send me any questions, either as comments to this post or email them to CheapWineandCookies [atsymbol] gmail.

      I will leave you with this.  For those of you who think Ethical Eating is simply a trend or a fad, the global implications and the amount of suffering - human and animal - that is tied up in our way of eating is lost on you.  Ethical Eating is giving a name to a very old movement:

"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing's going to get better.  It's not." Dr. Seuss
"Vegetarian food leaves a deep impression on our nature. If the whole world adopts vegetarianism, it can change the destiny of humankind." Albert Einstein
The American fast food diet and the meat eating habits of the wealthy around the world support a world food system that diverts food resources from the hungry. A diet higher in whole grains and legumes and lower in beef and other meat is not just healthier for ourselves but also contributes to changing the world system that feeds some people and leaves others hungry.
-- Dr.Walden Bello

"Non-violence leads to the highest ethics, which is the goal of all evolution. Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages." Thomas Edison
"We don't usually think of what we eat as a matter of ethics. Stealing, lying, hurting people - these acts are obviously relevant to our moral character. In ancient Greece and Rome, ethical choices about food were considered at least as significant as ethical choices about sex." Peter Singer and Jim Mason.  
"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated." Mahatma Gandhi
"I am in favour of animal rights as well as human rights. That is the way of a whole human being." Abraham Lincoln
"We consume the carcasses of creatures of like appetites, passions and organs as our own, and fill the slaughterhouses daily with screams of pain and fear."  Robert Louis Stevenson
"People often say that humans have always eaten animals, as if this is a justification for continuing the practice. According to this logic, we should not try to prevent people from murdering other people, since this has also been done since the earliest of times." Isaac Bashevis Singer
The fact is that there is enough food in the world for everyone. But tragically, much of the world's food and land resources are tied up in producing beef and other livestock--food for the well off--while millions of children and adults suffer from malnutrition and starvation.
-- Dr.Walden Bello
"Alas, what wickedness to swallow flesh into our own flesh, to fatten our greedy bodies by cramming in other bodies, to have one living creature fed by the death of another! For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seeds of murder and pain cannot reap the joy of love." Pythagoras
"Those who, by their purchases, require animals to be killed have no right to be shielded from the slaughterhouse or any other aspect of the production of the meat they buy. If it is distasteful for humans to think about, what can it be like for the animals to experience it?" Peter Singer


MiMi said...

What browser are you using?? If I used Internet Explorer it won't let me add pictures OR edit html. I have to use Google Chrome.

Emmy said...

Sorry about the pictures that is weird. Yes, hopefully MiMi's solution will help.

And yes- it is good to think about how we eat.

Shawna Faye said...

You've got to check out the documentary Forks over Knives (it's on Netflix). We already don't eat meat hardly ever, mainly because I hate handling it when it's raw. So gross. I never feel deprived. But this documentary got me really thinking about other animal products. And your post had got me thinking about some other issues now too.