Ethical eating essentially means what it sounds like: thinking carefully about the food choices you make, with the idea of doing the ‘right’ thing in mind.
The question is, what exactly does the ‘right’ thing mean? And how do we know we are making the correct choices? So, let’s break it down and begin to understand the definition of ethical eating.
Some general ethical concerns include how our food production affects the environment, how the people who harvest our food are treated, how livestock is treated, and whether people suffer food poverty. These are concerns that are directly related to eating ethically, and they are concerns that translate into other ethical behaviours. Essentially, eating ethically means eating thoughtfully.
How to eat more ethically
At this point, it is important to point out that any attempt or effort toward being more ethical is a good thing. Ethical eating isn’t about perfection, it’s about trying to make thoughtful and considered decisions about your consumption; thinking about who is profiting from your choices and who is being harmed by your choices, where you food is coming from and what is its impact. It is about intention, and every careful decision you make is important.
With all this in mind, let’s think about how some of these considerations might manifest.
Everything we eat has an environmental impact
A lot of the time, the impact is likely to be detrimental or neutral, but some food growing can have a positive effect on the environment too. One of the ethical ideas about consumption that has grown in popularity recently is the use of oat milk as a dairy alternative instead of other kinds of substitute milk. The argument against cow’s milk is built from many strands of thinking, including livestock welfare regarding how the animals are kept and treated, methane, ammonia and carbon dioxide emissions associated with keeping cows and landscape concerns regarding grazing and destruction of natural habitat.
These are ideas that have been discussed for a long while, particularly with the recent upsurge in vegan dieting. However, alternatives like soya milk and nut milks have increasingly been criticised for their environmental impact. Almond milk, for example, requires an enormous amount of water to be created, in the growing and the grinding process. Almonds are also not grown in the UK, so there is an air miles concern here too. Oat milk, on the other hand, can be made in the UK, uses much less water than other alternatives and requires less land than soya or almond milk.
Growing your own food
In terms of being able to make a positive impact on the planet with the food you eat, why not consider growing your own? If you are lucky enough to have access to a garden or an allotment then you can grow various vegetables which will cut your food miles right down. Tomatoes from your garden to your plate is a great improvement from Spain or even just the Isle of Wight to your kitchen! (IoW tomatoes are incredible though). If all you have is a window sill, you can still grow herbs, chillies and salad, which will make a difference to your carbon footprint. Tomatoes and strawberries can be grown in hanging baskets as well! Many common plants you can buy from your high street flower, too, providing the things that bees and butterflies need to keep our environment happy and healthy.
Food workers’ rights: doing better
Another consideration that we should definitely be taking into account, but which isn’t always easy to find out about, is how are the people who produce your food being treated? I certainly advocate shopping in a mindful way- but it’s not always easy to know which companies or products are okay. I mean, we all know not to use Amazon, but Amazon isn’t the only company run by an evil overlord and not all businesses receive the same scrutiny that Amazon does.
When we think about how we want people who produce the products we use and the food we eat to be treated, we ought to be thinking about fair wages, safe working conditions, sick pay and holiday pay, pension schemes and healthcare, reasonable hours, unions… in short, everything we would want for ourselves at work. One way to find out about the ethics of a business is to check their policy page or look them up on ethicalconsumer.org, but in the short term, you should look for the fair trade symbol on things that have been produced in developing countries and try to shop locally from smaller businesses where you can talk to the supplier.
Really, ethical eating can mean as much or as little as you want it to, but to get started, you need to think about your own principles and how you uphold them. Then, once you start to be particularly considerate about where your food comes from and who makes it, you’ll find that it becomes easier and easier to make ethical choices.