Thursday, July 26, 2012

Ethical Eating

This is a huge issue in our house as I imagine it is, in varying degrees, in other homes. If you’re at all concerned about where your food comes from and how it gets to your table I’m certain you have your own definition of what it means to eat ethically, and I’d like to hear what it is.

I have a few strict criteria that will automatically make me bypass an item at the grocery store.

1.       Meat that has come from a CAFO

The barbaric conditions alone are enough to convince me to spend my money elsewhere, but there’s also the public health aspect of this industry that are truly alarming. Want to build a superbug? Cram a lot of animals together in a small area, feed them foods they never evolved to consume and make them sick, treat the really sick ones with antibiotics then sit back and watch the array of micro-organisms adapt and become resistant. It’s an interesting experiment the first time around but this procedure has been repeated often enough that we’re now running out of antibiotics that have any effectiveness.

2.       Genetically Engineered

The debate is still raging about the safety of these foods and the potential ecological damage they might cause. I’m skeptical of the safety claims and choose to not consume them. Additionally, I’ve seen enough evidence of GMO crops spawning the emergence of superpests and superweeds (see the CAFO rant to figure out how the process works) that I’m convinced this area of biotech will be unsustainable and result in a variety of pests and weeds that we will not be able to control in a cost effective way.

3.       Contains toxins

This is a long list of foods I simply refuse to eat. Any form of MSG will sideline me out with a vicious headache and I simply can’t see a benefit to eating something that excites neurons in my brain to the point of death in order to make it taste a little better.

Artificial sweeteners are on this list as well. Some people love them but I’m unconvinced of their safety so I choose not to consume them. I may not ever buy this stuff to consume but I might buy more if our ant problem gets worse. I’ve successfully eliminated one ant colony in our backyard with a few packages of an artificial sweetener so it could come in handy.

4.       Artificial preservatives

I question the safety of these and I also can’t wrap my head around the logic of eating something that is resistant to being broken down. Sure, it lasts longer on the shelf but the same chemicals that keep it on the shelf longer will also have a similar impact on your gut flora.

5.       Artificial colors

There are a lot of artificial colorings being used in this country that have been banned just about everywhere else in the world and have been linked to a variety of conditions from ADD to cancer. To me it just isn’t worth the risk.

6.       Political affiliations and social issues

I really wish this wasn’t a consideration but in this hyper-partisan political climate which has crossed into the suppression of the rights of individuals I can’t in good conscience cast my vote of approval for their actions and buy their product.  If a company actively supports disenfranchising voters; stripping workers of basic labor rights; financial support of groups promoting bigoted, homophobic agendas; or, actively lobbies to undermine environmental protection or consumer safety laws, you can be certain I’m not going to buy their product.

Beyond these categories things start to get a little fuzzy with ethics.

1.       Organic vs. conventionally grown

I’m an environmentalist so my preference is to always buy organic but there are certain instances where I’ll buy conventionally grown produce either due to the limited risk of consuming a chemical residue or that the specific item in question just doesn’t require much chemical help in order to thrive. If there’s an organic option I will almost always choose it as I’d rather my money not indirectly go to the producers of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and synthetic fertilizers.

2.       Locally sourced

My preference would be to eat locally sourced food due to the reduced carbon footprint associated with getting it to the table. I would love for this to be a rule without compromise but I really enjoy wines from Argentina and Chile; pineapples and bananas just don’t do well here in Colorado without some heroic and unsustainable efforts; and salmon simply don’t swim this far inland.

3.       General business practices

If your company is raking in record profits through the outsourcing of jobs to 3rd world countries that have a more business friendly environment (lax labor and environmental laws) then there’s a good chance I’m not going to buy your product.

This certainly isn’t an inclusive list of all the things I’m considering while I’m walking through the grocery store but it is a highlight of the things that are important to me.

 So what’s important to you?

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