Food ethics

Whilst I’m trying to remember what we did with everything with our last veg box, I’ve been thinking a bit more about why it’s important to me to buy one (and not just because everything tastes scrummy). I came to the conclusion that it comes down to my food ethics: I like that the stuff in my box is local, but I’m not so bothered about the fact that it’s organic. Call me weird, but I (and by association, as does Tom) do have some strict ethical criteria when it comes to food.

  1. Fairtrade. I’ve been passionate about the Fairtrade movement for a long time now and have a lot of research into for various reasons, so I’m confident that’s it’s a good thing to support. As a result, I will only buy Fairtrade tea and coffee and will always buy the Fairtrade version of something, even if it’s a bit more expensive. This can be difficult (anyone know any Fairtrade chocolate and hazelnut spread? I love that stuff for a treat on my weekend pancakes, but I’ve only ever seen a Fairtrade version once and could never get it again) and annoying when I’m budgeting, but I think it’s worth it.
  2. British (or no air miles). Getting our veg box takes the guessing out buying fruit and vegetables, but if we need something extra, it can be hard to get British veg, especially in the supermarket. I only ever buy British apples, pears and soft fruit (if you can’t get it, it’s out of season and therefore you shouldn’t be eating it anyway!), but if there’s nothing else I will go for something without air miles. We also try and buy all of our extra fruit and veg from our local grocer’s, supporting local shops. This rule means no more baby corn or mange tout, but we’ve survived so far. One conundrum I’ve had recently is whether British should trump Fairtrade. I’ve noticed that some sugar brands, for example, now offer both a British and Fairtrade version and I never know which one to pick. Same goes with something like jam or honey – should I go local, or support African sugar farmers? So far I’ve chosen British, partly because of my no air miles argument, but I’m not sure. What do you think?
  3. Free range. We always had free range eggs as a family and as they’re not that much more expensive, it’s a no brainer to continue buying them. I also switched to free range chicken several years ago (actually when I was a student, which basically meant I never ate chicken because I couldn’t afford it any more!) and would never go back to non-free range. To alleviate the cost, we never buy chicken breasts and usually just get a whole chicken and Tom will either butcher it so we can use the bits separately, or we’ll have a roast one day and use the leftovers over the next week, finally making stock and/or soup with the bones. Free range tastes SO much better when it comes to chicken, don’t you think? Oh, it’s got to be British, too.
  4. Pork. If you’re eating free range chicken, it doesn’t make sense not to eat free range pork, too. Pigs are such intelligent animals that I think it’s a real insult to eat the mass produced stuff. Plus, again, it’s got to be British as our welfare standards are higher, and it definitely makes a huge difference to taste. Buying high welfare pork (including bacon and sausages) does mean that we would never go for an expensive cut and we might have it less frequently, but that’s fine.
  5. Fish. We never buy cod, even from the fish and chip shop (tip: Sainsbury’s basics fish fingers are made with 100% pollock and are MSC certified) and go for British fish wherever possible. We also try and get less common types of fish, i.e. those that aren’t over fished, and fish that’s seasonal. I’ll admit that it’s hard (mainly because it’s less obvious than with meat what’s good to buy, for example, I never know whether you’re supposed to get wild or farmed salmon) and it probably means that we eat less fish than we should, but we’re trying. Splashing out every now and then and getting something from Abel and Cole is one solution, as is getting organised and buying fish from our local fish monger on Saturdays. It’s a tough one. One thing that’s not difficult is only buying tinned tuna that’s pole and line caught, even though it’s never on offer, grr.

So that’s it, really. I’m not as fussy with beef or lamb (although we don’t have it that often anyway) because you can’t rear a cow or a sheep in a shed for meat, and I can’t think of one situation where I would buy an organic version of something purely for the reason it’s organic – i.e. I’ll buy a Fairtrade pineapple that might also be organic, or an organic and free range chicken, or if something’s on offer. I’m tempted to start only buying organic milk because the stuff I’ve had has tasted so much better than non-organic – does anyone else do that?

I’d be very interested to hear whether you disagree with my ethical criteria or think I should add any. If I was really ethical we’d be vegetarian and only eat veg from our allotment, but that’s not going to happen…

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3 thoughts on “Food ethics

  1. I think I could have written most of this-except the fair trade bits because I’ve only really thought about the animal parts before. I fully believe that if we are going to eat meat the animals should have had a high quality of life! Have you looked into milk/veal? I’m not sure I could do without milk/ cheese etc but some of the aspects of commercial milk production concern me.

    • Excellent point, Rebecca. That’s another reason to go organic, milk-wise. I also do think that high-welfare veal should be eaten much more – it’s available (although not in supermarkets) and is really tasty.

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