Eating is not a morally neutral act. Of course few things are. But while the moral issues associated with some acts are well-known and universally accepted, with other acts the moral dimension may be less obvious and subject to dispute.
Because our food system is industrialized and globalized sometimes the moral issues are easy to obscure or conceal. If we had a neighbor using enslaved children to make chocolate bars few us of would buy them, regardless of how cheap they were. But if a company is using enslaved children to harvest cocoa in Africa we’re not likely to notice, and few people feel any guilt about buying their chocolate. Likewise most of us would refuse to buy meat from a neighbor who abuses and tortures his animals, but we’ll buy meat in a grocery store from animals raised cruelly in high-intensity confinement feed operations. Not because we approve of that way of treating animals–few of us do–but because we’re able to stay sufficiently separated from it to keep our consciences clear.
These are just a couple of obvious examples in a web of moral questions that surround what and how we eat. How we treat and care for our bodies is a moral issue. How much food we consume is a moral issue. Whether our food choices make us complicit in environmental degradation is a moral issue. Whether we are helping to sustain a food system that contributes to poverty, hunger, food insecurity and destruction of indigenous agricultural systems is a moral issue as well.
Of course sorting through the moral issues can be difficult. If forced to choose, is it better to eat organic or eat local? If locally and naturally produced food is more expensive, does that make it a privilege of the affluent only? Does eating ethically require a person to be a vegetarian? A vegan? Is it only ethical to eat meat from animals raised humanely? What about people who can’t afford that kind of meat, or who live in food deserts? There are plenty of vexing questions like these.
Now that I’ve put one major writing project behind me (for now at least), next up is an attempt to put together a practical guide to ethical eating. Expect some posts on that subject over the next few months as the project moves forward. You’ve been forewarned!
What we’re aiming for is something for folks who want to eat ethically, but who aren’t sure how to navigate through all the claims made about food these days. Hopefully we’ll come up with something that gives people the information that need to help them make informed decisions, without being overly intimidating and without coming across as just some sort of list of rules to follow.
Now that the days are starting later and ending earlier, it seems I’ll have plenty of inside work to do.