I’ve been exploring the issue of ethical shopping lately.
Since reading The Ethics of What We Eat by Peter Singer and Jim Mason last year, I’ve changed my shopping habits around food (and therefore my family’s habits). Our trolley now has less meat (and organic or free range meat when we do eat it), fair trade tea, coffee and chocolate, and more organic and local produce. I’ve also become conscious of the sustainability of different types of fish and seafood, and which types are ‘better’ to purchase.
My eyes were not only opened to the incredibly inhumane conditions animals are kept in factory farming and feedlots, but the huge environmental cost of factory farming animals. Imagine the waste that thousands of chickens (or cows) produce when kept in small confines and the effects that has on the land, creeks and rivers. People who live near piggeries say the stench is unbearable, and in some factory farms, the ammonia from the animals waste actually burns the animals’ eyes. Terrible images like this were described in the book, but also some amazingly beautiful things were revealed. Like, for example, in their natural state, pigs build nests to have their piglets in. Can you imagine pigs nesting?
So what is the cost of this new diet?
Free range meat is expensive when compared to the non-free range variety. But after reading that book, I firmly believe that the cost of non free range meat isn’t the ‘true cost’. There is no environmental levy added in to the cost of meat to help recuperate damaged farms. We’re not paying for the impacts the meat we eat has created. So my conscious choice here is that if free range meat is too expensive for me, then I can’t afford to eat meat: because I need to pay the true cost. Similarly, if fair trade chocolate is too expensive for me, then I should go without chocolate (thankfully it’s not!).
Of course ethical eating is more complicated when you live in a household of other conscious beings with their own wants and needs (especially little tikes!). If I was single, I’d probably go vegetarian, but the boys (and bloke) in my family tend to enjoy their meat, so free range is a good option. If I was single I’d probably be visiting farmers markets every weekend too and sourcing more local stuff. But at the moment that’s in the too hard basket and so I drag my trolley around Woolies or Coles (wishing I wasn’t feeding the big corporate pockets) trying to make more conscious and informed choices about what I buy.
It’s also really interesting how relatively hard or easy it is to eat ethically according to where you live. If I lived in Newtown, it’d be a piece of cake. Living in Hurstville ethical eating has been challenging. The predominantly Asian culture around here sees cheap butchers, with ducks hanging out the front and cage eggs at cheaper than chips prices proliferating. Our nearest free range butcher is at Caringbah, although there is one at Oatley that sells free range pork products. So that gets you into the head space how much petrol you’re using to buy your food.
Our diet is not completely ethical. But what I can say is that my shopping is more informed, and I’m very happy about this. To make conscious, weighted decisions is important in life and to know that I am actively trying to improve the quality of animals’ lives, the health of the environment and the lives of those working in developing nations are important to me. So I’m going to pay the true cost – as much as I can work it out.
Image taken from http://www.flickr.com/photos/james_michael_hill/822851039/sizes/z/in/photostream/ with thanks to james_michael_hill.