Climate change is a hot topic. Food is also a trendy topic, whether the next new food trend is taking over the social media feed, or the health conscious eaters are researching the next super food.
Sustainability and food consumption is often discussed for its correlation. Understanding that there’s an upcoming mass food shortages and growing population, will our society find a balance in ethical, sustainable production and consumption beneficial for our planet and society? The answer is not so simple; this article will present some diverse discussions revolving ethics of food consumption — from choosing what to eat and accessing them.
How ethical is your consumption?
Recently, clean eating, vegetarian and even vegan consumption have been increasing. Even companies, such as Google, are integrating more vegan options for their employees in cafeterias as well as brainstorming new vegan recipes as part of sustainability initiatives. In fact, their vegan tacos won among 50 other recipes in a recent competition promoting sustainable eating.
Sustainable consumption is an important element as part of green lifestyle. By 2050, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization claims that we will have to “produce 70% more food for an additional 2.3 billion people by 2050.” Moreover, a report by the World Resources Institute demonstrates that reduction in red meat consumption (such as beef and lamb) “would lead to a per capita food and land use-related greenhouse gas emissions reduction of between 15 and 35 percent by 2050”, while being vegetarian would reduce 50 percent as Climate Central writes.
However, in a recent an article by Toronto Metro, “Why eating vegetarian may not be the most ethical diet” this past April, “growing fruit and vegetables could be as ethically questionable as farming animals.” This article features Marissa Landrigan, a former vegetarian and the author of The Vegetarian’s Guide to Eating Meat: A Young Woman’s Search for Ethical Food describes herself as an “ethical omnivore.” Although meat was out of her diet as a vegetarian, she is now consuming locally and ethically produced meat.
Landrigan found that “faux chicken, veggie burgers, even organic tomato paste could still be products of an industrial food system she opposed,” quoted by Toronto Metro. The article highlights that simply adopting vegetarian, or vegan diet does not guarantee “cruelty-free” consumption because of the complex environmental impacts social implications in production. For instance, avocados — the trending fruit — are “associated with drug cartels and deforestation in Mexico,” and Vietnamese nut industry is accused of producing “blood cashews” for unjust labour environment at treatment centres that force drug addicts to shell the nuts. So, Landrigan aims to shop local to support locals, rather than relying on large corporations that may not have ethical production.
Enjoying a delicious plate of food out or at home is easy, the ethical values incorporated are complex and multidimensional. Lana Slan, a former vegan and yoga teacher, also highlighted in the article, states “we can’t support mono crops of vegetables that are being sprayed with pesticides and are not biodiverse and are killing all the micro-organisms in the soil, as well as adding that meat alternatives also involve genetically modified products.”
In another stance, David Alexander, executive director from Toronto Vegetarian Association tells Toronto Metro that “‘ethical omnivore’ movement is a moral cover for returning to eat meat” because vegetarians and vegans can still opt to consciously eat without animal products. Having said this, he recognizes that “the process of thinking through these food choices, whether or not we all end up at the same place, is useful and productive.”
But, can everyone access local, ethical and sustainable food? Is it inclusive?
Ethical food, ethical access?
More recently, The Globe and Mail raises the question of ethical consumption and its equitable accessibility, highlighting a study conducted by University of Guelph researcher Kelly Hodgins and Professor Evan Fraser to understand the “stratification of food system” and its “hierarchy.”
According to the research, only the “wealthy” in Canada has access to local and organic food (offered at farmers market and more), while middle or lower income members do not have equal access. Reasons differ from higher prices to geographical barriers to limited schedule often operating 9 to 5 from Mondays to Fridays. In addition, providing diverse options in products and portion size also hinder including various populations. For those living in communal space, there are limitations in regular access to fridge, and stoves which challenge buying larger quantity of produce, often offered at better value. Moreover, as Diana Bronson, executive director at Food Secure Canada notes affordable food opted by middle-lower class does not guarantee nutritional benefits.
Thus, there are many controversial debates revolving around food consumption and sustainable practices. For some, they have a choice to adopt their own diet considering various factors such as ethics and climate change, but for those living in poorer conditions, accessing healthy food in general may be a challenge of its own. Small scale local farmers aim to provide highest quality and environment-friendly products, while many consumers face challenges in accessing them. The study recommends policy changes and targeting “systemic social problems”, although it recognizes that meeting favourable spectrum for both producers and consumers presents as the biggest challenge.
All these debates, considered as food for thought, it’s now time to have food for value — whether it’s about improving sustainable practices or ensuring social inclusion.
Where do you stand?