The Unethical View of Ethical Eating

I’ve been eating a vegan diet for almost eight years. Prior to that, I was a strict vegetarian for countless years, followed by several years of being wrongfully medically manipulated into eating chicken. No matter what I consume, or avoid, I have always tried my best to do the least amount of harm with my dietary, and lifestyle. Sadly, and realistically, the concept of “doing the least amount of harm” is truly as pedantic as saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

What I consider to be my best efforts are minimal in someone else’s eyes. Just the other day, I was enjoying a vegan meal at a restaurant that boasts both an omni menu, and a plant based options. After placing our orders, the waiter asked if my dining partner, and I are vegan. We answered affirmatively, which set us up for a less than pleasant dining experience.

Conversation from their perspective became a competition of which of us is MORE vegan than the other. Clearly, they are because I eat honey, which in some circles is worse than most crimes.

Have I conducted research on honey, and why it’s not vegan? Oh please! Beyond ACTUAL scientists, and people who have access to proper research materials, and TIME, who actually researches anything? Have I read a few articles, and a truck load of propaganda that pushes for both sides of the story? Yes. Am I capable of making an educated decision for myself, and my body regarding what I ingest? Also, yes.

I’d like to consider myself to be an “ethical vegan,” but that title would be better suited to someone who doesn’t subscribe to any of the wasteful lifestyle sidelines that most of us adhere to.

Do I purchase prepackaged foods? Yes. Are the boxes, bags, and other packing materials biodegradable, and recyclable? Some are, but chances are that even when I place them in the proper receptacle, they will inadvertently end up in a landfill somewhere. Once my trash and recycling leaves my house, I am no longer in control of sorting it.

One thing that always sits on my mind is the distance that my food travels to arrive on my table. As a vegan, with a celiac in the house, I often seek specialty food items to complete our meals. These items are often not found locally, either in my small town, and when they are, regardless of where I purchase them, they have often traveled from distant realms before reaching the local shops. Seeking, and purchasing these recourses employs incredible transportation needs, which adds to global pollution. I could do without some of these luxury items, however I’d be exceptionally limited in my food selection if I didn’t indulge in some treats.

Eating a plant based diet does reduce my carbon footprint (with the exception of transportation, right?). It reduces the impact on animals used in animal agriculture, and in many ways it increases the employment of people, specifically women in developing nations. But is that ethical? Honestly, probably not. I remember reading an article about countries that grow quinoa as their own staple food. As soon as developed nations recognized the health benefits of quinoa, the countries began exporting more than they were keeping for their own people. Suddenly, the people who were growing, and harvesting it were no longer able to purchase it to feed their families. Prices locally became prohibitive, and people were now facing food shortages while someone across the ocean was enjoying a quinoa salad in a bougie cafe.

We’ve all seen the photos of women’s hands after they’ve spent years picking cashews. We’re all well aware of the fact that all of these people are not paid living wages, and are often mistreated in their work fields.

Could we put tremendous effort into only purchasing ethically grown, fair traded food? Of course we can, but is there enough of it available? Are these items so cost prohibitive that we can’t afford them, thus putting the ethical companies out of business and forcing them into the slave work that currently exists? Sadly, often the case.

There is the concept of supply, and demand; if we buy enough of the ethical products, then there will be a greater demand for them, then more people can earn a living wage. Great, except for the fact that many of these ethical companies are small and can’t support higher demands. Eventually, they sell out to larger companies, and BOOM, there go the ethics.

Honestly, I think it’s almost impossible to always eat ethically sourced, and transported food. That doesn’t alleviate my guilt about eating foods that may possibly have been produced through slave labour. In fact, I carry that weight heavily because I’m torn knowing that if people in developing nations aren’t working, then they are struggling, and suffering even more than being paid minuscule wages.

I want everyone to be earning livable wages that allow them to be safe, healthy, and happy. I do not support slavery, or abusive working environments. I do not support anything that oppresses people in any way. Unfortunately, living in the consumerist world that we have created, we rarely know where our money is actually going. A tiny little ethical company may be owned by a giant nasty conglomerate that squashes human rights and oppresses everything that I value.

Choosing to be vegan, and eating plant is often based on choosing ethics, and animal rights over our own needs, or wants. There is also the underlying idea that eating plant based foods is a healthier lifestyle choice, however in reality, there is a plethora of junk food available to tempt our tastebuds! It all boils down to personal preference, and eating habits.

The fact is, we could all nit pick the origin of our food sources, and argue over whether the cashews that are imported from one part of the world are more ethically sourced than from a secondary location, or whether it’s healthier to eat imported strawberries that are organically grown, or to digest sprayed berries from the farmer down the road. Everyone will have an opinion, and a “study they found online” to back them up.

In the long run, everything on this planet is leaving a carbon footprint of sorts. Some things, are better for global environment, and population, while others lead to quicker destruction, and cruelty.

I’m also aware of the fact that food agriculture does involve harming insects, and animals by means of pesticides, and farm machinery. I’m also aware of the horribly disgusting fact that most of our edible vegetation, and any mass-produced foods contain bits and pieces of insects, and things that we’d never want to know about. This is the horrible reality of food. We never really know what we’re eating, and often, we really don’t want to, if we’re being honest with ourselves.

I am a firm believer that one must eat whatever is necessary for them to be healthy, and sane. I personally cannot invest my entire life hyper-fixating on minute details about my food; I will do the best that I can to reduce cruelty, and oppression. I will do my best to ensure that most of my dietary decisions do not inflict harm on anyone, or anything.

I can’t stop people from eating what I don’t consider to be food, but I also don’t appreciate people telling me that my plant-based food is disgusting. There also needs to a be a point when people stop asking why there are plant based foods that replicated “meat.” Was your burger born looking like a burger? No, right? So what’s wrong with my vegetables being shaped into a patty, and placed on a bun? Nothing…So stop telling me how to label my food, and I’ll never tell you what to put on your plate!

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