Small steps toward ethical eating

Dear readers, I’m going to veer into moderately controversial waters in an area where I am just beginning to become educated. Feel free to use the comments to agree, disagree, or “school me.” Talking about tough things is one of the ways we can move through them and become stronger.

Last week I had a small outburst in my nutritionist’s office. On the subject of seasonal produce and grocery shopping, I found myself blurting out, “Is it too much to ask to be able to buy ethical food!?!” This sentiment had been building for a while, but I had reached the point that I couldn’t sit quietly any longer. In the moment I was speaking out of frustration, but I really did want an answer.

What I should have included in my brief rant was my desire to purchase ethical food for the same price as the products supplied by highly subsidized mega corporations who engage in the practices I find most questionable. This is my real problem. I have become accustomed to bloated products at bargain basement prices. What I have to remind myself is, if I’m not paying the actual cost of my food — who is? It should not surprise anyone to open the newspaper (or their home page) and read about undervalued factory workers cutting corners in their jobs. Reading news articles about production lines operating in unhealthy conditions is unsettling at best. But, how can I expect to have the best quality products in my kitchen if I am unwilling to reasonably compensate the companies who supply them? I’d like to note that when I talk about ethical food I am not speaking exclusively of organic food. I think that there is room for “conventional” practices in the world of food production. Personally, I used some fertilizer but no pest or herbicides when growing my vegetables this past summer.

I stand in the grocery store and choke at the price of pasture-raised meat. I feel smug about my choice to avoid farm-raised fish and then balk when their ocean-caught cousins are above my price range. In my heart I do not want to devalue the efforts of any food producers who are committed to bringing customers an ethical product. In fact, I would prefer to purchase these products exclusively. It is just really difficult not to feel like consuming 100% ethical food is a choice only available to the elite of our society.

I can’t shake the feeling that grocery shopping is a politically charged activity. Navigating my cart through the produce section of my neighborhood supermarket, I am not choosing between apples and oranges; I am voting with my dollars. Artfully arranged signage indicates the items that are local, organic, seasonal, or all of the above. The market where I do most of my shopping has designed their produce bins to resemble crates like you those you might find at a farm stand. While I am squeezing avocados and examining kale I can’t help feeling that perhaps I should have taken my business to an actual farm stand.

I am doing my best to turn my kitchen into a better representation of my values. I see similarities between this current desire and the beginning of my weight loss journey. It took time and learning from missteps to learn how to feed my body for weight loss and now weight maintenance. Shifting my purchasing habits will also require time and learning from missteps. It helps that my habits have already begun to change as part of the natural progression of my weight loss.

Our family has already begun one of the most fundamental shifts of our consumption by choosing to consume less meat. Learning to grow some of my own food, taking the time to visit u-pick farms and freezing most of what we pick has been a great way reduce our family’s desire to purchase out-of-season imported produce to brighten the dark days of winter. It’s not much yet, but, I have found the only way to achieve long-term changes is through specific and measurable actions. Hopefully in the months and years to come, shifts in consumer habits will bring positive changes to the marketplace.

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