A Tale of Eating Ethically

01/June/2016
Jess Spiro

Ethics. It’s a funny subject. In a nutshell, ethics determine how a person conducts themselves on any given day. They relate to the thought behind an act. Nowadays, in the food industry, we’re hearing more and more about how ingredients are ‘ethically’ sourced, and that we should eat more ‘ethically’. But what does eating ethically actually mean? At the end of the day, ethics are entirely personal. Your ethics govern your actions, but in the broader sense of eating and how that comes into play in the grand scheme of the world, everyone should be pledging to eat a little more ethically.

We recently published an article on veganism and the overwhelming effect that it has on the environment. Vegans make a choice every day to eat as ethically as they can, meaning they want to cause as little harm or injury to any living being. Becoming vegan, while admirable, is an extreme life choice that not every person can subscribe to. What we can take from vegans however, is their ethics and their ethos to cause as little harm as possible.

When I was quite young, maybe in my tweens, my mother announced one day she would be giving up meat and going vegetarian. She had been reading a National Geographic article about the annual seal hunt that takes place in Canada every year and she decided that, essentially, she didn’t like the way humans treated animals. It was the first time I recall thinking about animals, and how they were treated on a bigger scale. It didn’t go much further than that for me, but I do remember my mom fighting the good ethical fight. She only bought free-range meat, despite not eating the stuff herself, she wanted the rest of us to enjoy our food – ethically. There was never any guilt, simply the planting of the idea that we should think about where our food comes from before eating it.

Fast forward to years later, I’m at culinary school. Seeing that you’re being taught about everything about food, I found myself constantly being drawn back to free-range meat. Admittedly, when you’re in first year and partying and enjoying rib and burger specials everywhere and anywhere, you’re not too concerned about locavore but it was always there at the back of my head. When I moved to London, I found myself in a city where it’s so easy to eat ethically, but also so easy to eat irresponsibly. My fiancee had worked at two of the world’s best restaurants, using the best ingredients possible. One restaurant, The Ledbury, often made use of venison, caught by the head chef and Dinner offered only the best quality meat available and that meant grass-fed, free-range beef, pork and chicken. It became quite obvious that eating the best food, meant eating the best ingredients. And feedlot beef just doesn’t compare in terms of flavour, ethics aside. I had also become close friends with my yoga teacher, a longtime vegan, who gave me loads of reading material on meat eating and the beliefs behind it. Just as when I was younger, I was made to think of the life that was behind my hamburger or steak.

Tale of Eating Ethically
When my fiancee teamed up with an ethical butcher in Cape Town to open a restaurant, our fate was sealed. And it was an easy decision to make. We would only eat free-range meat. This meant a road-trip through America, the red meat-guzzling capital of the world. We thought we were in serious trouble, but little did we know that many of the best restaurants in the States only make use of local, organically-farmed meat. Choosing not to eat factory-farmed meat became even easier to do once we drove through Texas. We saw miles and miles of feed-lot cows, being fattened unnaturally for the slaughter. And what are you left with at the end of the day? Meat that simply doesn’t taste as good. Fact. One step further than this, it’s also abundantly clear that this factory-farm meat is wildly unhealthy for people. Feedlot cows are fed corn to fatten them up quickly, this corn causes the cows’ naturally pH neutral stomach to become acidic. This acidic environment is the perfect environment for the deadly strain of E.coli to grow. If there are traces of E.coli found in the meat, it is usually bleached with ammonia to get rid of the virus. Does that sound delicious to you? I certainly hope not.

So for me, it comes back to what my mother said. Humans don’t treat animals nicely. And while it may seem contradictory to write an article about ethics when I still eat meat, I comply to my own set of ethics. I choose not to eat meat that comes from an animal that’s suffered a sad, miserable lonely life in a feedlot. Ethically, that’s not in line with my sense of right and wrong. And for me, this is a daily sacrifice in some way. It means always having to be that person, asking where the meat comes from, maybe ordering the sad vegetarian option when you would love the hamburger or spending that little bit more money on meat at our local butcher. The point here is, to stop and think, even for a minute, about how I can conduct myself and do the least damage.

Essentially and perhaps, selfishly, it boils down to one issue for me. As a food writer and genuine food lover, it comes down to taste. Does that feedlot hamburger taste as good as a free-range, grass-fed one? No it doesn’t, not just because of the physical flavour (because free-range meat will always taste better than factory-farmed meat) but also because I think further than what’s on my plate. I can’t look past the being that has made the ultimate sacrifice for my meal, and I’m going to do my absolute best to ensure that it was treated with respect, and that I myself treat it with respect.

There were two very important pieces of material that I found useful on this subject. The first is Food Inc., either in book or movie form and the second was The Food Revolution by John Robbins, which was a fascinating read.

Tale of Eating Ethically

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