The Winter issue of the UUWorld has yet another article about “ethical” eating, in response to the General Assembly’s choice of this as a Study Action Issue for our congregations. And, once again, the issue is boiled down simply to the areas of animal welfare, buying local, and organics.
Can I just say that I am very tired of the inference that anyone who doesn’t eat only organic, local, free-range, etc, food is somehow unethical?
Let’s look at this word, “ethical,” and its connotations. Ethical means “pertaining to or dealing with morals or the principles of morality; pertaining to right and wrong in conduct.”
So when we talk about food choices, particularly the differences between organic and conventionally-raised foods and not even getting into the meat issue, and we use the word “ethical” as a descriptor for choosing organic, we are saying that to not choose organic is to be immoral, or wrong in conduct.
But that doesn’t take into account the very real barriers for many people, including my family, to eat only “ethically” raised food — the biggest of which is economic.
I feed a family of four on a budget. Organic, free-range turkey in my area is at least $8 a pound, not the $6.05 quoted in the UUWorld article, meaning a turkey large enough to feed us and our Thanksgiving guests, with the obligatory leftovers, is about $100. That’s about how much I spend on groceries in an entire week. So, since the organic, free-range turkey is simply beyond my means, does that mean I am ethically obligated to cancel Thanksgiving?
Sorry, but I call bullshit.
The framing of this issue, particularly in the UUWorld, is yet another example of the assumption that to be a Unitarian Universalist one has to be a rich, Prius-driving, vegan who shops only at farmers’ markets and Whole Foods. And I am so tired of it.
The actual resource guide for the Study Action Issue is full of interesting material and emphasizes human rights, hunger and malnutrition issues, but still does not get at the divisions within our own individual religious communities around this issue, which are mostly economic. I’d like to see congregations and individuals tackle this on a very local, personal level, rather than beating the organic-only drum even louder than we already do. Yes, attention should be paid to the environmental impact of food production as a global issue, and to the vast differences in the availability of food in various parts of the world, but there’s also a lot to be said about what is happening in our own backyards.
Wouldn’t it be a more meaningful statement of our values to examine the food, nutrition and hunger issues in our own communities, rather than making what end up being rather meaningless diatribes about global dynamics? Wouldn’t starting locally end up making more of an actual difference, in the real world of family budgets and strapped food pantries?
And can you please stop telling me I’m doing something wrong by not being able to afford only organic food?