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Ethical eating: you are what you choose to eat

ethical eatingPhoto: IFAD

You sit down to a scrumptious dinner. Your favorite meal is in front of you, and you just can’t wait to start eating.

Before you dig in, though, take just one minute to think. Think about the hard work of the hands that got your salad on your plate. About the long hours of bending over in the heat to harvest the grains for your bread. And don’t forget the extra labor of all of those farmers to get their produce certified as organic.

Don’t you feel grateful for all of this? Of course you do.

Gratitude, though, isn’t the only way to express respect, mindfulness and appreciation for what you eat.

These feelings, in fact, are mostly reflected in the food choices you make. At each meal, and every day.


Because eating is not only an act of biology and psychology. It is also an act of moral consequence. An act that shows what your priorities are, and who you are. It’s an act of ethical value.

In fact, the term used to describe all of the above today is “ethical eating”.  It’s a type of consumerism that is mindful, amongst others, of how food production may damage the environment, exploit labor, cause shortage of nutritious food for others and treat food animals inhumanely.

Let’s look at these aspects a little more in detail.

ethical eating

Environmental damage. The production and processing of each type of food has a carbon footprint. Beef and lamb, for example, are responsible for the highest carbon emissions, while seasonal vegetables for one of the lowest. But say you shift from eating meat to eating more produce. What if you choose to eat a tomato or pineapple in winter, producing dangerous amounts of greenhouse gases and pollution from long transportation hours?

Labor practices. There are a number of unfair practices within the food system. Many working conditions are poor. Child labor is very common, first and foremost in agriculture. A large number of workers must accept below-minimum wages, especially if they work in developing countries or are immigrants. Fairtrade tries to protect the rights of small producers and workers. But how long before we see sustainable impact around the globe?

Shortage of nutritious food. With globalization, developing countries are experiencing rapid urbanization, income growth and changes in the population structure. Marketing and distribution of processed food is also cheaper. In fact, convenience stores are becoming more popular. This results in diets once high in cereal and produce now being high in sugars, fat, and animal products. These, along with less physical activity, cause weight gain and other dangerous health issues. How to balance the quantity of food with its quality?

Inhumane animal treatment. In today’s factory farms, animals have no right to live their natural life. Their quarters have little to no room, antibiotics to make them grow faster are part of their daily feed and their genes are modified to make them grow larger. And let’s not even start on what goes on once it’s time to get to the slaughterhouse. There are many debates on the levels of animal pain and suffering, and these will probably never end. But would you want your pet to go through life and death like this?

Taking into account all of the above, how will you become more ethical in your eating?

If you – like most of us – are not sure as to how to answer, take your time go over the questions raised again. Read and listen to the extra material in the links below. Do some research of your own. Use what you gather as a basis for discussion – at home, at school, with yourself.

We’ll look at some answers in the next article. Stay tuned!

Further discussions and reading material

“The psychology, biology and politics of food”, Yale University, 2013.

“Food: all things considered”, Food Ethics Council, 2015.

Fair Trade Glossary, Fair Trade, 2017.

Child labor in agriculture, FAO, 2015.

“The nutrition transition to 2030”, FAO, 2005.

“Double burden of malnutrition”, WHO.

Factory farming: misery for animals, PETA.

Michelle Calcatelli

Michelle Calcatelli

Hi there! My name is Michelle. I'm an American living in Italy, mom of two girls, a lover of travel, music and good food shared with loved ones. I am a freelance grant writer and a former agricultural development practitioner, having worked mostly in rural Africa for 18 years. I look forward to creating a space here - with your help - where we can exchange dreams, ideas and kindness to start shaping a better tomorrow.

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