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Eating ethically

31 Jul 2009 / in going off on one, natural world

I may be a soft, southern, middle-class, educated, liberal wuss, but I care about my fellow creatures, I don’t want ‘blood on my hands’ and I want to tread as lightly as I can on the planet. So for the past year or so I’ve been trying to eat ethically. But like most worthwhile things in life, it’s not that easy!
Like Sarah Bunny (pictured) we always eat vegetarian at home because my husband is veggie, but I’m not a vegetarian. This is partly because when you’re out at a restaurant or with friends or family the vegetarian options are either pathetic, non-existent or contain ingredients that make me ill; like capsicum or broccoli. And if I am going to eat dead creatures, I want to be certain that the creatures have been farmed, produced, harvested, fished, transported and/or slaughtered humanely.

Thankfully ‘fair trade’ products, like coffee, sugar and tea, are reasonably easy to get hold of, and fruit and veggies nearly always have their country of origin marked, so you can tell how local it is, and therefore how far it’s had to be transported.

It makes shopping tricky because food manufacturers don’t give me the information I need. How do I know that the margarine I buy doesn’t contain palm oil? I really don’t want to consume palm oil. Huge tracts of virgin jungle are cleared in places like Borneo to make way for acres of palm oil plantations. Such habitat loss is devastating for the local biodiversity, including rare bird and insect species, and in the case of Borneo, lovely fluffy and cute orang-utans. But palm oil is in practically everything, especially in processed foods, like biscuits, samosas and pizzas. It’s almost impossible to avoid the damned stuff.

The problem with meat is that livestock is often reared in cramped, horrendous conditions, and transported long distances to the slaughterhouse. Eating free range animals overcomes the farming conditions problem, but the thought that an animal has had to suffer being transported just to feed me: well frankly, it puts me off my dinner. Eating wild shot venison is pretty safe, as is local lamb, which is allowed to live a natural,  if rather short, life out in the fields with their mums. Locally produced beef (like these cattle in the water meadows near my home) and pork is OK it,  its free range, but often the restaurant doesnt know if it is. So I mostly avoid beef and pork anyway. I think the last time I had beef was in February in New Zealand, where the man who cooked it (my friend Leicester) also raised it on his property and slaughtered it himself.

Fish is a major problem. With wild fish stocks mostly collapsed in the world’s oceans, it’s no longer acceptable to me to eat virtually anything from the world’s seas. Fishing methods are diabolical both to the targeted species, the bycatch, and to the fishermen who risk their lives daily for a few pathetic dollars. The appalling, wasteful and shocking matter of bycatch should concern us all. It’s not scaremongering to say that the future of life on earth depends on the health and diversity of life in the seas. And without a healthy bloom of phytoplankton, we’re all completely screwed.

What about farmed salmon, I hear you cry? Thousands of stressed fish held in huge offshore nets, being fed protein pellets made from dead animals enhanced with growth hormones, being kept safe by shooting the seals that are attracted to such easy meals is not my idea of ethical.

The only fish I seem to be able to eat ethically are locally caught trout, from the local trout fishery which though expensive I know are reared ethically, and caught and killed swiftly, usually by my son. But what price a clear conscience?

As for poultry and poultry products, well unless it’s free-range, forget it.

With people reproducing at unacceptable and globally unsustainable rates, eating less animal protein is going to really matter. Like I always say: education, condoms, and partial vegetarianism are the only things that will save us.

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