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Ethical and Sustainable Eating: What does it involve?

In almost every culture, food has long played a physical, emotional, and spiritual role. Differences in our food choices and taste preferences vary tremendously from one country to another according to societal ideals and beliefs. However, despite these cultural differences and variances in food availability, we all have one thing in common and one thing that unites us all. And that is to be at one with our surroundings, looking out for our health and the health of others.

When striving for a healthy body, often the remedy lies in what we consume, yet sometimes it is dependent upon what we leave out. The question is how do we know what to eat or drink, and what not to? This is the domain of ethical and sustainable eating.

We eat every day, sometimes on autopilot and without any real thought, and, in today’s often fast-paced and demanding society, we tend to become reliant on convenience, applicable to many aspects of our life, including the way we eat.

takeaway chicken curry

So when hunger strikes, we reach for a pre-prepared meal, peeling off the plastic, or opening a can. In fact we are far more likely to unwrap a packet than we are to prepare a fresh meal from scratch. Although the cost of convenience may not appear to hit our wallets, it most definitely hits our health, and a rise in convenience foods has coincided with the rise of obesity and diabetes.

Ethical and sustainable eating means eating healthy food as close to its natural state as possible, whereby hallmarks of sustainable nutrition includes unrefined, unprocessed, organic, and locally grown whole foods. With a focus on eating for optimum health and well-being, sustainable eating puts healthy eating on centre stage.

sustainable Eating

Making Changes

Our food choices today will greatly influence how future generations will eat and live. This means we have the opportunity to contribute to a more harmonious world. So what does an ethical and sustainable diet look like?

Purchasing, preparing, and consuming foods that are:

  • In season
  • Grown locally
  • Healthy
  • Economically feasible
  • Ecologically compatible

Our diet should also:

  • Be balanced
  • Not too sweet
  • Not too high in fat
  • Minimise/avoid food wastage

food pyramid

Down to the Basics: Defining Sustainable Food

There is no single definition of ‘sustainable food’ however it is generally agreed that sustainable food should be manufactured and traded using practices that:

  • Protect and support diversity in both plants and animals
  • Prevent damage to natural resources
  • Commit to thriving local economies
  • Contribute to sustainable livelihoods
  • Offer health benefits in terms of quality and safety of food
  • Offer educational opportunities

What Is Ethical Eating?

Often, without any perception of our doing so, we all make ethical decisions about the food we eat. Here are just a few examples; the tip of the ice-berg.

Example 1: Healthy Eating

With the rising levels of obesity and cardiovascular disease, many lifestyle diseases such as type 2 diabetes are often linked to the consumption of processed, high sugar, high fat foods.

Specialists in the field are concerned about this trend, and this is an example of an ethical concern, particularly for the young population. To tackle the problem, regulations on food ingredients, labelling, and other initiatives, are introduced.

organic farmer

Example 2: Our Damaged Planet

Many people choose to buy organic food as they are concerned about their natural environment. They consider industrialised farming methods and the use of chemical pesticides and artificial fertilisers destructive to our wildlife, our plants, birds, insects, and the soil. These farming methods are considered unsustainable, and concern to protect the planet is considered an ethical pledge.

Example 3: Fair Trade

Often, our food is produced in countries where the standard of living is far from ideal, with farmers and local communities struggling to make a sustainable living. In fact, many live in poverty. Many people consider this situation hugely unfair, where a large proportion of the cost of food goes straight to the supermarket, rather than the primary producer. As such, they rally for schemes that protect the farmer so they receive a fair price for their produce. This is considered an ethical stance.

Example 4: Animal Welfare

A small percentage of the population choose to be vegetarians, and a growing number of people choose to take meat off their plate a number of days a week (known as ‘flexitarians’), reducing their meat consumption. If this choice is simply a matter of taste preference, then their avoidance of meat is not considered an ethical decision. However, if a vegetarian diet is followed because of a belief that meat consumption involves the unnecessary suffering of animals, then the reason is an ethical one.

Values & Their Consequences

To make ethical choices, we need to take the full picture into account. It is not sufficient to simply desire better health for humans, or to stand for animal welfare. There are always competing or even conflicting values between our health, justice, fairness, and autonomy. For our choices to be truly ethical we often have to make difficult choices.

Learn more with our Course in Ethical & Sustainable Eating

Offering a comprehensive introduction to modern day diets, this course looks at how we can all make valuable changes in the way we think about food, and how we can adapt our current food practices. It does not stress an all-or-nothing approach, but rather increases awareness of our food choices. 

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