DEMYSTIFYING FOOD ETHICS

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by Eva Perroni

The ever-evolving moral configuration of our food landscape is often crosscut by debates couched purely in dichotomous terms:

 

Conventional vs Organic

Local vs Global

Good fats vs Bad fats

Farmers markets vs Supermarkets

Vegan vs Omnivore

Whole vs Processed foods

 

The list goes on and on. But rarely are food choices a simple case of either/or. When we begin to ask further questions, however, they can often be overwhelming. What are the best foods to eat? Where should I shop? Should I purchase Australian/organic/artisanal produce even if they are more expensive? What about the farmers/environment/animal welfare? What’s a food mile and do they even matter?

 

 more often than not, these labels act as a psychological diversion strategy in an attempt to cloak actual production methods. ”

 

Navigating through the list of ethical food concerns is only the first step in attempting to unpack the increasing number of credence claims slapped on the 30,000+ items that line our supermarket shelves. Packaging is congested with claims about quality and freshness in the hopes to conjure up images of bountiful produce bursting with flavour and goodness.

 

But more often than not, these labels act as a psychological diversion strategy in an attempt to cloak actual production methods. In some cases, labeling is blatantly false. Earlier this year, Coles was fined $2.5 million for promoting more than 100 Coles bakery products as ‘Baked Today, Sold Today’ and ‘Freshly Baked In-Store’, when they were in fact partially-baked and frozen off-site, in some cases as far away as Ireland, before baked to completion in-store months later.

 

Clear and unambiguous ethical food labeling it seems is about as easy to find as the proverbial needle. ”

 

Clear and unambiguous ethical food labeling it seems is about as easy to find as the proverbial needle. Below are some tips for sifting through the haystack.

 

Meat and Eggs

 

It may come as a surprise to some consumers that despite Australia’s vast, sweeping countryside, the majority of Australian farm animals today come from intensive, factory-farm operations; including 80% of all egg production and a colossal 95% of all meat, chicken and pork production. Additionally, up to a third of beef cows are now being partially confined in feedlots to hasten weight gain.

 

With no consistent or legally enforceable definitions for egg, chicken or pork production in Australia (free-range chicken stocking rates for example, can range from 750 – 10,000 birds per hectare), the key to ethical meat consumption lies in the simple adage, ‘less, but better quality’.

 

Get to know and support your local butcher and commit to a couple of meat-free days a week.”

 

There are many phrases and terms used on animal products such as ‘raised in large barns’, ‘range-reared’, ‘all natural’, ‘100% Australian grown’, ‘Australian made’, ‘drover’s choice’ ‘grain fed’, ‘corn fed’ and ‘chemical free.’

 

The majority of these, however, mean precious little in terms of higher animal welfare or environmental standards. Be sure to look for certified organic/biodynamic, certified free range, pasture/grass fed or RSPCA Approved logos. Get to know and support your local butcher and commit to a couple of meat-free days a week.

 

Seafood

 

Despite Australia being ‘girt by sea’, we have become a net importer of seafood, with approximately 70% of the 370,000 tonnes of seafood we consume each year now coming from overseas. Australia’s seafood labeling laws are far from perfect. It is not mandatory anywhere in Australia, for example, to use consistent fish names where seafood is sold. Species susceptible to overfishing such as Orange Roughy can be deceptively labeled as ‘Deep Sea Perch’. Unfortunately, without effective labeling laws we have little way of knowing where our seafood comes from, whether it is sustainable, if the workers who caught it were treated fairly? or whether it? is good for our health. The Australian Marine Conservation Society has developed an online Sustainable Seafood Guide which is also downloadable as a free app to help guide Australian consumers.

 

When it comes to canned seafood such as tuna, look for ‘pole-and-line caught’, which is considered the best method to reduce overfishing and bycatch, and look for products displaying the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) ecolabel to ensure your seafood has come from a certified sustainable supply chain.

 

Processed Foods

 

Green smoothie slurpers aside, some 92% of Australians aren’t eating the recommended 2 and 5 daily servings of fruit and veg. Whole foods are increasingly being replaced with highly processed convenience foods. These products are regularly made with the cheapest ingredients and derivatives possible; such as palm oil and soy derivatives whose production often involves the deforestation of rainforests.

 

Try the 10% rule and reintroduce a little more real produce with SOUL; seasonal, organic, unrefined and local. When some luxuries become a necessity, like chocolate or coffee, buy Fairtrade to ensure fairer terms of trade for small producers and sustainable farming practice. There are time saving tips for healthy eating all over the internet, so make a date with your kitchen and reacquaint yourself with some real food, you may even enjoy yourself a little.

 

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Eva Perroni is an activist-researcher and writer focused on creating a more just and sustainable food system.

 

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