Sunday, January 30, 2011

To eat, and what to eat

With profound apologies to Shakespeare.

To eat, and what to eat: that is question
Whether 'tis nobler in the cart to suffer
The cost and charges of outrageous prices,
Or to take savings with a bunch of imports,
And by purchasing eat them? To buy: to save;
Non local; and by saving to say we add
Our dependence and the thousand natural shocks
Cheap food is heir to, 'tis a consumption
Devoutly to be shunned. To buy, to chew;
To eat: perchance digest: ay, there's the rub;
For in that cart of foods what fruit may come
When we have shuffled out this grocery store,
Must give us pause: there’s the respect
That makes calamity of such low prices;
For who could bear the costs from wages over time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud one’s taunting,
The pangs of despised poultry, the pig’s dismay,
The insolence of aisles and the insults
That the coupons make of thoughtful shoppers
When he himself might his ethics face
And bear his heart with burdens hear
The grunt and sweat under a weary life,
The undiscover’d country from whose bourn
The ill paid worker labours, puzzles the mind
And makes us rather eat the cheap ills we have
Than find the organics that we know not of
Thus Conscience could still make cowards of us all

Okay, so that’s going to be a little tricky to follow up.

The enormous food selection offered to us makes us more fortunate than most of the world. Ours is not a dilemma of obtaining food, ours is a dilemma of choice.

Ay, there’s the rub.

Grocery shopping is prochoice. I have not only an abundance of places to shop, but also an abundance of choices within these places, and that can be a tad overwhelming.

So do I buy ….
made with 70% Organic ingredients
Locally grown
Dolphin friendly
Cruelty Free
Hormone Free
Cage Free
Free Range
Fair Trade

the list goes on. ..

I can pay $1.99 for a gallon of milk or $6 for a gallon of organic milk; 99cents for eggs or $4 for cage free, organic, laid in nests by self-actualized vegetarian chickens’ eggs.

Then there’s Paul Newman’s versus Organic pasta sauce, Amy’s soup versus Campbell’s, organic vs local vs on sale fruits & vegetables.

And really, do I honestly know how the chickens who laid my eggs were treated? Does organic trump free range? Laid in nests over hormone free? Or should I just assume the most expensive one is the best choice?

Okay, I like my eggs free range, my milk hormone free, my coffee and chocolate strong – and also shade grown, fairly traded, and picked by people who are not exploited. And that’s barely breakfast. I also feed three teenagers who, I suspect, may actually be paying attention to the food choices in our kitchen as they plow through them like locus. And since I am independently wealthy I can make all my food choices Ethical Choices – oh, wait…

Even if I were wealthy, what makes a food choice ethical? Is it nobler to buy locally grown tomatoes, or organic from California? How much pesticide is on those grapes from Chile? Just what does free range mean? What does that pig go through before he is the extra crispy bacon on your plate? What do KFC chickens go through before they’re finger lickin’ good? Which fast food restaurant is buying its tomatoes from poorly treated workers? Are we still boycotting Nestle products because of its shameless promotion for infant formula to new mothers? Is anyone else overwhelmed?

When Charlotte asked me to speak today she told me she was not looking for “why I was a vegetarian” also known as “To meat or not to meat” – which is handy, because I’m not. I was, and have a daughter who still is. I like to say my family swings both ways. We use veggie grounds for tacos, pasta sauce, sloppy joe’s and a family favourite, spaghetti pie. When I make a meal with meat I spend the big bucks and get organic. If I eat out (because I have so much money left over after the $4 eggs and $6 jugs of milk) I try to choose places that use ethically treated meat.

Am I perfect? Not even close, but I try. I believe talk is cheap (just like this little freebie we’re having now), and that money talks. I believe the choices we make about where we shop, what we buy and where we eat will determine how food is produced. If everyone decided tomorrow that they would not eat bacon unless it was from pigs that were raised and slaughtered humanely, manufacturers would pay attention and adjust accordingly. If this summer people only purchased locally grown food, the locally grown section in grocery stores would grow.

Is there an easy answer to eating ethically? I don’t think so. Ethical choices aren’t usually the easy, inexpensive or convenient ones. But they are choices.