For us, food and ethics are a perfect fit – a bit like strawberries and cream!
Many of us take ethical stances about what we choose to eat; some of those positions may be contentious, others have become fairly mainstream. If you’ve got an opinion about why you should or shouldn’t – for instance – buy fair trade, eat organic or support animal welfare standards, you’re taking an ethical position. In short, you could say ‘I eat, therefore I engage in ethics’.
To mark the twin celebrations of food and ethics we took to Twitter and asked people to tell us what they saw as the biggest food ethics challenge currently facing the world.
Twitter is rather a blunt instrument to tackle such a vast and complex set of issues, but it does give a snapshot on any given day of the kind of things that the people who are interested in food are preoccupied with. So, here goes…
Most people who tweeted replies to our question were concerned about the twin issues of nutrition and affordability. Their key concerns were around pricing and quality, with one person wanting to “close the nutrition divide – ensuring healthy food is a right not a privilege”, and another arguing for a “cheaper price for healthier food and a more expensive [price] for unhealthy food”.
The nutrition theme included the public health implications of eating foods that are high in sugar, salt and saturated fats, and portion control (especially in restaurants). Some people joined the dots between affordable, healthy food and farmers getting a fair price: “Affordable food and fair prices for farmers; cheaper foods shouldn’t be less healthy” as one person put it.
Many responses to our question concerned how to “balance sustainability of production (including ethics) with affordability and access”. They called for a food system whose primary goal is “producing good, ethical, sustainable food”, and “effectively integrat[ing] food, health and nature policies to deliver great food, jobs, quality of life for people and wildlife.”
Crucially, there was a feeling that everyone needs to be more engaged in where our food comes from, how it’s produced and whether it’s nutritious and affordable. One particular tweeter made a plea for “helping people become participants in the food system, not just consumers of food”.
That participation could involve changing shopping and eating habits – eating less meat, wasting less food – or ensuring that people are able to make more informed choices about the farming systems behind their food, perhaps through labelling.
It could also include becoming actively aware of and involved in the bigger issues of how we treat our ecosystems. An informed citizen can make choices that help to sustain our land and oceans. We all need to be engaged in the “ethical preservation of soil, rain, forests and seas”.
The pairing of World Food Day and Global Ethics Day gave us a good excuse to think about what food issues are important to us, and the potential impacts of our food choices on others.
It was refreshing – and encouraging – to hear the views of many people on Twitter who are clearly concerned about the state of our food systems, and are working hard – as individuals and in organisations – to change them for the better.