Several folks have commented recently that my grocery challenges are making them very uncomfortable. My choice to consume factory farmed chicken as well as conventionally grown fruits and vegetables apparently strikes some people as unethical.
So, I want to start off by saying that I do think it's a valid concern. I am in NO WAY a fan of either conventional agricultural techniques nor the factory farming system. I think that the broad use of pesticides, herbicides, hormones, genetic modification, and sub par living conditions for farm animals leaves us all on very shaky moral ground, and is something that we all ought to be concerned about.
That being said, I have to say that I find it quite curious that in recent years, people seem to place the ethical and environmental implications of our food choices WAY above the ethical and environmental implications of virtually all other decisions that we make in our daily lives.
And for reasons that I don't completely understand, we seem to have decided that criticizing other people's food choices on ethical/environmental grounds is OK, whereas making similar criticisms of other choices would be unthinkable.
For example, if someone announces that they're going on vacation, our general response tends to be, "That's fantastic, have a wonderful time!"
But let's say someone were to respond with something like, "Gee, don't you think it's unethical to spew that amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere simply so you can have the pleasure of flying halfway around the world to sit on a manmade beach where there used to be a mangrove forest? Don't you have moral qualms about participating in the destruction of coastal habitats and contributing to global warming merely for your own frivolous entertainment?"
I mean we'd probably think that such a response was rude, inappropriate and extreme.
Similarly, if someone decides to have a child, we react with joy and are happy for them. You don't generally hear people calling that decision into question and pointing out that there are already 7 billion people on this planet, which is WAY more than the earth can sustainably support.
If someone gets a new job, we congratulate them. We don't tend to ask them to justify the decision to spend 40 hours per week working for a multinational corporation that may be engaged in any number of environmental and ethically questionable behaviors.
Neither do we tend to lambast people for choosing to take a job that involves a commute, or demands that they take regular business trips, or requires them to purchase business attire and thereby contribute to the horrendous conditions of garment workers throughout the world, or necessitates a bevy of electronic devices which are all filled with untold environmental toxins and will become completely obsolete in a few years time.
Now, I'm not making the argument that any of the above decisions is immoral, I'm just saying that we make a myriad of lifestyle choices day in and day out, all of which have significant ethical and environmental implications that we all seem to collectively accept as "unavoidable" or simply the "cost of doing business" in the modern world.
But for some reason, when you start talking about food choices, people literally come unhinged.
It all leaves me feeling quite puzzled. Why is it that we have such an emotional reaction to food choices as compared to other choices?
Is it because food is such a primal part of our existence? Is it because there have been so many "awareness raising" films etc produced on this topic recently? Is it because we're obsessed with topics like obesity and weight? Is it because on some level we're uncomfortable with our omnivore status and can't handle the idea of killing another being for food? Is it because we've all bought into the idea that through food we can simply shop our way out of our current societal mess?
Maybe it's all of the above, I really don't know.
In my darker moments I tend to think that we've glommed onto food choices as the be all and end all because it's a convenient way to blame poor people for all of our societal ills.
I mean it's all good and well to say that we ought to be willing to spend more money on food in order to support more sustainable and ethical practices - that's easy to say when your choices are things like "should I buy organic food, or spend a night out on the town?"
But when you're faced with decisions like "Do I pay the rent or eat?" I think the relative morality tends to get a bit more murky.
I dunno, I guess I just think that it's easier to judge people for not being willing or able to spend more for more ethical food, than it is to suggest that people should give up their vacations, or cars, or big houses, or manicured lawns, or large families, or designer jeans, or smart phones or... the list goes on...
I want to be clear that I don't think that either of the people who raised ethical concerns about my decision to eat factory farmed chicken are acting holier than thou or blaming the poor or anything like that. I just think it's an example of the "food wars" that seem to have taken center stage lately when it comes to questions of morality.
At any rate, I intended this discussion to be an introduction to a post about my own food decisions, but it seems to have taken on a life of its own. So I think I'll leave the topic of my own ethical compromises for another day.
But I'm curious to know what y'all think about this subject. Why do you think it is that people have such a visceral reaction to other people's food choices?