Liz Baker - Ethically Speaking

Weve all heard the phrase You are what you eat. Have you ever thought about the ethics of eating a hamburger, a bowl of cereal or a piece of fruit?

Everything you eat is the result of a production system and these can vary enormously in terms of their impacts on people and environments. Every food choice we make supports the maintenance of the production system behind it.

Lets consider an example: coffee. What are some of our purchasing options?

We buy instant coffee from a major supermarket. This choice supports a production system based on multinational companies, the global marketplace, agriculture based on pesticides and fertilisers, and small returns to some of the poorest farmers in the world.

We buy major brand ground coffee from a specialty shop. There is not much difference between this option and the first one. The exception is that we are supporting a local business owner. If we buy a brand that uses locally grown coffee then we are also supporting local business and employment, and we might know a bit more about how that coffee is grown and whether it is safe for the environment and for workers.

We buy ground organic coffee from a grower at one of our regions markets. This choice supports a production system that puts us closer to the source of the food. We support a local organic farmer, someone who produces food in a way that minimises harm to the environment and to the farm workers. Our money stays within our local economy and contributes to local employment.

We buy fair trade coffee. The fair trade movement (dont confuse this with free trade) ensures that minimum environmental, health and safety standards are complied with. This includes guaranteed returns to third world producers who do not normally have the power to negotiate fair returns, and the absence of child labour exploitation. What are the ethics of supporting a grower in developing countries instead of a local Northern Rivers grower?

If we add milk and sugar to our coffee then we face similar questions: Where does it come from? How is it produced? How far is it transported? How processed is it? Are there environmental and workplace safeguards in place? Who owns the companies?

All too much? Just want to enjoy your cuppa? Whether we like it or not every choice we make raises ethical issues. If someone was to follow you and note all the food you bought what would they be able to say about your values?

An average supermarket trolley suggests our values include: pay the growers as little as possible; generate as much profit as possible; the cheaper the product the better; processed and packaged food is preferred; quantity not quality; its okay to clear rainforests to grow coffee and so on.

Are these really our values? What about paying a fair price to our farmers or ensuring workers are safe or minimising harm to the environment?

Ethically speaking, its worth a little thought and a few conscious choices. Enjoy your cuppa!

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