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  • Danielle Han

"To eat or not to eat?"

#FailedJobEntry: I wrote this as a writing sample for a job I never got.

I chose to examine this topic mostly because I'd heard so many anecdotal accounts on how to eat healthily, sustainably, and/or ethically--and wanted to see for myself what these intentions really entailed. While living in the UK, I've especially grown accustomed to hearing recommendations on being an 'ethical' consumer. Though this piece only cracks into the beginning of what ethical eating really looks like, writing it helped me further understand the dimensions of conscious eating.

To eat or not to eat?

The pursuit for ethical consumption remains largely anarchic. Between locavores counting your food miles and the ever-growing fruitarian legion encouraging Veganuary January, minimising the carbon footprint of your shopping cart seems impossible. That’s not to say the advice of ‘shop-local’ champions and plant-based consumers is moot: there are tons of effective ways to incorporate sustainable decisions in everyday life. It does not take much more than a cursory internet investigation to find some moral direction to bring to your next grocery haul. Beyond the mixed messages of swinging from one extreme shopping pattern to another, there are a few certain suggestions:

  • Avoid easily-perishable goods originating from off-shore farms: if they couldn’t have endured a slow-moving cargo ship journey, they were probably flown in. Air- freighted food may only account for a tiny fraction of food miles (how much it takes for farm products to reach your plate), but uses a proportionally detrimental amount of carbon emissions compared to its transportive counterparts.

  • Cut meat-intake. Beef is notoriously harmful in all environmental aspects, and it takes a colossal amount of ecological energy to produce animal products as a whole. A vegan diet could reduce a consumer’s greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 50%, rendering even small-scale reductions in meat diets massively constructive.

  • Know the difference between local, organic, and global – and when to choose each one. Instead of committing loyalty to any particular category or fixating on marginal differences like food miles, calibrate energy efficiency and make an informed decision.

Wrangling the most productive solution from each individual consumer seems beyond the bounds of reason. Perhaps then, the answer is in a solution that stands out of vogue in the whole consumption conversation and brings it back to the farm – crop diversity. Sponsored by the UN Sustainable Development Goals as a method of combatting world hunger, biodiversity stands as an increasingly compelling opportunity to engage overfarming practices with long-term solutions. Current trends of crop homogeneity are leaving harvests vulnerable to disaster and environmental degradation. Introducing different sorts of vegetation would alter this trajectory. Through cultivating better soil and allowing natural recourse, biodiversity could remedy existing issues such as climate change. Additionally, crop diversification could improve general nourishment and maximize product efficiency. If farmers are given the agency and resources to infuse their agricultural practices with ethical decisions, then the consumer need not worry so much about this hypothetical aisle predicament. Crop diversity and biodiversity stand as long-term goals that not only empower local farmers but promote area-specific solutions conducive to long-term conservation practices. Rodrigo Barrios of Crop Trust, an organization that focuses on such methods, emphasizes the importance of orienting individual habitats to biodiversity work: “the main area of growth is identifying national collections, gene banks hosted by countries that also have unique material. Usually those gene banks have underutilized or neglected crops, or indigenous crops that don’t exist anywhere else. We identify all biodiversity, internationally, that is fundamental for food security, nutrition, and agriculture, and we ensure that the gene banks are funded in perpetuity provided they are up to standard.” In conditioning farms with the requisite factors of ethical and practical agricultural practices, biodiversity could resolve the unsolvable question of buying ethical goods. Crop diversity remains underrated as the fix-all solution for the ethical question relating to consumption. It would probably require a concerted movement to promote responsible consumer behavior, along with shifting foci that connect locavores and vegans alike. If the science exists to prove biodiversity is a universally beneficial decision, then perhaps the focus should be to mobilize such activists to pursue the same solution.


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