Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Thoughts on Ethical Eating, "Healthfood" Stores, and Sustainable Food

Part 1:  I'm a Ramblin' Man
Ok, so maybe I ought to put "ethical" from 'ethical eating' in bunny ears.  I'm still eating meat but, as I will explain,  I am making an effort to make sure that the meat I eat is humanely "produced" (?)--and I'm not eating bunny ears.  Man, I can't even write a got-tam sentence without qualifications and doubts.  Ok, how about this:  I'm just going to start writing and I'll have to qualify some stuff later otherwise nothing's going to get done, and ain't nobody got time for a post about nothin'.

First of all, as you may have guessed, I have serious doubts about whether it's ethical to eat meat at all--regardless of how it was raised.  This is why for that last 4 or 5 years, I've been intentionally avoiding reading on the topic.  Ignorance is bliss.  Well, that and the fact that I need to eat meat to maintain my lifestyle.  There it is. The heart of all arguments for eating meat: selfishness and willful ignorance.  

In the past I thought perhaps I could justify my meat-eating because my income depends on having a particular body-type.  That is to say, my income for the last 6 years has been directly related to having a muscular, lean body.  That body-type requires high protein-low carb diet virtually impossible to obtain on a vegetarian diet.  You might be able to get enough protein by eating a ton o' beans but beans also contain a lot carbs; and so to get the protein, I'd have to take in a lot calories I don't need.   And we all know what happens to unused calories.  Bye bye rector abdominalis

So, in the past my argument was something like this: since my livelihood depends on a diet that requires meat, it is morally permissible for me to eat meat.  

But here's the problem.  Once you start to become sympathetic to the idea that eating meat is immoral, my argument doesn't work anymore.  For example, suppose your livelihood depended on eating the body parts of humans.  Nobody in their right mind would give this a pass as justification for eating humans.  The normal response would be, well, you should probably find another way to make a living.  It's not like anyone's putting a gun to my head to make me do my job.

Then there's the further problem of "humanely" raised (?) produced (?) meat.  If you find intuitive appeal in the moral principle that we ought not to kill sentient life when it is not necessary to do so, then it doen't seem to matter that animals are humanely or inhumanely raised for meat.  Nobody--except (perhaps) a few very rare medical cases--needs to eat meat.  Sure, a lot of gym rats might lose some inches on their biceptors but do they need the extra inches? (On their arm...)  I mean, is the need so great that a sentient being has to lose its life?  Do hundreds of chickens a year per gym rat need to die so someone can have bigger pecs?  How do you justify that in any intelligible way? 

One might respond that if the animals are given a good life before the slaughter, then it's ok.  But I'm still not convinced by this argument.  Is the satisfaction of our selfish unnecessary human desires so important as to make permissible the killing of other sentient life?  

Anyway, I don't want to dwell too much on the arguments against eating meat; in this post, I mostly want to recount what it's like to make the transition to shopping at the "healthfood" supermarket.

Part 2: "Healthfood" Stores
O.                                   M.                          G.    Where to begin?  Alright...machine gun approach.  I feel like I just walked into an alternate universe where pseudo-science reigns supreme.  Homeopathy?  There's a whole section of the store devoted to it.  It boggles the mind that in this day and age, with modern scientific research readily available on the intertubes that people fall for this stuff.  

But the inundation of pseudoscience isn't by biggest gripe.  My biggest gripe is that the majority of the food that is prominently displayed isn't healthful at all.  The amount of "all natural" candy, jube jubes, potato chips (they're organic!), chocolate covered almonds (get your anti-oxidants here!), soft drinks, etc... makes me want to scream.  

Here's the deali-yo.  All I ever hear from the eat-natural, occupy-food movement people is how the big (bad) evil food corporations are pushing unhealthy choices on consumers.  Now, I'm not disagreeing.  In fact, I totally agree.   But the health food stores are worse!  

These denizens of deceit are not only pushing unhealthy food choices like a US pharmaceutical company pushes drugs but they are doing it while gleefully announcing how healthful and "natural" these foods are.  The labels are a study in shameless hucksterism (is there any other kind?) and hypocrisy. 

Candied acai berries scream, "boost your immune system!"  Chocolate covered everything bellows, "no preservatives" as though the fact that you are eating 1000 calories is totally negated by this claim.  Soft drink labels brag about "real sugar" as though this again compensates for the unneeded calories and lack of nutrition.  The assortment of gummy candies is bewildering--but they're fat free! I don't even know what to say.  Not a thing in the store is sold without some sort of outrageous health claim.  

This might not be so egregious if all the junk food were tucked away in some aisle at the end.  But where is all this stuff displayed?  Right in the most prominent places in the store...and not only that, but the bulk candy section is proportionally bigger than the candy section you'd find in a regular supermarket.

When I go through the check out, I look at what other people have bought.  It's totally anecdotal but for what it's worth you don't see food choices any better or worse than you would see in a regular supermarket.  Some people have by-passed the devilishly advertised junkfood and opted for small amounts of (over-priced) organic fruits and veggies, while others have fallen prey.  

It's a travesty of a mockery of a sham.

Part 3:  Bring it Back Around Again
Ok, one last complaint, bringing this back to the original theme of the post:  "humanely" raised meat.  It's twice the price of regular meat.  Don't get me wrong.  I expect to pay a little more for a product that isn't factory produced.  But double?  

They want $7.00 for enough shaved turkey to make maybe 2 sandwiches.  I used to buy the premium sandwich meat with no preservatives or hormones etc.. (but not humanely raised to my knowledge) and that was $4.00 and I got about 3 sandwiches out of it.  That's a real difference over the course of a year.

I've read stuff in the past on the price of organic fruits of vegetables being inflated because retailers know consumers are willing to pay it.  But this does a huge disservice to the (ostensible) primary mission of the sustainable food movement.  People who might otherwise have made ethical food choices are priced out of the market just so youz guys can make fat profits.  This is starting to sound like a familiar story...

Now, I'm sure that not every organic food provider (wholesaler or retailer) is gouging customers.  Also, my research on the matter is spotty at best.  However, suppose there's some truth to this idea that organic food prices (the food not the prices) are inflated.  Suppose that organic food producers know that people who make their food choices based on ethics are willing to pay a premium.  (Maybe it's a conspiracy!...Whoa! Dude!)  It wouldn't be too outlandish if there were at least some truth to this supposition at some level of the distribution chain.

Ok, so if we grant that supposition, it seems that at least some elements of the sustainable food movement are an imposition to its primary goal (world domination).

Fat-Free Conclusion (that also cures cancer)
So, where am I going with all this?  We've got ethical quandaries with eating meat, a hypocritical "health" food industry, and possible (but likely) price over-inflation.  Answer, I don't know.  I do know that I support the ostensible ideological aims of the sustainable food movement but I am disappointed by what I done seen in the healthfood store.  

My disappointment probably stems from the fact that I'm probably still too much of a got-tam idealist.  You'd think the world would have squashed it out of me by now...

Possible reply:  Health food stores aren't really part of the sustainable food movement.  They are just one more example of capitalism finding a market and exploiting it.  True sustainable food shopping requires going to farmers markets; i.e., buying directly from producers.  

Possibly.  I think there may be some truth there.  However, (a) this reeks a little bit of the "no-true-Scotman" fallacy and (b) there are plausible economic arguments against the environmental impact of small scale production and movement of goods versus having these things done on a mass scale.  Anyone who's taken more than a few weeks of Econ can tell you about economies of scale... 

Meh...I'm done with this post.  Gimmi some feedback.  Sustainable eating is something I'm rasslin' with right now.   I'm open to suggestion. 


  1. In almost any case whatever you eat it was alive at some point. Why do our bodies have the ability to digest meat? Because they were/are designed to comsume it. Face it, the is a "food chain" in every aspect of life. Our jobs, societal rank, friendships etc and in the literal one we are part of it. Face it an animal that is hungry would not spend one second debating the comsumption of you if you were the meal in front of it. I get the ethical treatment issue but the moral reasoning not at all. I know your stance on God so I will go to Darwin. We have evolved genetically (yes creationism and evolution do go together) to be able to comsume it and with out a belirf in God are not the basis of your morals what you then make them? This is not intended to start the whole God no god debate but to possibly provide a few constructs from which to go. BTW Whole foods grass fed beef sirloin is a actually at a decent price point and tastes awesome.

    Rob H.

  2. 1. Re:" In almost any case whatever you eat it was alive at some point." True (trivially). But is there not a important distinction between sentient life that can suffer and life that cannot? You might respond that the chain of being is a continuum with no clear demarkation line, and you'd be right; but this does not negate the fact that we can, in many cases, point to clear examples of sentient life.

    2. "Face it there's a food chain in every aspect of life. This is the classic is/ought fallacy. In most cases, you cannot deduce a moral conclusion from a descriptive claim. For example, just because I can eat Christian babies, it doesn't necessarily follow that I should. (Of course I should, but this is a different argument). Or, just because I can deforest an environment, it doesn't follow that I should. Just because I can punch someone in the face, it doesn't follow that I should. Just because I can deceive someone, it doesn't follow that I should--even if my personality is such that it is "natural" for me to do so. Generally (but not always) moral conclusions do not follow from descriptive claims about the world.

    3. There are important differences between a human and an animal killing for food. (a) The human doesn't need to, the animal does. (b) the human can reflect on other possible options, the animal cannot.

    4. I'm not clear what your last point is regarding evolution but it seems like you are saying something like, because we've evolved with the capacity to do something, then it is ethical to do that thing. You don't need me to come up with counter examples to that claim! Also, this is a subset of your argument in 2, and the same objections apply. We might even use your argument to conclude the opposite: evolution has lead us to be able to reflect upon the ethical implications of our actions as opposed to merely following our instincts or forming ethical conclusions based on what our prehistoric ancestors' biology was evolved to do.

  3. Thank yous Ami. I hate having to pay twice as much too! Damn them! Even buying those 'healthy' cookies costs twice as much. I don't see how a family can afford it. You are right on the money when you say that it prices out so many people who want to eat ethically and healthy.

    And one more point to meat eating: humans are also growing and growing in population. It becomes more and more necessary to crowd our beef, pigs, chickens and other meats in pens. In other words, the larger our population, the less likely we will be able to afford raising meat products ethically. Not only that, but it takes 50/1 grain/beef lbs. to produce meat, by some standards (alright, there are many standards, but none of which are 1/1 or anywhere close to it). If our population continues to grow, it will be detrimental to continue on such a high meat diet. I also agree with all the points you made already Amikins.

  4. Thank you for you comment "unknown" ;)