Craving quinoa: The trials of trying to be an ethical consumer

So, I want to buy some quinoa, but there’s been so much press on its unethical production that I can’t bring myself to buy any that isn’t fair-trade, and certified fair-trade quinoa is a FIVER a pack. What’s a girl to do? Healthy eating vs. ethical consumerism?

In recent years the rise in publicity for vegan lifestyles, holistic wellbeing and general healthy living has seen an increase in awareness of ethical rating of the food we consume. There’s been a noticeable increase in people becoming vegan and vegetarian, often because they’ve watched documentaries that tell them that’s the best way to live. There is a huge amount of evidence to support this claim, and I’m not saying this is wrong. Eating a good, balanced vegan or vegetarian diet can be fantastic for your environmental footprint. However, I feel like there’s a lot more to the picture than first meets the eye – for example, in the popular documentary, Cowspiracy, the makers talk about the amount of water used in animal agriculture. It takes 1 gallon of water to produce 1 millilitre of cow milk – that’s a lot, but when I did a bit of research, I found out that it also takes 1.1 gallon of water to produce 1 almond, and it takes 4 gallons of water to produce 1 gram of chocolate. That last fact was a knife in the heart for me. You only need about 16 almonds to make almond milk so its production does use less water than cow milk, but then a bit more research told me that the production of almond milk is harming colonies of honey-bees, and the process of growing almonds involves drilling into the earth, potentially causing earthquakes in California. I don’t really understand, but it doesn’t sound good.

Whilst the mass consumption of meat and animal products has an extremely detrimental effect on the environment (and so personally I would always choose free range/organic over factory-farmed animal produce, and don’t eat meat too often) it is not the one and only evil to be aware of when trying to make ethical consumer choices. In this new hippy-food, toxin-free yogism boom, people don’t seem to be talking about whether their yoga pants were made in a sweat shop, or how much the people that grew their superfoods were paid. In this environment of heightened concern over animal cruelty, it seems many are forgetting about human cruelty. When the health conscious are enjoying an animal-cruelty-free fruit salad, are they using fair-trade bananas? Was that pomegranate flown over from Asia? Did they buy their berries from a chain supermarket instead of supporting their struggling local greengrocer?

The increase in awareness of what we are consuming is definitely a step in the right direction, and it’s great to consider ethics when spending money – I am definitely not saying ‘Give up, eat chicken nuggets’ – but when your budget only allows for a limited amount of superior food produce and sweat-shop free clothing, and these things can be difficult to source to be (not everything says on the packaging where or how it’s made), it can be tricky. Maybe the answer is to buy everything second hand, grow my own vegetables, keep my own livestock, and collect rainwater to drink and wash in. But right now this isn’t possible in the scrapyard at the back of my student house in Hyde Park, so instead I will keep doing my best to buy free range eggs and resist Asda quinoa

Patsy O’Neill

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