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Everything you need to know about eating ethically: a beginner’s guide

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Put simply, ethical eating involves being consciously aware of the environmental concerns, economic issues and industrial influences that would have resulted from the meal on your plate.

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Ethical concerns can include the wages of local farmers, humanely sourced meats, sustainable agriculture methods, food wastage, the carbon footprint of food production, and much more.

It’s a common misconception that eating ethically refers to going vegetarian or vegan. That’s not true! Rather than focusing on what you don’t eat, ethics is actually about what you do eat. It’s essentially your support of the production process that has landed your food from farm (or factory) to plate.

Of course, it is challenging to weigh up every small factor of every ingredient you buy for the household. From apples to frozen fish, grocery shopping can get very strenuous if you’re examining every label. But it doesn’t have to be that hard.

For a beginner, it’s best to focus on a particular point of ethics that you are passionate about. This may differ from neighbour to neighbour, and that’s okay. Any form of ethically eating should, in one way or another, meet the overall main goal: to help the community, the environment and the bodies we feed.

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How to start eating ethically

The answer comes down to a combination of two things: consciousness and research.

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Reading this means you’re already being conscious, so that’s a good start! From here it’s time to investigate the food production system and where some of your favourite meals come from.

  • For example, before purchasing your favourite treat check to see if your chocolate is fair trade. Some chocolates contain palm oil, which is grown in the tropics and destroys rainforests as well as the homes of elephants and tigers. The burning trees also contribute to climate change.
  • There are a number of reliable sources and associations that do most of the hard work for you. In the case of chocolate, you can check if it contains Certified Sustainable Palm Oil from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
  • It’s great to get familiar with such organisations and scan your food options through them. Choose Wisely is an Australian initiative of the RSPCA which helps you dine out and still eat ethically by searching for businesses near you that serve humane food and care about animal welfare.
  • You can also download the Shop Ethical! app on your smartphone to help you make your everyday ethical decisions. It even tells you the eco-friendliness of other categories such as clothing and electronics.

Once you’ve done some research, you’re ready to start making some choices! Cutting out fast food will mean you’re not consuming meat or dairy that are mass-produced or full of preservatives. You’ll also be preventing a whole lot of unnecessary food packaging!

Local and seasonal produce is the direction to point your shopping trolley. Not only will your fruits and veggies taste better, they’ll be healthier. People may not think there’s such a thing as “healthier” fruits and vegetables, but there really is! When you purchase produce that’s out of season, they’re picked early and sprayed with preservatives and radiation. Nothing about that says yum.

Head over to a local farmer’s market and support what’s picked fresh. They generally have a wide variety of foods and haven’t travelled far to get to you. In fact, 49.2% of surveyed Australians say they source their food from local produce or farmer’s markets. Make a day of it with family, friends and get involved with the community!

If you can, why not try to start a veggie patch of your own? Not only is it healthy and can teach the little ones about ethical eating too, but it’s fun to see your own home-grown produce!

Once you are committed to eating ethically, your eco-friendly food options will become more and more of a natural choice to you. Did we mention how much your body will thank you?

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Why ethical eating is important

So why should you bother being concerned about how you ended up with that chicken wrap for lunch, anyway? Because you have the power to change the food system to better the planet. Isn’t that liberating?

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Ethically eating is imperative because it will make a world of difference. Literally. If every person decided to stop eating something specific or only eat something specific, there would be a massive local (and potentially) global movement – affecting everyone from the cherry pickers to the mass meat producers.

Speaking of global effects, did you know that by 2050 the human population will reach 9.2 billion? That’s a lot of mouths to feed! So how will the food system keep up?

It’s quite scary in the grand scheme of things because there will be a massive demand for proteins, while fresh water becomes more scarce and farmlands are affected by serious degradation.

Industrial agriculture is what’s causing this detrimental long-term effect on the environment. If we ditch organic farming and opt for industrialised farming, either because it’s cheaper or more easily accessible, there’s a price to be paid.

Waterways are being contaminated by industrialised farming, resulting in soil and aquatic pollution, while the use of synthetic fertilisers are to blame for dangerous climate change.

Of course, let’s not forget about the animal farming sector. Organic animal farming is certified for following strict animal welfare regulations. Industrialised animal farming on the other hand, involves added hormones and antibiotics, which end up being consumed by the livestock.

This is crucial information that is not clearly displayed on the shelves of supermarkets but is the essence of making ethical purchases.

In the world’s longest study of organic and conventional farming, it was concluded that organic methods are far better. In comparison to conventional farming, organic farming practices maintain biodiversity, save energy and are more efficient.

What’s even more incredible of all of this is that a growing number of agricultural scientists and international experts believe that organic farming increases the world’s food supply and may actually eradicate world hunger.

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