You Say You Want Ethical Food, But Really You Want Cheap Food

People today are increasingly demanding restaurant food that is ethical, interesting, and of high quality. Or at least, that’s what they say they want. True demand, in the economic sense (which is the sense that counts in the food industry) is what matters here. In other words, it’s easy to say you want x, y, and z when some reporter or university researcher or PETA rep with a clip-board gets in your face. But when you’re in line at McDonald’s, you may choose differently.

Check out this short piece on that topic:
Millennials are lying about what they want to eat, and it’s destroying fast food

“…All of these efforts flopped, and there’s an important reason: Millennials are lying about their food habits.

Millennials say they want food that is high quality, free of additives, and sustainable, but they aren’t always willing or able to pay for it….”

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Guide to Food Labelling

Food labelling is a very. big. issue. Some labels matter a lot. Some matter less. Some labels are required by law. Some are not. Some labels have clear, precise, even regulated meanings. Others are purely a matter of convention, and others mean very little at all.

One of the most important kinds of labels, naturally, are ones mandated by regulations. But what those regulations require, and what the labels mean, is not always clear. So some of you will be interested to see this FDA Food Labeling Requirements Ebook, published by label company supplier I haven’t read the book yet, and can’t attest to its accuracy, etc., but it looks useful.

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The Moral Hierarchy of Food

This piece focuses on the way in which an obsession with food is in some sense replacing (or parodying?) religion, for some people.

The new religion: How the emphasis on ‘clean eating’ has created a moral hierarchy for food

Professor Gillian McCann “argues that the rise in food movements has coincided with a decline of religion in society, with many people seeking familiar values such as purity, ethics, goodness. But these movements also tend to encourage behaviours that have steered a generation away from religion: Judgment, self-righteousness, an us-versus-them mentality.”

As my pal Andrew Potter would likely point out, here, most of what we observe in this moral hierarchy of food is consistent with another hypothesis, namely that the holier-than-thou aspect is yet another instance of the basic human drive toward status-seeking. In other words, part of the way one person makes herself feel special, feel superior, both in her own eyes and in the eyes of others, is by finding new and exotic ways to differentiate herself in terms of diet.
This was parodied nicely in the episode of the Simpsons in which Lisa tries use her veganism to impress her new boyfriend, who replies, “I’m a level 5 vegan — I won’t eat anything that casts a shadow.”

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Testing GMO Foods

This piece is terrific. It’s about the testing that genetically modified foods go through in Canada, and the misconceptions people continue to have in that regard. It should be considered required reading.

The Right Chemistry: Marketing genetically modified foods requires substantial testing

Marketing a novel genetically modified food requires evidence that its chemical composition is substantially equivalent to the non-GMO version of the product, which can be demonstrated by subjecting a sample to chromatographic and spectroscopic analysis. These instrumental techniques produce a series of signals representing individual compounds that can then be compared with those from a conventional version of the food. Any significant difference would require labelling.

Such testing is not required when novel, conventionally produced foods are introduced into the marketplace…

Note also the great anecdote about the guy who shuns tomatoes because he’s not sure “which ones” have fish DNA that might trigger his allergy to fish. The correct answer, of course, is “none of them,” since there are no GM tomatoes on the market, let alone ones with fish genes.

Ethically, educating yourself is a prerequisite for participating in public debate.

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Culinary Modernism: A Defence of Processed Foods

This excellent article by Rachel Laudan is an argument in favour of culinary modernism, and against Luddism. It is, in effect, a defence of processed foods. Laudan is an historian, by the way, as well as a foodie. The article is a terrific read.

“A Plea for Culinary Modernism”

The Luddites’ fable of disaster, of a fall from grace, smacks more of wishful thinking than of digging through archives. It gains credence not from scholarship but from evocative dichotomies: fresh and natural versus processed and preserved; local versus global; slow versus fast: artisanal and traditional versus urban and industrial; healthful versus contaminated and fatty. History shows, I believe, that the Luddites have things back to front.

Posted in ethics

Synthetic Meat Gets Cheap(er)

Check out: Cost of lab-grown burger patty drops from $325,000 to $11.36. As this blog entry from Science Alert reminds us, the notion of synthetic meat made the news in a big way back in 2013. (See my: Ethics of the World’s First Synthetic Burger.) Today, advances in the technology mean that the price (or rather, the cost of producing, which is not quite the same thing) a pound of synthetic beef has dropped dramatically.

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Labour in the Food Industry

Check out this piece by Stephen Lurie, writing for Vox: You care about where your food comes from. Shouldn’t you care about who grew and picked it?

Lurie is arguing that the food you consume embodies a certain set of values, in particular values related to how the workers who harvested and processed that food are treated. You implicitly endorse those values when you purchase and consume. The values, you might say, are baked right in. So you get to choose what values to endorse by the choices you make. So far, Lurie’s is a familiar theme: conscious consumerism.

But, Lurie notes, the ability to engage in conscious consumerism is limited. For example, “While fair-trade products attempt to eradicate poverty abroad, consumers don’t have much of a choice to support a living wage in this country.” Labour, and in particular wages, amounts to the most under-attended-to ethical issue related to food today.

Posted in agriculture, labour, ethics, choice, fairtrade