Editors discuss food choice ethics.
Margaret Atwood’s novel “Oryx and Crake” imagines a future where chicken nuggets no longer come from an actual chicken but rather grow in a lab, multiple nuggets stemming from a feeding tube. These nuggets would taste exactly like traditional chicken, without requiring a living animal. However, the concept of chicken-free chicken still makes my stomach turn, and judging by my fellow English-11 classmates’ disgusted expressions, I was not alone. This begs the question, why should we care so much about where our food comes from?
In a world where nearly every food has a label – organic, free range, grass fed, etc. – it is difficult to judge where marketing ends and food begins. For instance, farmers must pay hundreds to thousands of dollars for USDA Organic certification, meaning this cost would only be justified if there was something to gain from labeling food as “natural” and “good.” Food and diet choices become mixed up with morality.
It’s crucial that we look beyond marketing to research the nuanced stories behind what we eat. For instance, the protein and fiber-rich grain quinoa is a staple health food for many. However, it primarily comes from Peru and Bolivia, meaning its passage to places like Kansas creates a significant carbon footprint, and recent increased demand means many farmers can’t afford their own product. I don’t mean to fault anyone for eating quinoa, but merely to emphasize how complicated value judgments about food are. Is it more sustainable to buy quinoa shipped across oceans or beef from your own state? The answer is incredibly subjective.
Further complicating matters is the vast amount of misinformation about the food industry. I’ve seen graphics reposted on Instagram encouraging veganism which claim that livestock and their byproducts are responsible for 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, the percentage is roughly 14.5% according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. I have nothing against veganism, but when people inadvertently validate their choices with misinformation, it becomes harder for the rest of us to make educated decisions.
Whatever diet you choose, remember that with so many factors like sustainability, accessibility, preference and more at play, no food can be entirely good or bad. While it may be more comfortable to enjoy a cheeseburger or quinoa salad without a side of morality, we must make decisions about what to eat every single day. To the best of our abilities, we should not make those choices in a vacuum. After all, you are what you eat.
This article originally appeared in The Chronicle