Wednesday, August 1, 2012

a conundrum of ethic proportions

I knew, deep down, when we made the decision to move from the suburbs to the sea, that such a move would involve big changes.

And it really has. We welcomed new life and love to our family. I started thinking about living more simply, buying more consciously, and began twelve months of meaningful giving. I even learned how to make my own deoderant.

But in the days that have followed our lovely excursion on the farm gate trail, I've been struggling to come to terms with the truth, and feasability, of ethical consumption. I finished off my shopping, as per normal today. I did the groceries at the sort-of-local BiLo. I gave myself a mental pat on the back as I popped organic raw sugar into my trolley, over my usual store-brand raw sugar. Well done me, so ethical. So mindful.

During the quiet unpacking moment in my day (OK, I haven't put the pantry stuff away yet, my attention was diverted when I smashed a jar of anchovies all over the floor), I picked up the packet of sugar. Australian Certified Organic, the front reads. Then I read the back. And got pissed off. Packaged in Australia from imported ingredients. I understand the rule of reading the fine print, I really do. But the Australian certification kind of gave me the feeling that this was a local product. I should also note that I made the choice to buy this sugar because it was only slightly more expensive that my regular buy. I didn't buy organic flour, because it was easily more than double the price.

Then we popped into the butcher. I've been shopping there weekly for about 3 months now. Every week I tell myself I am going to ask about the source of the meat I am buying. And every week I chicken out. I feel like there would be something offensive in me saying So can you tell me about where the animals are raised? What are the conditions like? And I know these are valid questions, but in my head I just sound narky. So I ended up buying way less than I normally do, as if that compensates for thrusting my head firmy into the sand.

Off to the fruit and veggie shop, which I love. A small, independently owned shop, with beautiful produce. I only needed apples and coriander after our lovely haul from the farm gates, but I grabbed a punnet of strawberries as a treat for my two smalls, who were doing a really nice job of behaving like humans. As we polished off three quarters of a punnet, I noticed that the delicious strawberries were from North Queensland. That little treat travelled (conservatively) 900kms. That's from the farm to my place, without travelling to a wholesaler or market first. Oh.

The thing is, I don't know about this stuff. I grew up in the suburbs, with parents who did their absolute best to feed, clothe, shelter and educate a large family on a limited budget. Here are some words I never heard around the dinner table growing up: ethical, organic, biodynamic, free-range, food miles. I don't recall eating a single vegetarian meal throughout my childhood. That's not to say my parents didn't do an awesome job- we were raised on simple, healthy food. Watching my mum cook gave me the gift of being able to pull a meal together using a few questionable zucchini and a packet of pasta whatever I have at hand.

Each question seems to uncover yet more questions. I don't feel like I'll ever get to the bottom of these issues, and how they relate to the choices I make. And even if I do get to the bottom of it all, what if we just can't afford to make the most ethical choice every time? If I make some ethical choices, where we can, does that just make me a 'weekend greenie'? I know that I am certainly going to keep on digging. I unearthed this article today, and it helped me focus my thinking a little. Whilst the list of things that just seem too hard seems to grow with the more I find out, there are some things I can do. The weekend's excursion showed me that we can get a good range of fruit and veg direct from the grower. It does involve an hour-and-a-half round trip, so we'll have to factor that into our week, somewhere. I can minimise the amount of meat we are eating, while I investigate ethical practices and look at where to source. I can choose organic, but I feel more inclined to buy local than to buy organic imports. I can keep reading stories from other parents asking the same questions, challenging themselves to feed their families in an ethical way. So many are so much further along this road than I am, I'm grateful to be able to follow along their journeys, too.


  1. I admire people who are so commited ethical, organic purchasing and eating... we do try but its so damn hard, like you realised there are suprises around every corner and sometimes its just easier to do whats easiest.

    I love your paragraph about food in your childhood, there is so much more awareness now isn't there?

  2. It is an absolute minefield of green washing, compromise and choices but it DOES become easier over time. We have been on this path for about three years, ever so slowly evolving our habits while maintaining our small budget and doing what we can along the way. I feel now that I have it mostly under control but as you said it is all new to us and like all new things need a lot of thought and research. ANY adjustment to a standard household purchasing is beneficial, keep at it! :)

  3. Wow, I could've written this.. There are so many things to think about when you start to purchase consciously. And I think in some respects it makes it more difficult. So easy were the days when I bought without caring. Now I care about organic but do I want organic if it's from South America versus the non-organic, but local produce? Tough. Have you read 'The ethics of what we eat' by Peter Singer? Interesting. So is 'The omnivore's dilemma'.

    My answer is to commit to making the best decision at the time with the information you have on hand, and not beating yourself up about it. xx

  4. Ladies, thanks so much for your kind words and support on this. Reading some things around this topic, I am a bit hesitant to discuss it, in case someone wants to play "i am so greener than you are". But your advice and ideas are welcome and helpful. Kate I will check out those readings, and completely agree: we can only work with the knowledge we have at the time!

    I stood at the milk fridge for five minutes that other day, debating in my head 'store brand vs dairy farmers'. I can buy three store brand bottles to two dairy farmers. i bought the dairy farmers.

  5. I could have well written this post as well. It's been a topic that has weighed heavily on my mind and heart this year and ever so slowly we are changing our ways for the better but you are so right...the more you read the more questions you are left with.
    I just keep telling myself it will get easier over time :)



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