Ethics are about how people make decisions in life, while considering the good for individuals and society (1). When ethics are linked to our everyday practice with food eating, they produce what so-called ‘ethical eating’. Ethics are different between people, as what might be ethical to one, might not be for another, like eating pork and cows in some religions and countries. In addition to that, each person has his own priorities when it is coming to food. Keeping in mind, the relation between food and country like the noodles in China, the pizza in Italy, Fish and Chips in UK and the burger in US. At the end all people no matter how much they are different, they are all practicing eating every day. So will they be similar or different in terms of ethical eating ?!
According to Food and Agriculture organization FAO, There are some significant differences between consumers in developed and developing countries in terms of food safety and food consumption. Consumers in developed countries are expecting more than ‘safe food’. They expect food to taste good and to meet their nutritional needs, in addition to that, they prefer food to be produced ethically respecting the environment, animal health and welfare. While, in developing countries on the other hand, the concerns are still about access and availability of a nutritious diet throughout the year at an affordable cost. Which means that people’s expectation in developing countries about food is to make sure first that there is food to be eaten.
To understand about individuals’ practices in ethical eating, I shared a question in my Facebook page, asking my friends to share their thoughts, starting from buying ingredients and products to cooking and finally eating. Surprisingly their answers were not the same as I was expecting, keeping in mind that all of them are almost, coming from the same culture, speaking the same language, and live in same country. Some of them talked about table manners/etiquette and using of fork and spoon. Others talked about their concern of food waste, and how they manage to buy more products when there are some offers in market so they can save money, but in the same time they cook less food . Also, some mentioned how they prefer to buy local food for health matters. However, what was more interesting is to see some, who have high level of awareness and knowledge in this field, they do consider cruelty free products, and buy whole chicken rather than parts of it to avoid being part of food waste process, also not to consume vegetables or fruit out of their seasons for environmental perspectives. How interesting! Personally when I first heard about ethical eating, first thing came to my mind,is what was offered by media, I remembered an advertisement ,from Ramadhan, about respecting others efforts from Almarai company, which was on TV fro the whole month. The video encourages the viewers to respect all resources and not to waste food.
Media nowadays is the magical tool of change, people’s thoughts are being shaped based on what media offers including ‘social media’. The majority of my friends’ related ethics to less waste. Not just media, that might be also, due to their religion ‘Islam’ which include treating animals and people in a good way. On the other hand, considering that 98% of hungry people are living in developing countries due to 2015 statistics FAO(2), that might explain why people there link ethics to waste reduction. They already live the tragedy!
.The concept is same in developed countries, the difference that it has a name ‘Ethical eating’. Developed countries might focus more on the environmental aspects due to the high level of awareness from media. In UK for example, person can decide either to go or even not to go for organic food, fair trade products, or even to stop consuming meat and become vegetarian.
There are also some organization that keep an eye on market’s performance, such as PETA UK, or Oxfam,which released a report in 2013 blaming some big food brands for their poor ethical performance (3). Also, Ethical Consumer organization which offer regular updates specially for supermarkets due to their ethical performance based on different factors relates to environment, animal welfare, people, politics, and products’ sustainability. The interesting thing, that even after this result that ranked Aldi and lidl at the bottom with zero out of twenty, people still going there. That does not necessarily mean that they do not practice ethics in their eating, but simply it means that their ethics standards are flexible, or maybe these two supermarkets are the only two that they can afford.
A study was conducted in Canada to understand the cultural repertoire of ethical eating showed that people from marginalized socio-demographic and ethnic backgrounds, appeared to have less access to ethical eating , the study also emphasized that this does not mean that these people are unethical in their consumption practices, and that they might see inviting a poor neighbor for food as an ethical eating. The study also showed that some who have higher income, buy ethical food because they want to distinguish themselves from others.
Accordingly, the choices that we make about our food do vary, due to the availability of food first, then the variety of products, then to our income comparing to ethical food’s prices, and finally to our personal priority. All of us practice ethical eating on our own terms, that might be according to the challenges we face in our countries, the content we have in our media, or even our level of awareness, and most importantly, our personal ethics and values.
‘You’ can be any one from any place, and ‘Me’ can be any other one from same or different place, however, at the end our practices will always be based on the choices we have.