Not so long ago, I’ve started to question where my food comes from.
Not so long ago. Because, when you’re in recovery from an eating disorder, what matters is not questioning food. Eating it. Trying to enjoy it. Learning to love it. You already have enough rules and prohibitions (that you need to overcome little by little), there’s no need to invent new ones.
Once your relationship with food is better and more stable, you can start to think a little bit more, as long as you’re honest with yourself and don’t use your choices to restrict or as a new way of obsessive control. But out of true conviction, and choosing what makes you feel better, more alive and happier. Things that align with your principles and enrich your life.
That’s how, first, I started to put aside the ultra-processed foods I used to eat in big amounts in the beginning of my recovery (which was good, I had to hace all the fear foods!), and opt for real food, without harmful additives, without refined oils, without enormous amounts of added sugars… Always being careful not to fall into orthorexia, not to care about the exceptions.
And now, recently, I’ve started to think and research about the impact of what I eat on the environment and the life of animals. I think it has to do with the fact that I’ve got St. Francis of Assisi as my protector saint this year.
Discovering ethical omnivorism
In fact, ecology is something that’s always been present in my life, and I consider myself more conscious than most people I know… But I’ve realized I wasn’t doing but the bare minimum, and for example I was overlooking something as crucial as food: something we all consume every day and buy every week, even more than once a week.
After discarding going vegan, I dug a bit deeper and I found ethical omnivorism, which immediately clicked with me. A way of eating, and what’s more, a whole lifestyle, that accepts the biological facts about human beings (such as that we are omnivores, or that we can’t be equated to animals), nature, and the interrelations between both that can be more beneficial for everyone.
Mind you, a hard lifestyle that requires engagement and an ongoing learning curve. My greatest problem is how overwhelmed I get when I see how many things are wrong and how people do very little or nothing to change them, as well as when I see how many things I should change in my life and how far I am from people way ahead of me on this path.
What will people say…
Another big problem is the “what will they say”. Thinking that people are going to laugh at me, call me exaggerated, extremist, party pooper, naive or anything else. That they’re going to treat me in a mocking or condescending manner. Obviously, the solution to this is not giving a fuck. Apart from knowing that I usually expect the worst from people and then the percentage of them who behave like that is not that high at all.
But there’s something worse. Being called an hypocrite. I’m just getting started and everything’s trial and error, learning new things every day that lead me to take different decisions and consolidating habits that in turn allow me to take up new ones. Therefore, these are moments in which I constantly need tor rectify, retouch and improve, and then I’m ashamed that people might question why I now refuse to eat something I ate last week, or why now I say something’s acceptable when I was condemning it last week.
But, on the other hand, I’m a firm advocate that no one has the obligation to keep being the same person they were a second ago. We have to do what’s best at each moment with the information and light we have. If these change, the moral thing to do is to change, to honor the new truth we’ve discovered, to hit the road, to keep searching.
I’m firm in my principles and flexible in my means. I’m clear about the fact that we have certain rights and responsibilities towards creation and creatures. How to put this principle into practice is something you see more and more as you educate yourself. (That’s why, if someone’s knowledgeable about this topic, I ask them to please talk to me!!!).
Clash of factors
Being an ethical omnivore is complicated, moreover, because of the great amount of factors that come into play when it comes to making decisions. We know that in the world things are rarely black or white, and we reject simplistic solutions. For example, a consequent vegan has a well defined directive: the priority is not to kill animals. Perhaps they’re also concerned about the environment, social justice or their health, but, if they have to choose, the ultimate criteria is clear. That’s why, before a quandary, they’ll choose an ultra-processed vegan food before a natural product of animal origin, or an off-season exotic product before a sustainable local meat.
However, when you’re an ethical omnivore, occasionally you’re faced with dilemmas in which different factors you care about are in conflict, and you have to decide individually which one you’re going to give more consideration to when it comes to making the final decision. Fortunately, they’re often interrelated. But not always.
Animal welfare is one of the key factors, and in my opinion it would be the most important one when it comes to buying animal products, above other considerations. This implies a more extensive way of breeding, that the animals are able to go outdoors and enjoy enough space as to move with comfort, that their biological cycles are respected instead of accelerated with antibiotics (fortunately, this is forbidden in the European Union), that they’re provided with the most natural diet possible… In fact, the ideal thing is for them to graze, since that contributes to the maintenance of ecosystems and soils and promotes carbon sequestration, which minimizes the environmental impact.
I need to clarify again that, unlike certain groups, I don’t think animals have rights; on the contrary, what I believe is that we human beings have duties towards them.
But the consumption of vegetable products, or the substitution of animal products with them, isn’t exempt of problems. The huge intensive fields of single-crop farming impoverish the soil, versus the best system, that is the cohabitation of animals and plants (stockbreeding and agriculture), which allows a more natural regeneration. It’s well known the controversy of palm oil and the savage deforestation of tropical forests it’s causing.
Moreover, here the labels aren’t so useful. In animal products, the seal of organic farming guarantees some principles of animal welfare. However, in vegetable products, it basically means that they don’t use artificial pesticides and GMOs. I’m not automatically agains the firsts, and I’m completely in favor of the seconds.
Transportation is a whole problem by itself, because of the pollution it causes. The closer to you a food is produced, the less miles it has to be transported until it reaches your table. That’s why there’s a trend to say that we need to buy local or national products in order to avoid the carbon footprint.
However, truth is that the production phase is the most significant one when it comes to deciding how contaminating that product has been, so buying something that comes from a nearer place doesn’t always guarantee that it’s less contaminating. In fact, depending on the means of transport used to take it to the store, there are even cases in which transportation on its own is less contaminating for a product that comes from far away that for a local product. Food miles aren’t everything.
Local vs Global
Another argument in favor of local and national products is to support our own economy. But, what about poor countries? Is it ethic to harm their exports, which equals to restrict their development? For example —and against popular belief—, the exportation of quinoa since it became a fashionable food has contributed to significantly increase the quality of life of Peruvian farmers, and of the whole population of that country in general. I don’t think it’s fair to relegate the most impoverished areas of the planet to a self-supply economy.
A problem that sometimes goes unnoticed is that of plastic. I hate when supermarkets force me to pick a different plastic bag for each kind of fruits and vegetables I want to buy (I do reuse them, but it still bothers me). I hate when the foods are wrapped in layers and layers of plastic, as it happens with many lettuces. I hate when there’s a plastic package, and inside each portion of the food is also wrapped in plastic.
Charging for the plastic bags to carry your groceries —at least that’s how it works in Spain now— has been a very good advance, and forbidding them as some stores are doing, even more. But still the waste is disgusting. Not to mention when you go to cafés and fast food places: plastic glasses, plastic cutlery, straws…
You have to take into account that you have a limited budget. Again, you need to decide which your priorities are when it comes to investing it, because you probably can buy everything the way you’d like to. Especially taking into account that the price of organic, eco-friendly food is usually higher. This is sometimes justified (obviously it’s more expensive to breed animals outdoors, grazing, etc., than stacked up in industrial units), and sometimes isn’t, or at least not that much. The inflated prices will drop as the demand raises and the laws are made stricter; both things will force the producers to lower their prices until the real market price.
Anyway, I think we’ve got used to pay too little for food. We love discounts and we boast about how much we’ve saved, without thinking that cheap things are expensive for others, that, in order for those products to arrive to the supermarkets with low prices, the circumstances in which they’ve been obtained have turned out expensive for the animals, for the planet and maybe for disadvantaged populations.
In short, the way the system is structured, our money is our vote, and our consumption choices are the best way to exert influence so there’s a change on a broad scale. And we’re already seeing it works. Maybe there are still a little number of eco-friendly and healthy options compared to those that aren’t, and maybe they’re expensive, but the thing is, there are more and more.
Companies are realizing that consumers care about their environmental policy and demand responsibility and transparency. I don’t mind if they only make changes looking for a profit, that’s between them and their conscience.
Indeed, we can see more and more vegetarian and vegan products in supermarkets, despite the fact that these communities are only a 1’3% and 0’2% respectively of the population (in Spain). I haven’t found statistics about ethical omnivores, but the offer of animal welfare products is booming too.
Supermarkets such as Carrefour or Lidl are turning sustainability into their emblem. Big restaurant chains include on their webpages a section about their advances in this matter; for example, Starbucks only uses cage-free eggs, and the fish at McDonald’s is certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council. Restaurants specialized in vegetarian food are proliferating; in Spain, they’ve gone from 353 in 2011 to 703 in 2017.
These are just some pieces of information that, among many others and what we can see by ourselves when we observe our surroundings, allow us to be optimistic in the sense that our consumption choices really matter, that more and more companies and producers are realizing that something’s changing and they have to change too. We are little in number, but we have power.
Even if we can’t change all our purchases at once, each time we invest in a more sustainable product, we’re telling the market that there’s a demand for that kind of products, supporting those who make them, and showing those who don’t make them that, if they keep that way, they’re going to lose clients.
This post will have a second part, in which I’ll talk about how these good results have a hidden danger: greenwashing. And then I’ll tell you some of the specific practices I’ve adopted in order to be more ethical in my omnivorism! Stay tuned (you can subscribe to my email list below so you don’t miss a post).