As part of our series of blogs on food, Jemma Beedie makes a plea for us to consider the ethics of what we eat and asks us all to consider changing one thing.
Last year I had a bit of an epiphany: for most of my life I had been eating, shopping and generally living my life without considering any of the ethics involved. I, along with most of the population of Britain, have bought many things from Primark. I’ve never been 100% sure that they can be treating workers fairly, but usually managed to push my doubts to the back of my mind in favour of a new £8 dress for a night out. I’ve eaten salmon a-plenty, though I’ve done the reading and I’m aware of the issues involved in eating both wild and farmed salmon, and I was a tuna fiend― since going vegetarian, many people have asked me how I can live without bacon, but in truth it’s the smell of a tuna-mayo sandwich that really gets me salivating.
All of a sudden, I found I couldn’t eat another beef burger. I was having trouble with the smell of pork. I felt awful standing in line with a new, un-needed pair of skinny jeans (and not just because, really, aren’t we past skinny jeans by now?). I started to do some reading.
Nearly a year later, I have gone almost-totally, nearly-completely vegan. Almond milk is delicious on home-made granola, avocados are a decadent base for a chocolate mousse, and I can whip up a really excellent vegan ricotta at a moment’s notice. I feel wonderful about the choices I am making about food and what goes in and on my body. The only real exception I make to vegan life is the occasional six-pack of eggs from the hens over the road. Those chicks are so free-range they’re often actually in my garden, terrorising my cat. I can see they’re happy, healthy and treated well, and I do love my scramble on a Sunday.
Reading and educating myself about the ethics involved in consumption has opened up a wider world to me. Speaking to friends always gives me food for thought, and some of those friends have been encouraged to think about their own choices. I have no problem if you keep eating meat but know where it comes from; drink as much milk as you want, but for goodness’ sake, know what’s going on behind the scenes.
In Scotland, we’re lucky. It’s trendy to eat locally and sustainably, and it is one of the best things you can do for the environment. Farmers’ markets are to be found in all the big cities and you can pick up interesting, beautiful tomatoes, fresh free-range eggs and, yes, of course, ever-ubiquitous kale (I live for the day kale-mania comes to an end). However, farmers’ markets can be expensive, and you’ve got to plan to get up and go along at the right time. It takes effort. It is so easy to whizz into Tesco at 7pm on the way home and pick up another litre of £1 milk, another pack of ‘cage free’ eggs for 70p. It’s so easy to shove doubts to the back of the mind. You know that if the eggs are 70p the production costs have been kept as low as possible and those chickens are miserable. You know that if milk costs £1 the farmer has not received enough from the sale to break even, let alone improve living conditions for his herd.
So, I make a plea: make just one change. Think about which ethical issues are most important to you: the environmental impact of intensive farming; workers being paid an un-fair wage in foreign countries, or here at home; animal testing for non-medical products. Make just one change: eat less red meat; buy clothes from charity shops or, better yet, wear fashion from Scottish designers; look for the leaping bunny symbol on cosmetics and toiletries.
A topic that unites us is that of Scottish Independence. I know I was rooting for a fairer, kinder government (not that it would be hard, considering our current over-lords). In my opinion there are still plenty of ways for us to work towards that society even before we get the chance of a second referendum; thinking hard about the choices we make and what our own individual ethics dictate is an excellent way to make that start.