“Is it more ethical and sustainable to eat a vegan diet which relies on the oil industry or a vegetarian diet with small amounts of eggs and dairy products from locally produced organic sources where one can make a relationship with the creatures? Do you disagree that a balanced vegan diet relies on imported food and that I am just creating problems for myself?”
(Taken from the Meat Eaters, Vegetarians and Vegans Ethical Debate on The Druid Network’s Ethics Pages Here)
Some very good questions were raised during this ethical debate, which I have been pondering ever since I went vegan. With the world’s dwindling oil supplies and the other costs to food travel – ie. carbon emissions, it has played largely upon my mind. Is it more ethical for me personally to eat lentils and quinoa grown in a country far away and imported at the expense of the environment (and other factors) than it is to try and eat vegan locally? Is such a thing even possible where I live?
I live in a very small village. We do have a village shop, which stocks the basics. None of what it stocks is labelled organic. There is some local produce, but even the people who work there cannot tell me for sure which is and which isn’t. Some produce is labelled as ‘Heritage Farm – locally sourced’ but I cannot find out just who this company actually is. As far as I’m aware, the most local food I can honestly say I have eaten this winter has been the onions scrumped from the fields after the harvest was taken away and handfuls that had not been picked up by the machinery were left to rot or be eaten by the deer.
Now that Spring has sprung, and new foods are available in my very own garden (nettle, mint, spinach, dandelions – strawberry are already in flower!) I am thinking more and more about sourcing local food. There are a few farm shops in the area, but these seem low on actual produce over highly packaged goods such as cakes, cookies, biscuits, chocolates, etc. They’re not so much farm shops as they are ‘farm boutiques’.
It raises another question as well – how local is local? 1 mile? 5 miles? 10 miles? Food grown in Britain?
Take for example my work lunch today, brought in from home. I have some Munchy Seeds, a Suffolk company that does delicious seed mixes. I have scoured the packet and website and nowhere does it say whether they are sourced locally or not (I have sent them an email enquiry). My banana was not grown in the UK, and has many, many food miles behind it. My apple is from Italy. The Twinings tea I am drinking has cucumber, aloe and nettle. There is no information about sourcing of ingredients. I also have a bag of mixed nuts that I dip into – they say ‘produced in Germany’ but can you grow cashews in German soil, or is it that the end package was produced in Germany? My decaf coffee has lots of food miles behind it, and other ethical considerations; the workers pay, the rainforest, etc. The almonds in the almond milk that I drank with it were not grown in this country.
I am seriously going to have to rejig my eating habits if I am to reduce the food miles in my eating habits. Having already made the switch to vegan, it’s been difficult enough already – eating out is an especial challenge in the rural countryside around here. There is usually always a veggie option, but it always contains cheese. One cannot live on chips and salad alone (provided the chips are fried in oil separate to the fish that is usually served with them).
Living on the coast, you would expect that you could get valuable vegan goods like seaweed rather easily. Unless you wade into the ocean yourself though, they are not to be found on any supermarket or local shop shelf, nor even in the ‘health food’ stores. I can find samphire on the beaches around here, but that’s all the local coastal veg that I know of. I think a Food Safari is in order! I also need to look into mushroom foraging workshops – I’d like to eat more foraged food. I will always remember one canoe camping trip in Sweden, when we helped a lost local with his basket of chanterelles who stumbled across our campsite get back to the village via our canoe in the failing light. Europe are much more aware of foraging, of what can be eaten and what can’t. However, considering the huge population of Britain, not everyone could forage without a devastating effect on the local flora and fauna.
So many, many questions, so many answers that need to be sifted through in order to find out what works best, ethically, for me personally. This blog post is not a sweeping statement to all that “This is the Way It Should Be” but how I need to make it work for myself personally in accordance with my principles and worldview.
My own vegetables will be planted shortly in my garden – lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers. Beans will also be planted, as well as peas. This coming winter I’m looking at growing potatoes, onions and carrots in pots or bags right up against the house where they will be warmer and hopefully keep going all winter long. It’s far from sustainable, but I don’t have the time to operate a fully sustainable food garden right now in my life. If my working hours are reduced, and most definitely upon retirement, things will change (if the planet is not totally screwed up by then).
So, is it more ethical for me personally to support the oil industry in my vegan eating, or to eat more locally sourced food that may include eggs from the farm down the road? I’ve already had to adjust my diet with a vegan vitamin and mineral supplement for health reasons; these are from the Vegan Society. Yet when you break it down, what industry or industries is that really supporting? Are we getting into the pharmaceutical debate here? I still don’t have an answer to this question, but I am aware of my eating habits now, and will use that to make the final decision.
Am I creating problems for myself? I would say no. What I am doing is sacrificing ignorance in order to be aware as much as I can of what I eat, why I eat it and what the result to the world is in my consumer habits. As a Druid, I have to scrutinise my consumerism in order to see if my relationship with the environment is an honourable one. For me, there is no other option – I could not live with myself by being wilfully ignorant of the various choices I may have. This is not a problem, per se, but the way that I already live my life. It’s making me consider choices more and more – problems arise when there is no choice to be made. As long as I have options, I do not have a problem. It is up to me to address it correctly in accordance with my beliefs.
There is still much more thinking and research to do…