Ethical Eating


I posted this picture of fruit to make it look as though I’m being all nice and healthy. In reality, I’m eating a piece of pound cake brought to the office by one of my colleagues today. It’s delicious.

I’m a vegetarian, but I’m not an evangelical vegetarian. I’m against evangelizing of all sorts. I think there’s a fine line between practicing evangelism and practicing emotional (and sometimes physical) terrorism. In my mind, Jesus was a teacher, not a preacher. Those who’ve taken up preaching, not teaching, in the name of Jesus have it all wrong as far as I’m concerned.

Preaching makes people believe that they, in all their very human weaknesses, must be right at all costs. It leads to a kind of intellectual dishonesty that is just as wrong as any other human failing and often far more dangerous than most. So I think it is with evangelical vegetarians as with any other group passionate in the spreading of a cause. It’s so hard to admit when you care so much that you might not always be right.

But that’s another article.

I’m brainstorming topics related to digital ethics for my students right now, and every way I turn I keep running into ideas and information related to the ethics of eating. Maybe that’s because I’m currently reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I don’t know that I will ever love a book more than I love Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible, but this one has me thinking.

Though I am a vegetarian and happy that I am I do not honestly believe everyone should be. This is a personal choice. I wouldn’t try to impose it on others, and I am not against, on ethical grounds, the practice of eating meat. What I am against on ethical grounds is the practice of mass producing meat. I don’t like the idea of killing animals, but I accept the need to put human survival first, and I also accept that some people would have difficulty thriving, if not surviving, on a vegetarian diet. People who work hard physical jobs, for example, would find it difficult to eat enough carrots and chickpeas to keep going. I’m good with that.

I do, however, believe that the process animals go through to reach the supermarkets and the fast food restaurants is unhealthy as well as unethical. Feed lots, chicken houses, and mass use of antibiotics are not good. They amount to cruelty to humans and animals alike.

That’s basically what this book is about. Kingsolver and her family embark on a year of living on as much home grown and locally produced food as possible. They allow themselves only a small list of grocery items–coffee, spices, whole grains–that they purchase from places that truck them in. Otherwise, they wait for the wild cherries and planted asparagus to come in. They are not vegetarians, but for meat they rely on their own free range chickens and turkeys.

This makes so much sense. It’s the way everyone did it before McDonald’s came to town. Though now that we live in a fast food nation, it requires extraordinary effort and an extraordinary sense of purpose to go about even eating in the way that is best for our bodies, our communities, and our environment.

I can’t do it. I can tell you that right now. My energies are required elsewhere. I ate a tangerine this morning. I don’t know where it came from, but this is January in Mississippi. Clearly, it was not locally grown. The only thing I can say in favor of the tangerine for breakfast is that it wasn’t a Pop-Tart. Perhaps, like Kingsolver, I would shudder to learn how much fuel had to be consumed to bring that tangerine to me, to say nothing of what conditions the fruit had to be grown in so that it would still be edible when I bit into it.

I can’t follow the path of this book, but it inspires me nonetheless. I do plan to purchase more food from local sources. Ellisville has a fruit stand that buys from local farmers. Hattiesburg has a farmer’s market. This year I plan to devote more time to seeking out not only healthy food sources but locally grown food. Who knows…maybe I’ll even plant my own tomatoes when the time comes. It would be the ethical thing to do.

Now if I can only find a way to parlay this into a digital ethics topic, I’ll be able to offer it up to my students as an idea. Hmmm…

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