Omnivores A-Go-Go
Food Issues Book Club - The Ethics of What We Eat, Chapter 6

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

The Ethics of What We Eat, Chapter 6: Jim and Mary Ann

Dear Peter and Jim,

Let's talk about Jim and Mary Ann in this chapter entitled Jim and Mary Ann.  (This is going to be confusing.)  In this sixth chapter of The Ethics of What We Eat, we begin the second section of the book, that about "conscientious omnivores."  Let's not mince words: these people annoy me.

I'm relieved that Jim, the "environmental editor and writer," has forgone meat... mostly.  (Fish is still meat, folks.)  And yet I'm beyond irritated that Mary Ann thinks it's great that she and her kids are "eating salami from pigs that have got a chance to express who they truly are!"  By this logic, murders are justifiable as long as the victim had a happy life up until they died.

Of course, y'all know this.  You chose this family exactly because they claim to be conscientious eaters, yet buy hot dogs.  Because, from the mouth of Jim thinking he's speaking about others, they "want to make the environmental choice, but they're not willing to do any trade-offs for it.  They still want it to be as cheap as the other things they could buy."  Because Mary Ann thinks that it's better to eat animals that aren't sentient - but still eats pigs, arguably the smartest of all farmed animals, and thinks that fish aren't sentient.  Because mom lets the kids eat meat simply because they like the taste.  This is a child's justification being taken up by an adult.  All this, even though Jim believes that bacon is an "unforgivable" product.  This family has got some strife.

Mary Ann, who fancies herself "of the corporate world" despite the fact that she works from home, believes that corporations "won't do things that harm their best interests."  That may be true, but only in the very short term, and only when we define "best interests" as "profits."  She claims that "if enough consumers want an ethical product" it will become a reality.  Which tells me that, unsurprisingly, Mary Ann does not understand her level of privilege.  (As if complaining about not having enough time to prepare food when she works from home was not enough.)  I'd love to ask Mary Ann, what of all the consumers who do in fact want more ethical options, but can't afford anything but the very cheapest foods?  Must they wait and rely on the more affluent population to convince the corporations that it's profitable to make ethical choices?  It is telling that this extremely privileged family still strains to make ethical food choices, so corrupted is our current food system.

It's particularly distasteful that Jim and Mary Ann let their children believe Trader Joe's brand chocolate is an ethical choice.  At least as of today, that is a specious claim at best.  The ethics of chocolate not only frequently involve the ethical quandaries of the dairy industry, but also those of child slave labor.

Now that I've torn this little family to shreds, I'll state that if every family ate as this one does - or even just every family privileged enough to do so - the food system would be a thousand times better.  They're paying attention.  They're trying.  Lukewarm justifications aside, I do believe that if Mary Ann was informed of the ethical problems in her food choices in a way that made sense to her, she'd change them.  While there is often a gulf between the "better" and the "good," we've got to start somewhere.  Better is, after all, better.


P.S. - I heard Temple Grandin speak today.  We must discuss that in future letters.

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