A Clueless Eater’s Guide to Ethical Food
To the meat lovers and dairy fans of the world: we get it; we’ve been there. One minute you’re about to tuck into a pristine ham and cheese sandwich, the next moment you’re guiltily contemplating where it came from.
We’ve all heard the arguments for sustainable, cruelty-free eating, but questions still abound for the average consumer: Are the trade-offs worth it? Is ethical food a realistic long-term option? Will all of this really make a difference? In our sincere opinion, the answers are yes, yes, and yes. Here’s why:
We Can Do Better
Stepping atop our moral soapbox for a second, let’s get the obvious out of the way: Animal abuse is bad. The vast majority of us don’t enjoy seeing animals suffer, which is ironic because that’s exactly what happens at the factory farms that produce our food.
And it happens a lot.
Globally, an estimated 74 billion animals are reared and eventually slaughtered on factory farms every year. Of these, every single one is subjected to atrocious living conditions: Cows are packed into feedlots, where they stand in their own feces. Chickens are confined in battery cages that are too small for them to comfortably spread their wings. Pigs are separated from their offspring and trapped in gestation crates, tiny cages banned around the world for gross welfare violations.
Throw in cruel practices like debeaking, tail docking, and hot-iron branding—all delivered without anesthesia—and it becomes clear why modern food production has a serious problem.
Apart from its toll on animals, the way we create food is equally detrimental to the planet. Each year, agriculture alone accounts for 70 percent of the world’s water consumption and half of its habitable land use. In addition to this massive drain on resources, food production also generates over 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Put all of this together and the moral cost of our food starts to seem exorbitantly, unjustifiably high. For those no longer willing to pay the price, ethical alternatives could present an option that’s no less delightful for the taste buds but far easier on the conscience.
It’s Not That Hard
Hold up. Tasty and ethical? That’s way too good to be true.
We hear you. Ethically produced food has to be a bland, boring, misshapen mess—it’s practically a universal law. Cruelty-free or delicious, environmentally friendly or lip-smackingly good—pick one, right? Well, wrong.
While ethical food companies haven’t quite figured out how to make perfectly identical versions of everything we eat, they’re now getting really, really close. Just this last year alone, cell-based meat has already been found indistinguishable from the real thing in separate taste tests conducted by Korean researchers and Israeli startup SuperMeat.
Without a doubt, continuous technological innovation has delivered us far from the dark ages of faux-meat cubes with the consistency of truck tires. In their place, we now have cultivated meat made from actual animal cells, marbled with fat for an authentic mouthfeel and a perfect sizzle on the grill.
In other words, all those sacrifices that supposedly come hand in hand with eating ethically? They might not be as big as you think. Giving up good food for good feelings is so yesterday. In 2023, you can absolutely have your sustainable steak and eat it too.
It’s Healthier for You
But wait, there’s more.
If an easy way to save the planet and its animals isn’t enough of a draw, ethical eating directly benefits you too.
As of today, as much as 80 percent of the world’s antibiotics are used on factory-farmed animals. Intended to be a band-aid fix for the unsanitary conditions on factory farms, this egregious use of antibiotics is instead giving rise to antibiotic-resistant superbugs. An estimated 1.27 million people currently die each year as a result of these bugs—a startling figure that is expected to approach 10 million by 2050.
On top of the antibiotics crisis, factory farms also expose animals to a troubling trifecta of foodborne diseases, chemicals, and hormones, all with potentially disastrous health effects.
Due to the immense stress placed on factory-farmed animals, their immune systems are typically compromised, leaving them vulnerable to pathogens like salmonella, E. Coli, and MRSA. These are eventually passed on to the unsuspecting eaters that consume them, resulting in food poisoning and a host of various illnesses.
Equally worryingly, factory-farmed animals are given an array of chemicals and hormones designed to promote greater meat yields. While these have proven great for food manufacturers’ bottom lines, they have been far less desirable for the rest of the world: The use of growth hormone in cows has been linked to reproductive problems and various forms of cancer. Similarly, ractopamine—a chemical used in pigs—is associated with cardiovascular issues and even poisoning. To absolutely no surprise, many of these substances have already been banned in multiple places including the EU, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Israel, and Argentina.
For those seeking to avoid these potential hazards, ethically sourced meat could be an absolute game-changer—one that seems increasingly necessary with each passing day.
It Makes Eating Joyful
Finally, everything else aside, ethical food could simply make eating more enjoyable.
Imagine being able to do your part for a kinder, healthier world every breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Imagine sitting down for a meal knowing every forthcoming bite will be savored without guilt.
Imagine finally being able to finish off that @#*%&$! ham and cheese sandwich without having to feel terrible for the next hour.
By taking moral quandaries away from the dining table, ethically sourced food could elevate the dining experience and make it purely about the joy of eating once more.
So What’s a Clueless Eater to Do
Ultimately, any transformative change in lifestyle will always constitute an immensely personal choice. For all the progress made with ethical food, there is undeniably work left to be done before price parity, availability, and authenticity of taste are achieved.
While frameworks like Food Intelligence are rapidly bridging the gap between ethical and conventional food, trade-offs nonetheless still exist. Whether these are worth it is up for endless debate. Still, a world of delicious food free from cruelty and waste is a wonderful thought—one even the most clueless among us can undoubtedly appreciate.