Food Ethics Books

I have read a couple of books recently about how our food choices impact on the environment. It turns out that food can have a fairly significant impact on the environment through farming practices and transport. The main message that I got from both books is that you can reduce your environmental footprint by eating seasonally and locally. This reduces the amount of energy consumed in cold storage and transport. Organic food can also have environmental benefits by reducing pesticide and herbicide use. Both books also advocate making sure your meat comes from animals that lead a decent life, free range and pasture rather than grain fed.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingolver is the story of an American family converting to local eating. Ethical Eating by Angela Crocombe is a reference explaining how Australians can choose foods that will have a minimal impact on the environment. For an engaging story I recommend Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, but to find the facts you need to make your decisions you should read Ethical Eating .

In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle Barbara Kingsolver tells the story of her family’s year of local eating. They have a spring of asparagus, a summer of canning tomatoes, an autumn of pumpkins and a snowy winter living on their stored food. A combination of home grown vegies and farmers markets feed the family, and they even keep chickens and turkeys for meat and eggs. When the turkey chicks arrived in spring I wondered how much we would hear of their fate. Kingsolver gives unflinching descriptions of slaughtering them for Thanksgiving and heartwarming descriptions of them mating, nesting and hatching the next generation of baby chicks. Scattered through the book are boxed texts by Camille Kingsolver and Stephen L. Hopp. Camille, the teenage daughter in the family, provides recipes and suggestions for seasonal menus. Stephen’s essays provide background information on different farming practices. This book can occasionally be preachy, but it makes up for it with human moments that make you laugh.

Ethical Eating is a much more formal book. If you want to know the difference between free range and barn laid eggs in terms of chickens per square metre then this is the place to look. It is very informative, but does seem to advocate a more radical diet change than the average person is likely to pursue. Vegan diets aren’t for everyone, and I think this book would be more convincing if Crocombe believed that small changes are worthwhile too. Nonetheless the book is an excellent source of information to allow you to make your own decisions about what issues matter to you and how you can adjust your diet to make a change in the right direction. Armed with a list of overfished species, Australian grown teas or certification authorities it is far easier to choose local and ethically produced food. There is even a list of suppliers of organic, free-range or fair trade products to help you find things. This is a comprehensive book and it fills a gap by being tailored to an Australian audience.

If you are in Sydney your chance to get involved in local eating is coming up next Saturday October 11th 2008 at the Food for the Future Fair in Chippendale.

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