We recently visited a friend’s Sullivan County, New York weekend house for a couple of days. Something about getting out of the city and being in the country ignites my passion for local food, in-season produce, and home-grown homemade meals. Our hosts didn’t disappoint: lettuce, chives, cilantro, basil, shallots, scallions, zucchini, and baby fingerling potatoes from their garden made for some good eatin’. (The setting didn’t disappoint either: tranquility, stunning sunsets, hummingbirds, butterflies, and more.)
While there, I picked up this month’s issue of GQ magazine and read a wonderfully engaging article about ethical eating by Alan Richman (“Eat No Evil” – not available on-line). Mr. Richman examines many aspects of what has become a hot trend in food, driven in part by books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma. He interviewed farmers and self-proclaimed ethical eaters to try to come to an understanding of what it really means to eat ethically. Among the issues raised: the question, ‘is it better to buy the local-but-conventional food, the organic-but-imported food, or the organic-but-industrial one?’ – a debate I often have when shopping at FreshDirect, my on-line grocer here in NYC, which has products in all of those categories.
When you consider the nutrition, the environmental impact, animal rights issues, and labor issues relating to the foods we eat, you begin to sense that there’s no clear roadmap to ethical eating. Richman basically concludes that eaters must reconcile their options and choose for themselves what they feel is the “right” path, through mindful eating and conscious consumerism.
My only criticism of the article, and the reason I was moved to write about it, is that on page 130 Mr. Richman states, “only your doctor or your mother should tell you what to eat.” What?! I beg your pardon, Mr. Richman, but REGISTERED DIETITIANS are the nation’s food and nutrition experts. Doctors, with all due respect, are not.
Now, I’ve said my piece. I’m off to eat dinner: a hamburger (made from ground beef from a cow raised on a small family farm which is not certified “organic” but is a farm where I know the animals are treated humanely and allowed time in a pasture instead of kept in an industrial livestock feedlot) on a bun made in a factory in who-knows-where with whole (but conventionally grown) grains and some artificial preservatives added for shelf stability, with plenty of Heinz ketchup (not the organic kind) on top. On the side is broccoli – organic but (gasp!) frozen and delivered in an airplane from California to my store in New York. And I ask myself, is this an “ethical” meal?