A somewhat disjointed rambling on food ethics

My summer is halfway over . . . that's not as depressing a thought as it could be.  I've done some traveling, seen some old friends, seen my family, and rediscovered both the library (oh lord, that's embarrassing) and my kitchen (slightly less embarrassing, after all, I've been busy).  I've spent the better part of the last month getting into raw food.  I figure if I start out now, I'll be well-equipped once winter sets in.  We'll see how that works out for me.  As I've worked my way towards 60% raw, I've noticed some interesting trends in the blogs, forums, and communities I've stalked for information.

As a vegan I label.  I label myself, I label foods and products, I label others.  Mostly I label them "vegan" and "not vegan."  I don't eat honey.  I don't eat oysters.  I don't buy leather/silk/wool goods.  These things are "not vegan."  While there may be debate around them (honey, mostly, unless you are an idiot) there is none for me and every vegan I know.  When honey was the only animal product I ate, I was "not vegan."  I got sick of explaining that I was vegan except for honey, and eventually the arguments I was using to except honey didn't hold water with me anymore.

That said, I acknowledge that veganism is a journey and a process and that I cannot live a life free from harm.  Bugs are killed in the production of fruits and vegetables, small rodents are killed in the harvest of grains.  Jetblue's seats are leather.  But just because animals die in the harvest of grain does not mean that I should also eat a cow.  After all, all of those animals died in the harvest of that cow's feed, and the cow suffered and died as well.  If I'm working towards doing no harm, there is an obvious choice there. But I do acknowledge that there may be no vegan perfection.

I've noticed a distinct disdain for labels in the raw food communities I've been perusing.  There's definitely a sense of "you do what you can do" and "we each do our best."  And I respect that to a point.  But when you make the conscious decision to eat an animal product, how is that doing your best?  If you disdain labels, but call yourself vegan (for convenience's sake?) and eat honey, you mislabel me.  You mislabel veganism.  You spread the idea that vegans eat honey, or (for those fish-nomming veggies out there) that vegetarians eat fish, and I can no longer rely on that label to help me move through this omnivorous world a little more smoothly.  Hello, Tom's of Maine.  So while you may call yourself vegan and eat honey and be totally okay with that, when you spread that idea around you make other vegans' lives just that much more difficult.

Which brings me to my actual point . . . organics.

The difference boils down to, I think, whether you see your food choices as a personal matter.  For me, my ethical veganism is not personal.  It's not about me.  It's about this world we all share.  It's about doing what is right and best for everyone.  Going vegan is one of (if not the) best things you can do the environment.  Choosing local, fairly traded, and organic goods is the best way that I can support sustainable agriculture and the rights of farm workers.  I do not pay attention to those lists that tell you which produce gets an organic pass because I buy organic not to stop myself from ingesting pesticides, but to stop them from being used.  Many of the fruits and veggies get a pass because they are thick skinned and pesticides do not penetrate.  That doesn't help the people growing, picking, and packaging that fruit.  It doesn't help the fields and forests.  It doesn't help the insects and wildlife.  My food choices affect other people and living things.  I can't ignore that.  Do I only buy organic?  No, of course not.  Sometimes it's not available, sometimes I can't afford it, sometimes it's the choice between organic or local.  But I do try to make the best decision for everyone, not just for me.

It all comes down to intersectionality and social justice.  If I want to work against oppression, I want to work against it in all of its forms.  I have no problem with everyone doing what little they can because every good decision helps.  It's the fact that this discussion is largely absent from the raw food communities I've been participating in that gets me.  It's absent from a lot of vegan communities, too.  But I've found places like Vegans of Color and the Post Punk Kitchen forums that take a much wider view.

As I discussed this with Patrick Eamonn the other day he looked at me expectantly, silent when I finished.  "Oh, I see," I said.  "I should start that conversation."



  1. Not being vegan, I don't have much to add to this conversation. But I'm glad you're having it so I can follow along. My cousin was vegan all through college, but now he isn't. I never really heard his reasoning for one or the other, but I find the whole thing fascinating and very admirable. I know I don't have the commitment to be vegan, but I applaud my friends who do (and let me follow along in their decision making).

  2. Thanks for your comment. You will notice that many raw foodists come to it from a health perspective, although some have been vegetarian or vegan priot to eating mostly raw foods. Some take the philosophy of not being critical or too regimented about eating raw foods into the idea that you should not be too critical about eating any animal products. Obviously I disagree with this philosophy. There needs to be more discussion of animal ethics in the raw communities and more people to stand up for the animals.

  3. Glad to have you watching the conversation, missprint!

    bitt, I completely agree. I also think the idea of food justice (as in justice for food growers, pickers, handlers) needs to be made part of the conversation. It's one big world we're part of, after all!