Food Cannot Be Ethical. Only People Can.

Food Cannot Be Ethical Roxi Beck, Public Relations Project Manager at CMA Consulting, posed a question about a research report recently released by Context Marketing. The report, Ethical Food, attempts to address "Are ethical brand claims influencing food purchases? And if so, which claims matter most to consumers?". [Please know that neither Roxi nor CMA Consulting had any involvement in creating the report; Roxi saw the report and wanted to hear what others thought.]

This report is not really about consumers or purchasing decisions. It is about creating a divisive environment around food, its production, and the people who work in the food and agriculture industries. The way this report creates a divisive environment is by claiming food must be ethical.

Food cannot be ethical. Only people can be ethical. The assumption made in this report: Certain food traits or production practices are potentially unethical.

This report uses the phrase "Ethical Claims To Identify High Quality, Safe Foods" and ties that phrase to "Avoid harming the environment", "Meet high safety standards", "Use environmentally sustainable practices", "Avoid inhumane treatment of animals", and "Be produced to high quality standards".

All of these statements sound great. Everyone wants safe food, a safe environment, high standards, and ethical people. But this report then ties the word ethical to specific agricultural practices. For example, "for a food to be considered ethical it should be produced locally". This implies that if the food is not produced locally then it is unethical.

Would a food grown in Washington State, like apples, shipped to Indianapolis make that grower unethical? If you asked that grower "Are you unethical?" they would most certainly say "No way!".

Other examples: The word "ethical" is tied to things that are not ethics related: trans fats, produced in USA, and organically produced. These are food or production characteristics that cannot be labeled ethical or unethical, they are just traits. If you produce non-organic food are you unethical? How is homemade apple pie made with real butter to be considered (local, organic apples, with trans fats...)?

I make food purchasing decisions based on taste, quality, price, and health (I do look at calories and fats). But I do not judge the producers of these food products and practices to be ethical or not. Some of the best tasting foods would certainly not be the most heathy by some standards. But they are not unethical, IMHO.