Since someone was talking to me the other day about becoming vegan as an ethical choice, I've been thinking again about how I make my food choices.
I became a vegetarian in the early 1970s, after I left home and went flatting. I had never liked eating most meat, and, in particular, disliked the texture. I liked pork, ham, bacon, but nothing else. Back in those olden days, vegetarianism was pretty unusual and I frequently faced questions from people who were sure I'd die if I didn't eat it. I started reading about being a vegetarian, and attended a vegetarian cooking / nutrition class run by the Seventh Day Adventists. No Google or internet back then. I quickly realised that if I was worried about health, pig meat was probably the most important one to give up, and a few weeks working at the Huttons factory in Frankton made giving up pig meat an easy decision!
My interest in learning more about staying healthy led me to the Soil And Health Association in Hamilton, and from there developed an interest in organic growing, and so on through wider areas of healthy eating. Obviously I came in contact with the ideas of veganism and animal welfare, but my interest was mainly in factors that related to my health. I bought free range eggs when I could, and continued to eat dairy products and honey from 'wherever'.
In 2000 we moved to a block of land in the country where we try to grow as much food as we can, though I admit I could do a lot more if I was a real yeoman farmer / peasant - I don't work in the cold and rain, nor put in the hours that are needed to be properly productive. I did a permaculture design course, and continue to read widely in these areas. I started understanding the other ethical issues involved in food production
When I buy food, I take into account a variety of things. First and foremost, I no longer buy food that will harm me - as well as being vegetarian, I am wheat-free (doctor's orders) and diabetic.
I buy as little processed food as I can, preferring to make my own from scratch, ensuring ingredients are as fresh as possible, and necessary for the eating rather than for shelf life.
I buy organic as much as I can find and afford, partly because so many fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides have far reaching effects on non-target species. I avoid GM food because it is designed to increase the amount of herbicides and insecticides that can be used, again affecting non-target species. Because of labeling law inadequacies, buying organic is the only way to avoid these. Veganism for reasons of not killing animals, needs, in my opinion, to be organic, and fairtrade, because standard food production thrives only with a huge amount of herbicides, pesticides, insecticides, fungicides - but I guess it depends on your definition of 'animals'.
I buy as local as I can, Raglan first, then Waikato, North Island, South Island, Australia, Pacific Islands and so on. I rarely buy imported fruit and vegetables. The other day I wanted some frozen blueberries and raspberries but couldn't find any that were NZ produce only - so I'm going without until I do my annual pick-your-own in a few weeks time and freeze enough for the coming year.
I buy fairtrade as much as I can find and afford. I don't want to buy food that has been grown using exploitative labour.
I try to avoid plastic where practicable.
All of these things, other than my dislike of the taste and texture of meat, reflect values that are important to me: the importance of keeping healthy, not just myself, but the earth. Of treating people and animals well. The permaculture ethics of earth care, people care and fair share, plus the ideas of the slow food movement and food security are pretty much what guides my thinking. I understand the ethics of people who become vegan, both the land use issues and the issue of killing animals in the process of food production, but not for the first time, I have concluded it is not for me. To eat as a vegan at this point in time, would require me to compromise too many of my other areas of concern.