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The ethics of eating
The ethics of eating
With the flood of information coming at consumers from all directions — whether from a Web site, a newsletter or Rachel Ray, we probably have a good sense of how we should eat.
The question isn’t so much what’s right for our bodies. Increasingly, we want to eat in a way that makes us feel good about our societal decisions.
Concern about what we eat now means thinking about more than just proper nutrition and calorie intake. Is the meat on your plate the result of humane and environmentally sustainable cattle raising? Were polluting pesticides sprayed over the ?eld where your vegetables grew? Did a diesel-gulping truck haul them in from another state?; or worse, did they arrive by tanker from another country?
These are the sorts of questions fueling our eating habits these days. And yes, such global concerns can seem overwhelming in the face of everyday realities such as having little time to read every label or buy and prepare a week’s worth of fresh, whole foods from the market.
But it all boils down to this: being a good citizen. A good citizen looks for opportunities to buy produce from local growers at the farmers’ market. A good citizen is a steward of the environment who makes efforts to support food suppliers and organizations that make sustainability a top priority. As well, a good citizen upholds bigger societal values, such as compassion and justice, through action. “There’s a social movement going on around food,” said Christopher Gardner, an associate professor of medicine at Stanford and vegetarian for the past 25 years. “I actually am ?nding this more compelling in terms of guidance than all our nutrient requirements and all our food pyramids.”
As a nutrition scientist, Gardner has researched many of the diets that have caught on in recent years and analyzed how well they’ve worked. One epiphany he has had recently and is now trying to examine through his research is that people are more likely to stick to a diet that is guided by beliefs and morals than one in which the motivation is just weight loss.
In other words, it’s not just about personal health any more. It’s about a broader consciousness that we can act upon with our wallets, our diets and through everyday choices. For example, around the nation, Americans consult the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s popular Seafood Watch pocket guide when they shop for fresh ?sh or sit down for sushi.
And yes, especially on this Farm, Stanford University has gone to great lengths to put its money where its mouth is when it comes to being socially and environmentally responsible about feeding the campus. Stanford Dining, which serves some 18,000 meals per day to students, employees and visitors at the university, relies on community-based growers who deliver fresh fruits and vegetables daily. The division also ensures that 30 percent of the food it serves is organic and sustainable. Composting is another component of Stanford Dining’s sustainability efforts — with containers, utensils and napkins at its eateries all made of biodegradable material.
In 2008, Michael Pollan, author of the bestseller The Omnivore’s Dilemma, spoke at Stanford as part of an ongoing series titled “Ethics of Food and the Environment.” Sitting on a panel with Stanford Dining’s executive director, Eric Montell, Pollan applauded the university’s efforts to elevate the campus community’s consciousness about food. “Putting good food on the table for the students, supporting the local farmers in your community, is part of the university’s mission to be a good citizen of the community,” Pollan said. “What you’re doing here, by elevating the importance of food, is ennobling the work of the culinary staff, as you’re ennobling the work of the farmers.”
Giving credit and heartfelt thanks to Pollan, we now cherry pick his motto for how to eat right and pass it on as our advice to you: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
By Michael Pena