On Ethical Omnivorism

Eating is not just natural, it is an agricultural and a political act, as wise people have said before me. Everything we eat must have been grown or manufactured somewhere, somehow, and simply put, some are better than others – better for soil, water, air, plants, animals and people.

The philosophy behind ethical omnivorism is quite simple – it is a principle of doing least harm, treading lightly and trying to produce and consume in closed systems as much as possible. Outputs are inputs, there’s no such thing as waste. Animals are a critical part of healthy agro-ecosystems, but get them out of balance (or divorce them from horticulture entirely), and we have a problem. Why grow thousands of animals in sheds and then try to work out what to do with the concentrated effluence when they can live a natural life on the land while benefiting soils instead of poisoning them?

The ethical omnivore does not float through life sometimes eating critically endangered fish like Orange Ruffy and calling herself a pescatarian. She does not refuse to eat red meat but enjoy the odd bit of factory-farmed bacon because it is too tasty to resist. Nor does she eat meat furtively, with a niggling sense of guilt at the part she is playing in rainforest degradation and the decimation of global fish populations. She may not have all the answers, but she has a framework and a commitment to finding out more and following through on her best options for a delicious, ethical dinner. She eats meat mindfully, with visceral pleasure and gratitude.

The ethical omnivore rejects the notion that the only healthy, sustainable, ethical diet is devoid of animal products, while respecting one’s right and choice to be a vegetarian. She devours a broad range of vegetable-based dishes and accepts the concern that most of the minority world/global north consumes too much meat – both a result of and catalyst for intensive animal agriculture. She agrees with the Slow Meat mantra to ‘eat better meat, less often’.

The ethical omnivore mindfully refuses to eat animals grown entirely indoors, whether in cages or vast sheds, and arms herself with knowledge to find local options for meat from animals raised outdoors and without huge inputs of monocropped grains. She prefers to eat food grown by humans, not manufactured by corporations, and supports a livelihood for local farmers instead of lining the pockets of the power brokers in today’s industrial food chain.

Sometimes the ethical omnivore might eat from the detritus of Big Food, which serves to remind her that it doesn’t even taste good. And then she moves on, continuing with her mindful choices, ever conscious of her own fallibility in a complicated world.

The ethical omnivore eats most things, not too much of any one thing, preferably whole things.

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Tammi Jonas

The infrequent and imperfect yet impassioned musings of a farmer, meatsmith, mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend and cultural commentator with a penchant for food and community.

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