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eating ethically (as a 'hound)

Hearing about the massive beef recall in the US caused me to pronounce that I would just not eat anymore meat or poultry from factory farms. (Of course, this isn't the first time I'm thought of more or less "ethical" eating, since factory farming techniques have been well documented.)

Anyway, I can easily (& more expensively) buy humanely raised food to eat at home. But, what happens when I go out to eat? Am I supposed to be a modified vegetarian who eats fish? Or, should I ask where the beef/poultry is from? Is there some other way to tell?

I'd love to hear from people who have wrestled with this issue....thanks.

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  1. In the UK, restaurants that have ethically sourced their supplies are normally pretty quick to mention it on the menu. I work to the assumption that if it isnt mentioned then it isnt ethical. Sometimes I have to swallow my principles along with the cruelly raised chicken.

    At home all my meat and poultry is usually organic or free-range.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Harters

      That's what I figured....if they are going to be "ethical," they sure as hell are going to market it. And, as someone who pretty much frequents dives--ethnic and otherwise--it is going to be tough to try to live up to my principles. While I really doubt this will ever happen, in the very back of my mind there's a fear that being an "ethical" meat eater will turn me into one of those annoying and joyless people who pick apart everything and eat to live....Imagine!


    2. Given that organic, humanely raised meat and poultry is more expensive, a restaurant would be likely to tout that on its menu. I try to buy the humane meats for my own personal consumption, but I wouldn't demand that a host do the same. If I am invited to dinner, I just eat what I am served without trying to act morally superior or otherwise putting the host in an awkward position. Myself, I don't eat much meat to begin with, but for people who consume a lot, cost might be a factor in foregoing the more expensive humane meats. And if I am hosting a dinner which will require me to buy a lot of meat or poulty, I do usually buy the factory farmed stuff. Not rich, just a bit of a hypocrite I guess.

      1 Reply
      1. re: nofunlatte

        I don't know if it's hypocritical or just a reality. It would be boring to stick to your principles all the time. Where's the fun in that? ;-)

      2. First of, I am psyched you started this thread, secondly -- I am surprised the mods haven't taken it down. Perhaps they realized that consuming food is not something that happens in a vacuum, and that many issues go into the choices we make about our food.

        That said, the recent reports on animal cruelty in slaughterhouses wasn't/isn't news to me, but it once again made my stomach turn ...

        I was a vegetarian for a good 2 years in my teens -- not because I opposed eating animals in general, but because of the incredible mistreatment that goes on in those factories.

        I find it difficult around here to get a lot of organic meat (and does that even mean humanely raised? I know for a fact that regulations about that are much tighter in the EU), whereas in Berlin you have the choice between many different butchers who specialize in selling "happy meat", as I like to call it. Is it more expensive? You bet your ass it is. But with those recent horrible images in mind, I have absolutely no problem spending more, if it means the animals are treated with decency.

        One of my favorite Greek/Mediterranean places in Berlin also only offers free-range lamb, beef, chickens, etc., but of course that is not the only resto I frequent, nor would I shun a "regular" resto that sells factory meat.

        I admit that I am less adamant about it in the US, simply because of convenience. The crux of getting older & more pragmatic, I suppose.

        1. "Ethical eating, like ethical living, is not about absolutes. It's about doing the best you're willing and able to do – and nurturing a will to keep doing better." -eatkind.net

          I have found the above quote to fit my view on it all. I am a modified vegetarian who eats fish - but this often runs into problems with farm raising, over fishing and other industry practices.
          I try 1st to eat local foods and 2nd to eat organic or ethically conscious- Its not always an option. I look for restaurants and special seasonal menus that value these issues, and I try to recommend and frequent them 1st. Fortunently there seem to be more and more of these places taking this issue to heart. and they aren't all college kid co-ops juice bar joints

          Being from Baltimore I have an especially hard time when it comes to MD Blue crabs- I feel they are a part of my heritage and somewhat a part of my gastronomic identity, yet they battle extinction every year. I reserve them for special occasions and donate to the save the bay fund.

          1. Ask questions.

            Support local produce.

            Grow your own (veggies that is, not meat!)

            Ask more questions.

            Don't get too hung up on the whole "ethical" thing.

            That's what I've done. I grow my own pumpkins and potatoes, and have some stone fruit trees. WHEN I CAN, I make an active choice to buy ethical foods (I am in Australia, so I have a pretty wide choice).

            I started off by deciding NEVER to buy anything but organic free range eggs. That was my base line.

            If I can't afford them, then we don';t have eggs. I never compromise.

            BUT, there are some days when vegan-friendly, organic, carbon-ffotprint modified ethical lamb chops are just WAAAAAY out ot the budget. So I don't beat myself up. I buy a small amount of "normal" meat and offset it with some garden veggies.

            The thing I found was that many places (at least here in OZ) ARE selling local ethical foods.. they just didn't know it. My butcher had never heard of S.O.L.E until I started asking questions.

            And now more people are asking about things like single source meats and ethical raising of beasts, you can see that the market is growing. Hell, here in OZ even the big spewpermarket chains have recently jumped on the bandwagon:

            Our very own kmh blogs about it here:


            I have 5 kids and live in the suburbs of Melbourne, and with very little thought and pre-planning, I can usually make pretty good ethical choices for all of our meals.

            1 Reply
            1. re: purple goddess

              vegan friendly lamb chops? now that is something!


            2. Thanks for these responses., which are thoughtful and thought provoking.....

              Regarding this thread not (yet) being deleted, I wondered how long it would last when initially posting. I was hoping that this wouldn't get into some kind of rant regarding animal rights activists, or cold hearted meat eaters, etc. Anyway, so far, so good.

              And, the blue crab thing is a big problem in my house. We adore crabs, but at the same time we also think there should be some sort of moratorium against harvesting them for the next few years, so they can replenish. I just never, ever go to those all you can eat crab places, since I think they encourage fishing for underweight crabs, and I think people don't pick them carefully enough, encouraging more overfishing......but, yes, a part of my heritage too, and I just love 'em!

              5 Replies
              1. re: baltoellen

                Yeah, the MD blue crabs put you in a tough position--I lived for many years just across the Cecil County line in Delaware and had many a MD crab. Perhaps moderation is the key.

                There's another thread (not sure which board, maybe this one?) on increasing food prices. I think our reliance on factory farmed proteins has given us this idea that meats should be cheap. And so we (note--this is the general "we", not participants in this thread, chowhounds in general, etc.) demand low-cost meats and poultry and fish which in turn encourages continued factory farming, overfishing, etc. Have I contributed to that? Certainly--no saint here. I'd go to the local market and stock up on chicken parts when they were $0.69/lb. And I'll probably do it again if I plan to entertain a larger group of friends (cost factor). Plus, I don't eat meat very much, so if I'm cooking I'd hate to waste a lot of money in case something doesn't turn out! I'm just not that experienced a beef/pork/lamb cook! I think I'm kind of rambling here--clearly a complex topic, but one that so many of us struggle with!

                Interestingly, like purple_goddess, I too started with the free range eggs. Won't buy any other!

                1. re: nofunlatte

                  I think free range eggs are a lot of people's gate way drug into the SOLE/Localvore/ethical movement.

                  For us, we don't eat a huge amount of eggs, and when we do eat a googie, it's usually as part of a luscious naughty breakfast, so the price difference between free range and non-free range/cage/battery wasn't a big hike. We're talking a doz eggs every month or so.

                  And because we're hounds, showcasing the egg itself is part of what the breakfast is all about.

                  And dayum, but organic free range eggs JUST TASTE BETTER!!

                  I recently paid $204 AUS for 12 kgs of single source organic ethical lamb, and the flavour is remarkably better. The texture is better.. hell every damn thing about it is better.

                  But with 3 boys in the house that could inhale 12kgs of lamb in a single weekend, it's not fiscally possible to eat this all the time.

                  So my payoff is to buy locally slaughtered (ethical-ity unknown, but carbon footprint friendly) meat from a local butcher.

                  I justify this to myself as NOT having bought it, gas packed, from a spewpermarket, so in the end, it all equals out.

                  1. re: purple goddess

                    Other posters are, I believe, correct when they say EU countries may have tighter ethical standards.

                    In UK supermarkets, some 60% of eggs sold are free range or organic. There is a push for the percentage to rise and a couple of major supermarket chains have now announced an intent to stop selling non-free range during 2008. This is the real key. Other producers are also making moves to phase them out from their strategies.

                    Sales of free-range chicken are also growing but not as fast. It is a case of the egg coming before the chicken.

                2. re: baltoellen

                  I am not sure why anyone here thinks a thread like this would be deleted. All of the posts I have read have been very interesting and very appropriate for Chowhound.

                  This is a topic I think about a lot. Here in the Bay Area, I am lucky to have access to amazing local produce and meat. In many higher end restaurants (and even some less expensive places), locally and humanely raised meats are used and I can feel pretty good about the choices I am making. I definitely think it's best to eat meat in moderation, although I am definitely a culprit and probably eat a lot more meat than I should.

                  But what I think about a lot is how I could balance out having awesome "chowhoundy" experiences with this topic. For example, I am about to go eat at Spices II, a great Chinese restaurant in San Francisco. I will almost definitely order meat dishes, and these meat dishes are almost definitely made using factory-farm meat - not local or organic. I know that when it comes to eating out at nicer places, or cooking for myself, I'd be able to have more choice in the meat that I choose to eat - but what about small Chinese restaurants or taco trucks? What if I miss out on an amazing chowhound experience by not eating meat?

                  My solution (for now anyway) is to consider everything about the food I am eating - I consider the environmental impact, but I also consider the food's cultural importance and relevance....by doing this, I find that most of the time, I am eating really good food. It's sometimes vegetarian, it's sometimes meat, it's sometimes organic and local, it's sometimes cheap produce or meat from the Asian market. The main thing I can say is that I almost never eat crappy food.

                  I think thinking about these issues is a really good place to start - unfortunately most people in the US *do* eat crappy food all the time - and I think that increasing awareness about the cultural and environmental impacts of food is extremely important.

                  Dave MP

                  1. re: Dave MP

                    There are different aspects to eating ethically, and I agree that it is important to try and balance them...which usually can be done at venues of all types (your taco truck might not use organic or local meat, but if you are eating there you are probably supporting a local business that itself has a relatively small carbon footprint, for example...). and one can have a great meal at a place like Spices II while limiting the amount of meat (or even just eating veggie options)...

                    In my household we are cutting way back on meat consumption, though I will confess that is more hubby's idea than mine (he is leaning towards going vegetarian or mostly vegetarian). We also just joined a CSA.

                    Purple Goddess has some good guidelines that will work in the US as well as in Oz, to which I would add: if you choose to eat seafood, choose sustainable options:


                3. I try to be mindful of eating ethically, but am not dogmatic about it. I eat most of my meals prepared at home. When I buy meat, I do buy meat that is organic, free-range, antibiotic-free, etc and try to buy seafood that is sustainable whenever possible. However, when I eat out, I don't always eat humanely raised meat. I don't want to feel limited and only go to restaurants where they have humanely raised food. I enjoy my dim sum, Per Se, etc.

                  Eating out at a restaurant that uses humanely raised, local products will definitely increase the costs of a meal. Last weekend, we ate at a semi-casual restaurant where 95% of the ingredients were local and paid the same amount as we would have at a fine dining establishment.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: Miss Needle

                    I like Miss Needle's approach and that's pretty much the one I take, too. I tend not to eat a lot of meat, generally, and rarely cook it at home. When I do, I only buy free range animals (tho the certification is a bit questionable, I've heard), in part because of the ethical issues OP identified and in part because often, it really just tastes about 100x better. When I eat out, I don't limit myself.

                    This is the balance I've come to after being a vegetarian for eight years. I try to avoid veal and foie gras, but sometimes I cave on those, too.

                    One of the best solutions I've come across, if you've the stomach and the space for it, is to eat only meat you raise and/or kill yourself. A buddy of mine does this in NYC. It's astonishing how that cuts down on your meat consumption and makes you appreciate the animal sources of your food.

                    1. re: cimui

                      I'm curious -- what is your friend able to raise in NYC? Does he or she have a chicken coop in the backyard? Or you talking more about buying live fish and killing it yourself?

                      1. re: Miss Needle

                        He raises chickens (in Spanish Harlem). I have no idea whether it's legal.

                        There are also, apparently, a good number of places where you can buy live chickens in Brooklyn. On occasion, he buys there and kills them himself.

                        1. re: cimui

                          He's pretty hardcore. I give him props for that.

                          1. re: Miss Needle

                            No kidding. I think that approach would pretty much ensure that I was a vegetarian. I'm a hypocritical weenie.

                          2. re: cimui

                            I believe hens are legal; roosters probably not.

                    2. Great topic, and some very good responses so far. Glad to hear you're changing your eating habits at home. I've done the same, which has meant a lot less meat in our diets. Better to spend more to support farmers who treat their animals properly than contribute to practices that are ethically indefensible.

                      Eating out has been an issue for me too. The fact is, I don't eat out much, so it's not a massive dilemma. When I do, it's usually Indian or Thai or Ethiopian, so it's easy to go vegetarian. But sometimes I just have to let it go. Like the other week when I wanted the char siu pork soup noodles in Chinatown. I'm not beating myself up about eating that because it's not a regular thing and I'm genuinely making the effort elsewhere. No sense in turning annoying and joyless, as you said.

                      Someone else mentioned asking questions, and I totally have to agree. If you're concerned about the provenance of the meat on a menu, say so. If enough people do, more restaurants will start thinking about it and making changes. Then people who try to do the right thing will have more of a choice!

                      1. Yeah, this is a tough issue. I particularly struggle with seafood. I love it, but for me it is even more of an ethical challenge than meat. I've tried to focus on domestic farmed fish (still a problem with harvesting algae, etc., but better than most) like trout and catfish (not salmon). When we do have other fish at home it's rare and we keep portions small. Eating out is another story-- I often have seafood if we go for a nice dinner, but that happens rarely (every couple of months?). As you all have said, awareness and moderation seem to be key.

                        This year we have joined a CSA so I'm excited to see how the farmshare works out. We grow some of our own veggies and try to emphasize local whenever possible. But you can only do so much without driving yourself (and those around you) crazy by being overly scrupulous. Plus I do lots of other things that are "bad" like buying new clothes, etc., etc. Ultimately I hope market forces make making ethical consumer choices easier and easier.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Procrastibaker

                          "Ultimately I hope market forces make making ethical consumer choices easier and easier."

                          I have happily noticed that it is getting easier and easier to eat well and make ethical choices every year. It is getting much easier to buy "happy" meat ( animals that have been raised in a humane manner) and to buy local. Ethical chocolate and coffee are improving in quality. So I think market forces are definitely helping.

                          I want to say that I have been enjoying this thread very much, and greatly appreciate the mature, honest, thought-provoking answers that people have been posting. It is really making me think about my current practices and how I can make happier, healthier choices. Thanks gang!

                          1. re: Procrastibaker

                            This may make it easier for you, with regard to fish: http://www.fishonline.org/.

                            You just have to make sure to check their "eat" or "avoid" lists every so often because the list changes. It's aimed at a UK audience, but some of it's pretty general, and I think you can find links there to international info.

                          2. Again, I want to thank everyone for such thoughtful and balanced replies.

                            I think, as with most Chowhounds, I put a premium on eating at local spots, since I don't think may of us are too fond of chains...so, I think on the carbon footprint front, most of us are pretty good.

                            I also buy produce from my farmers market the three seasons of the year when it's operating. In the winter months, like now, it's a real struggle with produce....something I'm still trying to figure out.

                            I guess I was mostly concerned with the beef and poultry stuff....and, now, I guess fish too. ;-)

                            Anyway, those truly horrific stories regarding that massive beef recall are still circulating, so perhaps that'll spur more restaurant owners, etc. to start taking the idea of ethically raised meats into account....And, I suppose that asking where the meat/poultry/fish is from can't hurt a bit.

                            (Which reminds me of a story: I remember ordering some surf & turf many moons ago from a small steakhouse in Lincoln, Nebraska. I asked where the shrimp was from, and the answer, of course, was from the freezer!)

                            1. As this thread progresses, I keep wondering why any entry of mine that mentions food waste is always deleted. I'll try again.

                              To me eating ethically is: a) eating little meat but all parts of the animal it comes from; and b) avoiding all forms of food waste.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                I agree, sam.

                                No point buying an organic, single source lamb carcass and only eating the backstrap.

                                Ingenious use of left overs is common in my house.. comes for years living as a single mum of 2, studying full time.

                                Not much, if anything gets thrown out in our house, including veggie scraps.

                                We fish for our own seafood/fish. If we don't catch it, we don't eat it.

                                Chicken carcasses are frozen and used for stock, as are fish heads.

                                Guts goes to the grateful puppies.

                                I am very VERY good at portioning.

                                And very creative with left overs.

                                I eat everything from brains to trotters.

                                And those are the biggest things I can do about eating "ethically".

                              2. it's not just humanely reared, but my fears and worries are about whether these animals are humanely killed and kept just prior to slaughter. I also always buy organic free range eggs and poultry but we still don't know what happens at the slaughter house and this was one of the reasons this beef was recalled, allegedly the cattle involved could barely stand up.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: smartie

                                  Those images sure can curb your hamburger cravings for a while... awful.

                                  1. re: smartie

                                    The problem I have is that organic free range can be factory farmed, too. I look for humanely certified label but even better would be to know the farm your food is coming from. Too many small farms don't bother with that because it's time consuming and can be costly. If I lived in one place long enough, it would be easier but it feels like I just learn where to get what and move again so have to start all over. It would be great if there were a comprehensive website (I've use localharvest.org and it's okay) that had all that information. It's all overwhelming.

                                    1. re: chowser

                                      I totally hear you, Chowser. Hopefully as more people seek out humane/organic foods for health and ethical reasons producers will make them easier to find. Right now eating "well" requires a major lifestyle adjustment which I just don't think we can expect of all people-- it would be nice if everyone was willing to garden and travel to multiple stores each week to shop, but it's just not realistic. That's why I like to see places like Whole Foods carrying local produce-- I wish they'd carry local meats, dairy, etc.

                                      1. re: Procrastibaker

                                        One of the WF near me carries local produce, milk, and meat but right now, there isn't much growing here. It was much easier in the Bay Area to get what I need!

                                  2. It's an interesting question, because I'm not sure what the variations in regulations around the legal use of the word "ethical" with respect to purchase/consumption of food are. Was it in "The Omnivore's Dilemma" where I read that hilarious menu description about "respectful cows" (or words to that effect)? The fact that we are asking these questions means that the investigations into ethics are having a good effect on us.

                                    Words like "organic" and "free-range" do have legal definitions, but as "The Omnivore's Dilemma" pointed out, they don't mean what most people think they mean.

                                    I think it goes down to trusting your supplier not to lie to you. Which means building a relationship with them and getting to know how the food you are eating is created for you. Which is better than being an automaton who responds only to food advertisements. Which is a good thing, in my eyes.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Pincus

                                      I agree that organic, free-range, sustainable, green, eco etc. etc. can be just hollow words used in marketing.....

                                    2. I am really enjoying this thread. I try to eat ethically, shop at co-ops if possible (I joined ANOTHER one 2 weeks ago--at least this one is only 90 minutes away--the others are 7.5 and 11 hours away respectively). I join them whereever I move. I try to eat humanely raised meat/poultry. But I don't do it 100% and I'm heartened to hear that other people struggle with this (I feel like a hypocrite sometimes if I buy factory chicken for example). Yes, the cost can be an issue. Supermarket organics can be pricy and in a midwestern winter, the farmer's market isn't an option. I don't buy Chilean berries in February, yet I do buy conventional Dole bananas. I'd love to eat locally, but I also enjoy foods that aren't grown in my area (though I buy Michigan apples instead of Washington ones--at least it borders my state). One thing I will say is by saving consumption to its season (e.g. local berries and peaches in the summer), those foods seem even more delicious because they AREN'T on my table year-round. OTOH, ain't nobody growing bananas and mangoes in my neck of the midwest!

                                      One poster said the definition of ethical is doing your best. I guess it really does boil down to that.

                                      Thanks baltoellen for starting this fascinating thread.

                                      5 Replies
                                      1. re: nofunlatte

                                        Glad you mentioned bananas. It raises an ethical questionfor me in the UK. Clearly it's always a product we have to import so carbon footprint issues don't arise. Almost all come from the Caribean. It is also impossible to buy "ethical" bananas in a small local greengrocer - the supermarkets have cornered the market.

                                        So, here's the dilemma. There are two sorts of ethical.

                                        Do I buy "organic" - chemical free and so - but knowing that it's come from a plantation owned or dominated by one of the major multi-nationals who may be screwing the local small producers?

                                        Or do I buy "Fair Trade" which guarantees a higher price for the small farmer who has probably used pesticides and other chemicals.

                                        I "solve" the dilemma now by buying organic one week, fair trade the next. Any thoughts?

                                        1. re: Harters

                                          With bananas, I go fair trade. My reasoning is that the fruit is protected from the chemicals by the thick skin, which we don't eat.

                                          I may be completely mistaken, but it sort of falls in line with other information I've heard, such as the UK government's suggestion that we peel carrots (I forgot where I saw this, but I figure I'm definitely going organic if the government's worried about the pesticides). Also, I distinctly remember a news article about organics which said that certain foods aren't worth buying organic. One of these was white bread, because, the article said, the bits of the wheat that come into contact with the pesticides are sloughed away in the processing.

                                          I'm sorry I don't have time at the moment to find the sources of this info, but I'll do some research soon and see what I can find.

                                          1. re: Kagey

                                            I think you're right - I'd also read (maybe a year ago) the story about certain foods not absorbing the chemicals or whatever.

                                            Good point about the bananas. Hadnt thought that one through. No ethical dilemma anymore. Thanks. Lemons next on the list?


                                            1. re: Harters

                                              Ha ha. Lemons are a tough one. particularly because I often do use the peel. I think it's usually fair trade in my house, and I just scrub them before I use them. I'm still not totally comfortable with the idea of the pesticides in general, but I'm also not prepared to live without bananas and lemons. Do the least damage, I suppose.

                                              1. re: Kagey

                                                I go for full-blown organic from the supermarket here (as they are not waxed either). Usually good tasting ones from Italy. Mrs H likes them with her gin :-)