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Ethical eating demands more than veganism

  • 20 July 2018


Veganism is about embracing a diet that is largely plant. It is about saying no to cruel treatment of animals and to animal farming that has ruined Australian soils since invasion*. It is about standing up against keeping so-called 'free range' chickens within the confines of 10,000 hens per hectare.

I was pleased to read Cristy Clarke's 'Will veganism save the planet?' (7 June 2018) exploring the rise of veganism in Australia and globally as well as how we may collectively become more sustainable, plant-based eaters in the not-too-distant future. However, just because we're not eating animals or their by-products, does not mean we're eating ethically.

Take for example the rise of the coconut and its related products. These days you will find three or four varieties of coconut water in Coles. What you may not know from the unassuming cartons is that coconuts, despite being considered crucial to global food security, are endangered. While endangered animals tend to attract media attention, plants in the same category don't seem to ignite similar concern. Britannica.com has an entry dedicated to ten of the most famous endangered species, which does not include plants.

Futhermore, human exploitation is inherent within the coconut farming industry, with farmers of the Asia-Pacific remaining in poverty despite a booming trade and industry worth billions.

Another exceedingly popular source of protein and base of a milk alternative (mylk) is cashews. These are largely produced and processed in India, where the workers, a large portion of whom are women, often suffer permanent damage to their hands due to exposure to caustic liquid during the labourious de-shelling process. Again, farmers also get the raw end of the stick due to exploitation by middle men. 

There seems to be a body of research that is dedicated to making the West feel better about their consumption and glossing over some of the more damning facts. This brings us to quinoa. In 2013, The Guardian told us that imported junk food was cheaper for farmers in the Andean region of Peru and Bolivia than their native quinoa as the grain had become too expensive due to soaring popularity in the West.

Three years later, it reported that high quinoa prices improved the welfare of poor rural communities. This was based on a study conducted by the International Trade Centre (ITC), the joint agency of the UN and World Trade Organisation and written by Senior Advisor Alexander Kasterine.


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