I love chicken. It’s cheap and is a very adaptable ingredient – it has avoided religious sacrifice since the days of Ancient Egypt so is eaten by most cultures across the world.
But buying chicken has become a problematical task. As I stood in the aisles of Sainsbury’s last night, fretting over what to cook for tonight’s dinner, I was faced with a very familiar dilemma involving too many decisions.
Do I choose to cook vegetarian – which would please my bank balance and my conscience but not my appetite? Do I give way to that temptation to feed my appetite but limit the damage to my wallet by going for Sainsbury’s Basics chicken at the expense of my conscience? Or do I go all out and buy free range chicken – thereby satisfying both my appetite and my conscious but emptying my wallet?
There is no simple formula to this daily dilemma of life. But as my overdraft spirals out of control, I find myself increasingly edging towards Sainsbury’s Basics chicken – the best ‘value for money’ meat option – trying to shut out the moral demons screaming in my head as I do so.
But surely a city the size of London can offer some answers to this desire of eating ethically but affordably, and I’m not just talking about chicken. And this is what EcoEats aims to do – to act as a platform of information and debate about eating ethically and affordably, using London’s eco-eating communities as a case-study of how consumers and suppliers are striving to balance economic and green ways of consuming food and drink.
As our consciences increasingly drive our buying habits however, so does the unintended consequences of us doing so. So many of the schemes that have been set up in the name of making us more responsible consumers have wonderful intentions and have wonderful slogans to lure the masses into buy into their cause.
Fairtrade’s slogan, for example, tells consumers that buying their produce will “guarantee a better deal for Third World consumers” (the bold is their emphasis, demonstrating their willingness to allow capitalism to flourish in these third world countries even though what they claim is wrong with the world food supply is based on anti-capitalist arguments.)
Companies have likewise used ethical slogans to drive up sales as being ethically-minded is increasingly becoming a modern-day marketing strategy. Waitrose pride themselves on providing responsibly-sourced food which support good causes and local producers.
“Of vital importance to us is the provenance and traceability of the food that is on our shelves”, it says on Waitrose’s website. “Wherever possible our buyers buy British. Increasingly, they are also sourcing local produce from small growers and suppliers close to individual Waitrose stores.”
Even other supermarkets, which are not built on such morally-minded values, ensure they state on their website, advertising boards, TV adverts and throughout their stores slogans boasting of how important ethically-sourced food is to their values. This goody two-shoes propositioning is all consumer-driven, market-driven behavior, all done in the overall goal of maximizing sales.
But what lies beneath the slogans? Is the Fairtrade Foundation really succeeding in its aim of getting a better deal for third world farmers? What are the consequences of their actions on the farms that have failed to gain Fairtrade status? What happens when a particular produce grown in underdeveloped countries and regions receives a spike in demand as a result of a particular moral campaign? It may satisfy the conscience of the consumer, but what are the real and often unknown consequences on the other side of the world?
As well as discovering whether it is still affordable to eat ethically in the current economic climate, EcoEats also aims to break through the slogans, the well-intentioned claims made by eco-warriors to discover what the real consequences are of pursuing ethically-minded eating habits.
As all journalists seek to do, or at least most of them, we want to report the world as it really is, and not as it is so often perceived through slogans, which often have a thousand more objectives lurking beneath the surface.