Ethical Eats

Brought to you by Oxfam @ Queen's

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Christmas Food Miles

On the 12th Day of Ethical Xmas, members of Oxfam @ Queen’s added up the food miles for their Christmas dinners to see how they stacked up.

Andrea, 100 Mile House, B.C.

Here’s how many kilometers it takes for three key Christmas dinner dishes to travel to the table!

TURKEY: I live about 6 hours from Abbotsford (near Vancouver), where a lot of poultry is raised, so that was my best guess for the turkey we bought from the grocery store. However, it turns out that this turkey was shipped across the country, from “Amherstburg, Ontario”! That sure doesn’t make sense! 3864 km (

MASHED POTATOES: The potatoes in our mashed potatoes come from our garden! That’s 0 km.

PUMPKIN PIE: The pumpkin purée my Mom uses in the pie is from one our family friends brought us from their home in Kamloops, BC – it’s almost desert-like there so pumpkins thrive. 196 km

TOTAL:  4060 km.

The turkey really makes this total a sobering one, but it was really informative and took surprisingly little effort to find out where my Christmas dinner comes from. Becoming conscious of how your food gets to you is really the first step in making a change, and I am looking forward to attempting a ‘100 km Christmas dinner‘ next year.

Hannah, Starbuck, Manitoba


Meat: 13.14 miles (Sanford, MB)

Noodles (Catelli brand): 1416.13 miles (Allentown, PA)

Cheese (Kraft): 1208.5 miles (Ottawa)

Canned Tomatoes (Alymer):  629.30 miles (Omaha, NE)

TOTAL: 3 267.07 miles (5 227.31 km)

Caesar Salad:

Lettuce: 1 710.95 miles (Salinas, California)

Dressing (Kraft): 1208.5 miles (Ottawa)

Croutons: 1429.62 miles (Parsippany, NJ)

Parmesan: (865.14 miles) (Don Mills, Ontario)

TOTAL: 5 214.21 miles (8 342.74 km)

Apple Pie:

Flour: 14.28 miles (Elie, MB)

Butter (Saputo): 1327.39 miles (St-Laurent, Québec)

Apples : 1664 miles (Washington US)

TOTAL: 3 005.67 miles (4 809.07 km)

GRAND TOTAL: 11 486.95 miles (18 379.12 km)

Yikes, mine was huge! I was happy that the flour and meat were sourced locally, but my family could have cut down on our mileage by using local butter and cheese, and serving in-season vegetables instead of salad. Something to keep in mind for next year!

Nina, St. Catherines/New Hamburg, ON

German Red Cabbage (New Hamburg):

 Cabbage: 0.8 miles

Vinegar: 5 miles

Apples: 0.5 miles

Onions: 1 mile

Total: 7.3 miles (11.68 km)

Vegetarian Lasagna (New Hamburg):

Noodles: 4000 miles (Italy)

Tomato Sauce: 1 mile

Mozzarella Cheese: 0.5 miles

Zucchini: 0.5 miles

Red Peppers: 0.5 miles

Onions 1 mile

Broccoli: 0.5 miles

Total: 4004 miles (6 406.4 km)

Portobello Mushroom Soup (St. Catherines):

Mushrooms: 15 miles

Onions: 1 mile

Veg Stock: 30 miles

Celery: 1 mile

Potatoes: 1 mile

Garlic: 1 mile

Thyme: 0 miles (5 meters)

Total: 49 miles (78.9 km)

Grand Total: 4 060.3 miles (6 496.98 km)

Kathryn, Halifax, N.S.

Food Miles – Kathryn Blaikie- Dec.23rd

My East Coast Christmas dinner gets calculated! How many miles did these goods have to travel before they were in our Haligonian home? Let’s find out!

Main Dish: Chicken Roast

Chicken: 513.4 miles (Quebec)

Parsnips: 79.67 miles (Berwick, Nova Scotia)

Onions: 50.55 miles (Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia)

Carrots: 160.4 miles (PEI)

Potatoes: 145.76 miles (PEI)

TOTAL:  949.78 miles (1 519.65 km)

Side Dish: Asparagus

Asparagus: 4682.55 miles (Peru)

Parmesan cheese: 865.14 miles (Don Mills, Ontario)

TOTAL: 5 547.69 miles (8 876.3 km)

**That’s a lot for a side dish! Our main dish kept it Canadian but this is another story.

Dessert: Fudge

Jet-puffed Marshmallows: 1355.60 Miles (Indiana, US)

Butterscotch chips: 841.2 miles (Smith Falls, Ontario)

TOTAL: 2 196.8 miles (3 514.88 km)

GRAND TOTAL :  10 888.07 miles (17 420.9 km)



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Eat Organic Foods Because Gwyneth Paltrow does

Just kidding. Doing something just because Gwyneth Paltrow does it too is not the best idea. But here’s a question that the Oxfamily gets asked often. Apart from health reasons, why should people other than incredibly wealthy and out of touch celebrities bother spending extra money on ethically produced foods when our contributions will probably not make such a difference in the big picture?

“Every time you spend money you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” This quote by Anna Lappe is the reason I personally think we should be educated and conscientious about what we buy. Being someone who says they care about the environment and social justice while not making an effort about it is just as ridiculous as being a member of the Green Party who drives out to the woods ever night in a SUV to start forest fires. This is because our economy runs on two principles that anyone who has gone to the first lecture of Econ will be able to tell you.
1. Our economy organizes itself based on supply and demand.
2. Everyone wants to maximize profits.

In relation to L.O.F.T foods, this means that if producers can see a visible demand for their products, they’ll make more of it. If there is more demand for L.O.F. T foods, companies that support this endeavor will continue to exist. In turn, there will more farmers with the ability to invest money back into their own communities, which helps their local economies thrive. More kids will be in school and there will be less greenhouse gases because of less transportation costs. Additionally, this mean you eat less pesticides, get less sick from animals that have been pumped so full of antibiotics and growth hormones that they are practically exploding.

Still, it’s true that the effects of buying ethical foods are not immediately visible. Though it would be nice, it’s not like the smogs in cities lift ever so slightly every time we buy an organic tomato. But perhaps the effects of many people supporting L.O.F.T foods are more obvious than you think. The healthy foods movement is definitely main-stream now. Think about it, in movies like 21 Jump Street (it’s so funny, go watch it), the cool kids are now the skinny “crunchy granola dudes” who have Eco-friendly transportation instead of jocks with sports cars. Who would’ve thought that would happen? Also, why else would so many plastic wrapped hot dogs claim to be made of “all natural ingredients”? Brands would not advertise to have organic or natural ingredients if they didn’t think it would help people would buy their stuff. It’s not all about food either – people are starting to care about what they wear. Now, it’s more than just random indie clothing brands that are supporting Fair Trade. Think about how popular American Apparel is, or the fact that not too long ago, Stella McCartney (the brand) joined the Ethical Trading Initiative. The reason brands publicize that they do this is because they recognize how the values of the world is changing, and they are adjusting themselves to cater to what we demand.

P.S. Guess what? Fair Trade has existed since 1988, and it’s going to stick around because we want it to.

– Jennie 

Information borrowed from:


Naughty Or Nice: The Ethical Dilemma of Food

Countless childhoods unfold under the omniscient ‘gaze’ of a jolly old figure robed in red and white nordic attire, hustling busily around a workshop, keeping track of annual production targets set for some magically productive elfin proletariat. As Yuletide mythology claims, this holiday ‘saint’ knows when you’ve been sleeping, when you’re awake, and even if you’ve been ‘bad’ or ‘good’ — crazy, right?. So holiday tip: if it’s been one of your less virtuous years, there’s still time to make up for it! May we suggest a plate of fair-trade cookies and a frosty glass of organic almond milk, left out before bedtime this coming Tuesday! It might do the trick.

But in all seriousness, what effect does rhetoric like ‘fair-trade’ and ‘organic’ have when used in this particular way, (i.e. moralistically)? Can words like these be breathed out in ways and tones that are oppressive to certain individuals? I’ve noticed that they sometimes seem to rub people the wrong way; at times I even find them embarrassing to use. There is something maybe a little intimidating about any inadvertently finger-pointing moralist. I sometimes wonder why it’s not yet obvious to parents why their children cry uncontrollably when they are forced onto the lap of this all-knowing ‘upholder of justice’ (Santa), as vague platitudes are whispered into their ears. The last thing I’d want is for anyone to hear the acronym ‘LOFT’ and feel the same way. (LOFT is Oxfam shorthand for Local, Organic, Fair-Trade by the way.) Considering something like this blog title: “Ethical Eats”. What actually makes food ‘ethical’, and in what manner does that imply other food to be ‘unethical’? How can one go about constructing some sort of moral framework around food? Are there universally normative morals when it comes to food?

Understanding the way ethics, in general, has shifted historically can be one of many illuminating approaches to framing the way one thinks about the ethics of food, in particular. Philosopher, Hans Jonas, believes technology and the way it has been used to intervene in nature has been the major reason behind a shift in ethics. He claims historically, ethics has been a matter very intertwined with immediate experiences in very local and particular ways. However with the emergence of technology, the consequences of particular actions rapidly expanded beyond effects that could simply be confined as ‘local’, and resulted in a form of ‘long-range ethics’.

Alasdair MacIntyre similarly argues that one of the most significant moments of modernity was when production, which once occurred within the contexts of the household, moved outside the household — and productive work lost its connection to sustaining a specific community. It is in this where production and consumption become extremely alienated from one another, and the growing opaqueness between these two occurrences, MacIntyre feels, pushed philosophers of the Enlightenment to abandon Greek ‘virtue ethics’ in search of new ethical foundations, such as ‘categorical imperative’ (in the case of Kant) or ‘utilitarianism’ (in the case of Bentham).

With the growing distance separating production from consumption, it seems an impossible task for ‘consumers’ to fully understand the consequences of production. This is a tremendous challenge to ethics, and hence shapes the ethical dilemma we face when choosing our food. The enormous gulf that has emerged between production and consumption leaves the consequences of our actions in many ways unknowable or inaccessible to us. It is essentially impossible to be completely certain whether our actions are ‘good’ or ‘bad’, since we don’t really know what ‘succeeds’ what does not, and therefore ‘long-range ethics’ seems like a frustratingly speculative and abstract affair. And, it is in this uncertainty that Jonas claims that knowledge, relative to its ethical role in the past, has become increasingly valuable today for informing the way think about food ethics.

It’s of my own opinion that this gap between production and consumption has become so perfectly parodied, perhaps subconsciously, in popular imagination that we now have Santa’s elves magically producing little toys for our children’s consumption in the desolate North Pole. I would argue in conclusion that a significant aspect in thinking about the ethics of food is addressing this unsettling separation between production and consumption, and inquiring specific points of praxis in which we can engage to bridge this gap.

(Source: Content borrowed somewhat heavily from ‘The Taste for Ethics: An Ethic of Food Consumption’ by Christian Coff)

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5 Easy Ways to Make the Holidays LOFT-Friendly

The holidays are a time of joy, merriment, and tradition. However, tradition can prevent sustainable food practices from being integrated as part of celebrations.  Treasured family recipes can be revamped using LOFT foods, and nobody will be the wiser. Here are some easy ways to incorporate LOFT foods into your festivities.

  1. Buy fair trade chocolate, cocoa, nuts, and sugar for all your baking needs. It’s a simple way to integrate fair trade products into classic family recipes, with no discernible difference in the taste of the dish. You can also opt for homemade hot chocolate and avoid buying the premade powders, which may contain unfairly sources sugar and cocoa powder. Here is one of my favourite hot chocolate recipes:
  2. Choose your menu based on what is in season.  This opens up the option to shop at local farmer’s markets.  Here is a handy list to see what is currently in season in Ontario:

  3. Explore local bakeries instead of big box grocery stores. If you plan on buying bread, pastries, or dessert for an event, why not try an independently owned bakery? Chances are the products are baked in the very same building, which cuts down on food miles.
  4. Back away from the Butterball.  Avoid commercially farmed turkeys to reduce food miles and support more ethical farming practices. There are plenty of local farms in Ontario through which you can order turkeys, some of which are raised organically.
  5. Shamelessly promote LOFT foods to your relatives. The holidays are a time when families come together, so why not take the opportunity to educate your loved ones on sustainable food practices? Awareness is the name of the game! Suggest some simple LOFT New Year resolutions that they can take on, like buying only fair trade chocolate or eating vegetarian a couple times a week.


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What’s the deal with Quinoa?

Oh Quinoa. It’s a low fat, high protein, nutritious, delicious and potentially an unethical grain. Not to long ago quinoa was an unheard of and largely unavailable Peruvian grain. Today it is celebrated by vegans, vegetarians, and meat eaters alike. Through the usual process of supply and demand the price of quinoa has tripled over the last seven years. And it isn’t just in your local wholefood shop anymore. As a grain, its got amino acids and proteins that vegetarians can’t find in their usual diets without food supplements. 



So what’s the problem? The demand from countries like ours for quinoa has made it unaffordable for the people in Peru and Bolivia who previously used it as a nourishing staple food. It’s also pressuring farmers to turn land that was once diverse crops into quinoa monoculture. 

This isn’t to blame vegetarians! In fact meat production is exacerbating climate change at a far more drastic rate. And it’s an inefficient way to use grain, creating a competing system for grain between feeding animals and the world’s poor. 

I think it’s important to keep in mind this holiday season how much impact we make as consumers. Every time we choose to sit down and enjoy a meal we are making some sort of influence on the global food system, and sometimes we can’t know how far that impact will go. But it’s important to be reminded that our small everyday choices have real weight. And isn’t being aware and considerate all part of this season anyway? 

These are the two articles I found while browsing this topic so feel free to check them out! There’s an interesting dialogue between these two journalists.    


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So no bacon? And 21 Other Questions Vegetarians Get Asked

This time of year, university students who are lucky enough survive exams take off by bus, train and plane to enjoy some home cooked holiday feasts.  For sustainability conscious eaters, explaining your choices to a great aunt or your second cousin’s girlfriend may seem like more than small talk.  For vegetarians in particular, turning down turkey may come with some puzzled looks.  Eating vegetarian reduces carbon emissions, saves water and fossil fuels, and creates less demand on grain crops and the world’s forests.  Although you know why you choose to eat ethically, you still might get a few confused looks or curious comments…

  1. What do you eat?
  2. So no meat?
  3. Do you get enough protein?
  4. Do you get enough iron?
  5. So not even chicken?
  6. What about fish?
  7. Do you eat animal crackers?
  8. Does it bother you to look at meat?
  9. Does it bother you if I eat meat in front of you?
  10. Doesn’t this look good?
  11. Would you be mad if I snuck meat in your food?
  12. If you were stuck on a desert island, would you eat meat?
  13. But cavemen ate meat, so isn’t it natural?
  14. So no gravy?
  15. Will you ever eat meat again?
  16. What’s tofu?
  17. Do you miss meat?
  18. Do you miss bacon?
  19. How much money money would I have to pay you to eat a piece of bacon?
  20. How do you not miss bacon?
  21. So wait, do you want turkey?

While you may feel like you’re being put on the spot, it’s important to remember that most people aren’t trying to make you uncomfortable, they’re just curious.  You make conscious dietary decisions, so be happy to answer questions that might help others think about theirs.  It’s not about preaching, it’s about raising awareness so together everyone, your loved ones especially, can be part of systemic change.

Eat ethical without the awkward: laugh off silly questions and take the opportunity to have a real conversation! And if they’re into it, here’s one of my favourite recipes for a delicious meatless version of a hearty winter meal: chili!

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10 000 Villages – Another Option for Fair Trade Christmas Presents!

          Are you looking to purchase ethical (and super beautiful) Christmas presents for your friends and loved ones? Of course, I would definitely recommend purchasing presents through Oxfam’s Unwrapped campaign, but that’s another blog post.

          So another wonderful option is 10 000 Villages. I love this organization – I have bought so many items at their various store locations throughout my lifetime, including picture frames, scarves, kitchen utensils, and jewelry, to name only a few examples.

          10 000 Villages recently traveled to Queen’s to do a 3-day sale in the Queen’s Center at the end of November. As I shopped, I was reminded again of the wonderful effect that this organization has on the lives of thousands of artisans all over the world. We are so grateful that the Queen’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders took the initiative to bring 10 000 Villages to Queen’s, and I know lots of people, including myself, who took advantage of the sale to purchase some holiday presents!

          This is 10 000 Villages’ website, which has lots of information about the organization, and even allows you to shop online! You can also find locations of the many 10 000 Villages stores all over Canada, including many in Ontario.

          So what exactly is 10 000 Villages? The website has detailed information about the organization, so I will just give you a super brief description of why I think that it is so wonderful. All the following information is taken directly from 10 000 Villages’ website.

          10 000 Villages is a FAIR TRADE non-profit organization, meaning that their primary goal is to help the artisans from whom they buy products earn a fair wage, not to maximize profits for the company. They have approximately 30 permanent stores in Canada, and they also travel all over the country for temporary sales, like when they came to Queen’s. The stores sell a huge variety of handicrafts produced by artisans all over the world.

          But wait, how is a “fair wage” actually determined? 10 000 Villages works with the artisans themselves and other residents in the community to determine how much the artisans deserve to be paid. This is a direct quote from the company’s website: “10 000 Villages buyers talk directly with artisan groups. They also talk with other organizations working in the country to learn how much other people in the community earn – farm workers, construction workers, teachers, etc. It is 10 000 Villages’ goal to ensure that an artisan’s basic needs for food, clothing, housing, medical care and children’s education are met.”

          One final quick fact: 10 000 Villages purchases products from 29 developing countries around the world. Also, the organization employs over 60 000 people that would otherwise likely be unemployed or underemployed!

          What a wonderful organization to support as you’re doing your holiday shopping!