Ethical Eats

Brought to you by Oxfam @ Queen's

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Yoga, Mindfulness, and Food Ethics

“Beyond calories and diets, mindful eating takes a more holistic approach that can empower individuals to build positive relationships with food and eating,” said first author Celia Framson, M.P.H., R.D., C.D…former yoga teacher.

I would like to bring to Ethical Eats a spiritual, thoughtful, dimension of ethics and food.  The ethics of food covers a breadth of topics – from issues of environmental protection, to resource use in agriculture, to meat consumption, to the embeddedness of power and poverty in food systems, and so on.  In this now complex, blurred-bordered world, awareness and information for such ethical concerns has been fostered through a range of media channels and social networks (whether it be technologically or organically transferred).  We now have access to innovative and creative tools that guide us on our paths to vegetarianism or veganism.  We have libraries and networks of information that shed light upon the importance of making conscious consumer choices, including local, organic, and fair trade products.  I am supportive of this spark: alternative media, our peers, and our diverse communities can lead us to make enlightened choices in our daily lives.

Still, I get a sort of mental itch in thinking that this is the best that we, as humans, can do.  It is easy and convenient to take on a consumerist mode of attack.  I notice, however, that there exists a superficial barrier in flaunting mindful actions, without intention: without mindfulness itself, really.   Our submission to external cues can only penetrate the outer perimeter of the inner psyche.  This brings about a range of questions: is this true altruism?  Are we making our ‘ethical’ choices in sole response to social pressures?  And, ultimately, what is the consequence for the sustainability of alternate food systems if trend comes to trump intention?

Personally, I see that there exist important linkages between meditation and food ethics, to respond to these questions. In fact, this perspective is grounded in various scientific studies as well.  The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center of Seattle, for example, conducted a study on yoga and weight-loss from the perspective of mind-body-awareness affecting eating behaviours.  Kristal, a yoga enthusiast, sees yoga as a mode of cultivating mindfulness, for example, by holding a physical pose and by observing discomfort in a non-judgmental way…”this ability to be calm and observant during physical discomfort teaches us how to maintain calm in other challenging situations, such as…not eating when you’re not hungry,” he said.  A “mindful eating questionnaire” was developed on the basis of factors like food awareness, and eating due to emotional response, distraction, or external cues.  Mindful eating was concluded as a key determinant of weight maintenance.

For more information, here is an article on the study:

I believe that some important, direct and indirect, philosophical connections can be made between yoga, mindfulness, and food ethics (beyond the weight-loss dimension).  Let us draw them out:

  1. Flexibility
    A common theme to yoga practice is the pushing of oneself to a physical edge…here we observe pain in a thoughtful way, extending, retracting, or adjusting as necessary.  When it comes to food, no individual comes from the same origin, nor will they come to take on the same ethical food profile.  Ethical eating can mean understanding your own cravings and desires, while using and developing inner tools to eventually put them into a wider context (for example, taking genuine consideration for your care for animals, the environment, poverty etc.) and adjusting your food behaviours gradually.  This takes time, but that’s the point.
  2. Balance
    A basic tenet, foundational to meditation and yoga practice, is the idea of focusing our minds and body chemicals in a way that settles our complex rhythms of emotion, egotism, anger, stress, and so forth.  Balance in the way that we eat is an imperative, not only health-wise, but also in terms of adjusting to new forms of ethical eating.  Your ethical food profile isn’t going to be ‘perfect’, but it can start with taking out one type of meat in your diet, for example.  (I took out beef, a couple years ago, both for spiritual, personal reasons, and for the sake of the environment.  You’ll find mountains of literature on this.)
  3. Pausing/Breath/Slowness
    I hate to tell you, but mindful eating means avoiding the tasty lure of over-consuming even the fairest of products (certified and standardized and everything).  Meditation allows you to take a mental pause.  When you make your green or ethical choices, think a little deeper.  Do you really need 50 fair trade chocolate bars?  The force is strong in consumerism, mostly because it acts as a social and mental indicator that we are tangibly doing something ‘good’, and in doing that something, we don’t really have to step too far out of our capitalist-based-comfort-zone.  And, believe me, I am pro-fair trade (shameless, MTF plug), but I recommend keeping in mind the importance of drawing back consumer and ecological footprints first: people tend to lose sight of that element nowadays.  Consider making food purchases based on necessity, in close combination with ethics and fairness.
  4. Mindfulness
    We are not ‘perfect’ beings, but we are gentle beings at the core.  Even the Dalai Lama eats meat occasionally, according to the Times of India.  But, at once, he maintained that “non-vegetarianism was bad for health and against the tenets of Buddhism which taught “karuna” (sympathy) to all living beings…[advocating] against luxuries in life”.  Mindfulness is about realizing that somewhere in all of us, we have the capacity to develop genuine consideration for all life on earth, in addition to the non-living components of earth.

In the end, everyone will come to take on a unique, green-ethical food profile, but first, look within.  Ultimately, mindfulness is what allows food security concerns to penetrate our daily decisions in a genuine way.  “Everyone has a seed of good heart,” His Holiness the Dalai Lama.


– Elephant Journal

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Understanding Green Droughts

A green drought occurs when rain falls irregular to its usual cycle or when there is only enough rainfall to maintain shallow-rooted plants on the surface. Green droughts are a result of late rainfall delaying harvests and, thus, stalling food production. Green droughts tend to confuse the international public who view images of green, flourishing lands but are still told that there is a dire situation occurring that needs international aid relief.


In 2011 Ethiopia’s green drought began its most notorious famine. Rainfall in the region came too late to produce crops so farmers were unable to harvest on schedule. Short rains usually fall in February or March and are crucial in germinating seeds for crops but in 2011’s Ethiopia, short rain did not fall until May. This irregular rain schedule leaves farmers with fewer crops due to late harvesting or even inabilities to harvest. Even after rainfall finally falls (off schedule), farmers experience slower growing – if growth at all.

Contrary to the typical understanding of droughts, droughts are not necessarily a result of a lack of rain but can also be due to the timing of precipitation in which rain cycles are not on schedule with crop harvesting. Green droughts are deceptive but equally as disastrous and destructive as characteristic droughts. So although a green drought may not look like a problem at all, the resulting agricultural complications leave farmers and communities without food or prospects of food production for indefinite periods of time.

– Angela

Drip Irrigation Systems

Part of the LOFT movement includes a commitment to environmental responsibility. Less packaging, more reusable and recyclable materials, shorter transportation of food itself – but more directly, and perhaps most importantly, is farming techniques. The meat industry is often highlighted as unsustainable and inhumane as well as highly wasteful. Surprisingly, the agricultural industry can be equally as unsustainable.

Farms are major contributors to water scarcity – about 70% of all water consumed is through farming techniques…and most of the water is wasted.

Drip irrigation (also known as trickle or micro irrigation) is a horticultural method engineered to control the application of water and fertilizer to enable water to drip slowly to the roots of the plants. Although the technique continues to be developed, the network of valves and tubes has proven efficienct, effective, and worth pursuing for both farmer security and water security.

What are the benefits of drip irrigation?

  • reduced water use – drip irrigation can use up to half the amount of water overhead irrigation systems do
  • improved efficiency – the direct application of water and/or fertilizer keeps costs low and less nutrients are losses (and nutrients can be timed more precisely to the plants’ needs)
  • less weeds – the direct application can also help focus the irrigation on the plants rather than the surrounding foliage
  • low pumping – drip irrigation requires lower operating pressure than overhead systems
  • better distribution – the direct application improves the ability of the field to be watered equally and properly throughout (even with irregularly shaped fields)

ImageUnfortunately, drip irrigation systems can be expensive to both install and maintain but the benefits may outweigh the disadvantages especially when considering the amount of water such a system can save. 

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Certified Local Sustainable

The L in LOFT is not always easily accomplished and can get even more complicated when you add sustainability to the mix.


Local Food Plus (LFP) is a Canadian non-profit aiming to educate consumers, producers, and distributors about the benefits (and standards) of local and sustainable foods. LFP developed criteria to certify local sustainable foods so that consumers know, and understand, exactly what they’re purchasing.

The definition of local is often ambiguous ranging from 100km radius to within a province or group of provinces. Likewise, sustainable is overwhelmed with limitless conditions. LFP seeks to amalgamate the two concepts identifying local sustainable food as:

  • being grown or caught, processed, and marketed locally
  • financially viable for all stakeholders (not just chain retailers/distributors)
  • ecologically responsible
  • meat from producers who treat animals with respect and without reliance on artificial hormones or drugs
  • socially responsible workplaces (fair wages, fair treatment)
  • energy conservation (low reliance on fossil fuels)
  • water conservation (low water waste)
  • stewards of the environment (biodiversity and protecting wildlife)
  • helping to grow a resilient food system

The LFP label is subject to independent third party expert inspections. And unlike organic labelling systems, LFP does not charge farmers for the entire cost of certification but charges a minimal fee while the rest of the expenses are paid through LFP fundraising (reducing the burden on small-hold farmers).

LFP got its start on the University of Toronto campus proving that the differences students make in their community can extend to the entire food system.


– Angela

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Growing a Better Future

GROW is Oxfam’s food security campaign launched in 2011. Oxfam’s sustainable solutions include…

This means sharing how we consume food and how corporations and institutional structures function. We can make a difference by using environmental resources more delicately, addressing climate change, and helping farmers adapt to rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns. Let’s change what and how we consume.

This means utilizing women farmers in developing countries giving them equal access to land, seeds, equipment, credit, and training. We can make a difference by helping women farmers in developing countries gain equal access to land, seeds, tools, and credit that would help them grow more food and eat better. Let’s change how food is produced.

This means that the distribution of food needs to more balanced. We can make a difference by asking our governments to change policies that undermine people’s right to food. Let’s change policies and ensure the right to food is met.

What we want to see:
investment in small-scale agriculture that recognizes women having a critical role…this does not mean large corporate farms should not exist,  but they currently get most of the investment and support — resolving the food crisis will take a variety of approaches in which small-scale agriculture (which feeds 1/3 of the planet) can do
moratorium on land-grabs in developing countries
– responsible government regulation
– stop climate change

What you can do:
– buy food produced fairly and sustainably
– demand accountability from companies
– get governments to include support for sustainable agriculture and women farmers in the aid budget
– press the government to stop subsidizing food for fuel
– reduce greenhouse gases

 – Angela

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Eating meat…Sustainably!


As the world’s population continues to grow at an accelerated pace, the sustainability of food production is increasingly at the forefront of environmental, economic and social concerns. Current UN projections expect the global population to reach 10.5 billion by 2050. As things stand right now, the long-term sustainability of food production is in question.

The cattle industry is one of the leading contributors to environmental degradation and deforestation worldwide. In 2012, Canadians ate on average 20.9kg of beef per person annually. This unsustainable demand in Canada and other Western countries contributes to large-scale deforestation in much of the developing world. So, moderating our consumption of beef, and other industrial-scale meat products, can help reduce our environmental impact. Limiting yourself by not eating meat at every meal can greatly offset your contribution to the global food deficit.

However, when you’re buying locally produced Canadian beef, it doesn’t necessarily imply deforestation. Of the 83,000 farms and ranches with beef cattle across Canada, 61% had fewer than 47 cows. Smaller herds mean moderating grazing, and therefore less detriment to the land, and therefore the environment. So, moderate your consumption of beef, and eat locally.

-Dylan K

Hello friends! Though we all try to eat LOFT as much as possible I know ;), there do come those times where you end up buying something you know is not LOFT. We all fall victim to the flashy marketing, cheap prices, and accessibility of those brands that have enjoyed commercial success. In order to help consumers to buy brands that are making the biggest steps towards environmental and gender justice, Oxfam created the Behind the Brands campaign! This campaign aims to expose how large corporations measure up in areas of: women, small-scale farming, treatment of farm workers, water, land, climate change, and transparency.


Check out the Company Scorecard:

Sign the petition:



Nestlé and Unilever have  currently developed and published the most policies aimed at social and environmental risks within their supply chains, while ABF and Kellogg have the fewest. I learned this from the report at the link above!

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– Erin