Ethical Eats

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Food Security: Not Just About Food

Coming from an environmental science and global development studies background, I try and bring to Ethical Eats an integrated, multifaceted interpretation of contemporary issues.  I hope that it is clear to the majority of us that food security is tied into topics of poverty, power differentials, ownership/governance, labour trends, technological intensification, and ultimately, profit.  However, I would like to share an interesting concept associated with food security, which to me, has not been given adequate attention by developmental, agricultural, or private-corporate associations: water security.  I wish to touch on this subject briefly, while I greatly encourage that you (the reader) look into the topic further.  Water security is tied into a web of dynamic issues and relationships, and the solutions are equally complex.

Topics of water security are tied into topics of food on multiple levels.  Local abilities to subsist have been challenged since the industrial revolution and colonial era; not only has this progressive Euro-American process of acculturation led to the corporate concentration of water resources, but (arguably more importantly), it has also led to a broad-scale shift in attitudes toward the environment.  I suppose that I have created a sense of nostalgia for a time and place in history that I haven’t actually experienced.  Nonetheless, I can’t help but appreciate a time when local knowledge, human interactions, and innovations, allowed for basic needs to be met with utmost respect for the health of the environment.  One example that comes to mind is an area in the high-altitude region of the Tibetan plateau, called Ladakh.  The population, being faced with huge ecological pressures (hypoxia, isolation, extreme cold etc.), found creative ways to channel glacial meltwater to support the local population in a highly organized, cooperative manner.  Wheat, barley, vegetables, and fruit were plentiful, but the process was shaken with colonialism, war, and internal interventions.  There had once existed unwritten codes (derived from Buddhist religious norms) to never taint the quality of the water.  However, the community gradually began to face issues of degraded water quality and water-borne disease.  Ladakh’s experiences with the outer world is descriptive of the future world order that we as a global society are bound to face.

To place the case study of Ladakh into the context of current concerns for food security, I urge the Queen’s community to consider the relationship that now exists between humans and the environment.  Alexander Zhender, writing for the Swiss Federal Institute for Environmental Science and Technology, brings light to the extent to which water is used in agriculture, in a 2003 water policy article.  According to the FAO, on average, only 45 percent of irrigation water is used by the crop itself (although efficiency can vary, depending on the plant type and how water is brought to the plant).  Thus, one image to consider with regard to the relationship between water and food is inefficiency, and the subsequent degradation of water resources in food production.

Further, “virtual water” is an important topic in defining the intersection between water issues and food security, and they are weaved together by issues of international trade.  Water is not traded internationally as a consequence of transport issues, and from a philosophy standpoint.  So, what does this mean for water-poor countries?  Well, mostly this implies that there are very limited mechanisms to deal with both water and food needs.  Developing nations typically end up importing food to reduce internal water demands for agriculture, and herein is the meaning of “virtual water”.  Food acts as “virtual water” as a result of a non-uniform distribution of water, and also as a result of changing resource ownership.  The image of water insecurity and food insecurity is thus hugely complex, but one thing for certain is that local self-sufficiency has sufficiently been undermined.

Well, what does this mean for the future?  Water efficiency has been investigated quite thoroughly (consider drip irrigation systems, waste reduction, reallocation/reorganization etc.), along with topics of securing international food agreements.  But, is the technological, management, or policy solution enough?  My view: if we hope not to saturate the resources on which we live and thrive, then the exemptionalist paradigm that humans possess, relative to the environment, must ultimately be changed.


Alexander Zhender: Water Issues: The Need for Action at Different Levels
Ancient Futures: Learning From Ladakh

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Putting Your Local Apples to Work: Yogurt Batter Apple Rings

These apple rings are a quick and easy way to treat yourself over this busy study break, with many of the ingredients being organic or in season/local.

1 cup organic, all-purpose flour
– 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
– 1/4 teaspoon salt
– 1 large egg
– 1 cup plain yogurt (I like Liberte)
– 6 apples, cut vertically into ~1/4inch thick slices (Granny Smiths are good for cooking, but so are many others!  Try to use what’s in store at your local farmer’s market – many varieties are in season now)
– Canola oil
– 1/2 cup sugar
– 2-3 tsp cinnamon

If you don’t mind doing some preparation ahead of time, I also recommend using some vanilla beans to make a vanilla bean sugar by scraping the bean seeds into an airtight container, and simply letting the sugar sit with the seeds buried inside, for 2-3 weeks.

Cooking Instructions
1) In a mixing bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.
2) In a separate bowl, whisk yogurt with the one egg and combine well.
3) Whisk the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and set that bowl aside.
4) Slice the apples with a round cookie cutter or simply use a knife.  Do not throw away the remains of course – you can either create different shapes (instead of rings) to make use of the apple as a whole, or simply leave remaining apple pieces for snacking later.
5) In a deep and large skillet, heat canola oil over medium heat.
6) Dip the apple rings into the batter mixture, then place into the oil in batches carefully. Cook for a few minutes, flipping to brown either side.
7) Set out a plate of mixed sugar and cinnamon (and any other spices that you like) and dip the rings into the sugar mix while hot to allow the coating to stick.

Easy stuff, local ingredients, and decently healthy.  Alternatively, cut down the sugar and use spices and honey to coat.  You could also try baking on a rack over a baking sheet if you have dinner that is expected to go in the oven, so that you use your energy efficiently, and have dessert all ready to go after your meal.


Revised from:

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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