A Virtual Food Audit

A few years ago, a friend lent me the book A Life Stripped Bare, in which a family spends a year trying to live ‘ethically.’ They went about this in a very creative way by basically asking a handful of wise ethically-minded people to “audit” their lives. The people came in and basically went room to room, cupboard to cupboard, discussing items, energy choices, etc. I thought it was a very creative way to learn about these things, and as a concrete examples person, it helps me when things are specific.

So, I thought I’d try my own experiment. On my most recent shopping trip, I bought most of what I might buy during a grocery run, and I snapped pictures of everything as I put it away. I’ve posted the individual items up in a private photo album. What I’d like to do is invite a handful of auditor’s who are knowledgeable on food issues and ethics to view the album and comment on items. Anyone interested can comment below or email me and I’ll invite you to the album.

My hope is that I get specific concrete input on the food choices I’m making and move toward changing those that need changing. I plan on making the album public, or a summary of the album after the ‘audit’.


For this that are interested, here is what I’m thinking would be a good system for this audit.

I made a facebook album, so the viewer can like or comment on each item. If the auditor approves of continuing to buy a particular item they will “like” the item. If they don’t choose to “like” the item they need to put some comment specifying why not. Comments can be left for a range of things, so they won’t necessarily count as negatives always, but at least the likes will serve as an indicator of support for an item.

I did not put specifics as to the quantities of items that I usually buy. There are some that are only an occasional meal option for my family, but in an effort to make it more universal advice and input I want to leave it to comment on the specific item, not the quantity or frequency of consumption.

We’ll see how this goes.

Sorting Out My Food Values

In my last post I wrote of some of my hesitations and concerns about the food movement. They where not major concerns but simple annoyances or critiques that I’d felt. The conversation that ensued was wonderful and I really appreciate those who took the time to reply to what I’d written and engage in some dialog. They were convincing arguments and I appreciated them. I’m willing, like I said before, to make changes in my families food choices. In thinking through it further, I recognized some values I have that seemed, at least in my head, to counter making changes in my food choices.

I think I’ve traditionally thought of food choices as being related to two specific values: personal health and environment. Eating healthy is a way to make choices for your immediate family to have better personal health and avoid the obesity epidemic and related disease. Eating organic and/or local is better for our environment, less pesticides, gas used on factory farming, shipping, etc. Oh, and third, free-range meat and eggs as an animal rights value. I know there’s more to it then that, but that would be the quick summary of how I’ve thought about the food choices.

I’ll try to keep these brief, but below are some of my values that I’ve found in conflict with making food choice changes.

Most of the ethical decisions I’ve made related to my lifestyle cost less money then the alternative. Biking rather then driving for example or sweatshop-made clothing for thrift store items. Rather then buy lots of fair trade chocolate instead of slave-made chocolate, I just rarely buy chocolate at all, it’s a luxury item after all. None of these things increase my costs. We can probably just chalk this up to being extremely frugal, or cheap, however you want to look at it. I think this is one of the reasons that I find the switch to more expensive food options as difficult, because unlike almost all my other ethical choices, it will consistently cost more.

Opportunity Cost
This is one of the main reasons that I’m consistently looking for ways to spend less money, the opportunity cost of that money to do good for others. I’ve previously used the example of the end scene in Schindler’s List when he recognizes his watch could have bought the safety of more Jews. The opportunity cost of the watch had significant value, people’s lives. I feel the same way when I think about what our finances could be going to. If I could spend $30 a month extra on organic foods to ensure the health of my immediate family or I could sponsor a child to ensure their provision through life, I’d probably go with the child everytime.

People First
I think, whether or not you believe in Global Warming, caring for the planet is an important factor in the decisions that we make. To a lesser degree, I think there is some merit to treating animals with care. However, the thing that vastly trumps those values in my ethical system is people. So, issues of slave labor, sweatshops and worker rights will win out over environmental concerns every time. And I know that they aren’t mutually exclusive, that environmental impact is often a direct cause of terrible working conditions, etc. It’s the human impact that will dictate my decisions far more then the effect on environment or animals.

I think that’s enough for now. The exercise above is not to make an argument against changing my food choices, but rather, laying them out so that those who are more well read on the subject can help point me in the right direction and help me walk through making changes to my families food choices.