“From Field to Fork: Food Ethics for Everyone” by Paul B. Thompson

The books I’ve read over the past year – particularly in relation to climate change – have undoubtedly made me question the choices I make about food. I can’t claim to have become a vegetarian, but I am eating a lot less meat, and choosing meat-free options where I can. The more I read about the ways in which we farm and consume meat in the west, the more convinced I am that change is unavoidable. We simply don’t need to eat meat every day – particularly low-quality, intensively farmed stuff which has been pumped full of antibiotics – and the longer we ignore the ethical conundrums which accompany our dietary choices, the harder it will be for us to cope with the consequences. 2015 has been the year in which the world’s leaders made their pledges at COP21; in which fires raged through Indonesia, in part as a result of the management of palm oil plantations; in which scientists discovered a gene which has developed resistance to colistin, a crisis created by the ways in which we farm meat; and in which floods have raged (and are still raging) through the UK, arguably exacerbated by the fact that our landscape has been stripped of trees for the purposes of farming. We are obviously affecting nature through our actions, in many cases with tragic results – and a great deal of this is linked to what we eat.

I have to say that I don’t relish the idea of eating less meat. I’ve always been a very willing carnivore; the emotional aspects of eating animals have never really perturbed me, and I love the culture of it – not to mention the taste. Black pudding in a fry up; the pork pies at a picnic; scratchings in the pub….there is a social bond created by sharing these foods, and it isn’t something I want to eschew. For me, the decision is wholly linked to the environmental and scientific impact of the quantity of meat we consume. We can’t maintain this rate of deforestation; methane production; and antibiotic abuse, and still hope to live within functioning ecosystems.

I was hoping that From Field to Fork: Food Ethics for Everyone would be an interesting exploration of the kinds of issues I’ve already been starting to think about: unfortunately, though, I couldn’t take to it, and upon reflection think that I’m not its target audience. It did raise some new ideas for me: whether GM foods can be ethically justified because of their ability to feed the poorest communities; whether obesity results from personal choice or genetic predisposition caused by the diets of our grandparents; and the key role that literature has played in exposing the least ethical practices within the food industry (such as, for example, Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath.) For me, it was too full of academic jargon, and simply too inaccessible for someone without a background in ethics – the “everyone” part of the title is perhaps a bit misleading. I also prefer something with a clear, emphatic argument – as in This Changes Everything and Climate Change, Capitalism and Corporations, both of which are impassionate and wholly engaging. This is more of a neutral exploration of various ethical issues, which, unfortunately, when combined with the language, wasn’t enough to keep my attention. For someone with the right background, I’m sure this would be an excellent book. For a layman, though, it’s not very easy going.

From Field to Form

4 thoughts on ““From Field to Fork: Food Ethics for Everyone” by Paul B. Thompson

  1. Too bad this wasn’t what you were hoping it would be. Have you read any of Michael Pollan’s books? The Omnivore’s Dilemma is really good, I think you might like it if you haven’t read it already. I applaud your attempts to learn about food production and to eat less meat. I know how hard it is to change one’s diet and if you don’t know anyone else doing the same thing it is even harder. As a vegan of 20+ years, if you ever want any recipes or encouragement, I’m your gal 🙂

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    • Thank you! This book actually mentions the Omnivore’s Dilemma a couple of times, so I thought I’d give it a go…I’m hoping I might be given a vegetarian cookbook for my birthday next week, so looking forward to experimenting!

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  2. Widget, I’m a bit like you. I am a meat eater, but after watching “Farm, Inc.” (finally giving in to my son who said I HAD to watch it and I would soon believe Monsanto was “the devil”), I have looked more closely at the grocery decisions I make. I am much more inclined now to get my vegetables from the local farmer’s market which operates every Saturday (and is a nice walk from the house). And I not only have limited the amount of meat we eat, I try to buy it from farms that treat their animals humanely and with respect. (Much more expensive, so we necessarily have to cut down on meat products.) But I still want to make a turkey for Thanksgiving and a standing rib roast on Christmas Eve because those family traditions around the table are also important to me. I don’t plan on becoming a vegetarian (and I could never be vegan – for what is life without a decent egg and a extra sharp cheddar?), but we can all be more thoughtful consumers. In the end, it’s a win-win.

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    • Hi Grad, thank you for your comment. It sounds like we are very much on the same page. I’ve just done my first ever meat-free weekly shop so we’ll see how that goes, but I couldn’t give it up entirely – as you say, the family traditions are so important, too. We all just need to make more informed choices – which is why films like Cowspiracy are so important.

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