27 Simple Ways to Make Ethical Food Choices

27 Simple Ways to Make Ethical Food Choices

By
Dennis Kamprad

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There are plenty of ways to approach food ethics and various reasons for making ethical food choices. Some make the change for moral reasons, while others do it for their health. No matter why you’re making this choice, ethical eating requires knowing where your food comes from as well as the impact it has on other people, animals, and the environment. 

Some simple ways to make ethical food choices include supporting fair trade, buying from local farmers, and learning to preserve foods; increasing your plant and limiting your meat consumption; and buying organic, non-GMO produce and grains and unprocessed or minimally-processed foods.

If you want to start making ethical food choices, we have a list of simple ways (and a few not-so-simple but incredibly impactful ways) for you to do just that. Keep reading to learn basic principles in ethical eating, grocery shopping tips, and DIY home projects you can embrace to make more ethical food choices from now on.

And to help you figure out where you can have the biggest impact, we’ve categorized these into the following three sections:

Just click on the link of the one above that is most relevant to you – or start reading away below!

Making Ethical Food Choices that Are Right for You

Choose an Ethical Diet That Is Right for You and the Planet

As it were, there are no concrete rules for ethical and sustainable eating, and it will look a little different for everyone. Some people will feel the need to eliminate all animal products, whereas others can’t even fathom a world in which cheese does not exist. It’s important to find a balance of foods that works for you and then make the most ethical decisions you can for those choices

It is common to mistake “healthy” food choices as synonymous with vegetarian or vegan choices. Indeed, many think that switching to a vegetarian or vegan diet automatically translates into healthy. However, this is not always the case for every individual.

Reduce the Amount of (Red) Meat You Eat

Meat products, beef, in particular, have become a very unethical food choice. Producing meat takes a far greater toll on the environment than vegetables. Not just in things like animal-feed production and water use but also in transportation, packaging, and energy. 

Also, the meat and livestock industries, in general, have some serious issues associated with them. Most notably, factory farms work at great speed, slaughtering large numbers of animals for food. This has led to animal abuse, worker demoralization, and unsanitary conditions responsible for creating food waste, illness, and death.

The reason all this has come to be is due largely to overconsumption. As consumers, we buy too much meat, eat too much meat, and waste too much meat. Indeed, the demand for meat has grown unsustainable, and the only way to lessen that demand is to consume less product.

However, it isn’t just animals and the environment that will benefit from you cutting back. You can see significant improvement in your overall health by reducing your meat intake. 

This is especially true for red meat—as excessive intake can lead to a variety of health problems, including obesity, high blood pressure, heart failure, and an increased chance of death—though health concerns hold for all choices—even chicken

Increase the Amount of (Raw) Plants You Eat

To continue on the theme of balance, increasing the amount of plant-based foods in your diet is an ethical food choice that is good for all. To stay healthy, the human body requires a good deal of nutrition, much of which can be found in plants. Meals should consist of small portions of animal produce (otherwise, e.g., vitamin B12 supplementation becomes vital), with the rest of our plate space going to fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes. 

Also, work to incorporate more raw foods into your diet. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables without cooking, freezing, drying, or other preparation is the best way to get maximum nutritional benefit from your food. Plus, it eliminates the energy consumption that comes from various cooking methods. 

Any step you take in your diet to increase plant consumption (and decrease meat consumption) is a win for ethical eating. Embracing plant-heavy diets will help reduce animal suffering and negative environmental impacts. 

Making Ethical Food Choices at the Grocery

Support Local Farms and Shop at Farmers’ Markets

One of the most impactful ethical eating choices you can make is to buy food from the local farmers in your area. The farm may sell its products through your local grocery or sell from the farms themselves. Some even allow the public to come harvest crops for themselves or even sell you animals to have butchered. 

Farmers’ markets are also a great place to go for ethical foods. There, you’ll find most, if not all, the food items produced in your area in one convenient spot. These will be some of the more ethical food choices you can make, as these products are made in small batches using ethical and sustainable practices by people in your very own community. 

Buy Organic Products

Whether it’s meat, dairy, or produce, the most ethical food choices are organic options. Organic meat and dairy products typically use free-range animals who have not been given hormones and eat natural diets. Organic produce tends to be cleaner, grown using sustainable farming techniques and natural pesticides. 

However, buying organic isn’t as simple as going to the grocery and buying products from the organic aisles. Unfortunately, some food companies get away with “greenwashing” their products, essentially exaggerating or flat out lying about organic claims and other certifications. This is a time where doing your research will play an important role.

Look for Fair Trade Foods

Issues surrounding workers’ rights are prevalent throughout the global agricultural industry. Many foods, including oranges, strawberries, chocolate, and coffee, are often picked by enslaved workers. 

Purchasing food with fair trade labels ensures workers’ rights are protected, empowers farmers, supports responsible companies, and protects the environment. Look for Fair Trade Certified and Fairtrade International labels when shopping.

Buy Free-Range, Grass-Fed, Hormone-Free Meat and Dairy

Animals are treated horribly throughout the world’s factory farms and other high-producing agricultural venues, and these unethical operations should not be supported. Instead, purchase food made by farms that allow their animals to roam free, eat naturally, and are spared from biological manipulation. 

Look for free-range eggs and grass-fed, hormone-free meat and dairy items to make the ethical food choice that supports good farming practices. Plus, since the animals will have lived healthier lives, food will be of superior quality, taste, and nutrition. 

Seek Out Sustainable Seafood

A large percentage of the world’s seafood is caught via unsustainable or illegal operations. Many endangered species are overfished, and fishing methods are often cruel to marine life and unsafe for the workers. 

Look for seafood that has been certified by the Marine Conservation Society—or buy from local fisheries that are practicing safe, sustainable, and legal fishing methods. This will help to protect the ocean and all its species from harm.

Stop Being Superficial About Appearance

Many tend to shy away from less than perfect produce at the grocery store. However, an odd shape or some nicks and bruises doesn’t mean the food tastes any different or is lacking in any way. Sadly, much of the “unpretty” produce gets picked over and eventually thrown away, further contributing to food wastes. 

This can apply to packaging, too, like crushed and dented boxes or cartons. The food harbored inside shouldn’t be punished for a person’s careless mishandling of it and be left to go to waste.

Avoid Genetically Modified Foods

You hear this all the time and with good reason. GMOs and nano foods have been controversial and largely disfavored for decades. Genetic-modification reduces biodiversity, wreaks havoc on the environment, and is harmful to your health. Numerous countries have banned genetically modified crops, but a significant portion of the agricultural industry is still cultivating this unnatural food. 

Look out for labels on food packaging, such as the Non-GMO Project label, to find foods that have been cultivated or processed using GMO seeds or crops. 

Always Read the Ingredient Lists

Food packaging is virtually always deceiving and foods are made to look better than they are. Often, pictures of the food on the packaging looks better than the actual product inside, and there are plenty of companies that claim their food to be healthier than they are via misleading statements and the like. 

This can apply to foods with non-GMO and organic labels as well, so be sure to double-check ingredient lists to make sure only natural ingredients are listed – or that you can, at the very least, pronounce each and every ingredient.

Stay Away From Heavily-Processed Foods

Processed foods are all around us. By definition, a food is considered processed if any deliberate change occurs in food before it is made available to eat.

This can be as simple as drying or freezing, or even just portioning—like pre-cut fruit platters from the supermarket. This also defines foods with chemical or biological modifications. Of course, not all modifications and processes are bad—pasteurization, for example.

Completely unprocessed foods—the ones we all know we should eat more of—make up a fairly small list of seeds, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and meats that are eaten in the same form they were when they left the dirt, vine, tree, pond, sea, shell, or slaughterhouse. Providing they were also cultivated responsibly, these types of food will be the most ethical choice.

Other good options will also include minimally-processed foods. The processing is innocuous for these foods, like plain rice and grains, fresh fruits, bagged vegetables, salad greens, nuts, seeds, and roasted coffee beans. Some processing, like grinding or simple cooking, will be done for convenience or even safety. 

When it comes to the more heavily processed food choices—like canned soups, boxed crackers, frozen meals—that is when you can run into a pile of issues. 

Many canned and frozen foods contain chemicals, nitrates, and unnatural preservatives and typically lose nutrients to the processes. Plus, there is an added environmental impact of heavily-processed foods from packaging and operations that you need to be concerned about. 

Overall, choosing foods with the least amount of processing will be your most ethical choices

Be Choosy About Chocolate

Chocolate production is another top offender of human rights and the environment, which often uses forced and child labor and badly damages the earth. NestlĂ© is a well-known company that is notorious for abusing workers’ rights and using child labor, and many of its operations come at an enormous environmental cost. 

Look for chocolate with fair trade labels to make the ethical choice when buying this popular food item. This ensures workers are treated fairly, and farming practices are more sustainable.

Avoid Products That Use Palm Oil

Palm oil production has grown beyond unsustainable. Illegal logging and other unethical and damaging practices are causing tremendous amounts of deforestation in tropical countries around the world. 

This harms not only the environment but also the communities of people living in these areas. Because of this devastation, groups like the Food Empowerment Project and others suggest avoiding palm oil in any way possible.

Admittedly, this ethical food choice is simple to say but can be difficult to execute, and it’s a time when reading the label is important so that you know what you are buying.

Palm oil is the world’s second most widely used oil after soybean and is found in foodstuffs like cooking oil, shortening, margarine, sauces, soups, crackers, and other baked goods—even vegan products.

Plan Ahead and Shop Conservatively

A lot of food waste occurs because we buy too much at one time. All too often, produce, dairy, meat, and bread can spoil before you get the chance to eat it, and then you have to throw it out. Also, we buy special ingredients for a recipe that we make once and then never use that ingredient again, causing food to end up, again, in the garbage.

Take the time to plan out meals for the week and make a shopping list to follow when you go out—and avoid impulse buying! This will help you to avoid overbuying and cut down on your food waste.

Making Ethical Food Choices at Home

Cook and Eat at Home More Often

When you go out to a restaurant, you don’t always know for certain where your meal is coming from. There are some small businesses out there making good choices. 

However, many chain restaurants and virtually all fast-food eateries have questionable sources for many of their ingredients and food items. It’s best just to stay away from fast food entirely. Not only is it unhealthy, but it is also harmful to the environment.

Instead, the more ethical food choice is to cook your own meals at home. This way, you know where the food came from because you sourced it yourself. It is likely to be much healthier, too.

Plan Meals Before Shopping to Minimize Food Waste

Planning a menu of meals before shopping or harvesting will help you better select foods and avoid bringing home more than you can eat. This also allows you to use similar ingredients for a variety of recipes to use up entire quantities of food. 

Particularly, if you are someone who struggles with portion control when cooking, this can help you become better disciplined and avoid potential food waste.

Always Eat Any Left-Overs

Think about all the times you’ve thrown away food—even if it was just a few bites that you scraped off your plate or had the waiter take away. If we could find a way to share and consume the alarming amount of food we instead throw away every year in America alone, we could significantly lessen the global hunger problem. 

Eating leftovers will reduce food waste, not to mention it saves you time and money. Who doesn’t want to enjoy a night off from the kitchen every now and again?

Eat Out at Ethical Eateries

The more people that are actively making ethical food choices, the better. Even though the more ethical choice is to eat at home, if you find a restaurant or food truck providing ethical food choices, you should support them. 

Besides, you can make an impact by making ethical food choices for yourself, but you can make a bigger impact with others alongside you doing the same.

Start a Compost Bin

Many of us have recycling bins in our homes and workplaces for paper, plastic, etc. However, too few have composting bins, which are, essentially, recycling bins for food. 

Food waste is an important factor to consider when making ethical food choices, and composting is an excellent way to cut back on food waste

Instead of tossing foodstuff into the garbage, where it ends up in a landfill to rot alongside the rest of our forsaken materials, create a compost bin. Turn it into an all-natural, organic fertilizer you can use to create rich, nutrient-dense soil in your garden that plants are going to love.

Invest in a Good Water Filtration System

Clean water is important to your health, but bottled water production has been harming the environment for decades. Companies are depleting freshwater sources, bottling factories consume large amounts of energy, and plastic bottles are piling up in our oceans and landfills worldwide. 

Instead of buying bottled water, invest in a good, efficient water filtration system at home to help alleviate this issue.

Start a Vegetable Garden

If you want truly fresh, clean, organic produce, there’s no better way to get it than by growing it yourself. Starting a vegetable garden is fun and rewarding, as you earn yourself ethically-grown, pesticide-free, non-GMO vegetables every harvesting season. Even if you lack yard space (for example, you live in an apartment), this can still be possible with a windowsill or vertical garden. 

Learn DIY Food Preservation

Preserving fresh food will help to make food last longer and reduce food waste. Techniques like drying/dehydrating, canning, freezing, fermenting, pickling, and more will allow you to harvest large quantities of crops when they are ripe and retain them until you are able to consume them. 

Many of these techniques are fun to do and easy to learn. Plus, they rank among some of the best food choices you can make for the sake of ethical eating. 

Create a Community Garden in Your Neighborhood

This is a trend that has started to catch on in many places. If you don’t yet have a community garden in your town, take the initiative to start one. 

Particularly, if you live in a dense, urban area, where many people live in apartments and don’t have access to land, a community garden will be of great service to you and your neighbors. This is a great way to make new friends and share ideas in ethical eating with others. 

Volunteer and Give to Charity

There are numerous organizations promoting sustainable and ethical eating for you to join and become an active advocate for animal rights and environmentally-friendly business. 

Simply volunteering your time to the community via local charities, food banks, and the likes will help provide food to those who need it most and help cut back on food waste. Also, whenever you have too much food at home, donate it.

Ethical Eating 101: Fundamentals and Best Practices

Always Do Your Research

You’ve been reading this article, so you’re already on the right track, but if you want to eat ethically, you need to be smart and thoughtful about what you eat. This means that you need to know the difference between what is healthy and good for you, others, and the environment and what is not. Also, depending on your current dietary habits, it may require some big changes in how you approach every meal each day.

Truthfully, every decision made in ethical food choices requires research. Each food must be considered, every company must be investigated, and all labels must be read, vetted, and verified. 

We sometimes think that we can just read lists like these and then suddenly become ethical eaters. However, this is certainly not true, and nothing will help you more in your decision to embrace ethical eating than taking the time to do your research for everything.

Know Where Your Food Comes From

Most people don’t have a clue as to where their food comes from. Many buy products off grocery shelves at face value, without ever knowing where it was made, how it was made, who made it, or even what ingredients it was made with.

An important step in ethical food research is going well beyond the grocery store to find out the source of your food. This means looking into companies and farms to see how ethical and sustainable their production methods are. 

A proper scrutinizing of the internet can uncover such information, but you may wish to go as far as visiting the farms yourself to see how animals are raised or how crops are grown and to confirm their food products are a good choice. 

Final Thoughts

Making ethical food choices can be a tricky habit to learn and execute successfully. With practice, gradually taking on these suggestions one-by-one, and helping others make ethical food choices as well, soon enough, you will see this add up to something significant and impactful. Do your research and make thoughtful choices, and you are sure to be successful. 

Stay impactful,



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