Becoming an Ethical Consumer

Good morning dear readers! Before I get into today’s post which is a little less food-centric than usual, I just want to say I’m so glad you enjoyed last week’s recipe my Super Chunky Lentil and Zucchini Soup ! It seems a record number of you made it and that makes me so happy – thank you for commenting back and posting pictures too :) Proof once again that delicious vegan food can be simple and non-fussy.
Anyways, moving on to the topic du jour. You may or may not know this, but I’ve been a fan of soy milk for years – back when I was just starting middle school, my mom started following a mostly macrobiotic/organic diet under the tutelage of Mariam Nour (a somewhat whackadoodle TV personality at the time). Interested and eager to join my mom on her health craze I went along for the ride. We switched out white rice for brown, frosties for organic rye muesli, and skimmed milk for soy.

I won’t lie and say that all those habits stuck – I had years of atrocious high school and university eating habits ahead of me still, but one thing was for sure, I liked my soy milk. So much so that when it came time to axe all the dairy from my diet (long before I went vegan) I didn’t think twice about switching back to soy.

When I was living in the UK, I was always a fan of the Alpro /Provamel brands, purchasing everything from their milks to pouring yogurts and even soy creamer for those slightly more decadent recipes. In Bahrain I’ve grown accustomed to buying Silk Organic, which I’ve grown to love.

So imagine my disappointment when I stumbled across a post on Reddit, which informed me that Silk is actually owned by Dean Foods, the largest producer and distributor of Dairy in the US. And if that weren’t bad enough, it turns out Dean Foods is one of the many companies that spent millions trying to block Prop 37, California’s Right to Know’s ballot initiative to label genetically modified food. Needless to say I was shocked – but even more upsetting was a little tidbit of information I found when I did some more digging: Dean Foods had actually acquired Alpro back in 2009. So in all my years of being a soy milk devotee, I’ve been unknowingly supporting a largely unethical dairy conglomerate. Needless to say I was beside myself in frustration.

Am I being a little extreme? I don’t think so. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: veganism to me is more than just diet – it’s a lifestyle whose ethos are at the core of defining who I am as a person and what I believe in. If I claim to eschew animal products due (in part) to the horrifying conditions and maltreatment of animals, exploitation of resources in modern day agriculture and my overall commitment to be an ethical consumer – then how can I continue to knowingly support a company like Dean Foods (whose track record by the way, isn’t exactly stellar)?

On the other side of the coin, some would argue that by “voting with my dollar” when I buy a non-dairy item from either Silk or Alpro, I’m showing the company that there’s a higher demand for vegan friendly products, which should be seen as a good thing as far as raising awareness goes and making vegan diets more mainstream.

Unfortunately for me the negatives outweigh the benefits in this case. I would much rather continue to seek out and support smaller, ethical (and preferably local/regional) brands when it comes to my choices as a consumer.
The sad truth however, is that so much about the way food is produced in today’s world can be deemed unethical in some way shape or form.

Palm oil for example been deemed taboo in vegan circles for example due to the fact that harvesting it results in the destruction of rain forests and the death of indigenous orangutans.
Bolivian woman harvesting Quinoa
More recently, quinoa-eaters have been put in the ethical hot seat, as a controversial article in The Independent highlighted how the price-rise of highly coveted pseudograin has damaged the livelihood of the Bolivian farmers who can no longer afford it.
And lest we forget about cacao (an estimated 43% of the world’s chocolate comes from the Ivory Coast, where child slavery and unsafe working conditions are the norm), coffee beans, bananas, coconuts, sugar and every other crop that is typically harvested unsustainably.
The harsh truth of the matter is that if I were to eschew every unethical product or foodstuff, I’d essentially be unable to consume anything except the food grown in my backyard.

So where does one draw the line?
One thing I’ve learned in my short time of being vegan is that it isn’t about perfection, and it isn’t a competition. Even the most careful person will mistakenly purchase or consume an animal by-product at some point, and there’s no need to beat myself up about it. Mistakes will happen, it’s just about doing what you can. Veganism to me, is striving to lead a lifestyle that is cruelty-free, compassionate, and ethical to the best of my ability.
This week that meant rotating a few new non-dairy milk options into the mix to find an apt substitute for my beloved Alpro. No big deal, in the grand scheme of things, but a step forward to becoming a more ethical consumer nonetheless.

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