Part 3: The Ethics of What We Eat by Peter Singer and Jim Mason

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In the last post, I agreed with Peter Singer and Jim Mason's argument that we should choose foods which have a lower environmental impact. Anna Lappe maintained, in Diet For A Hot Planet, that one way to eat with a lower carbon footprint is to eat locally grown and produced foods. She found that these foods require far less energy input because they did not need to travel all the way across the country or even around the world just to get to the consumer. However, Mason and Singer point out that just eating locally is not as straightforward of a solution as seems at first glance. Some local vegetables are grown with heat, which uses more fuels than transporting them, even a great distance from warming regions. Also, locally produced foods are often delivered in small quantity to many different markets, which could use as much fuel as a large truck hauling a great amount of food. Else wise it is the consumers who must travel to the outlying local farms, which again can use more fuel instead of the one-stop shopping at a supermarket. Another consideration, although not environmental in nature, is that buying non-locally produced food often means that a consumer is supporting farmers in far away countries who are likely to be less well off than local farmers. Even a small increase in income to those in poverty would have a great impact to improving their quality of life. Thus, in stark contrast to Lappe's conclusion, Singer and Mason reason that buying local is too simple of a principle to provide sound ethical guidance.

I found the contrast in conclusions between the two books to be very interesting because it highlights the complexity involved in finding ethical solutions to the problems facing food sources and their production. In this disagreement, I find Mason and Singer's argument to be highly compelling and more thoroughly researched than Lappe's. However, when produce is grown in-season by local farmers or in a home garden, the emissions savings would definitely win out over buying local and one would then need to decide if this is more beneficial than supporting impoverished third-world farmers. Plus another benefit to buying locally is that consumers would get the chance to see and become more involved in the food production, which as I pointed out in the first posting of this series, factory farms actively seek to prevent. I think that the complexity involved in eating ethically may be a reason why consumers simply take the easy route of eating whatever they desire. It simply becomes too complicated to sort between contrasting opinions, some of which are generated by the factory farm companies, that arise everyday, kind of like with medical studies showing that red wine is both healthy and unhealthy. But even when potential solutions (such as to global warming) are relatively simple (such as reducing meat intake) consumers still fail to take action. So unless enforceable regulations are passed or factory farming companies actually take responsibility for environmental damage they are causing and pass the costs off to consumers by way of increased prices, everything will likely remain the same.


Singer, Peter and Jim Mason. The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter. Rodale Books, 2007. Print.

Lappe, Anna. Diet For a Hot Planet. New York: Bloomsbury, 2010. Print.

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This page contains a single entry by puch0022 published on December 3, 2012 11:16 PM.

Part 2: The Ethics of What We Eat by Peter Singer and Jim Mason was the previous entry in this blog.

"The Land Ethic" by Aldo Leopold is the next entry in this blog.

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