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Thursday, February 5, 2009

Making Responsible Food Choices, Part Three

This here is the third installment in my four-part series* examining the ethical issues surrounding a few vegetarian diet staples. Today's subject is rice.

* In case you missed them, you might want to read part one and part two first.

While most of the white and brown rice we eat in the US is grown domestically, the majority of the aromatics, such as basmati and jasmine, are grown in Thailand, India, and Pakistan. It is mainly harvested by hand on small farms in rural communities. These small-scale growers are at the mercy of a volatile market and are often exploited by middle merchants, who frequently underpay the farmers.

In addition, profits for these small family farmers are diminishing due to the use of expensive chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which are also, not surprisingly, adversely affecting workers' health as well as polluting the water and eroding the topsoil of these rural communities.

If this topic interests you and you'd like to learn more, you can read more about the issues surrounding fair trade rice here.

So as I mentioned before in the case of bananas and chocolate, the solution to these problems lies in supporting the growing fair trade market. You can buy fair trade rice online or find it at your local natural foods store.

I'd like to take a moment to discuss what you can do if your local store doesn't carry the fair trade products you seek, so this applies equally to rice, chocolate, bananas, and a whole score of products with growing fair trade availability. Personally, I spend a fair amount of time (and money) at our local natural foods store, and I make an effort to be friendly with the people who work there. They are generally a nice bunch of people who care, like I do, about eating responsibly, and in my experience, they are very open to stocking new products to meet customer demand. The key is to take the legwork out of it for them; find the product you want them to carry (the specific product, brand and all, not just a general idea), print out the name of the product and the details of how the store can contact the company who distributes the product, then pass this information on to a manager at the store, either in person or with a hand-written note explaining why you would like to see it in their store. Only through customer requests like these will stores learn what is important to us, and by helping to bring these fair trade options to the grocery store shelves, we can expose many other shoppers to the choices that exist for eating in a way that supports humane ways of life on this earth.

This post wraps up the information I wanted to share from the 'Food, Inc.' article in the Jan-Feb '09 issue of VegNews magazine. This is an excellent article that goes into more detail than I have provided here, so if it's something you care about, I highly recommend getting your hands on this magazine, or better yet, subscribing. (They just added a tree-free subscription option, so you can get all the good stuff without wasting paper - hooray!)

Stay tuned for one final installment in this series on making responsible food choices within the framework of a veg*n diet...

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