lemon jelly

The Luxury of Choice and What It Affords
July 23, 2008, 1:40 pm
Filed under: food, philosophy, recipes | Tags: , , , , ,

Between chapters on consociation at work yesterday, I came across an interesting article in The New York Times entitled “A Locally Grown Diet With Fuss but No Muss.” For the most part, it reports on the entrepreneurial activity that has sprung up recently in response to the sudden trendiness of locavorism. Such services as organic-fruit home delivery and backyard-organic-garden development/maintenance are being offered by a growing number of small businesses for people who would like to enjoy the benefits of organic or sustainably grown produce but can’t be bothered to visit the farmers’ market or start a garden of their own. However, the article also provides some analysis of mainstream motivations for eating locally. It identifies locavorism as a trend comparable to that of organic food – a movement popularised by food aficionados and environmentally conscious individuals alike.

Naturally, this got me thinking about the relations between luxury, morality, and choice. Adherents of ‘food movements’ like locavorism and vegetarianism are often accused of being self-righteous and overly moralistic. It is said that they fail to recognise the real problems of the world in over-complicating their own lives of privilege, that they are just being finicky about the details. Of course, this kind sneering antagonism irks me to no end. Yes, it’s true that the people who subscribe to these movements are the people who can afford to. Organic produce is significantly more expensive than its run-of-the-mill counterparts. I haven’t baked a single batch of cookies since beginning my little ‘vegetarian odyssey‘ because paying nearly $10 for four sticks of butter would be in my case just a bit outrageous. However, the fact that eating ethically is limited by the expenses associated with it, a luxury even, doesn’t mean that it isn’t a legitimate practice. What it does demonstrate is that moral action is constrained by choice, and that with respect to dietary practices, choice is a luxury. The people who can afford to buy organic/local and do so aren’t necessarily more moral than those who don’t. Rather, these locavores, vegetarians, and organic enthusiasts are simply meeting the extended set of responsibilities that come hand-in-hand with the privileges afforded by more choice.

This isn’t moral relativism. Moral obligations are only legitimate insofar as the people to whom they are prescribed can in fact carry them out. So, the fact that these new food ‘isms’ might only be realistic for a limited number of people right now doesn’t make them any less of an obligation for this number. The real point of contention is whether you, me, or Jones belong to the category of the exempt or the obligated.

Obligation isn’t so bad, really. Will another recipe persuade you? I didn’t grow these cukes myself, but I at least made it as far as the farmers’ market.

Cucumber Salad with Toasted Sesame and Ginger

Note: Cucumbers are pretty water-laden suckers, so this isn’t the sort of salad I would recommend making in advance. Cutting the cucumbers and letting them drain in a colander with a teaspoon of salt for half an hour might help, but I was racing to get to work when I made this.

  • five Kirby or pickling cucumbers cut into matchsticks
  • 1 scallion, green and white parts finely sliced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp mirin
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp freshly grated ginger
  • 2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
  1. Whisk together olive oil, mirin, soy sauce, sesame oil, honey, ginger, and sesame seeds in a medium bowl. Add cucumbers and scallions. Toss and serve immediately.

3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

“However, the fact that eating ethically is limited by the expenses associated with it, a luxury even, doesn’t mean that it isn’t a legitimate practice.”

I completely agree, well put. You know that I’m not any of the “ism’s” you’ve described (thanks again for your unwanted meat pies), but I’m sure you’re encountering a lot of criticism that amounts to little more than straw-man attacks. I applaud you for maintaining clear rationality: I still grind my teeth over the shock and disgust tactics of certain vegan groups, which I hope you understand.

Comment by bitpart

I don’t think I’ve been vegetarian for long enough to have faced serious criticism, but it’s something that I expect will happen soon enough, so I’ll have some good arguments on hand to swing back at people (kind of like a solid set of brass knuckles).
A point of clarity: I certainly don’t support acts of ‘animal liberation’ or anything of the sort. Maybe a little civil disobedience is warranted in cases of truly appalling animal cruelty, but I’m sort of really in love with procedural justice and the idea that fairness can be realised through neutral legal mechanisms…but that is a little idealistic of me and probably better saved for another day.

Comment by Katie

Great post!

Comment by Sally Parrott Ashbrook

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: