Eating for the Planet: Guides for Ethical Food Choices

At the Kelowna Farmers and Crafters Market, the largest farmers’ market in British Columbia, my partner will stand and gaze longingly at a basket of peaches or ruby-red cherries. I try to hustle him away because I generally know the answer to the question he is about to ask the farmer: “Is it organic?” And I know he will shrug and walk away if the answer is “No.”

After years of shopping at this market, I have my favorite vendors. All grow organically, though some are not certified because they are too small-scale to add the cost of paperwork to their operations. They take care of the land, preserve biodiversity, work far too many hours and deliver explosions of flavor via their fruits and vegetables.

They are satisfying the demands of a growing movement of people wanting to navigate the tricky waters of ethical eating. These are people who want to know how producers are treating workers, animals and the planet. They are looking for claims they can trust and food they can safely eat. They often disagree about what is suitable fare and argue over what can be compromised and what cannot.

What they all have in common is a concern for the quality of food and the impacts of our food systems. A 2010 survey looked at ethical claims that mattered most to food shoppers and how their food purchases were influenced by ethical concerns. They found the definitions of “ethical” to be “broad, flexible and often highly personal.”

That means it is not easy to come up with one guide that suits everyone. Ultimately, first-hand knowledge of the people producing our food is the best assurance. However, in our globalized, mechanized world, that is not always possible.

On the next page are some guides that will make food shopping easier, whatever your definition of ethical eating may be. This is a starting point, not an exhaustive list, but each link leads to many others. Feel free to add your own choices in the comments.


General Guides

  • Eat Well Guide is an online directory to fresh, locally grown and sustainably produced food (farms, restaurants, farmers’ markets, grocery stores and more) in the U.S. and Canada.
  • Fairtrade International is a network of 25 organizations working to secure a better deal for producers.
  • Rough Guide to a Better World focuses on how shopping habits can combat hunger, disease and illiteracy.
  • is an online guide to vegetarian restaurants around the world.


United States

The road to ethical eating is not straight. It has many branches, and every branch has many forks. Vegans, carnivores, vegetarians, ovo-lacto vegetarians, pescatarians, locavores and omnivores often square off over their own particular line in the sand.

If the questions all had easy answers, the choices would be so much simpler. They do not, in spite of our frequent attempts to insist our own perspective is the only ethical stance.

What is important is that we keep posing the questions and that we understand that our food choices are concrete examples of our personal ethics. We have the power to make a difference with every bite.


Related Care2 Stories

Survey Shows Consumers Care about Ethical Food Claims: Where Do You Stand?

Organic Doesn’t Mean Humane for Poultry

Bhutan Wants Happy Chickens on Happy Farms

Sustainability: It’s What’s for Dinner

Why Chefs Have Social Responsibility, Whether They Like It Or Not


Photo 1: Thinkstock; Photo 2 from Natalie Maynor via Flickr Creative Commons


Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for sharing.

Valentina R.
Valentina R6 years ago

This is good and useful... but only for Americans, as usual.

Elena T.
Elena Poensgen6 years ago

Thank you

Nicole Bergeron
Nicole Bergeron6 years ago

I have recently found out that the store where I buy my spices and my "candy" bars (more like bars made of fruit, honey and spices with no soy or wheat and no processed sugar) is going out of business in the next couple days. It was an organic store, that didn't sell corn (though many of their products were aimed more at non-meat eats thus had soy in them), and the only one in town. My "candy" bars and my spices are going away, all because of the by-pass that was put in a few years ago. They have slowly been losing business and have finally hit the red.

Past Member
Dolly Navina L6 years ago


Leia P.
Leia P.6 years ago

thank you

rene davis
irene davis6 years ago

Thank you for the guide

Christine C.
Chandra C6 years ago


Phillipa W.
Phillipa W6 years ago


Suzanne B.
Past Member 6 years ago

Thank you for the guide. I found it most useful.......whilst munching on my biscuit with Nutella and drinking my minimum 2 cups of morning coffee. p.s. O.K. I admit we do grow our own herbs, veggies and have planted fruit trees in the back yard - for our own consumption.