Thought For Food

After the successful onslaught by the Eco-warriors coercing us all into buying a bag for life, or frantically cramming our bog standard bags to bursting point, the aspiration of being greener than thou seems to have pricked the consciousness of all. Next time you’re at a Sainsbury’s or a similarly affluent checkout, one only need glance at the food ahead and behind to see the stranglehold grip that the plight of the free range chicken has on the nation.

Eighteen eggs for a pound or just six free-range eggs for twenty-four pence more? Shall I go free range and free of guilt, or shall I discreetly slip my unethical eggs to the bottom of the basket? A mini moral dilemma set to the musical score of Asda radio. The matter of perhaps five pounds over a month is of little importance I initially postulate. “But think of what the money saved could buy,” my less sympathetic side promptly intervenes, “that’s at least two pints.” Two pints which I don’t need, and probably aren’t a good enough reason not to go ethical. Despite this more logical consideration, after much deliberation eventually the devil on my shoulder wins out as I decide that this bargain, and the prospect of little more money to spend as whimsically and wastefully as I please, is worth more than my initial unease and embarrassment.

The concept of ethical eating is a relatively new worry for the modern student. As a long standing tradition the student diet was considered as a matter of necessity and survival, and any student consuming edible goods without an alcoholic content was frankly a credit to their parent’s upbringing. Making no bones about it, cheap was most certainly always cheerful. The days of one stereotype fits all however have evaded us, leaving in their wake rose-tinted memories of the beans on toast and beer generation. This once blissful apathy towards the way we shop has been eroded.

In this constant one-upmanship of consumer consciousness it is simply no longer savvy to occasionally remember to take shopping a solitary bag for life, we must now be sensitive to the needs of our food. Despite the (relative) poverty of the student, our status provides us with no safe haven from the disdain of other shoppers at the checkout, and the fact that we may be saving valuable pennies at the expense of carelessly sustaining an outdated and unreasonable method of rearing poultry.

I do not naively suppose that this problem is much of a problem at all for some of our populace. In some circles the answer to the question of ethical eating is so integral and prominent it seems to be a prerequisite for friendship, an ethos held without so much as a quibble. To others however the issue never seems to present itself, with the prospect of making a roast chicken dinner for your house for well under a tenner an unassailable right, rather than a potentially selfish yet bank savvy decision.

Where to start however for those less than well versed in the wonders of organic produce and fair trade fodder, can be daunting. Free range, freedom food, corn fed, champagne quaffing, privately schooled, pampered poultry, the list of terms to look out for can be confusing to say the least. A Freedom Food, RSPCA monitored small whole chicken, £3.24, in Sainsbury’s of all places. Is this an ethically sound steal or a contemptuous bargain, dressed up in misleading terminology to ease consumer guilt? Either way, to the discerning student this proposal seems both too good to be true, and too good to pass up, a chance to be kind to the conscience (however dubious the plausibility of the product) and cost effective.

After all this deliberation, the issue for me at least still remains. The instinct to avoid steep prices for necessities “‘cause I’m a student”, coupled with an unbridled, lavish expenditure on hedonistic odds and ends makes for perhaps not the most uncommon of traits amongst students. Either way it seems that at least for the rest of my student experience, I’m destined to endure this irrational cycle of guilt and unease followed by the instinct to get more for my money taking precedence above all else. For the mean time I can excuse this selfishness, (or monetary diligence depending on which side of the fence you sit on) under the guise of a penniless student. When these student days cease, so too hopefully will the tiresome struggle between morality and money, where free range can sit happily in a fridge stocked plentifully.

Luke Sampson

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