Rebroadcast: The ethics of what we eat

A philosopher and a butcher dig into what we should and shouldn’t eat, and why.

“As society has shifted away from being in close proximity to farms and food production, people are increasingly concerned about where their food’s coming from – the condition under which animals are raised and reared, and certain farming practices, [such as] pesticide use and the effects that that may have on the environment as well as on human health.”

Philosopher and sociologist Chris Mayes has thought about eating a lot more than most of us (which if we’re honest, is already quite a bit). The ethics of food involves a whole raft of factors: not only the treatment of animals and the environmental impact of production, but also the treatment of workers and the impact of the growth of pastoral land on indigenous peoples.

“In Australia it seems natural that we would have sheep, and natural that wheat would be here, but in thinking of the obviousness of those practices and products here, we forget their role in dispossessing indigenous Australians – the way that the expansion of sheep, particularly throughout NSW and Victoria in the early to mid-nineteenth century, was coinciding with a lot of these most brutal massacres.”

Chris considers what it means for lamb to be Australia’s national cuisine – and how you make Scriptures that rely on the language of sheep and shepherds meaningful within a non-pastoralist culture.

Then: Tom Kaiser is Simon Smart’s local butcher. Perhaps unusually for a butcher, he thinks people should eat less meat. He sells meat products that many would consider to be expensive in what he calls the “Masterchef era”.

“Affluence definitely plays a big part. They can afford to have the product that they see on TV. We know for a fact that we wouldn’t be able to charge the price, nor have the same model we have in different parts of Australia. … Ethics is obviously multi-layered. It comes to personal beliefs. It comes down to knowledge.”


Chris Mayes’ book Unsettling Food Politics: Agriculture, Dispossession and Sovereignty in Australia

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