The Knowledge of Good and Evil

I had already been obsessing about apples all week.

"I had already been obsessing about apples all week."

Last night, my sixteen year old son told me that his girlfriend had said something really nice about me. I anticipated what it might be – perhaps a compliment about my appearance, personality or skills as a domestic goddess?

“You choose good apples.”

Not quite what I was hoping for. So then what was intended as a throwaway comment becomes a topic worthy of the Inquisition – the green ones or the red ones? the colour, the size, the juiciness..?

Coincidentally, I had already been obsessing about apples all week. I have been buying organic fruit for some time now. Last week, however, I noticed that the organic apples were from the USA. Although I am warming to the United States with the new President taking office this week, I stood in the supermarket aisle agonising over my dilemma: surely the good I am doing for the planet in supporting the organic cause is being cancelled out by the environmental damage of flying said apples from the States. I put them back.

Reaching for the fair trade apples, I was perturbed to see that they were produced in South Africa. Still such a long way. I put them back.

I eventually settled on apples from France. Not organic. Not fair trade. But closer to home. Think of the food miles.

With only four items in my trolley, I was mentally exhausted. If making the ethical consumer choice was to be that hard, I would never make it home. Fortunately (for my sanity, not for the world at large), most of my choices were far more limited.

But now add to the mix the fact that the family (and the girlfriend) have opinions on the taste and appearance of apples, and that the husband has an opinion on the price at the bottom of the shopping bill, Eve’s choice seems positively straightforward.

It’s not as simple as the knowledge of good and evil. There is not a right and wrong choice. Ethical decisions can never be black and white. For example, my husband’s ethical passion is fair trade; my friend would always choose organic; I have a sympathy for food miles. Which one of us is most ethical?

I guess we should be thankful that today, ethical choices are widely available. We can make informed decisions about what we buy. We can engage our conscience and reach our own ethical conclusions. My conclusion for today is that I need to look into locally grown organic produce. Delivered to the door, I believe. At least I would no longer be blocking the aisle in the supermarket in my state of paralysing indecision. I wonder what my son’s girlfriend will think….

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  • Joanna Glover

    I visited the local supermarket last night after reading this blog, and it really did get me thinking all the more about the variety of ethical credentials attached to different types of fruit. Choosing between fair trade and non-fair trade bananas is a no-brainer, but with a multitude of apples to choose between – different tastes and sizes as well as the debated questions of where they’re from and who has produced them – and this does indeed become an increasingly complex question. I’m pretty fussy about the taste of my apples – if I’m not going to enjoy eating it then there’s no point in buying it as far as I can see – but I do like to buy with a conscience. The jury is still out on what appley ethics I should adhere to, but the more informed we all are about the benefits of different certifications, the easier it will be to make these choices.

  • ADAM SIMONS

    My family get an organic fruit box alongside our vegebox. Whilst the veg comes courtesy of Brickyard Organics in Pontefract with a small amount of foodmiles (and for free for co-ordinating a drop off), we buy the fruit as the farmer buys the fruit and doesn’t grow it himself. He’s found this year that buying British organic fruit has been especially difficult so have ended up with quite a lot of US pears, apples and oranges from god knows where. Personally I’d rather support localler produce that wasn’t organic, then organic produce from far away. A good compromise is the Co-Op’s conventionally grown produce. They currently have British apples and pears, and clearly show where their produce comes from, but though not organic, the Co-op’s policy where pesticides are concerned is much better then other supermarkets, as they reducing, banning and controlling the amount of pesticides they use.