I both love and hate this time of year as I suspect many who grade exams do. Spring semester with summer looming, nice weather, and less of the rush of the holidays always seems less stressful. But, the end of fall semester is punctuated by parties--Christmas parties. Teaching at a Catholic university as I do means we don't have "holiday" or "winter break" parties. We have full-blow Christmas parties with trees, sleighs and Santas. We are Christmas party people here.
Between the grading, which I have been doing more often than not this semester in a local coffee shop or two and those Christmas parties where I don't get to pick the food, ethical eating can get tricky. Admittedly, sometimes the love of a party or the necessity of uninterrupted grading get the better of me.
The coffee shop a few blocks from my apartment is cozy, is within walking distance (obviously), has free wi-fi and tables roomy enough to spread out on without feeling as though I have taken a table obviously intended for four people. I feel like I have almost moved in there. The coffee there isn't the worst possible, but it isn't my normal fair trade (or relationship) organic shade grown. They sell some fair trade coffee beans, but rarely is that the blend that is brewed in the shop. I usually limit myself to a single cup or a latte when I am there because of that. And sometimes I do have a cookie. The cookie I choose is from a local bakery that sells to coffee shops and the like. It's a nice neighborhood shop and it serves an important purpose when there are hundreds of papers to grade (which means thousands of pages).
The Christmas parties are another thing altogether. The beautiful spread that is a focus of so many of these parties rarely has a lot of ethical choices. And sometimes, weirdly, what counts as "seasonal" at these parties is really not seasonal at all. It's hard not to indulge when people are trying to make sure you are having a good time and equate that with everyone having his or her fill. Tonight, at the biggest of the university's Christmas parties, I had the specialty cocktail, some veggies, cheese, and some mini desserts. I didn't eat any of the meat or shrimp (not that I would eat shrimp anyway, but that's because I just don't like it!) figuring that given not knowing a lot about where the food came from this was the best bet. I try to remember that my values about food are on the cutting edge and not everyone shares them, but the food we are eating was prepared with care by the catering staff at the university and that their work is to be respected.
The big Christmas party tonight was just one of many I attended this year. There was the department party, the college party (as distinct from the University party, which was the one tonight) and there were even a few I didn't attend. (I have gotten more discriminating having been here now for six holiday seasons.) The majority of the Christmas parties I go to are on campus and catered by our university dining services, which does source some things locally, but not many--yet.
I did, however, have several conversations with people about ethics and food tonight. One such conversation I very much expected--I had yesterday been asked to say something for a newspaper article about ethics and food that this person was writing. The other was because, very third hand, I had heard that this other person was working on some ethics and food issues at her church. I think I may have found another event to contribute to given that conversation.
(Additionally, this week was a retirement party for two faculty members at the university who had a combined 70 years of service to the university. And I had a conversation about the ethics of food there, too. Another faculty member asked me what I thought about the food being served--what was being served there was more ethical. There were a few choices that were pretty good at that one!)
So, while the Christmas parties and coffee shops might not make for the most ethical eating, the social atmosphere of the parties made for new opportunities to continue this work. And well, the coffee shop enables me to do the work that actually pays the bills.
Advice for this time of year? Try to eat well. Have some of your favorites, but think about how you might make them more ethical. When planning holiday parties and meals, consider what changes might be in order to better reflect your food values. It might mean swapping out an ingredient or two, considering if some dish is really needed if it can't be made more ethical, shopping smart for things like candy, buying local food or wine for gifts, and thinking about new traditions with new more ethical foods. Talk with those you eat with about how your values are changing your food choices so they aren't surprised and hopefully will be willing to try something new with you. So with that, and hopefully visions of sugar plums, I wish you all a very merry Christmas (or whatever winter holiday you prefer) and a happy new year.
What I Want
1 year ago