The first thing I do when I consider buying any packaged food is go straight to the ingredients list. I have been like this ever since I could pick out food for myself since my mother does it too, and she taught me to avoid ‘bad’ ingredients.
When you are with someone who does the same thing – for every item of food – it is a pretty good bet that they have some type of dietary restriction. We can recognize each other this way. Someone in Osaka figured out that I have a restricted diet, though she did not know for what until I told her that I am vegan.
One time, when I was doing the ingredient check, an acquaintance said ‘oh, you don’t want to look at that – you do not want to know what is in it.’
That shocked me. I have been trained since childhood to check the ingredients list for ‘bad’ things. I know most people are not that diligent – but the idea that you want to avoid looking *because* there might be something bad? If you think there might be something bad, why would you eat it?
Ah, but if you are aware of what is going on, you have to take responsibility for it.
For example, if you are aware that a lot of palm oil comes from plantations in Indonesia, and that prime rainforests are constantly being cut down to make way for more plantations, and *then* you become aware that a certain food has palm oil … if you go ahead and buy that food, you have to find a way to rationalize supporting deforestation. But if you choose to ignore sources which might educate you about deforestation, and choose not to know about the ingredients – basically, if you are willfully ignorant – then you do not have to think at all about the issue – and do not have to take responsibility.
Some people do not have the ‘luxury’ of willful ignorance. That person I met in Osaka who figured out that I live with a dietary restriction? She has gluten intolerance. Eating gluten causes her to get sick and, if she ate too much, could lead to death. If she wants to stay healthy and, you know, alive, she has to know about everything that passes through her digestive system. In this this regard, being vegan is much easier – if I make a mistake, or if somebody deliberately tricks me, however offended I may be, my well-being is not directly threatened.
Of course, being ignorant does nothing to reduce the harm done by ‘bad’ ingredients. If the harm is merely being done to oneself, then I have no objection – if someone prefers not paying attention to what they eat at the cost of their own well-being, that is their business. When the harm is being done to others … well, I think that refusing to know what you are eating because you are afraid it might be unethical is … unethical.