9 Top Tools (+2) for Ethical Eaters


The explosion of movies and books detailing the problems within our food system seems to be having an impact on mainstream consumer attitudes about food. And this new awareness is starting to impact buying behavior.

I’m talking about the movies Food Inc., The Cove, and Supersize Me, movie and book, Fast Food Nation, and Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and so many more.

According to Adweek, ethical eating has gone mainstream.

Recent survey data shows that ethically produced food is no longer a niche preoccupation but has become a mass-market phenomenon.

From a consumer point of view, what is ethically produced food? The most important attribute of ethically produced foods (cited by 9 in 10 respondents in the survey) said the product must avoid harming the environment. Ninety-three percent thought it must meet high safety standards. Ninety-two percent thought it must use environmentally sustainable practices. Avoiding inhumane treatment of animals was important to ninety-one percent as was the requirement that the food “be produced to high quality standards.”

Yet numerous surveys have also shown that consumers are confused and skeptical about green claims in general. Seems like we need to fill the gap between intention and action.

Luckily, there are tons of tools that consumers can use to find out which restaurants and grocery stores sell ethically produced foods and more are coming on line every day.

9 top tools (+2) that can help you find food that satisfies your conscience as well as your hunger.

Humane Animal Products

1. Brought to us by the World Society for the Protection of Animals, Eat Humane is a fairly new online tool that allows users to search for grocery stores and restaurants that sell humane meat, eggs, and dairy. It does a good job of ranking labels by Good, Better, Best. It also has a handy downloadable pocket guide with some of the labels to look for and info on how they stack up.

2. Confused about the difference between Certified Humane, American Humane Certified and other labels? Farm Sanctuary breaks it all down for you so you know what each label really means. You’ll also find out which terms are regulated by the USDA.

Sustainable Seafood

3. Fish to Fork was brought to us by the activist folks from the movie End of the Line. Among other things, the site allows you to search for your favorite restaurant and find out if establishments are fish-washing.

Since the site is also user-driven you can submit complaints, or pat a chef on the back for swapping out the monkfish for sablefish. Restaurants can choose to fill out a questionnaire detailing their sourcing practices or contributors to Fish to Fork can go with the information provided on menus, which doesn’t happen very often. Restaurants that are transparent fare best. Fish to Fork can be a very powerful tool for sparking change by shaming some of the finest restaurants in the world into doing the right thing. If you watch the blog, you’ll get to read about restaurants that improve their practices once they become an object of focus. Fish to Fork is also a great place for reading news about endangered species trade agreements and more.

4. Seafood Watch, a project of Monterey Bay Aquarium, is one of the best known tools for helping consumers learn more about sustainable seafood choices. Seafood Watch seems to innovate every year. They update the guides often, offer downloadable pocket guides by region, a sushi guide and mobile phone apps. Every year they put on a celebration of sustainable food called Cooking for Solutions, where chefs from all over the country share their cooking skills and passion for sustainability.

5. Blue Ocean Institute’s Seafood Guide

This guide is also a great resource which is downloadable and available for sushi. Blue Ocean Institute spearheads a number of worthy educational programs for both chefs and school children.

Green Dining

6.Dine Green is a searchable guide put out by the Green Restaurant Association. Users can search online for certified green restaurants nation-wide. Buyer beware. The certification talks a lot about cleaning products, takeout containers and energy and water use, but very little is said about the food. Restaurants must serve certified organic food but there isn’t much mention of endangered seafood, humane animal treatment, treatment of farm workers or other farming practices.


7. The Eat Well Guide is a nifty, robust search engine with seriously high standards that lets you search for stores, bakeries, coffee shops, creameries and many other types of businesses that serve local, sustainable, organic fare.

You can also search for farmstands, education centers, CSAS and coops. Perfect if you’re planning to relocate or head cross-country on a road trip. The advanced search lets you search by product, category and production method. For example, you can search by area for butchers who sell grass-fed beef, or B&Bs that serve vegan, organic fare.

8. Sustainable Table is actually the parent of the Eat Well Guide. The Table provides lots of videos and stories from across the country of the sustainable eating movement. Also home to The Meatrix, the classic animated short about factory farming. Sustainable Table’s Twitter Feed is a great way to keep up on sustainable developments everywhere.

9. The Good Guide goes beyond food and lets you compare rankings on toys, personal care products and household chemicals, as well as food. Rankings are comprehensive including ingredients, toxicity, customer satisfaction, numbers of female/minority board members, labor practices, biodiversity, and water use.

Narrow Market Focus Two more worthy of inclusion though they are not for general audiences.

Heavy Table ranks restaurants in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area on wide ranging criteria that hit all the ethical buttons, including use of tap instead of bottled water, sustainable seafood, fair trade coffee, living wage, composting and more.

Shalom Veg is an online community for Jewish vegans, vegetarians, activists and curious omnivores. Features include learning pages, profiles, networking tools, recipes and activism.

Want ethical food? You’re now equipped with all of the tools you need to find just what you’re looking for!

This is the latest installment in Vanessa Barrington’s weekly column, The Green Plate, on the environmental, social, and political issues related to what and how we eat.

Image: zenera

Vanessa Barrington

Vanessa Barrington is a San Francisco based writer and communications consultant specializing in environmental, social, and political issues in the food system.