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Peter LaFrance

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Ethics of Beer


This morning the newspapers, and the blog-osphere, were filled with stories that had to do with ethics. One story brought ethics into question when it came to the BP oil spill. Charges of ethical indifference were being flung in California between a judge and any number of groups of people. Two Democratic senators are being investigated by the ethics committee of the Congress of the United States. All of this managed to fit on the front page of today’s New York Times. Two of the stories managed to find the top of the Google news. It seems to me it is an awful lot of interest in ethics today.

And so before I drink my first beer at lunch time I’m going to make a conscious effort to understand the ethics of drinking that particular beer.

First of all I’m going to contemplate the economic ethics. If I’m truly diligent I’ll have to review and consider the union contracts handled by the distributors of the beer I will be drinking. The raw ingredients of beer; hops, grain, and water all raise ethical problems. That is to say the ingredients do not have problems but the growing and obtaining of these ingredients certainly raise ethical questions.

In the western part of the United States control of water is very important particularly in the brewing of beer. Participating in projects that diverts water from one area to another raises natural ethical questions.

The ethical question of whether a farmer should be subsidized for not growing a particular type of grain or for growing a particular type of grain in particular, barley, should raise a great deal of interest. In an economy where water can be controlled as well as other economic properties the ability of one or two growers to control the price of hops could raise ethical questions. Here in the United States where everything seems to be transported by truck rather than by rail certain ethical and legal questions can certainly be raised should there be any involvement with particular corrupt labor unions.

I can already hear the arguments saying that this happens in every industry here in the United States or any other capitalist country. I am not arguing that fact. I’m not saying something is good and I’m not saying something is bad.

What I am saying is that 999% of the time I will sit here and drink a beer and not have a second thought about where that beer comes from or how the ingredients are grown where they are grown or who is involved in growing them. This raises the question of how involved should I be in the things that go on in the brewing, production, manufacturing and distribution of that beer. The same question could be asked of anything I purchase. However, because of my particular fondness for beer, it bothers me that I’ve not asked this question about beer before.

For a moment there I was almost caught up in the madness.

Drinking a beer has nothing to do with ethics it has to do with the fact that I enjoy drinking, quaffing, it when I am thirsty. It has to do with the fact that beer is slightly alcoholic and makes the world a little bit better place to live in because of that. It has to do with the fact that I like this particular flavor of beer to go with this particular style of cuisine.

Ethics? As far as throwing stones at the “unethical” I will take the advice of a wise man and not throw the first stone.


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