ISS students cook cheap ethical meal

How to cook the most ethical meal at a budget of 1 euro per person? Are you opting for brown beans from a nearby farm, or fairtrade fried bananas from a small scale farmer far away? ISS-student Dawit Gebremedhn and his group mates decided to opt for a surprise box from a local organic market. They ended up with lentil soup, pumpkin soup, beetroots and eggplant-wrapped asparagus.

In their theory books on global food politics it had all seemed so manageable, but Agrarian, Food and Environmental Studies (AFES)-students soon found out that in practise, it is quite a challenge to prepare an ethical meal on a budget. As their teacher at the International Institute for Social Studies (ISS) gave each group 30 Euro to prepare an ‘ethical’ dish for thirty people, they were forced to make trade-offs between health, environment, social equity, culture, waste and costs. Some eliminated the use of electricity, some used waste products as ingredients, others chose to support a Ghanaian farmer they knew in person. All did something ethical, yet none managed to meet all criteria.


Prior to the assignment, five out of the six members of his group had been dedicated carnivores, Dawit confesses. As the team had members from Ghana, Colombia and Ethiopia, they decided not to pursue a certain culinary style, but rather opt for what they liked to eat in their daily lives: meat. Yet as soon as they started asking where it came from or how the animals had lived, it be became clear that meat was not an option: no butcher could give them the information they needed to choose.

Gebremedhns teams decided to prioritize on traceability. ‘Having knowledge about the dish, gave us the power to decide what is good and what is bad’, Dawit realised. Rather than serving the ethical meat they had initially hoped to serve, they ended up serving vegan dishes based on the ingredients of a surprise box from a local organic market. This change of diet also served their second priority, as the group decided their generation has a moral obligation to live healthy, so their kids can become stronger and healthier too. In addition, it helped the team reach its third and fourth goal: to avoid environmental damage and buy fair trade and local produce.

‘Ethical’ food is classy food

Unlike in his home country Ethiopia, in Holland it is a very expensive undertaking to get organic food and know where it comes from, Dawit realised. To eat with a clean conscience, the Dutch have to pay. At the markets, but even more so at the mainstream supermarkets. You need to belong to a certain economic class, or stick to one of Dawit’s new favourites: organic, veggie pumpkin soup.


Cheap and ethical meal


1. peel the pumpkin and cut into pieces

2. fry the pumpkin with onion and cooking oil for 7 minutes

3. boil water, insert the roasted pumpkin and cook it for 30 minutes

4. let it cool down, than blend it well