/ Food & Drink

Ethical sandwiches – which side is your bread buttered?

Group of people biting into sandwiches

It’s National Sandwich Week and the RSPCA has launched a ‘Fairer fillings’ campaign. But will people make an effort to buy ethical sandwiches, and is it practical when buying food that’s made to order?

While many of us think about the meat we buy at home and try to buy ethically, research by the RSPCA shows very few of us give animal welfare a second thought when grabbing a sandwich at lunchtime.

Of the 2,000 people questioned, more than half said they considered animal welfare when buying meat such as steak or pork chops – and yet only one in 10 cared about where their meat came from when purchasing sandwiches.

But how easy is it for us to make ethical choices when eating out? Unless you’re dining at a fancy restaurant where menus often gush about the history of your meal, you’re given very little information about where your food comes from.

Sandwich chains are leading the way

The ‘Fairer fillings’ campaign encourages us to look out for the ‘Freedom Food’ logo – which indicates that animals are reared to the RSPCA’s strict welfare standards. Sainsbury’s and the Co-op both sell Freedom Food approved sandwiches.

This is all a good start – and other improvements are being made too. As we mentioned in a Conversation last week, rules about how labels explain the food’s country of origin could soon be extended to meat, poultry and fish when used as an ingredient in processed foods. This means you’ll be able to find out where your sandwich’s ham is from.

And many of the supermarkets or chains that have pre-packed sandwiches provide information on the origin of your meat and fish, and Pret, Subway, Starbucks, M&S and Waitrose only use free-range eggs in their own brand sandwiches. But it’s not so straightforward in places where your food is made to order.

Are you eating an ‘ethical’ lunch?

I tend to have a predominantly vegetarian diet and always buy free-range or organic eggs, but then happily buy a quiche from my local deli not knowing what type of eggs have been used.

If I were to spend £5 on a sandwich in an artisan bakery then I would expect the meat to have been sourced ethically – but there’s still no guarantee. And is it fair to expect the same for a sandwich costing £1.50 from bakery or my local shop?

Maybe it all comes down to the same odd adage: ‘You get what you pay for’? Or perhaps people just don’t want to think about where their food comes from every time they want to grab a sandwich?


This is a prime example of people just thinking too much.

It’s a sandwich, why do you have to think about ethics/morals when it’s just a sandwich? I certainly don’t pre-occupy my mind with these issues when doing the simplest of tasks and really, neither should you.

Also, ethics are entirely subjective, what means a lot to one person, means nothing to the next. I buy a sandwich from tesco every day so ethically I am making the wrong choice, yet it doesn’t seem to bother the rest of the hundreds of people in the shop either.

It’s not just a sandwich if it contains any kind of animal product though, is it? Personally, I only like to eat animal products if I have some idea of how the meat was reared. What’s the point of me spending time and energy ensuring I buy a non-battery farmed chicken for my roast dinner if I then go out and tuck into a cheap chicken sarnie on Monday lunchtime?

I’ve long been avoiding meat sandwiches for this reason. It’s not the biggest problem in my life of course, but equally, a bit more information would give me greater choice. Even if you don’t care, many of us do, and have no way of telling the origin of the ingredients.

But there is a bigger issue at stake here. The more that animal welfare is considered across all food products the more it will become normalised and trickle through the industry. Ok, we’re never going to get to a point where we have 100% organic, happy meat, but there has to be more effort made to raise standards of all types of animal farming. The amount of meat that is used in processed foods is a massive industry – origin labelling would raises awareness to the people who pick things up without thinking.

In a lot of places there are limited sandwich facilities other than bakery chains/supermarkets. In order to support the independent trader how much would they suffer if every needed to know where their ingredients came from, the impact in time/costs may well force them out of business.
Whilst I support, in principle, ethical purchases there is also an ethical need to support local business. Which ethic wins?

Well Hannah, if you want to spend your time worrying about that, good for you. All I concern myself with when I choose a sandwich is…. “will I enjoy it?”. If the answer is “yes” then I buy it. The only thing I will look for is to ensure that it doesn’t contain mayonnaise (but you’ve covered this at Which before).

What exactly is “happy meat”?

Meat, by its very definition, is dead flesh. If you want meat, you are going to have to (or get someone to) kill an animal. Regardless of whether you coerce it from the fields with songs of animal heaven is irrelevant because you still have to kill it! There is no nice way to kill an animal.

Hi Dean, thought I’d just chime in here too. I think you’re arguing about something quite different – you’re arguing about the ethics of eating meat and how animals should be treated before it’s killed for meat. Your morals appear to be simple – the animal’s going to be killed, so who cares how it’s treated?

This opinion, however, has little bearing on what this particular Conversation is about. The research found that people who DO believe in only buying meat from animals that have been treated well in life, don’t look out for how the meat in their sandwiches has been treated. In other words, they’re quite simply hypocrites. That’s the issue here – if you do care about whether the chicken that makes up your Sunday roast has been treated well during its life, why don’t you care about how the chicken that makes up your chicken and mayo sarny was treated?

You don’t appear to care about how the animals are treated in life either way Dean – so I’m not sure whether the question applies to you!