When was the last time you felt guilty about eating a particular food? Perhaps you were concerned about the people who were involved in the production of the food. Perhaps you were indulging in “junk food,” which you know is unhealthy. Perhaps, despite the fact that you eat meat, you still feel squeamish about factory farming practices.
Chances are, you can easily come up with several examples of foods you feel one “should” or “shouldn’t” eat. Regardless of where these ideas come from, the truth is they exist within all of us. Eating in the twenty-first century requires navigating a food landscape fraught with decisions based on what we believe (or people tell us) about the ideal way to eat.
A new book edited by two UVM faculty dives deep into the ethical questions involved in the production and consumption of food: “Food, Ethics, and Society” (Oxford University Press, 2016) is the result of a multi-year collaboration between UVM Philosophy faculty members Tyler Doggett and Mark Budolfson, along with their colleague Anne Barnhill at the University of Pennsylvania.
The textbook presents collected and commissioned readings organized into thematic chapters ranging from global hunger and food justice to consumer ethics, industrial animal agriculture, and workers. The editors introduce each chapter by explaining the philosophical issues and concepts that are raised in the readings. In aggregate, the readings paint a vivid picture of many of the problematic issues in our food system, viewed through the lens of ethics.
In addition to classics from philosophers Peter Singer and Amartya Sen, the book includes work from scholars working on the cutting edge of food ethics. However, the majority of the readings are by contemporary food journalists and scholars like Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle, and Barry Estabrook. This may seem like an unusual approach for a textbook, but Doggett and Budolfson say that their goal was not to create an esoteric text for philosophy scholars. Instead, they wanted to assemble a book that is accessible to students who may be in their first philosophy class.
Food ethics has been a growing field over the past few decades, and the textbook helps secure UVM’s position as a preeminent university for food ethics scholarship. This year, the UVM Philosophy department will host its fifth annual Food Ethics Conference, which draws philosophy faculty from across the country. As more food ethics courses are added at other universities, Doggett and Budolfson hope instructors find their book of practical value when designing their curricula.