This weekend I write to you from lovely Burlington, VT, where I’ve been attending and presenting at their annual Food Ethics Workshop. It’s run by the philosophy department and supported and attended by food systems, nutrition, sustainability, law and other interesting folks. It’s also even publicized by their local coop food market; that’s how Burlington rolls.
In addition, I stayed at a hotel where they combine seating and plant cultivation in one handy location. That’s cool.
My talk was on problems with the notion of “intuitive eating” and the values involved in so-called “unhealthy” eating. Tracy and I have both blogged about this issue (here and here); these posts have been among the most-commented-on for the blog. So there’s something compelling that draws peoples’ attention to moral values attached to foods.
For now, I’ll defer discussion of my paper and also a fine paper given by Laurie Ristino of Vermont Law School on using systems and design theory to help solve food sustainability problems.
The two other papers in the workshop, given by Alexandra Plakias of Hamilton College and Bob Fischer of Texas State University, focused more directly on moral (and other sorts of) responses to certain kinds of eating. Alex was looking at how our reactions of disgust work– are they just visceral “Ewwws” or do they indicate some moral stance with respect to the thing we’re disgusted by? One issue that we may all be facing sometime in the Earth’s future is entomophagy. What’s that? The practice of eating bugs.
You should now silently thank me for not inserting a photo to illustrate; you’re welcome.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but the idea of eating insects provokes for loads of people a strong disgust reaction. However, there are at this moment startups (see here and here) and research groups figuring out how to make insects a regular part of our protein intake, given the need to feed billions of people sustainably, now and in the future. In trying to understand what disgust reactions are about, Alex was opening up some space for thinking about possible other attitudes we could take about some things we may be currently disgusted by.
Bob ‘s paper was also concerned with the morality of eating– in this case, eating animals. He’s written a ton about this topic (check out his website if you haven’t already) and is a very strong advocate for not eating animals. He recounted in his paper how, in his philosophy courses, that students sometimes respond to the discussion about treatment of animals by saying “I see that eating meat is wrong, but I’m not going to stop.” How does one continue a moral conversation when that happens?
Well, we can use other means, like telling stories, talking about lots of concerns that make for meaningful lives. Bob talks about Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Eating Animals and how Foer uses stories to convey strong and resonant messages about what’s important to us (in addition to information about factory farming, etc.) to make a case for not eating animals. I will definitely use Foer’s book (and some of Bob’s work too) the next time I teach my philosophy and food course.
So that’s the upshot on my very pleasant philosophy of food weekend. Some final thoughts to share with you, dear readers:
I don’t eat insects.
I do eat meat.
For now, I’m not feeling compelled to start eating insects. But I am (and have been for some time) troubled about eating meat, for the very good reasons that are out there. I have a host of reasons for not changing my eating habits, but they’re seeming a bit excuse-y right now. I’ll be blogging more about my shifting relationship with meat as food. For now, I’d love to hear from you: what is your comfort level with meat eating (if you are a meat eater)? No judgment– I’m just looking to hear your thinking and feelings on the subject. Thanks as always for reading, and see y’all next week. I’ll leave you with a lovely view of Lake Champlain…