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Friday Food Blogging: Food Justice and Philosophy May 8, 2009

Posted by Ian Duckles in Culture, Education, Film, Food and Drink, Teaching.

Last weekend I attended the informative and inspiring Cultivating Food Justice Conference at City College. In addition to building a solar oven and learning how to make tempeh, the conference got me thinking again about the insane food policy we have in this country; a food policy in which the government encourages US farmers, through subsidies,  to grow food that makes us sick, malnourished, and obese (yes, you read that correctly, many people in in the US and around the developed world are both obese and malnourished at the same time! See also Morgan Spurlock’s Supersize Me).  In addition, though there is much more to learn, it is starting to appear that the swine flu Influenza A H1N1 has at least some relationship to industrial hog farming. All of this suggests a system that stands in need of major reform, but the question that emerged for me from the conference was, what can I do about it? I am already a vegetarian (some fish, some eggs), I grow food in my backyard, my neighbor supplies us with fresh eggs from her chickens, and I live a block and a half from the greatest, most socially responsible grocery store I have ever seen: Ocean Beach People’s Food Co-op. So, aside from changes in my own life, what can I do to affect the community at large?

It seems to me that one of the biggest problems facing reform in our country is that many people don’t quite realize how bad things have gotten. Few people ever experience a modern industrial farm and many still have a romanticized ideal of farmers, not realizing that most farms are run by large agribusinesses and that the family farm is (with some exceptions) a lost relic of the last century. Fortunately, in recent years there have been a number of important books and films that seek to shed light on the problems facing our country and also suggest some solutions.

One answer to the question of what to do that immediately occurred to me as a professional philosopher and teacher is to take a more active role in exposing my students to these issues and topics. One of the great things about being a philosopher is that there is, essentially, no topic that is out of bounds for philosophical investigation. Theologians shouldn’t really talk about science, scientists should probably stay away from religion, but as philosophers all these topics and more are fair game. Thus, I have decided that I need to take a more active role in incorporating issues of food justice into my courses. Since I mainly teach critical thinking, this is fairly easy to do.

More generally, I think it would be a great deal of fun to try and teach a course on the philosophy of food. Clearly, in the current economic situation, the idea of introducing a new course that doesn’t immediately suggest a transfer of credits to the UC’s or Cal States is ludicrous, but a fellow can dream. I think such a course could begin with an examination of philosophically significant theories of justice (Plato, Hobbes, Rousseau, Rawls; the usual suspects). Then, in the second part of the course, we would apply these theories to various issues surrounding food and food policy. Fortunately, there is a plethora of recent books and films that would provide excellent material to examine. A partial bibliography might include:

I think this would make a great course that many students would really enjoy (especially if I incorporated some “labs” and field trips intot he curriculum).



1. Paul Moloney - May 11, 2009

Speaking of City College, during the week I take a trolley across town to the City College trolley stop in order to catch a bus to Miramar. City College still seems to be surrounded by a sea of ignorance, if one judges by the appearance some of the people around there. For the philosophy department at City College to make a difference downtown, it would have to be a very good philosophy department, considering what it is up against in that area.

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