Global Food, Health, and Society

A Colby Community Website for ST297, Fall 2018

Author: Alan

Are we making the right choices?

In my earlier post, I discussed the accessibility of food, and how some corporations have perverted nutritional science in order to benefit themselves. Access to food is an important issue, and in the United States it is often correlated to economic status. Those with more wealth have access to more expensive food. This more expensive food falls under three categories; luxury goods (such as truffles or imported fruits), meat, and locally grown/organic food (these categories were created by generalizing the groceries available in an upscale grocery store, such as Whole Foods). These three categories exist in tandem, meaning that those with access to more expensive food are faced with a choice between them. The local/organic food is the more ethical option, for reasons this blogpost will delve into later, but will people choose the more ethical option over the option that is less ethical but more satisfying to themselves? Will those with the option choose what is better for them or better for the environment? By addressing these questions using philosophical logic, this blogpost aims to explore the ethics of these three choices.

Before the philosophical logic is presented on the ethics of choosing to eat meat, we must dive into why local organic food is the more ethical option. Local/organic food is the more ethical option for one main reason; environmental impact. To start with, local/organic food is locally sourced, as can be inferred in the name. This means that there is less of an environmental impact from the transportation of local/organic food, than any of the other options. These other options likely had to be flown or driven in to the supermarket from the source, which can be a large chain of transport. The average transportation chain is shown in the graphic below:

Transportation Chain Graphic

Looking at this graphic, it is clear that the non-locally sourced option involves a large amount of transportation, whereas the local/organic option takes less transportation. Purely from a carbon emissions standpoint, it is clear that there is less of negative environmental impact in the short distance transportation of local/organic food than in the long distance transportation of other options. Local/organic foods also help benefit the local environment; by buying local food we can help maintain farmland and green space in our community.2 As the local/organic foods have less of an environmental impact, they are a more sustainable option. This means that purchasing local/organic foods is better for the future of the environment as a whole. Taking into account the environmental impact, and the positive effect on local areas, both positives that the other options do not have, it is clear that the local/organic options are the ethical choice. Meat was not mentioned in terms of environmental impact due to transportation, because meat can fall under either of these categories.

Now that it has been established that choosing local/organic options are more ethical than the luxury goods because of environmental impact, we must explore the ethics of eating meat. To do so, we must define speciesism. Speciesism is the idea in one’s species that their species is inherently better than any others.1 It is thought to be one of the reasons of why a species will justify killing another to eat it (learned from an interview with a Philosophy professor). If one species, for argumentative purposes we shall call it species A, believes itself to be inherently better than species B, then it will have no moral or ethical qualms about killing species B, whether it be for eating purposes or otherwise. We see this often in today’s world, as many people eat meat, and some even hunt for sport. In these people we see speciesism at its pinnacle, as neither type have qualms about killing another species. This is an explanation for why one species will eat another, and without this speciesism, we see the existence of individuals who make the choice not to eat meat. These individuals have conquered their speciesism, and in an interview with a vegetarian, he stated that the main reason for his vegetarianism was “because they were not better or more special than any animal that would be slaughtered for meat”. In further questions we learned that they came to this conclusion when they learned that animals could feel, and some could even have conscious thought (such as dolphins). With more knowledge of an animal’s characteristics, they were able to overcome the idea that their species was better than any others. This raises the question; does education about an animal’s ability to feel pain lead to the overcoming of speciesism (and in turn would education about the ethics of local/organic foods change people’s choice whether or not to purchase them)? In self-reflection, I found the answer to be no. While I know that an animal feels pain, and that they can potentially have conscious thought, I still am inclined to eat meat. However, it is not because of speciesism. I do not think myself to be better than any other species, yet I am still inclined to eat meat. While speciesism is definitely a factor in why humans eat meat, it is not the only reason. To be frank, after lots of thought, the main reason I choose to eat meat is because I enjoy the taste. I put selfish enjoyment over the well-being of another animal. I choose to put personal experience first. We cannot therefore make a sweeping exclamation about the ethics of eating meat; it comes down to the individual and whether they believe that their satisfaction is worth the life of an animal. There are those who choose not to, and further research needs to be done into the philosophical and psychological reasons those that choose not to eat meat do so.

It is clear that the local/organic option of food is the more ethical option, mainly due to environmental issues, and the ethics that come along with choosing to eat meat remain unresolved, and for the reader to determine for themselves. Little was gleamed from this exploration other than that there will be those who make the choice against the ethics, and those who take the ethics into account. Perhaps people choose the luxury goods because they are a form of conspicuous consumption, and a status symbol. More research should be done into the philosophical and psychological conundrums that occur when someone makes the choice to put their self-pleasure before anything else (in terms of food choices), and see if that is the case.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Citations:

 

1“Ethics – Animal Ethics: The Ethics of Speciesism.” BBC. Accessed November 26, 2018.

 

2Klavinski, Rita. “7 Benefits of Eating Local Foods.” Native Plants and Ecosystem Services. September 20, 2018. Accessed November 26, 2018.

 

Accessibility and Nutrition Science: How Commercialization and Fast Food Bring The Two Together

Hunting and gathering was where it began. For ages humans have selected food to consume, and even in the beginning there was a choice as to what kind of food to eat. During the hunting and gathering stages this choice may have concerned which berry to pick, but today this choice manifests itself in the form of what restaurant to eat at, or what to pick from the supermarket. In either scenario, humans have selected food that is easily accessible to them, whether it was accessible because of geographic, or economic reasons. The commercialization of accessible food in today’s world because of competition has also led to the perversion of nutritional science.

When I lived in Connecticut, I lived relatively close to a port town. As such, seafood was easily accessible, and most restaurants contained quite a few seafood options, regardless of what the cuisine was. I could go to a Chinese restaurant, Mexican restaurant, or Italian restaurant, and on each of the menus there would be cod in some form. As a child, I assumed this was the norm, but when I moved to North Carolina I was proven wrong. North Carolina is far from the cold Atlantic waters that help foster bountiful seafood, and the area I moved to was much more inland than my residence in Connecticut was. Seafood was much less accessible, but chicken, potatoes, and grain based meals became the norm. Fried chicken and waffles, grits, and biscuits all became staples of my diet in the South, because these were the foods that were the most accessible. My diet changed as my location of residence did, based on the accessibility of certain types of food. My personal experience made me realize this, but I also learned this fact through research into this topic that was completed in 1970. This research traced the genetics of widely used rice, to determine the origins of wild rice. The research concluded that wild rice was found most frequently in the humid tropics and subtropics of Asia, Africa, Central America, and Australia.2 As wild rice naturally thrives in these regions, it can be inferred that the humans who lived in these regions also had easy access to rice. These areas are also regions where the diet is heavily supplemented by rice, as is seen in the popular dishes of these regions. This anecdote and research both come to the same conclusion; geographic accessibility to food dictates the popularity of food.

Now that it has been established that geographic accessibility to food dictates popularity of food, we must consider how economic accessibility to food dictates popularity. In the mid to late 1900’s, as we saw a rise in the industrial processing and production of food, and we also saw a rise in the popularity of fast-food.1 Both of these came about for the same reason; they provided food that was cheap, predictable, and fast.1 There continued to be the option of more expensive, healthier options, but the price and predictability were simply unbeatable. This fast-food was also accessible to all, because of its low price. The same phenomenon that we saw occur with geographic access to food occurred with economic access; the more accessible option (the cheap industrial option), became the more popular item. In fact, McDonald’s, a restaurant that came into business during this initial boom of easily accessible foods, is now a multi-national conglomerate, and a staple of the American experience. In both geographic and economic circumstances, accessibility led to popularity.

As accessibility has increased (due to the cheapness of fast-food, and the geographic accessibility due to the chain nature of these restaurants), so has the competition between possible options for the consumer. Take for instance the McDonald’s example outlined earlier on in this paper. As its popularity has risen we have seen more competitors on the market; Wendy’s, Burger King, Chick-fil-a, and more. To differentiate themselves, competitors have had to beat each other both through innovation and the application of marketed nutrition science.

Nutrition science is a hard science that was developed to quantify and qualify the nutrients that are present in daily diets. From the humor system that was developed by the ancient Greek physicians, to the modern day caloric calculations, knowledge of nutrition was developed and used to help everyday consumers maximize their health through diet. However, in order to gain a leg up on competitors, these companies that have easily accessible food have taken choice facts backed by nutritional science about their food, omitted others, and made it seem like their food is the healthy choice (often making options seem healthier than they are). As you can see in the picture below, taken from Chick-Fil-A’s website, this Chick-Fil-A salad’s nutrition facts appear to be positive, but they omit the dressing that comes with the salad. Without the dressing, the salad consists of 510 Calories, and contains a large amount of protein, and a healthy amount of carbohydrates. However, when the salad dressing is factored in, the total nutritional value of the meal heavily drops, as the caloric content of the dressing is nearly 3/5 that of the salad, and contains more grams of fat and sodium than the salad itself. This is not good for the consumer, who is being misled about what nutritional value their food contains. The perpetuation of fast, cheap food option because of accessibility has led to misuse of nutritional science.

In America, obesity was such an issue that the former first lady Michelle Obama had to create an initiative to stop it. This could be due to the fact that accessible food is usually the most popular food in a region, and fast food is one of the most accessible foods in the U.S. To maintain their competitiveness in an environment where fast food is so accessible, these companies have perverted representations of nutritional science and made it work in their favor to get the masses to believe that this fast food ‘healthy’. Further research should be done to determine the exact effects of fast food on the obesity epidemic, and the regulation of nutritional science and facts that are used by the fast food industry, and the opinion of the public on these nutritional facts.

Works Cited

1Freedman, Paul, et al., editors. Food in Time and Place: The American Historical Association Companion to Food History. 1st ed. Ch. 8., University of California Press, 2014.

2Kiple, Kenneth F., and Kriemhild Connee Ornelas, editors. The Cambridge World History of Food. 1st ed., Cambridge Univ. Press, 2000.