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Food ethics embraces a variety of different academic approaches and thus can be considered an interdisciplinary field that makes connections and builds bridges among disciplines such as philosophy, sociology, anthropology, economics, and rhetoric. The Oxford Handbook of Food Ethics, edited by Anne Barnhill, Mark Budolfson, and Tyler Doggett, approaches food ethics through this multidisciplinary lens by including authors whose expertise lies in political philosophy, bioethics, agricultural food and community ethics, biology, medical anthropology, and more. The editors themselves represent complimentary disciplines because their research focuses on bioethics, philosophy, and public policy. For this anthology, they decided to highlight articles from the field of philosophy. The end product is a volume of impressive breadth that helps the reader contextualize current issues, positions, and arguments in food ethics.
The editors of The Oxford Handbook of Food Ethics employ a rhetorically effective design that invites the reader to peruse sections in chronological order since the individual sections build on each other and expand one another. This does not imply that the reader should feel restricted from jumping around within each section. But in order to appreciate the rhetorical design of the anthology, the reader would be best served by perusing the first section on Conventional Agriculture and Alternatives first, and work their way through towards the last part on the History and Philosophy of Food Ethics.
Given this scaffolding structure, the editors start with a major theme in food ethics, Conventional Agriculture and Alternatives. Articles under this umbrella address challenges today's food production industry faces. For example, the volume discusses issues concerning the transformation of family-run farms into high tech, industrialized factory farms. The change in technology has resulted in farms that aim for the highest possible profit. Consequently, working conditions have changed dramatically and triggered fundamental questions concerning the environment and economics. Other articles in this section critically examine alternative food movements, such as the vegan diet (Mark Budolfson's "Food, the Environment, and Global Justice") and locavorism (Samantha E. Noll and Ian Werkheiser's "Local Food Movements: Differing Conceptions of Food, People, and Change").
The section on Animals includes scholarly work on animal ethics and cognition. For example, philosopher Gary Comstock debunks some commonly articulated arguments about cattle in his article, "Concerning Cattle: Behavioral and Neuroscientific Evidence for Pain, Desire, and Self-Consciousness." Cows, Comstock argues, are able to plan for their future by engaging in planning strategies and don't just live in the moment. Moreover, cows remember previous incidents that caused them pain and can make decisions to try to avoid those incidents in the future. Comstock challenges common misbeliefs and invites the reader to see cows as a species that has "behaviors, neuroanatomical physiologies, and brain structures similar to those of humans" (163). Comstock's article is important because seeing cows differently, less Other, can be a big step towards eating more conscientiously which segues into the next part of the anthology and stands in contrast to philosopher Charles List's piece on locavorism (see "The New Hunter and Local Food").
The third part focuses on Consumption where scholars contribute articles on veganism, consumer choice, the effects of religion on food, and food waste. The reader may or may not completely identify with these pieces on a personal level, but these articles question any consumer's eating and shopping habits.
The next part on Food Justice and Social Justice elaborates further on the notion of individual and group responsibility by investigating new layers of justice when it comes to food ethics (see Kyle Powys Whyte's "Food Sovereignty, Justice, and Indigenous Peoples: An Essay on Settler Colonialism and Collective Continuance."). Whyte stresses the importance of collective self-determination in order to achieve food justice among groups and how "particular foods are associated with qualities of relationships and ecosystems" (363). Whyte's article triggers discussions on the permissibility of governmental interference when it comes to food which helps the reader understand the dichotomy between the individual, the collective, and institutional interference.
In Part V, Ethics and Politics of Food Policy, the contributors expand on discussions raised by social justice advocates, namely food autonomy and the treatment of food workers (Introduction, 16). Philosopher and legal scholar Seana Valentine Shiffrin, contributes to the volume with her article, "Deceptive Advertising and Taking Responsibility for Others," and explains the reasoning behind often confusing labeling practices which leads towards a greater theoretical discussion on fault and responsibility. Moreover, philosopher Sarah Conly discusses the value of paternalistic policies when it comes to promoting healthy diets or foods. Conly argues that consumers should welcome methods that encourage better eating, such as food bans or disincentive programs like adding a tax to soda (469). This part of the anthology helps the reader work through controversial and difficult arguments regarding food labeling, food policies, and food worker programs.
Gender, Body Image, and "Healthy" Eating examines the private and public discourse on food. What does dieting mean? Whose responsibility is obesity? These are questions Tracy Isaacs, philosopher and scholar of women's studies and feminism, and philosopher Beth Dixon explore in depth. Christina van Dyke discusses orthorexia, an obsession that is concerned with eating only foods one considers healthy. Her article explains how the rigorous quest for the healthiest food can turn into a detrimental and unhealthy passion. One of her main take away points, that "we should resist to push toward moralizing 'healthy' food choices as somehow morally (as opposed to merely nutritionally) superior to their alternatives," remains a powerful reminder for today's consumer who easily finds him- or herself trapped in a never ending quest for the perfect diet (571). These articles on body image and the idea of the healthy diet then invite a wider discussion on the significance of food in the following section.
The last part of the volume on Food and Social Identities, Cultural Practices, and Values reflects on the social meaning of food. Here, the connection between food and identity is surveyed (see Daniel Kelly and Nicolae Morar's "I Eat, Therefore I Am: Disgust and the Intersection of Food and Identity"). The two philosophers argue that changing a diet can change an identity as well (653). Cultural practices play a big role in eating, and philosopher and ethicist Karen Stohr closely looks at eating conventions and food etiquette and how following a dining etiquette is not only evidence for an individual acting as a proper guest but also can be seen as an opportunity to broaden one's moral horizon and become part of a moral community one would not be part of alone (720). Like other articles in this volume, this contribution adds a new twist to a social norm and helps the reader reevaluate their opinions about food etiquette.
Connections and Oppositions
In addition to scaffolding the individual sections in The Oxford Handbook of Food Ethics, the editors also carefully arrange contributions within sections in a way that helps the reader see both connections and opposing views, especially when it comes to controversial arguments. In the second section on Animals, for instance, both the cognition of cattle and the cognition of fish are discussed (see Comstock and Michaelson & Reisner). While today's consumer tends to buy less red meat, less is still commonly known about fish cognition. Michaelson & Reisner offer an important contribution to this volume by discussing new research on fish intelligence and psychology. The fact that fish cannot make their suffering seen as easily as, for example, a cow, does not mean fish don't suffer and "we have been acting wrongly with respect to eating fish on account of the harm caused by harvesting them" (204). Comstock and Michaelson & Reisner's articles both help the consumer question the ethics of farm animals and the ethics of fish in similar ways. In addition, Charles List's piece on hunting and consuming large mammals stands in contrast to the two previously discussed articles. In "The New Hunter and Local Food," List argues that hunting should be understood as an ecological act and therefore the "new hunter" should embrace the locavore movement (187).
Another contrasting pair of articles can be found in the section on Consumption. While philosopher Tristram McPherson makes a case for veganism in "The Ethical Basis for Veganism," philosopher Bob Fischer offers a view that supports the consumption of animal products in "Arguments for Consuming Animal Products." McPherson acknowledges the challenges the pro-veganism argument faces and nicely lays out the facets that complicate his case for veganism such as the fact that many individuals, including philosophers, might very well accept the argument for veganism but might yet not change their lifestyle accordingly (232-233). Fischer, however, shares his arguments for sometimes consuming some animal products, like roadkill or bugs.
The volume includes articles that provide a historical outlook as the last section on the History of Philosophy and Food Ethics, which is a rather unconventional way to end a collection like this. However, bringing current scholarly work into historical context shows how some ideas that have been discussed previously in The Oxford Handbook of Food Ethics have been resurrected throughout history and are still relevant today. Philosopher Katja Maria Vogt looks at parallels between a good life and food in Ancient Greece in her piece, "Who You Are Is What You Eat: Food in Ancient Thought" and philosopher Henrik Lagerlund's contribution on "Food Ethics in the Middle Ages" helps the reader see a layer of food ethics that has not been explored much so far. Both historical contributions, though, discuss the raising of animals for food and the ethics of consumption (Introduction, 22). This shows how these pressing questions that are important today have been discussed throughout the history of philosophy.
The Oxford Handbook of Food Ethics provides an extensive survey of the growing field of food ethics in its most prevalent areas and aims for an audience that encompasses not only advanced undergraduate and graduate students but also the consumer who is interested in learning more about his or her everyday choices. The editors include work that attempts to answer complex ethical questions about food and the individuals, groups, and institutions that are concerned with food. By focusing on philosophical areas such as practical ethics, normative ethics, and political philosophy, Barnhill, Dudolfson, and Doggett offer a comprehensive, informative, and valuable volume on food ethics, its limitations, and its opportunities.
Barnhill, A., Budolfson, M, & Doggett, S. (2018). Introduction. In A. Barnhill, M. Budolfson, & S. Doggett (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of food ethics (pp. 1-29). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Barnhill, A., Budolfson, M., & Doggett, S. (Eds.). (2018). The Oxford handbook of food ethics. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Comstock, G. (2018). Concerning cattle: Behavioral and neuroscientific evidence for pain,desire, and self-consciousness. In A. Barnhill, M. Budolfson, & S. Doggett (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of food ethics (pp. 139-170). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Conly, S. (2018). Paternalism, food, and personal freedom. In A. Barnhill, M. Budolfson, & S. Doggett (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of food ethics (pp. 449-470). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Kelly, D., & Morar, N. (2018). I eat, therefore I am: Disgust and the intersection of food and identity. In A. Barnhill, M. Budolfson, & S. Doggett (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of food ethics (pp. 637-658). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
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© 2018 Silke Feltz
Silke Feltz, Michigan Technological University