Food, Ethics, and Global Society

Fall 2016, University of Vermont (Food Systems Graduate Seminar: FS 355)

Office Hours: Tues 1pm-2pm, Weds 3:15-4:15pm, and by appointment: Room 209, 70 S. Williams St.



Course Description

This course introduces some leading literature on ethics, sustainability, and nutrition that is relevant to evaluating food systems. Unusual emphasis will be placed on thinking like a philosopher, thinking like an economist, ethical worries about research and publications, and leading literature on global food systems issues that are underrepresented in local discussions. Students will also gain experience running a leading global integrated assessment model, DICE, and using other methods for making decisions at the food-water-climate-energy 'environmental nexus'.

"Unless we understand how the numbers are put together, and what they mean, we run the risk of seeing problems where there are none, of missing urgent and addressable needs, of being outraged by fantasies while overlooking real horrors, and of recommending policies that are fundamentally misconceived." - Angus Deaton


Required Text

1. Gordon Conway, One Billion Hungry: Can We Feed the World?, Cornell UP (Comstock), 2012

Optional background: Angus Deaton, The Great Escape, Princeton UP, 2013



Readings (only numbered readings are required)


August 31: Sustainability, the tragedy of the commons, virtues and vices of free markets



Optional: James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State, Yale UP, 1998



September 7
: Nutrition, health, other human values -- and the importance of early childhood environment

3. Janet Currie and Ishita Rajani, "Within-Mother Estimates of the Effect of WIC on Birth Outcomes in New York City", Economic Inquiry, 2015, pp. 2-7. (Note: only the first three pages of the pdf are required; you need focus only on the problems with previous studies regarding WIC efficacy and the authors' method for overcoming them.)

Optional: Max Roser, "Global Economic Inequality", Oxford Our World in Data, 2016


September 14: Population and global hunger

Optional: Matthew Connelly, Fatal Misconception, Harvard UP, 2008


September 21: Adequate food supply, negative impacts of ag on the environment and humans, sustainable intensification

2. Conway, chapters 3, 5, 6, and 7


September 28: Food security, global hunger, reliable entitlements to food

1. Conway, chapters 4, 8

3. Amartya Sen, "Famines and Other Crises", in Development as Freedom, Knopf, 1999


October 5: Water, sanitation, hygiene and nutrition -- and real-world challenges for development

1. Diane Coffey and Dean Spears, Sanitized Development, Harper Collins, forthcoming, pp. 1-7, 23-44, 57-81, and 149-195

Note: these public health sources agree that proper nutrition requires more than adequate intake of food; so, arguably food security should be understood as requiring more than reliably adequate dietary intake; see FAO and USDA for definitions that do not seem to require this; FAO now stipulates that food security is to be understood as including more than reliably adequate dietary intake.

Optional: "Sanitation and Stunting", brochure, Research Institute for Compassionate Economics


October 12: Hunger, poverty, global justice, effective altruism

1. Anne Barnhill et al., "Introduction to Chapter 2: Global Hunger", in Food, Ethics, and Society, Oxford UP, 2016

3. Angus Deaton, "How to Help Those Left Behind", in The Great Escape, Princeton UP, 2013

Optional: Peter Singer, "Famine, Affluence, and Morality", Philosophy & Public Affairs, 1972


October 19: Global trade, neoliberalism, international institutions

Recommended: Reread pages 44-47 of Anne Barnhill et al., "Introduction to Chapter 2: Global Hunger", in Food, Ethics, and Society, Oxford UP, 2016

1. Pages 10-12 and 28-29 of Andrew Guzman and Joost Pauwelyn, International Trade Law, 1st ed., Aspen, 2009 (only pages 10-12 and 28-29 are required)

2. Joseph Stiglitz, selections from Making Globalization Work, Norton, 2006

Can you find more info on agricultural rule changes after the WTO Nairobi conference?


MIDTERM EXAM: Due via email at 11:59am November 2


October 26: Water, fisheries, sustainability, market-based environmental policy

1. Pages 3-11, 28-46, 62-68, 91-96, and 122-130 of Ray Hilborn and Ulrike Hilborn, Overfishing: What Everyone Needs to Know, Oxford UP, 2012 (readings are a proper subset of the pdf)

2. Elinor Ostrom, selections from Governing the Commons, Cambridge UP, 1990

3. Elinor Ostrom et al. "Revisiting the Commons", Science, 1999

4. Chuck Ross, "H.35 is a Vital Step Forward in Addressing Clean Water and Agriculture in Vermont", Vermont Agency of Agriculture Food & Markets Press Release, 2015

Recommended: Conway, chapter 14

Handout on Hardin and Ostrom (from first class meeting)

Optional: FAO definition of 'food security' and the 'water-energy-food nexus', in "The Water-Energy-Food Nexus", FAO brochure, 2014

Optional: Bloom, 2011 documentary film

Can you think of ways that Vermont's H.35 might have tried to incorporate more market-based policy, and more self-governance of the Ostrom kind?


November 2: Energy, climate change, integrated assessment models of energy-climate-wellbeing

Key: Bring your laptop to class with Excel so you can run the DICE integrated assessment model in class (optional info on DICE)

Midterm exam due before class (no one page response due this week)

1. Conway, chapters 15 and 16

2. Pages 37-48 of IPCC, Technical Summary on Mitigation of Climate Change (WG3TS), IPCC, 2014 (pages 37-48 only)

3. Pages 70 and 92 of IPCC, Technical Summary on Impacts of Climate Change (WG2TS), IPCC, 2014 (pages 70 and 92 only)

Optional: Climate Equity Reference Project, www.climateequityreference.org

November 9: Animal agriculture, water-energy-climate-wellbeing footprints of foods

Recommended: Conway, chapter 10, and pp. 311 and 316-318

1. Pages 1-26 of Gerber et al., "Tacking Climate Change Through Livestock", FAO, 2013 (only pages 1-26 are required)

2. Pages 1-21 of Janet Ranganathan et al., "Shifting Diets for a Sustainable Food Future", WRI, 2016 (only pages 1-21 are required)

3. Abstract only of Christian Peters et al., "Carrying Capacity of US Agricultural Land: Ten Diet Scenarios", Elementa, 2016 (only the abstract is required reading)

4. Summary sheet of Mark Budolfson, "The Harm Footprint of Foods", in Chignell et al. eds. Philosophy Comes to Dinner, Routledge, 2015 (only the summary sheet of the workbook is required; let me know if you have ideas for improving the analysis)

Optional: Conway, chapter 13

How does the social objective assumed by the Ranganathan paper differ from the objective assumed by the Peters paper? What is the best social objective to assume in this literature? E.g., should our goal be merely to maximize the number of calories produced on our land? What objections might be raised to that objective?


November 16: Individual ethics, consumer ethics, civil society and entrepreneurship alternatives to 'voting with your dollars'

1. Anne Barnhill et al., "Introduction to Chapter 4: Consumer Ethics", in Food, Ethics, and Society, Oxford UP, 2016 (pp. 165-183 only)

2. First page of Paul Watson, "Tora, Tora, Tora", in Schmidtz and Willott, Environmental Ethics, second ed., Oxford UP, 2012 (first page only)

Optional: 25th Anniversary Report on Dolphin Safe Tuna, International Marine Mammal Project, 2015

Optional: EWG food scores app

Optional: Austin Kiessig, "What 'Big Ideas' in Food Get Funded in Silicon Valley?", edible startups blog, 2013

Optional: Michelle Paratore, "Rising to the Food Waste Challenge", edible startups blog, 2014

Optional: MIT Food+Future Colab


POLICY BRIEF: draft due November 28; final version due December 12 at 11:59pm


FINAL EXAM: due December 9 at 11:59pm


November 23: No class, Thanksgiving recess


November 28: Outline of Policy Brief Due via Blackboard Discussion Board


November 30: Discuss Policy Brief Outlines in Class


December 7: Last Day of Class, TBD


December 9: Final Exam Due at 11:59pm


December 12: Policy Brief Due at 11:59pm



Additional Resources