Food, Ethics, and Global Society

Fall 2017, University of Vermont (Food Systems Graduate Seminar: FS 355)

Office Hours: Tues and Thurs 1:40-2:40pm in Room 209, 70 S. Williams St., and by appointment



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

Optional: Elinor Ostrom, Governing the Commons, Cambridge UP, 1990

Optional: Amartya Sen, Development as Freedom, Oxford UP, 1999




Readings (only numbered readings are required)

August 29: Overview of Big Issues in Global Food Ethics: Individual Ethics, Collective Ethics, What Really Works

Optional: Anne Barnhill et al., Introduction to Chapter 1: The Ethically Troubling Food System, Food, Ethics, and Society, Oxford UP, 2016


September 5: Consumer ethics, utilitarianism, valuing ecosystems, alternatives to utilitarian ethical theory

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

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



September 12: Global justice, poverty, effective altruism, unintended consequences

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 (influential original article, with main argument widely discussed including in readings above)

Optional: Peter Singer, replies to objections: chapters 3, 8, and 9 of The Life You Can Save, 2009 (this subset of the book provides replies to other objections to Singer's main argument)




September 19: Global justice, world food supply, sustainable intensification, tradeoffs between: organic values, local values, the environment, human wellbeing, animal wellbeing


2. David Tilman et al., "Global food demand and the sustainable intensification of agriculture"Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2011 (incl. supplementary information)

3. "Food, the Environment, and Global Justice", in the Oxford Handbook of Food Ethics, Oxford UP, forthcoming

4. *multi-week assignment* (it is perfectly ok and encouraged to spread some of the following Conway reading over the next two weeks: read by Oct. 10):
Conway, chapters 1, 3, 5, 6, and 7 (challenges for contemporary global agriculture, the Green Revolution, contemporary arguments for sustainable intensification)

Optional: Claire Palmer, Katie McShane, Ronald Sandler,"Environmental Ethics"Annual Review of Environment and Resources (overview of environmental ethics)

Optional: Dale Jamieson, "The Value of Nature", in Ethics and the Environment (overview of environmental ethics)


Optional Module: Leading literature on organics versus sustainable intensification and related issues



Optional: Carol Shennan et al., "Organic and Conventional Agriculture: A Useful Framing?", Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 2017









September 26: No In-Class Meeting: Measuring nutrition and health; the importance of early childhood nutrition and environment; challenges for measuring the effectiveness of nutritional interventions; human values through an economic lens; wellbeing: what it is, what social conditions cause it, what are its correlates, what are good proxies for it

1. Conway, pages 21-33 only of chapter 2 (note: pages 21-33 only)


3. Janet Currie and Ishita Rajani, pages 1691-1693 only of "Within-Mother Estimates of the Effect of WIC on Birth Outcomes in New York City"Economic Inquiry, 2015 (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

Optional: Branko Milanovic, Global Inequality, Harvard UP, 2016


October 3: Is overpopulation the main cause of global problems? What should be done about population size by governments? What should be done about population size by individual people?


Recommended: Paul Ehrlich, Prologue and pp. 15-27 of The Population Bomb, Sierra Club (1968 edition)

Recommended: Paul Ehrlich, Prologue of The Population Bomb, Sierra Club (1975 edition) (note: one-page Prologue only; compare predictions to 1968 edition. what happened?)



3. Sarah Hannan, "On the Morality of Procreation and Parenting", in Permissible Progeny?, Oxford UP, 2015


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




Optional: Sarah Conly, One ChildOxford UP, 2015


October 10: Food security: reliable entitlements to food and the difference between there being enough food for everyone and everyone having enough food

1. Conway, pages 34-40 only of chapter 2 (note: pages 34-40 only)

2. Conway, chapters 4, 8

Optional: Amartya Sen, "Famines and Other Crises", in Development as Freedom, Knopf, 1999

Optional: Angus Deaton and Jean Dreze, "Food and Nutrition in India: Facts and Interpretations", EPW, 2009


October 17: Water, sanitation, hygiene and nutrition; culture, social norms, and real-world challenges for development

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

Optional: World Health Organization website on water, sanitation, and hygiene

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.


MIDTERM EXAM: Due via email October 29 at 11:59pm


October 24: Sustainability, the tragedy of the commons, virtues and vices of free markets

1. Garrett Hardin, "The Tragedy of the Commons", Science, 1968

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

Recommended: Handout on Hardin and Ostrom

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

Optional: Elinor Ostrom, selections from Governing the Commons, Cambridge UP, 1990 

Optional: Elinor Ostrom, "A General Framework for Analyzing Sustainability of Social-Ecological Systems", Science, 2009

Optional: Robert Frank, "Market Efficiency", Chapter 18 of Microeconomics and Behavior, 7th ed., McGraw-Hill, 2008


October 29: Midterm Exam due via email at 11:59pm


October 31: 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. 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

4. Bonnie Keeler et al., "The social costs of nitrogen", Science Advances, 2016 (only the abstract is required)

Recommended: Conway, chapter 14

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 7: The food-water-energy-climate nexus: 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)

1. Conway, chapters 15 and 16

2. Robert Stavins, "Learning from 30 years of experience with cap and trade systems", An Economic View of the Environment Blog, 2017

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

4. Abstract only of Francis Dennig et al., "Inequality, climate impacts on the future poor, and carbon prices"Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2015 (only the abstract is required reading)

5. Abstract only of Noah Scovronick et al., "Impact of population growth and population ethics on climate change mitigation policy", Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2017 (only the abstract is required reading)

Recommended: William Nordhaus, "Summary for the Concerned Citizen", in A Question of Balance, Yale UP, 2007 (summary of DICE model and economics of climate change)

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

November 14: Animal agriculture, water-energy-climate-wellbeing footprints of foods, wild animals and climate

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. Abstract only of Christian Peters et al., "Carrying Capacity of US Agricultural Land: Ten Diet Scenarios", Elementa, 2016 (only the abstract is required reading - what objective for society is Peters assuming? 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?)

3. 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)

4. Wayne Hsiung and Cass Sunstein, "Climate Change and Animals"University of Pennsylvania Law Review, 2007

Optional: Aleksandrowicz et al., "The Impacts of Dietary Change on Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Land Use, Water Use, and Health: A Systematic Review", PLoS ONE, 2016 (note that this has an extensive bibliography and provides an overview of the literature)

Optional: Conway, chapter 13


POLICY BRIEF: outline due November 26; final version due December 12 at 11:59pm


November 21: No Class: Thanksgiving Break


November 26: Outline of Policy Brief Due via Blackboard Discussion Board


November 28: Global trade, neoliberalism, international institutions; discuss policy brief outlines in class

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. Jennifer Clapp, "Trade Liberalization and Food Security: Examining the Linkages", Quaker United Nations, 2014

2. Pages 10-12 and 28-30 of Andrew Guzman and Joost Pauwelyn, International Trade Law, 1st ed., Aspen, 2009 (only pages 10-12 and 28-30 are required) (this is from a top law school text on international trade law)

Optional: Action Aid, "The WTO Agreement on Agriculture", online brochure

Optional: Roberto Azevedo, "After a historic success, urgent challenges face the WTO", WTO Press Release, 2016

Optional: Philippe van Parijs, "Thatcher's Plot -- and How to Defeat It", Social Europe, 2016

Optional: Robert Frank, "Market Efficiency", Chapter 18 of Microeconomics and Behavior, 7th ed., McGraw-Hill, 2008

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


FINAL EXAM: due December 14 at 11:59pm


December 5: Last in-class meeting

In Class Discussion of Policy Briefs and Future Research


December 14: Final Exam and Policy Brief (and optional additional assignment) due at 11:59pm



Additional Resources