Introduction to Ethics and Food Systems

Spring 2017, University of Vermont (PHIL 010: Food Ethics)

Office Hours: Tues and Thurs 6pm-7pm in Room 209, 70 S. Williams St.


Course Description

This course provides an introduction to ethics through the lens of food systems. It also includes modules on the ethics of ending life, and on sustainability.


This course will explore the different ethical issues that arise in the context of our food choices both at the level of personal decision-making and at the level of public policy. We will address questions such as: what sorts of ethical obligations do we have to those who produce our food? Are the food choices we make ethically constrained by our obligations to preserve the environment or to preserve our own health and, if so, how are they constrained? Is it ethically permissible to eat meat? Is the government ethically permitted or even obligated to regulate our personal food choices (e.g. by regulating the volume of single serving soft drinks)? To what extent is a government like ours obligated to ensure that people have adequate access to food?


This course has two, related educational aims (goals, objectives). The first is to prepare you to begin developing and defending your own answers to these and other questions in the domain of food ethics. The second is to equip you with a certain set of skills. Both in preparing for class, in your writing, and through class discussion and group work, you will develop your ability to (1) communicate clearly and concisely, (2) reconstruct arguments for a position or view from a piece of text, (3) critically evaluate arguments, (3) construct persuasive arguments of your own in defense of a position or view, and (4) anticipate and address potential objections to arguments that you find persuasive. Although deploying these skills will be crucial in your effort to advance your own thinking about the questions in food ethics that we will discuss in this class, developing these skills has independent value as they can also be usefully applied in a variety of different domains outside of philosophy.



Optional Textbook


Anne Barnhill et al., Food, Ethics, and Society, Oxford UP, 2016 (Readings below are marked 'T' if they are in this textbook.)



Readings (Only Numbered Readings are Required)

January 17: Overview of Food Ethics; Production Ethics

1. Introduction to Chapter 1: The Ethically Troubling Food System (T)

January 19: Intensive Industrial Animal Agriculture; Consumer Ethics

Optional: selection from Gilovich et. al., Social Psychology, 1st ed. (introduction to social psychology textbook) (not in T)


January 24, 26, 31: The Ethics of Ending Life

1. Judith Jarvis Thomson, "A Defense of Abortion" (not in T)


February 2, 7: Objections to Thomson


1. Michael Tooley, objections to Thomson on abortion (not in T) (note that this provides an excellent model for how to write your own philosophy papers in this course)

Optional: Carol Kaesuk Yoon, "No face, but plants like life too" (T)


February 9: Utilitarianism, and Singer vs. Tannsjo on its implications

1. Peter Singer, "All Animals are Equal" (T)


2. Torbjorn Tannsjo, "It's getting better all the time" (T)


FIRST PAPER ASSIGNMENT: due Sunday, February 19 at 11:59pm via email


February 14: Alternatives to Utilitarianism; Consumer Ethics

1.
Roger Scruton, "Eating Our Friends" (T)

Optional: Matt Halteman, "Compassionate Eating as Care of Creation" (T)

Work on First Paper Assignment


February 16: Vegan Arguments

1. Tristram McPherson, "How to Argue for (and against) Ethical Veganism" (T) (note that this provides an excellent model for how to write your own philosophy papers in this course)

Optional: Introduction to Chapter 7: Industrial Animal Agriculture (T)


February 19: First Paper Assignment is due at 11:59pm via email


February 21: Vegan Arguments and the Inefficacy Objection

1. Grace Boey, "Eating Animals and Personal Guilt" (T)


February 23: Consumer Ethics

1. Introduction to Chapter 4: Consumer Ethics (i.e. pages 165-186) (T)


February 28: Kantian theories of the ethics of production and consumption

1. Christine Korsgaard, "Getting Animals in View" (T)


2. Eliot Michaelson, "A Kantian Response to Futility Worries?" (T)


3. Reread the pages (pp. 176-178) on Kantian and other deontological theories of consumer ethics in the Introduction to Chapter 4: Consumer Ethics


March 2: Industrial Plant Ag




March 7: No Class: Town Meeting Day; Alternatives To Industrial Plant Ag


Recommended: Pages 333-334 of the Introduction to Chapter 7 (T)


March 9: The Ethics of Local Food

2. Helena de Bres, "Local Food: The Moral Case" (T)

Optional: Pierre Desrochers et. al., selections from The Locavore's Dilemma (T)


March 14 & 16: No Class: Spring Break


MIDTERM EXAM: due Sunday, March 26 at 11:59pm via email


March 21: Domestic Food Justice


1. Pages 92-101 (only) of the Introduction to Chapter 3: Food Justice (T)

March 23: Food Waste, Food Justice, Gleaning


March 26: Midterm Exam is due at 11:59pm via email


March 28: Global Hunger

1. Pages 36-47 of the Introduction to Chapter 2: Global Hunger (T) (only pp. 36-47)

Optional: Peter Singer, "Famine, Affluence, and Morality" (T)


April 4: Food Security
Note: these public health sources agree that proper nutrition requires more than adequate intake of food; on this basis, USAID claims that food security should be understood as requiring more than reliably adequate dietary intake; nonetheless, global and national definitions of 'food security' that guide policy typically take only dietary intake into account -- for example, see FAO and USDA


March 30:
Why Adequate Food Access is Insufficient for Proper Nutrition, Importance of Early Childhood Nutrition and other factors for Future Life Outcomes

Optional: Douglas Almond and Janet Currie, "Killing Me Softly: The Fetal Origins Hypothesis" (not in T) (feel free to skip 158-160)

Optional: "Sanitation and Stunting", Research Institute for Compassionate Economics (not in T)


SECOND PAPER ASSIGNMENT: due Sunday, April 16 at 11:59pm via email


April 6: Singer's Argument for a Demanding Duty of Beneficence to Help the Global Poor

1. Peter Singer, "Famine, Affluence, and Morality" (T)

2. Browse www.givewell.org (not in T)

Recommended: Reread pages 36-47 of the Introduction to Chapter 2: Global Hunger (T)

Optional: "Philanthropy In Silicon Valley" (not in T)


April 11: Objections to the Empirical Premise of Singer's Argument, and Replies

1. Page 38 and pages 57-59 of the Introduction to Chapter 2: Global Hunger (T) (only pp. 38 and 57-59)

April 13: No Class Meeting -- Meet with other students one-on-one to workshop papers

Recommended: attend the Kilian Moote lecture in Williams Hall 301 starting at 4:30pm


April 16: Second paper assignment due at 11:59pm via email


April 18: Sustainability and the Tragedy of the Commons


Optional: Paul Ehrlich, "Overpopulation and the collapse of civilization" (T)


April 20: Sustainability and Self-Government of Common Resources


2. Pages 13-23 of Elinor Ostrom, Governing the Commons (not in T)

1. Seth Holmes, "Farm Workers" (T) (If you prefer, you can watch this video of Seth Holmes speaking on this topic instead.)

Optional: reread Iris Marion Young, "Five Faces of Oppression" (T)


April 27: Farmers, Farm Workers

1. Barry Estabrook, "The Price of Tomatoes" (T)

2. Introduction to Chapter 11: Workers (T) (i.e. pp. 519-529)

FINAL EXAM and FINAL PAPER: due via email Tuesday, May 9 at 4:15pm (university-assigned final exam time)


May 2: Food Sovereignty, Farmers, Farm Workers

1. Paul Thompson, "Food Security and Food Sovereignty" (T)

Optional: EWG Food Scores Methodology (not in T)

Optional: IMMP 25th Anniversary Report on Dolphin Safe Tuna (not in T)


May 4: What should you do? What should we do? The Role of Entrepreneurship and Civil Society

1. Pages 469-473 of Introduction to Chapter 10: Alternatives to Industrial Plant Agriculture (discussion of sustainable intensification) (T)

2. Austin Kiessig, "What 'Big Ideas' in Food Get Funded in Silicon Valley?" (T)

Optional: Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, selections from Nudge (T)


Optional: Stanford panel on meat without animals (not in T)

May 9: 4:15pm (university-assigned final exam time): Final exam and final paper due via email



Additional Resources

Peter Singer and Jim Mason, The Ethics of What We Eat, Rodale, 2006 (on reserve at library)


Ronald Sandler, Food Ethics: The Basics, Routledge, 2015 ([soon to be] on reserve at library)


Marion Nestle, Food Politics, website