Food ethics

Food Ethics in
Everyday Food Consumption
Christian Coff
Agronomist, PhD in Philosophy
University College Zealand, Denmark
E: [email protected]
18th International Ethnological Food Research
Conference, Finland, August 2010
Food as an ethical relationship outline of presentation
• Relationships between ethics, food and eating
• Perceptions of food ethics
• Semiotic model on communication on food
• Everyday food ethical concerns
Food ethics - some topics
• Agricultural ethics
• Biotechnology
• Feeding
• Hunger
• Marketing, trade and labelling
• Animal welfare
• Food laws, regulations and governance
• Food safety
• Food consumption
• Health
• ....
• The possibility of ”offending” or ”doing harm” has been
suggested as indicators of whether ethics is involved or not
(Platon) - or “consciousness of injustice” (Axel Honneth)
• Ethics belong to practical philosophy: it concerns the
relationship between two or more parties
• Ethics is about reasoning/judging about rights and wrongs
• Many ethical schools; for instance virtue ethics (Aristotle),
hedonism, deontological ethics (Kant), consequentialism,
utilitarianism etc.
Food as a relationship
Food originate ultimately from nature:
• Harvested wilderness or
• Domesticated animals/plants/micro organisms
Transformation: from natural to cultural
• food processing, food handling and cooking
• from uneatable to eatable
Our eating habits form the landscape,
working conditions in the food sector, the environment,
climate, animal welfare, family structures, identity . . .
Food as a relationship
Eating: a process of transformation:
• In-corporation
• Digestion (pepsis)
• In-carnation
The outer world is transformed to human body
Cooking: preparing food for oneself and others
The meal: from egoism to community
Food ethics
The vision of the good life
with and for others
in fair food production and consumption
Based on the French philosopher Paul Ricœur’s understanding of ethics in Soimême comme un autre (1991)
Main areas in food ethics
Food security (food for all)
Food safety (non-contaminated food)
Nutritional values (health, modified foods like
functional food etc.)
The production history (Ethical questions
raised by production practices and conditions in
the food chain)
What about taste?
Food ethics and time
The past: Food ethics stretches backwards:
Towards the living nature that the food comes from
and towards the production practices under which the
food has been produced
Present: Decisions, choices
The future: Food ethics stretches forwards:
Towards the future consumers of the food
Situating food ethics in everyday life
• The common meal (family, friends, community,
network, business, religious ceremonies etc)
• Shopping food and cooking
• Catering outlets
Cases where food ethics is not/should not be an issue?
Ten food ethical concerns
Animal welfare
Human health and well-being
Methods of production and processing and their impact (e.g.,
environmental, landscape)
Terms of trade (fair price, etc.)
Working conditions
Quality (intrinsic qualities such as taste, composition, etc.)
Origin and place
Voice (participation)
(Coff et al: Ethical Traceability and Communicating Food, 2008)
Everyday food ethics
in a semiotic perspective
Charles Sanders Pierce’s triadic relation and food
according to Middellthon:
Supplier of food - food itself - receiver of food
Supplier of food: producer, retailer, catering outlets,
parents, families, friends, hosts . . .
Receiver of food: friends, families, customers, patients,
participants in conferences . . .
(Inspired by Middelthon, Anne-Lise: ”Når maden bliver frelser eller bøddel”. In Glasdam, Stinne:
Folkesundhed i et kritisk perspektiv. Nyt nordisk forlag, 2009, pp. 223-239)
Pierce’s model
Understandings of food
Food (qualities, values …)
Food (qualities, values . . .)
Supplier of food
Food sign (trace) Interpretant:
Receiver of food
Food sign (trace)
Same food - different understandings
Food (qualities, values . . .)
Food (qualities, values . . . )
Sign (trace)
Supplier of food
Receiver of food
Potential moral conflicts: identity, culture, tradition, prestige etc.
Food communicating ethics
Information and communication
Taste and sensation
Food sign
Food safety
Production history;
Sustainability and
Health and well-being
Culture and tradition
Food security
Exchange of understandings of food
Food sign
Food qualities
Food sign
Receiver of food
Supplier of food
Thank you for your attention
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