Journal of Bioethical Inquiry

, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp 353–364 | Cite as

Identity and the Ethics of Eating Interventions

  • Megan A. DeanEmail author
Original Research


Although “you are what you eat” is a well-worn cliché, personal identity does not figure prominently in many debates about the ethics of eating interventions. This paper contributes to a growing philosophical literature theorizing the connection between eating and identity and exploring its implications for eating interventions. I explore how “identity-policing,” a key mechanism for the social constitution and maintenance of identity, applies to eating and trace its ethical implications for eating interventions. I argue that identity policing can be harmful and that eating interventions can subject people to these harms by invoking identity policing qua intervention strategy or by encouraging people to eat in ways that subject them to policing from others. While these harms may be outweighed by the benefits of the intervention being promoted, they should nonetheless be acknowledged and accounted for. To aid in these evaluations, I consider factors that modulate the presence and severity of identity-policing and discuss strategies for developing less harmful eating interventions. I conclude by considering the relationship between identity-policing and identity loss caused by long-term diet change. This paper contributes to the centering of identity in food ethics and to a more comprehensive picture of identity’s ethical importance for eating interventions.


Eating interventions Public health Identity Food ethics Food activism Eating Food Personal identity 



Thank you to Anne Barnhill, Kate Withy, Rebecca Kukla, Trip Glazer, Keith Underkoffler, and Cressida Heyes, and to audiences at the Canadian Bioethics Society and the Canadian Society for Women and Philosophy for their comments on earlier versions of this paper. Special thanks to the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions, and to the University of Pennsylvania Bioethics Bootcamp and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for their financial support of my research.


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Copyright information

© Journal of Bioethical Inquiry Pty Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyGeorgetown UniversityWashingtonUSA

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