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An Ethical Theory Analysis of the Food System Discourse

  • Ronald SandlerEmail author
Chapter
Part of the The International Library of Environmental, Agricultural and Food Ethics book series (LEAF, volume 27)

Abstract

The ethical and political discourse around food production and consumption is increasingly focused on the systems that provide the food that we eat. The predominant “industrial” or “global” food system has received a barrage of criticism in recent years, including that it displaces smallholding farmers, exploits workers, undermines cultural practices, disrupts rural communities, degrades the environment, promotes unhealthy eating, empowers corporations over individuals, causes animal suffering, diminishes food autonomy and security, and reduces the aesthetic quality of food. Critics of the global food system argue that we ought to reject the system in favor of shorter food supply chains, more local and regional food systems, which engender responsibility and empower smaller producers, workers, communities, families, and individuals. However, the “alternative food movement” has itself been subject to large amounts of criticism on the grounds that its food system vision would actually reduce food security, diminish diet quality, decrease food access, and make our diets less aesthetically interesting. Moreover, the movement has been charged with being classist, valorizing elitist ideas about “good food”, and promoting a false nostalgia about pre-industrial food conditions and practices. In this paper I provide a brief overview of the global food system and alternative food movement before discussing the ethical perspectives embedded in the cross system critiques. I suggest that proponents of the alternative food movement prioritize one type of ethical concern – recognition and respect – while proponents of the global food system prioritize another – bringing about overall beneficial outcomes. I then explore how a third ethical outlook – virtue-oriented ethics – might approach the food system issue. I suggest that a virtue-oriented approach is useful for identifying both insights and limitations of positions in the food system debate.

Keywords

Food systems Food movements Ethical theory Virtue ethics 

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Northeastern UniversityBostonUSA

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