Courses and Classroom Ideas

For an introduction to philosophical issues concerning food, consider any of the following texts:

Peter Singer and Jim Mason, The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter (Rodale 2007).

A clear introduction to ethical issues concerning food animal production (chickens, turkeys, eggs, beef, milk, pork, and seafood); arguments for (and against) organics; eating locally; fair trade and workers' rights; vegetarianism and veganism; the environment; and ethical consumerism. The entire book reads well and teaches well.

Food & Philosophy: Eat, Think and Be Merry. Eds. Fritz Allhoff and Dave Monroe (Blackwell 2007).

An uneven collection of philosophers and food writers who examine food ethics, food aesthetics, food criticism, and food preparation. The section titled "Taste and Food Criticism" is very good and teaches well; as does the section titled "Edible Art and Aesthetics." I have had less success with the other sections.

Elizabeth Telfer, Food for Thought: Philosophy and Food (Routledge 1996).

Telfer's unfortunately over-priced book is a bit of a classic that deals with many central food issues: feeding the hungry, the pleasures of food, food as art, food duties, hospitableness, and temperance. The chapter on feeding the hungry is a good way to start the conversation; the chapter on food's pleasures is well done and teachable, as is the chapter on art. The chapter on duties touches deals with vegetarianism however there are better resources. The strength of this book is Telfer's discussions of the virtues of hospitality and temperance.

The Philosophy of Food. Ed. David Kaplan (California Press, 2012).

This book is not arranged with pro-and-con chapters and needs to be supplemented by other reading materials. Th best chapters for beginning students are Heldke, "Down-Home Global Cooking," Comstock, "Ethics and Genetically Modified Food," Francione, "Animal Welfare, Happy Meat, and Veganism," Fraser, "Animal Ethics and Food Production in the 21st Century," Thompson, "Nature Politics and the Philosophy of Agriculture," and Welin, Gold, Berlin, "In Vitro Meat."

The food aesthetics chapters by Sweeney, Brady, and Korsmeyer are more difficult but very well done and teachable to advanced students. The other chapters are less teachable but still readable and informative.

Leon Kass, The Hungry Soul: Eating and the Perfecting of Our Nature (Chicago, 1994).

This is a book students love to hate but it works very well in class. Kass attemps to identify the manner of eating that best reflects the essence of humanity (the Aristotelian formal cause) and promotes our dignity. The book has some very insightful chapters on eating etiquette and the social, extra-nutritive role of dining together.

I would not recommend:

Cooking, Eating, Thinking. Eds. Dean Curtin and Lisa Heldke (Indiana University Press, 1992): groundbreaking but dated, interesting but substantially non-philosophical.

Food Ethics. Ed. Paul Pojman (Wadworth, 2011): reprints of dated articles on animal ethics, population and consumption, and the environment.

The Ethics of Food. Ed. Gregory Pence (Rowman and Littlefield, 2002): reprints of articles on GMOs, food safety, and the environment.

For syllabus suggestions or advice on readings on animal ethics, vegetarianism, factory farming, food technologies, agrarianism, food aesthetics, food security, overweight, food safety, eating ethics, food and identity, or any other food issue that has philosophical dimensions, please contact The Philosophy of Food Project and we will try to assist you.

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