“You are what you eat.”
This aphorism is consistently used to fit different scenarios, but are we really what we eat? Author Paul B. Thompson begs to differ. In his book, From Field to Fork: Food Ethics for Everyone, Thompson presents his case against this statement and brings light upon many ethical food dilemmas, including obesity, livestock welfare, and the environmental impact of food systems. He structures his thoughts around the idea that food ethics are being revived in the contemporary world. Regarding the aforementioned axiom, Thompson explains that food is more than just substance for your body’s functioning. Here is an excerpt analyzing this issue:
“On the one hand, dietetics has become a domain of personal vulnerability calling for regulatory action on moral grounds. What is vulnerable may be one’s health, as in the case of food safety or nutrition, but it may equally be one’s identity or solidarity with others as people attempt to achieve social justice and environmental goals through labels that promise ‘fair-trade’ or ‘humanely raised’ foods. On the other hand, practices that promote hospitable respect for personal dietary committees or solidarity may run afoul of a philosophy of risk that emphasizes classic hazards to health and physical safety. All told, it begins to look less and less like food choice can be confined to the prudential realm” (p. 29) .
In this passage, Thompson emphasizes that people may no longer be able to use good reason and judgment when choosing their food. The foods you choose to eat not only affect your body and health, but it also affects people and ideas around you. There is potentially harm being done on third parties connected to certain food purchases.
Thompson’s take on this statement is just one of the many issues he delves into in From Field to Fork. He offers deep philosophical and ethical analyses while integrating economics, history, science, psychology, and politics. For example, when discussing food systems, Thompson addresses multiple factors to consider when ensuring food sufficiency. Environmentally, a growth in monoculture production systems to mass-produce certain crops can tax natural resources. Socially, these industrial systems can destroy healthy rural communities. Politically, there are injustices that make it difficult to distribute these resources fairly. An extensive framework is given regarding how to approach food sufficiency and other issues in the book.
As a philosopher and current W. K. Kellogg Chair in Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics, Paul B. Thompson provides a comprehensive guide to food ethics in his book. From Field to Fork: Food Ethics for Everyone will not only give you a deeper insight into food, but also into our society.
- Thompson, P.B. (2015). From Field to Fork: Food Ethics for Everyone. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
About the author: Catherine Hu received her B.S. in Psychobiology at UCLA. When she is not writing about food science, she enjoys exploring the city and can often be found enduring long wait times to try new mouthwatering dishes.