Philosophy of Food

We all have meaningful relationships to food—for some it is a mere means of survival; for others, a tool for athletic success; a helpless obsession; a billion-dollar industry; the scourge of public health; an edible biography, family history or national identity; the worldly presence of God. Less obvious but just as true is that we also all have philosophical views about food, which inform and explain those other relationships. The aim of this course is to identify, clarify, develop, defend and criticize our philosophical beliefs about the ethics, aesthetics and metaphysics of food. As a group, we will read, write, think and talk our way into and out of our own philosophical views concerning what is true, beautiful and good about food.

Here are the kinds of questions we’ll investigate:

  • What makes something food? ‘Nature’? biology? politics? culture? Is there such a thing as ‘natural’ food?
  • Is it ‘objectively’ true to say that Mario Batali’s spaghetti and meatballs is better than Chef Boyardee’s?
  • Is cooking an art or a craft—and should this make any difference to how we treat celebrity chefs, immigrant line cooks and Italian nonnas?
  • When, if ever, is it appropriate to feel disgust at what other people eat?
  • Is it morally permissible or good to eat non-human animals? genetically modified foods? other human beings?
  • What metaphysical and moral differences, if any, are there between human beings and non-human animals?
  • To what extent are the government, the food industry and the food media responsible for what we eat and for our health?