Friday, April 06, 2012

Peter Singer: The Ethics of Food

In this persuasive lecture on ethics about modern diet and eating habits, Dr Peter Singer, the Utilitarian philosopher and professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, highlights and questions ethical issues concerning food involving animals, its corresponding cost to the ecology and considerations for animal rights that the humans have been, perhaps rather conveniently, avoiding to acknowledge.

In his typical free-thinking, lets-face-it approach characterized by pragmatism rooted in down-to-earth reality, one can clearly bear witness to Prof Singer avoiding all possible temptations or invitations to indulging into any kind of rhetoric. Or so much as letting any sentimentalities enter into the frame of reasoning even while discussing gross cruelty to animals and the overall ecological impact it draws. The approach remains factual and clinical, and the presentation is driven by data in its most part. For philosophical indulgences around the issue, the Q&A section that follows offers a few interesting insights. Even there, the premise remains guarded, and avoids cliches including neutral, relevant, ones such as "what you eat is what you will become." Religious beliefs are kept outside of the arguments against factory-farm non-vegetarian diet.

The lecture is filmed at Williams College, Williamstown, sometime in Oct-Nov 2008 while the run-up to the then American presidential elections was in progress. Prof Singer begins by asking why, among all other ethical considerations debated in the public domain, the presidential candidates are not being questioned or judged on the basis of their ethical views on food? Today, as the American electorate faces another wave of persuasions and debates running up to electing the next president in Nov 2012, where incubent President Obama is hoping for his second consecutive term, this presentation remains as relevant as it was four years ago but with an added sense of deja-vu. The questions raised in the presentation remain the same, unresolved, and as previously, without considerations during the public debates.

Some of the aspects that have been discussed during this lecture include: i) How America, that was facing a hunger crisis in the 50s and 60s, has "solved" that problem to such an extent that the major issue which the American society is facing now is obesity. What are the ethics of obesity? ii) Why a ship-load of rice from Bangladesh to California is ecologically more ethical than Californians attempting to harvest the same quantity of rice themselves. iii) What are the ways for our society to transitioning towards a more ethical diet.


In conclusion of the lecture, the ethical choices and steps listed for a sustainable future for us, as well as for the upcoming generation, whose fate is linked with the global warming and hence is likely to be decided in next two decades, are as follows:
- avoid meat products from Factory farms (CAFOs) 
- prefer Organic, Vegetarian/Vegan or "Conscientious Omnivorous" diet, that use "Fair trade". 
- choose Local (seasonal) produce when you can.
  • See also:
  • Try here for the video on YouTube.
  • Try here for Peter Singer's page at Princeton Uni
  • Mentions during the lecture: try here for FairTrade (USA) portal, and here for VeganOutreach.org

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