Bioethics Blogs

Guest Post: Real change in food systems needs real ethics

Written By Paul B. Thompson

W.K. Kellogg Professor of Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University

This blog is a cross-posting from the OUPblog.

Please see the original post here: http://blog.oup.com/2015/06/food-systems-need-real-ethics/

In May, we celebrated the third annual workshop on food justice at Michigan State University. Few of the people who come to these student-organized events doubt that they are part of a social movement. And yet it is not clear to me that the “social movement” framing is the best way to understand food justice, or indeed many of the issues in the food system that have been raised by Mark Bittman or journalists such as Eric Schlosser, Michael Pollan, or Barry Estabrook.

Social movements attain what clarity of purpose they have because they have a morally compelling cause. The labor movement, the women’s movement, and the civil rights movement had factions and divisions over strategy, tactics, or the value of subsidiary goals. But each was united by faith in the underlying justice of a unifying cause, however vaguely stated. There are a lot of things wrong with our contemporary food system, but that is about the only thing on which people enrolled in today’s food movement agree.

I would submit that the whole idea of a food movement came out of academia. First dozens and later hundreds of sociologists, anthropologists, and geographers have studied discontent and protest over food issues under aegis of social movement theory since the 1960s. Their work on the food system originated as studies on bona fide social movements: the labor movement (Caesar Chavez), the women’s movement (globally, most farmers are women), and the civil rights movement (slavery, sharecropping and the racialization of migrant agricultural labor).

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.