Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Food Ethics

We'll be discussing some moral issues related to food in my class this week.  A plethora of fantastic books and articles have been written over the last few decades wrestling with such issues.  Michael Pollan is a famous author/journalism professor worth checking out.  Among other things, he wrote Omnivore's Dilemma and  In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto. He's written a number of interesting pieces for the NY Times.  Here's one on eating animals. Students in my class should read this article, since we'll be discussing these issues later this week.

Speaking of the NY Times, Mark Bittman (who had a food/recipe column for a long time called "Minimalist") gave a TED Talk which I think is simply fantastic. His talk is on what's wrong with the way we eat (and his claim is that we eat too much meat, too few plants, too much fast food, and too little home-cooking).  He contends that what we eat is putting the entire planet at dire risk.  What do you think about Bittman's arguments?  Are you persuaded?

26 comments:

Dan Richard said...

I think Bittman's arguments are very convincing and touch on a lot of the issues we have brought up in class. I personally think the problem of economic benefit of the fast food market in capitalism is the biggest concern. As I have touched upon in class already, governments are failing to act on the concerns due to the economic profit they create for themselves and the great economic boom that's created, and the consumers do not want to change their habits because they are either uneducated on the concerns or they can only afford the cheaper, seemingly better tasting fast food.

I think for me personally, I have cut out fast food from my diet and learned to cook for myself, and I have increased my overall well-being through that choice. I am however very much at fault for the diet I still choose to abide by. I am a meat enthusiast, and I do not see myself being able to change that and become the ideal vegetarian that a lot of these arguments seem to hint at, Bittman in particular. I do think there can be a solid medium that I am going to continue to strive for, that being to eliminate factory farmed foods, meat or vegetables, and to be more aware of what eating good food actually means. As a college student, it is certainly harder to find and afford such foods, but I do what I can to go to Wily's, the Farmer's Market, and any other healthier options I can provide myself with.

Miles Jeon said...

Mark Bittman, wow. I couldn't agree anymore with his whole talk. As a nation, we have become so narrow-minded into believing that meat is good for us. Our ignorance is leading to the demise of our health and our environment. So many in todays society are eating foods that are industrially made. I think I can go a step further and say that I could imagine living a life where I rarely eat meat. Meat is nice, but isn't necessary to eat a fulfilling meal. Sure, a prime rib on a special occasion would be awesome, but once a week? He has a very simple solution of eating less meat, and eating more vegetables. I really enjoyed his Ted Talk, and think more people need to watch it. A lot of people are just unaware of the problems that food production result in. If we can raise awareness, buying locally and reducing our meat intake could be reasonable.

Lik Sheng Ooi said...

I think he is right that we are consuming too much meat for our own good. Before meat was mass produced, we were eating meat as a luxury, not a necessity. Now, we treat meat as a necessity in our daily consumption. We have come to a stage that many people are actually surprised with the idea of consuming meat once a week, which was a norm not so long ago. This is worse when those people that are blatantly ignorant about the situation and continue doing that they do, justifying their acts on bad reasons. Their actions are selfish and is putting the world at risk. I have no problem with people eating meat, just not excessively, and not ignorant about it.

I think a (radical) way to solve it is to make everyone slaughter and kill their food once in their lives to understand the situation of the animals. Besides that, I read an interview from a butcher that if slaughter houses were transparent, everyone would be vegetarian. And that is saying something because he is a butcher (he has financial interest in meat eating).

Chen Huey Tsan said...

I think that Bittman's arguments are pretty convincing and we indeed eat way too much meat and junk food as compared to vegetables. Some kids nowadays do not even touch vegetables because they prefer fast food and meat. Fast food are made to taste good and thus, it is normal for kids to like what they taste. I agree that cheap but unhealthy fast foods highly encourage consumers to buy them. McDonald's $1 meal definitely draws many consumers because it's affordable and tastes good. I am convinced that industrial production of meat and instant meals are contributing greatly to the fact that people are just going to continue consuming more meat.

We should be aware of the reality that our health is yet to deteriorate at the rate of meat consumption. I am slowly cutting down on meat consumption and eating more fruits and vegetables. I do not think that I'll be a vegetarian but listening to this TED talk has definitely make me think if we really need meat to survive.

Jake Seymer said...

His argument was fantastic. Personally, makes me motivated to try to eat out less. His talk made me think about how much upbringing can affect what we eat (my family didn't cook any meals from scratch relying mostly on caned or prepackaged food). The foods I eat now and think of as norms are largely due to what I ate growing up. Some of the facts he listed really hit hard and are disturbing. I think the most important and first step we can all take is lowing or eliminating fast food consumption. Secondly, we really need to reduce meat consumption. As Mr.Bittman said meat is directly contributing to global warming and to our lifestyle disease epidemic. It's doubly bad for us as a species. We have so many reasons to stop, but its difficult to phase out parts of our life that were so accustomed to. The biggest issue for me is that snack food/ junk food and meats have such long shelf lives that I can just stockpile them and eat when I want. On the other hand, many vegetables and fruits can only last a week or two before they go bad unless you get them in cans, and the canned variety have lots of added sugar and corn syrup as preservatives anyway. Overall I though that his talk was very informative and convincing.

Kah Yee Yap said...

I think Mark Bittman's argument was right on the mark. In his talk, he explicitly pointed out the primary, and probably true, reason of the trending unhealthy eating lifestyle of the United States. The overproduction and overconsumption of junk food and meat is a consequence of the capitalist society as well as the prospering of the fast food industry. I agree wholeheartedly with Bittman’s comment that our demand for meat and junk food is strongly influenced by what we are exposed to through various kinds of social media. It is true that we are not born to crave for these kinds of food although I have doubts that being omnivores is indeed, part of our nature.

My point of view is that government agencies play an important role in controlling meat production. Aside from that, they should also be more proactive in overseeing how the farms treat their animals. Animal rights should be upheld even though they have to be killed eventually and the agribusiness should strive for a balance in reducing their costs of raising the animals and treating them in a manner that respect their animal rights. This sounds to me as a more morally permissible way. I have to admit that I would not abstain from eating meat and junk food completely even I feel that Mark Bittman’s arguments are compelling and I ought to follow what he advises. I recognize the danger of having too much meat and this makes me part of those who contribute to the burgeoning of the meat industry, which also lead to dire consequences environmentally. On a side note, I am quite surprised that livestock is the second highest contributor to all the greenhouse gases and other serious environmental problems. In short, his talk has reminded me to be more conscientious with the food that I am eating and try my best to eat more healthily.

Yuan Xu said...

After watching the TED Talk, Bittman's arguments about food eating sound persuasive for me. I can't agree with him anymore that we, residents in the earth, need to take certain actions to not putting the entire planet at risk. Surprisingly, meat,junk food, cheese, most popular food in our daily life, are not as good as we think. However, all of them do not make people healthier. The nutrition we get from the food is way more than what our body require. Overconsumption of meat leads to overproduction which cause the global environment problems, like global warmth. In order to be healthy as person, we need to restrain our eating habit which also improve the overall atmosphere. I think changing our eating habits is a win-win decision.

Yeet Chien Tan said...

I think the TED Talk by Mark Bittman have the ability to successfully influence meat eaters including me. Based on empirical evidence, it is obvious that meat and junk food are ubiquitous in our community. In fact, I think that most people know that large consumption of meat and junk food will provide more harm than good but it is just too difficult to stop eating them for their taste.

His excellent talk provides some implications. It is absolutely true that humans do not need junk food and meat to survive. I definitely agree with him that organic food and vegetables are more than sufficient to supply us with the required nutrients. Also, between 1950-2000, meat consumption increased five fold. This was indeed due to the unnatural raising and slaughtering of animals which was types of torturing to them. I would say these cruel acts should be reduced significantly as animals possess rights as well.

I think reducing the consumption of meat and junk food does not only benefit animal, but also benefits human and the entire planet as well. Therefore, due to the fantastic talk, I hope that the audience will heed his advice.

Su Jia Wong said...

I agree with Bittman that we are consuming too much meat and junk food. The facts about how the nuggets are made totally freak me out. Bittman also mentioned that we should consume less than half a pound of meat every week. It sounds sarcastic that we are actually eating more than half a pound of meat everyday. As mentioned in class, the more we consume the meat, the more pervasive is factory farming. The practice of factory farming has created water and soil pollution, which deteriorates the quality of environment we live in. Moreover, antibiotics are used on animals and this impact the quality of food we eat. All these problems not only impact us, but it will also jeopardize our next generation. Our future generation has lost the right to enjoy a clean environment just because we are enjoying the gustatory pleasure now.

I ever doubt that whether I should be vegetarian after listening to the story of how the animals are raised and killed. Currently, I consume fish, chicken and pork. I will start to cut down the consumption of pork and chicken, and might consider being pescatarian soon. As mentioned by Bittman, we do not need meat to survive. In fact, we can get all the nutrients we need from vegetable. For instance, we can get protein from various kind of beans. The first step I will do now is to consume less than half a pound every week instead of every day, and try to substitute snack with fruits instead.

Zhen Ming said...

It is definitely true that due to the increase in population growth over the ears, we are eating more processed fast foods that are bad for our health. The vast quantities of food that is available for us to choose from and combined with our natural instinct in seeking fatty and sugary foods have put us at risks. Some causes can be traced to the food factories that have made unhealthy foods that are too good to resist the temptation. In addition, not only from a health perspective, but our continuous increase in demand for meat have caused many unethical and inhumane ways of treating animals. Furthermore, due to the high demand, many cows that are breed to serve as foods have contributed to global warming, which damages our living environment. Human beings are lazy, our instincts in seeking tasty and quick foods have caused us to do little home cooking and eat too many unhealthy foods. Therefore, to an extend I do agree with his argument and we need to try and change our lifestyle and reduce our planet risk.

robert broome said...

I think Bittman’s points are undeniable. The facts about how our diets ultimately jeopardize the well-being of our planet (global warming, biodiversity, etc.) and the status of our health are real and hard to dispute. His points about how the quality and diversity of the American diet have diminished over the years is also on point. I’ve noticed this ever more so since I’ve been back to college. At home (so for the first couple months of summer), I probably did eat 5-6 home cooked meals a week. These meals were also generally speaking healthy (kale salads, lots of grilled/steamed fish, grilled corn, some meats, some pastas, braised/steamed leafy greens, etc.).
However, since coming back to college, I’ve noticed how much my diet has deteriorated, especially without the luxury of having home-cooked meals by retired parents daily. It is hard (not impossible!) for a college student, who has limited time, budget, and resources to buy healthy food items, and cook those items in a healthy and hopefully tasty way. It is much easier to buy the $4 package of chicken thighs at Madison Fresh that will feed 4 people, than it is to buy a $10 piece of fish and vegetables (not to mention I have limited cooking equipment at home). It even easier, and also extremely convenient, to settle for a $5 burger at Chasers with a side of sweet potatoes fries if I am feeling to lazy to cook. I don’t think I cooked one healthy home-cooked meal all of last semester—and that is sad. Nonetheless, Bittman has given myself, and hopefully others, an inspiring wake-up call that these dietary tendencies are dangerous. At the very least, Bittman has motivated me to eat healthy for the rest of today, if not from now on!

Woojai Jang said...

In , there was a story about a poor family who eats hamburgers everyday because the junk food is cheaper than the “good” food (vegetables/frutis). There is one scene where the father complains about broccoli being too expensive, $2, while a hamburger is only $.99. So, the poor family is “forced” to choose the garbage over the actual food. And, in a way, this increases the meat consumption because if poor people (there are a lot of them) are more likely to eat the hamburgers than vegetables and hamburgers have meat in them, then it means that poor people are more likely to consume meat than vegetables. So, to reduce meat consumption, we either have to reduce the number of poor people or make the prices of vegetables more desirable than those of the junk food. Yet, neither option seems easy.

Cristina Olvera said...

Bittman makes some good arguments and he does so by providing us with solid numbers and statistics. I completely agree with his suggestions, eating less meat and eating more vegetables would be a quite simple solution. If we were just to bring the industrial farming of cattle to a halt and slowly eat off the cows that we have right now the amount of harmful atmospheric gases would go down and we would bring about a healthier planet. Despite how much i agree with Bittman however, I find that these suggestions are nothing but wishful thinking, our society is so caught up with the combustion of meats with the false ideologies that the more of it you eat that the healthier you will be. Sadly a large portion of our population believes this and its because of these misconceptions that the number of meat producing industries will not go down any time soon. The fact that the government is fully endorsing this harmful industry will make it so much harder to bring its production to a halt.
Personally after I stopped eating meat on the regular I felt like I had more energy, my mood drastically bettered, I just felt so much healthier. My life has only bettered almost instantly after my decrease in meat eating. Now imagine if everyone did the same!

Karynne Woodard said...

I am persuaded but not for that fact that we have to save the animals. We need to act ethical for ourselves. In class Jesse talked about eating a donut and why he doesn't, for the benefit for his health. I think that meat can be good source of protein but there are better sources. Fast food is the biggest buyer from these meat factories. I think we have a concern for the over health of our public and this is the biggest concern. Just because it sides with not eating animals is a benefit. I will never give up eating meat. However, I don't eat that much of it and I can even cut more of it out. To make myself healthier. I know I am taking an egotists point of view, but I think this is the bigger concern.

Noratikah Ali said...

I agree with Bittman because we're too attached with fast food and ready made meals. Often, people do not have time to properly cook their meals, and they start to choose fast food as part of their diets. People need to change their diets because eating those kind of food is not healthy, and it is also not good for the environment. As we have seen, agriculture contributes a lot in negative environmental impacts, since greenhouse gases from farming can lead to global warming. I personally feel that we should start eating healthy food and we need to eat more vegetables. Besides that, I also recommend people to eat home-cooked meal and practice to cook nutritional meals. Also, I am not a big fan of meat and I eat it only in a small portion. I think people need to reduce their meat consumption and eat more green produces in order to live in healthy lifestyles.

Reed K said...

Though Bittman offered few concrete solutions, his ability to connect these issues to the average Joe is what makes his argument so compelling. Instead of machine gunning facts at the audience, he pretty much just looks you in the eye and says, "Hey man, you're eating too many animals and that's not cool." In its simplicity, I do find this argument persuading.

Max Haraldsen said...

I think Bittman has a persuasive argument. He makes a good point about how meat has become such a significant part of our diet. I, for example, will sometimes think a meal is incomplete if there is not a meat element to it. This is something that we are able to change as the living standards increase around the world. In the past, meat was more essential to a diet than it is now. Today there are many alternatives that are at least as good if not better for you. I believe that increasing awareness on what we put into our bodies coupled with more people trying to live healthy lifestyles is a sign that we might be able to stop with the factory farming and go to a more humane, less environmentally destructive way of getting our food. I think Bittman is right in that our issues with how we eat are part of a larger problem society is dealing with, that of realizing how our growth as a species, both in numbers and in an increased living standard, can negatively affect the world.

Caitlin Cooper said...

I think Bittman’s argument is very persuasive. He does a great job with mentioning not only the health benefits of eating less meat but also the environmental benefits even though that’s not his central claim. I thought it was interesting how he mentioned that it is really common for people to almost never have fresh vegetables. My friend recently told me that growing up she only ever had frozen vegetables and that blew my mind. I understand that in Wisconsin in the winter your fresh food options are incredibly limited but it’s still crazy. The idea of frozen vegetables kind of freaks me out, it made me think of how I should probably be just as freaked out (if not more) by the frozen pizza bites in my freezer. I like how he says that we should eat actual food it's a great point that most of what we eat isn't really food.

Arguments like Bittman’s and other we’ve discussed in class are really making me think about what I’ve been eating. Although I love cooking being a college student really makes it difficult to make my own meals. It’s obviously a lot easier to heat up a frozen dinner than it is to make a homemade meal but I think I’m going to try to adjust my eating habits and put more thought into what I eat.

Emily Engel said...

Bittman's arguments are fantastic. Personally, I find them incredibly difficult to refute because everything he argues is based on facts. (No, I haven't checked these facts, but I trust that he's being honest.) I especially enjoyed how he went through the evolution of our diets in the U.S. I think pointing out that the government/regulations, women entering the work force, etc. contribute to what our diet has become is a great point rather than pointing the blame solely at consumers. I also love the fact that, in regards to eating meat, he states that we're simply eating too much of it. He doesn't say that everyone ought to be vegetarians, we just need to tone it down. (And THEN we can deal with how we're treating the animals.) Describing how our food choices effect global warming was a great point, as well, as I'm sure many people don't typically consider this.

Daria Kryuchkova said...

I am definitely persuaded! America became so reliant on fast food and consumes meat in enormous quantities. I am terrified by the way American kids eat. Paradoxically some of them have no idea about fresh vegetables names (i am not even talking about that kids prefer chips to vegetables as a everyday snack).
I am from country where we eat plentiful food. Our diet is based on dairy products, vegetables, fruits, whole grains. Russian families tend to cook at home a lot, and eat out on the special occasions. I love the way we eat in Russia. Soup, porridge, healthy garnish are part of our daily meals. However, everything is not that ideal like it used to be. Starting from 90s we were introduced to fast food restaurants, which relentlessly spread out through the whole country. Popularity of McDonald`s increased especially in Moscow, the city where i was born and raised. Kids love those play dough texture sandwiches, and squeal when they see rich and sugary milk shake. Confession, i was on of those kids before... I apologize for the long introduction, this topic is so acute to me.
Let me briefly answer the question. Meat consumption should definitely decrease. Yes it is easy to say but hard to implement. The thing is (and it was presented in, i think, Sinberg`s article) we cannot be oriented on the majority and think if everybody else do it then we have a right to do the same. I am a carnivore myself; however, i strongly encourage our society to be moderate in meat consumption. We are not wild animals to claim that we can`t survive without meat on daily basis. Please let`s be rational. I am not asking you to become a vegan, but i urge you to eat meat consciously in small quantities. I urge you to teach you kids eat healthy, make them eat vegetables and fruits, stop rewarding them with fast food and sugary snacks. We have to teach our kids to eat healthy, invest in their future eating habits. Otherwise, we will degrade even more.

Sara Klunk said...

After watching this TED Talk, I am completely convinced by his argument to eat a more natural, plant-based diet. I thought one of his most interesting points was when he talked about the increase of meat consumption versus the increase in population between 1950 and 2000. While the population doubled between 1950 and 2000, the meat consumption increased five folds. I think this knocks down the common argument that meat is a necessary component of nutrition. Though it is an easy source of protein, this statistic clearly shows that what we are consuming is far more than what we actually need. It reinforces the point that it is okay to eat meat – it just needs to be eaten in moderation and at a far lower rate than our current consumption.

It seems that even if we decided that we didn’t care about all of the greenhouse gases that meat production produces, there is no way we can ignore the effect our current meat and mass-produced food consumption is having on our health. With rates of obesity at an all-time high and heart disease as one of the major leading causes of death, I agree with Bittman that this is no longer a problem we can ignore. I think Bittman’s strategy of making this a health-based problem rather than an animal rights one is a good way of attacking the issue. Rather than trying to get Americans to empathize with farm animals, he is asking people to be concerned for the health of their friends, family, as well as themselves. Bittman made a great point about this when he said that we need to get the number of animals we consume down, and then we can worry about treating the smaller number of animals we consume nicely. It seems like asking Americans to change their diet to one that emphasizes plants and natural ingredients is a great place to start.

Jeff Collins said...

I think his views are very convincing. He makes a lot of good points and I agree with what he says. It shocked me how much meat we actually eat per day and it is rather disgusting to think about how all of the "junk food" that we put into our bodies. I really liked his argument about the organic movement and how "organic" food is actually not alway organic because of the logistics of getting the product to the consume.
I admit that I am not a vegetarian, but his arguments and the facts that he presents in this TED talk make me think about what I put into my diet and opened my eyes to the fact that I should change what I am currently doing. He persuaded me and I really enjoyed this video.

Robert Romeo said...

I find Bittman's argument to be persuading. I think a large part of that has to do with the fact that he didn't stand on the stage and start telling people what they can't eat and what they should be eating (although he kind of did both), what makes his argument so compelling is the way he presented it. He was calm, collected, threw in a few jokes and ultimately at the the end of his talk you could walk away better informed to make your own decision.

Bittman presented factory farming in a very understandable way. The way that he described how chicken nuggets are made was really surprising. The amount of corn and soy that both people and animals are eating definitely seems too high for me after watching him. I do wonder why he wouldn't have taken only a few seconds to talk about farm subsidies (although he mentions them in passing) and the fact that they play a crucial role in all of this. I believe that government subsidies, while not bad in themselves, have reached a point that is unsustainable for the country.

Enrique Franco said...

I do find his argument rather persuasive but I also agreed with his opinions for the get go. His arguments are simple and I think one of the biggest benefits his arguments has is the simple facts of the issue. I enjoy eating meat but I do think that meats should be a considered a luxury. The demand for meat has caused the demand to increase production so much that factory farming is one of the few ways that businesses can make profit. I thought his acknowledging that government support of unhealthy food products harms the ease of purchasing “good” foods at reasonable prices. His arguments for eating non fast food products effectively avoid any debate on animal rights. He makes it an issue of personal health and focuses the issues on the consequences of our current food growth and practices. I thought his argument was persuasive enough to convince most rational people to acknowledge the short-term practices aren't necessarily good long term ones.

Conner Schultz said...

I am persuaded by his argument. But then again, it's important to point out that I already agreed with him before I saw the video. I was persuaded to become vegetarian (again) solely from the dog-torturing example. I don't think there is a morally significant difference between dogs (or any household pets, for that matter) and livestock like cows and chicken. When you look at the different arguments for what types of things hold moral status, I believe that the ability to suffer and feel pain gives animals moral status. Therefore, using animals purely for gustatory pleasures while they endure terrible suffering is immoral. That isn't to say I think eating animals is wrong, but the process in which industrialized farming goes about it is sickening.

The argument given by Bittman is persuasive, though. Instead of addressing the morality of eating meat, he addresses a wider array of relevant issues about industrialized livestock farming. His points about the negative impact on the earth are great, like how it contributes to 18% of greenhouse gasses. He addresses the global impacts, which I think is important. He also points out how our society is misguided; we often believe that meat is good for us and essential to us, but that's just
wrong
! There is empirical evidence that shows that we don't need meat in order to have good nutrition. Since Bittman's argument is so thorough, it's pretty persuasive.

Zhantao Xu said...

So sorry for the late posting because my internet crashed last night. After watching Bittman’s TED talk, I realized that meat, cheese, and fast food are not as good and healthy as we think. Nowadays we are consuming too much junk food and put vegetables away. It is not only about personal health problems; it is about the natural balance. Factories are persuaded to increase the amount of raising and killing animals in order to satisfy people’s daily need of meat, and it speeds up the pollution to the environment. However, Bittman mentioned that we actually don’t need that much meat to satisfy our daily nutrition need. What we are doing is to make our body weaker and the earth dirtier.

But it is hard for people not to choose fast food. It is obvious that fast food is much cheaper and tasty than green food like vegetables and fruits. For poor people, they would choose hamburgers if hamburgers are as expensive as vegetables because they would feel full after eating a hamburger, not to mention that hamburger is much cheaper than vegetables. If we want to reduce the amount of consumption in meat, we should try to reduce the amount of poor people and make vegetables more affordable.