Stirring the Pot - A Great Debate on Food System Ethics


The soon to be launched Museum of Food And Drink (MOFAD) is already working hard to bring conversations about food into the forefront of our culture. Earlier this month, they hosted a roundtable discussion entitled Whose Responsibility? The Ethics of Manufacturing and Marketing Big Food. So, in just a moment we’ll get ready to put on our thinking caps and sit on our philosopher’s stones, but first let’s look at a bit of news to give us some context

Consider a new Kickstarter campaign by journalist Will Potter that is planning on using aerial photography (think drones) to expose dangerous practices on factory farms and slaughterhouses. He hopes that he can circumvent ag-gag laws to get a first hand account of the environmental damage that these practices can do. He (and his $52,000 worth of supporters) believe that journalists and consumers play a vital role in making things right. Read his full interview at the Salon link (here) or below.

Next, consider food marketers. An ethically questionable lot for sure. We’ve been wary of Big Food conglomerates hocking their salt, sugar and fat through deceptive advertising for a long time, and a new study highlights yet another tactic. Researchers at the University of Houston conducted a survey that showed nearly identical images of food packaging except one was labeled with what the researchers called a nutrition buzzword like “natural,” and “whole grain.” Respondents consistently rated the buzzword packages as “healthier” showing that these words can lull us into a false sense of nutrition. Tara Culp-Ressler of Think Progress gives the full report here or below commented recently on a relatively new phenomenon amongst this lot.

So, then, whose responsibility is it to ensure that factory farms or food advertisers are doing the right thing and that we are safe? Shouldn’t the government be educating the consumers? Shouldn’t the food industry just do the right thing? Shouldn’t the government more effectively regulate industries? Shouldn’t consumers speak out against bad practices and educate themselves? Opinions and arguments ran this gamut at the MOFAD roundtable.

Alen Agaraonov of Nutrition Intervention gives a fabulous play by play. From the anti-corporate Michele Simon:

Publicly traded companies’ first legal obligation is to their shareholders,” Simon said, “so they can get sued by giving more over to social benefit than to economic benefit.” Simon feared that without appropriate policy, the food industry would lack natural  incentive to act in favor of public health and society.

To the anti-regulatory Howard Moskowitz:  

We know that every [centrally] regulated economy in Europe… ended up failing,” he stated, “If the government gets its hands on the food industry… would we have a food industry that is worse than our worst nightmares? Will we in fact have a food industry that is given over to the do-gooders, who really are evil incarnate?”

To the pro-government Christina Roberto:

More than anything, we need policy changes,” Roberto stated, listing some of the public health victories made possible thanks to government regulation, “We are supposed to wear seat belts, there is fluoride in our water, children must be immunized, and we tax cigarettes and alcohol.”

And many more. Its a rich debate that is well worth reading. The bottom line, Wellness Warriors, is that we are all responsible. We need to take action in our own lives and stand up for those who can’t in order to make real and positive change in our bizarre and dangerous global, regional and local food systems.

And if you are in more of listening mood, then check out Heritage Radio Network’s recording of the discussion here.


Read all articles by Damon Cory-Watson

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