That's the working title anyway.

I was reading Sex and Development by Adams Vincaene et al and I just finished the section on Greece. About 10 minutes after reading the conclusion it dawned on me that we have a similar sort of situation here in America with food. That an ethics of well being is being used to morally objectify food and there is this resistance to that. I've heard it myself, "You have to die from something." This is, of course, despite the fact that this something often times causes heart problems, obesity, diabetes, and/or cancer, along with a host of other debilitating illnesses that also decrease quality of life both now and later on in life. Now, this ethics of choice (?) often times uses parkinsons, alzheimer's, senility, and other late life illnesses to justify itself. Additionally, when issues of anthropomorphic global climate change and coca-colonization are brought into the mix (and we make food a moral object along those lines), we meet similar sets of resistance. I don't have any exact phrases on me for now to establish this. I'm just gonna Whorf it for the present.

Obviously this is a complicated site involving identity, consumption patterns, etc, however I can't help but feel that a large degree of this resistance is due to the lack of subjectivity regarding food. That because we don't know who makes our food, where it comes from, who shelves, or even, sometimes, what is even made out of it is harder to make food into a moral objectivity. This is, of course, on top of issues of class, mobility, race, etc and other markers that make it harder for people to communicate and gather information.

I'm interested in exploring this issue, obviously, though it might be a bit too close to home for me to be objective about it.

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Comment by John McCreery on March 11, 2015 at 3:44am

"What is incontestable if that food preferences are unlikely to be represented as being subjective." 

This statement could use a little unpacking. I have never known Americans to be shy about representing food preferences as subjective. I, for example, can feel perfectly comfortable saying, "I don't like raw oysters." But when preferences are represented as subjective, they are not seen as imposing on others or as subject to debate.  If, on the other hand, I am invited to dinner and insist that what I eat must be gluten-free, I am making trouble for the host. This requires justification. If I want to go further and insist that everyone's diet should be gluten-free, vegan, whatever, the scope of the debate expands and the rhetoric becomes more elaborate. To me, one plausible hypothesis is that the proliferation of food choices, dramatically evident in the last half century or so, has increased the frequency of and interest in these debates.

Comment by John McCreery on October 14, 2014 at 8:44am

I speak as an American "foodie," an aging white male who likes to cook and likes to eat and, for health reasons, must also watch his diet. I observe that from this perspective learning more about where food comes from and what is good for you does, indeed, involve moral choices; but these are conceived as individual choices, what an individual should or shouldn't do. This individualization of choice is part and parcel of regarding the individual who makes choices as first and foremost a consumer. Should the anthropologist simply accept this perspective and attempt to render judgments within or about it? 

Comment by Keith Hart on October 11, 2014 at 10:55pm

The striking feature to a non-American is that Americans have many more personal food fads than others. But these are represented as being justified in naturalistic terms -- I have an allergy to glutins etc. The way you set up the question assumes that people need to have objective knowledge of where their food comes from. But this is taken much further by Americans than most Europeans for example. The interesting question is whether this constitutes "moral" objectification or merely adds a moral gloss (good/bad) to naturalistic inquiry. What is incontestable if that food preferences are unlikely to be represented as being subjective. Something similar goes on with regard to personal health.


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