Ethics of Eating: Thinking Beyond Your Next Mouthful

Each summer, Ellen Maccarone teaches a course titled, “Ethics of Eating” – serving her students a platter full of issues and encouraging them to go for seconds.

“Is it right that we expend more calories as fertilizer than we consume as food? Should we all eat vegan, because cows produce greenhouse gases? Or should we not eat vegan, because that’s not what the human body is designed to live on? Should we eat genetically modified food? These are some of the issues we go into.” But Maccarone, an assistant professor of philosophy, wants her students engaging not just their brains, but their hearts, too. “Normally we think about getting the facts out, but it is much more beneficial to know what your values are and then apply them to the facts.”

“I hear Gonzaga students talk a lot about wanting to live out their personal values,” Maccarone says, adding, “Whatever values you have, some of them you can put into action. If you really want to do it, this is one way to put your money where your mouth is.”

Her students, who range from vegans to hunters, must keep a food journal. “It’s not a diet journal. I don’t care how many Ding Dongs you ate – it’s that you ate Ding Dongs. I make them keep it for four of the six weeks. They often say, ‘This is hard. I never thought about what I eat. I’ve never been asked to be intentional about what I eat.’ ” The course is cross-listed under philosophy and environmental studies, and Maccarone takes pains to connect the course to the real world. Students make vegan pizza and take other culinary adventures, such as visiting the farmers market and a fair trade coffee roasting house in Spokane. Some students have never seen dough rise; others realize they could develop an interest into out-and-out action. “They could go to Guatemala, or work in an orchard.”

Maccarone says it’s important that students encounter and weigh competing values – environmental versus food values, for instance. “Up to this point, our society has been thinking disconnectedly: ethics issues here, environmental issues there. But their generation is going to have to step back and consider lots of information from different fields,” Maccarone says.

“Sometimes, I hear back from students that this was the most meaningful class they’ve taken. That’s rewarding – this is what we’re supposed to do at Gonzaga.”

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