2012-2013 Theme: Food and Hunger

The Annual Ethics Theme for 2012-2013 is Food and Hunger, and a rich set of programs and curricula is taking shape across many Departments and Centers of Distinction.  The nonfiction book Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, by Eric Schlosser, will serve as the Common Reading to introduce and raise questions surrounding this theme for the Class of 2016 and the broader campus community. 

The notion of food broadly encompasses the great variety of ways in which food is an explicit and implicit part of people’s lives.  In obvious ways, people tend to see food in terms of their own consumption.  Beyond this, however, people are a part of a complex system from field to table that touches upon environmental, social, and cultural issues.  Fast Food Nation is an investigative journalist’s report on the fast food industry you don’t see when you order a Big Mac at the counter.  In an engaging series of narratives about the industries and people behind fast food, Eric Schlosser looks at everything from the birth and explosive growth of the fast food industry in America to the plight of the fast food worker, from the way potatoes are grown in America to the way we chemically flavor french fries, and from the way we raise and slaughter cattle to the way harmful bacteria end up in the meat.  During the 2012-2013 academic year, the arc of Schlosser’s book will prompt instructors and students to think about food beyond what they see on their plate, and to appreciate hunger as a condition of the mind and soul as well as the body.

These are among the many questions that this Annual Ethics Theme and Common Reading beckon us to ponder:

  • What is on our plates and where did it come from?
  • How is food grown, processed, and distributed – and at what cost to the environment?
  • Who grows, processes, and sells that food – and what working conditions accompany that harvest, production, and sale?
  • Who speaks out for interests of migrant workers?
  • Why is it that millions of people in the United States suffer from hunger and malnutrition while the nation faces a problem with obesity?
  • What role can mindful consumption play in reducing world hunger?
  • Will it be possible to feed, sustainably, the planet’s projected population of nine billion people by 2050?
  • What role, if any, should genetically modified foods play in the effort to feed the world?
  • What are concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), and how might they be run more humanely?
  • What is the impact of government farm subsidies on food production and consumption in the United States?
  • How is the contemporary Western diet causing such a wide range of health complications?
  • What effects, cultural and otherwise, do dietary shifts that come with the arrival of fast food have on members of the rising middle classes in developing countries?
  • Is it possible for scientists who design Roundup and other herbicides to “stay ahead” of mutating plants?
  • What calorie sources are we genetically, and culturally, programmed to crave?
  • How should athletes in certain sports prepare for competition by adjusting their diets?
  • Apart from nutritional sustenance, what are the things that people hunger for at various stages in their lives?
  • How do we feed people’s souls?
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