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Don Thompson

Don Thompson

Professor Emeritus of Food Science

Senior Fellow, Rock Ethics Institute

407 Rodney A. Erikson Food Science Bld
University Park , PA 16802
Email:
Office Phone: (814) 867-6650

Education:

  1. University of Illinois, Ph.D., Food Science, 1984
  2. University of Illinois, M.S., Food Science, 1980
  3. Haverford College, B.A., English (pre-med), 1970

Biography:

  • March ’12 - present: Senior Fellow, Rock Ethics Institute, Penn State University
  • Jan ‘12 - present: Professor Emeritus of Food Science, Penn State University
  • July '99 - present: Professor of Food Science
  • Jan '94 - June '00: Head, Department of Food Science
  • July '90 - June '99: Associate Professor of Food Science, Penn State University
  • July '84 - June '90: Assistant Professor of Food Science, Penn State University


Research Interests:

Bioethics.  Bioethics is often understood in a narrow way as medical bioethics.  Bioethics at Penn State is much broader.  To the extent that food has been medicalized, the relationship between food and health fits squarely within the concept of medical ethics.  Beyond its effects on individual and population health, food pertains to bioethics in many other ways, as it is a medium for individuals and groups to express and prioritize their values.

Ethics of Food and Health. This particular domain of bioethics is of special interest.  It includes a critical examination of the design, conduct, and reporting of research in this area, as well as the use of this research in support of health recommendations to individuals and populations, whether by government or commercial entities.

Food Choice.  Food is often selected on the basis of health benefits.  I am interested in how people understand the relationship between food and health, health being considered in the broad sense as defined by the World Health Organization.  I am also interested more broadly in applications of Western philosophical thought to meanings associated with food.

Functional Foods.  I explore the research base for the efficacy, effectiveness, and safety of functional foods; the relationship between scientific understanding and marketing strategies for foods, asking in effect whether and to what extent a putatively functional food can be said to be truly functional.  I am also interested in the relationship between scientific understanding and marketing strategies for foods containing putative bioactive components.  I am asking questions about ethical aspects of marketing food by reference to scientific evidence.

Starch Chemistry and Nutrition. (Although this research pertains to research no longer ongoing since retirement at the end of 2011, it remains an area of expertise.) Starch molecular structure and physical behavior; novel starch from unique maize genotypes; enzyme-resistant starch, and starch digestion; nutritional effects of food processing treatments, with emphasis on starch. (Click here for a brief "background and overview" concerning starch research.) 

Don Thompson works in the area of ethics as related to food.  He is interested in our understandings about the relationship between food and health, especially as these understandings are influenced by public relations and advertising in the marketing of food, food ingredients, and agricultural products.  He takes a critical view about how research on food and health is at times performed, interpreted, and presented, particularly by those with an interest in the outcome. He has contributed to a collaborative research project led by Jonathan Marks that is jointly funded by the Rock Ethics Institute and the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics (through its Lab on Institutional Corruption), exploring the ethical and policy implications of industry sponsorship of health-related food research, nutrition education, and practice. Also with Jonathan Marks he co-organized a workshop sponsored by the Rock Ethics Institute on “The Ethical Challenges and Policy Implications of Industry-Funded Health-Related Food Research” (Penn State, March 2008), a follow-up symposium entitled “Industry Sponsorship and Health-Related Food Research Institutional Integrity, Ethical Challenges, and Policy Implications” (Penn State, March 2012); and the Rock Ethics Institute’s Food Ethics Lecture Series 2011–12.


Teaching Experience

"Food, Values, and Health," FD SC 280H / PHIL 280H. (honors course, intermediate undergraduate level, 3 cr, general education in humanities (GH)). Taught yearly from 2004 to 2012.

"Carbohydrate Hydrocolloids," FD SC 510 (graduate level, 3 cr). Taught in spring of odd-numbered years since 1985. Final iteration taught in spring of 2009.

"Perspectives on Dietary Fiber," FD SC 597 (graduate level, 2 cr).  Taught in spring of 2011 (in lieu of FD SC 510).

"Physiology of Nutrition," FD SC 406 (undergraduate/graduate level, 3 cr). Taught annually through 2011. Required for food science undergraduate majors.

"Food Facts and Fads," FDSC 105 (undergraduate level, 3 cr, general education in health (GHA)). Taught in 2004

"Introductory Food Science," FD SC 200 (undergraduate, required of food science majors).(Taught in late 1980's)

"Topics in Nutrition," NUTRN 551 (graduate level, 1 cr). Last taught as "Factors Influencing Starch Digestion."

Selected Recent Publications

Thompson, D.B.  2015.  Evaluating public health effectiveness of alcohol label warnings. American Journal of Bioethics. (in press)

Mayes, C. and D.B. Thompson. 2014.  Is nutritional advocacy morally indigestible?  A critical analysis of the scientific and ethical implications of 'healthy' food choice discourse in liberal societies.  Public Health Ethics.  7(2): 158-169.

Thompson, D.B.  2014.  Direct-to-consumer advertising of health-related goods and services.  American Journal of Bioethics.14(3); 53-54.

Thompson, D.B. and B.L. MacDonald.  2013.  What food is good for you?  Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics. 26(1): 137-163.

Marks, J.H. and D.B. Thompson.  2011.  Shifting the focus:  conflict of interest and the food industry.  American Journal of Bioethics.  11(1): 44-46.

Thompson, D.B.  2011.  Natural Food and the Pastoral:  A Sentimental Notion?  Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics.  24(2): 165-194.

Selected Recent Presentations

Thompson, D.B.  2009.  "Ethical Implications of Marketing Considerations in 'Functional Foods' Research and Development."  Presented as part of the M.E. John Seminar Series in the Penn State Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology, October 23.  

Thompson, D.B.  2009.  "Natural Food:  Second Nature and the Pastoral Design."  Presented at the Joint Annual Meeting of the Agriculture, Food and Human Values Society (AFHVS) and the Association for the Study of Food and Society (ASFS).  May 30.

Marks, J. and Thompson, D.B.  2009.  "Ethical Implications of Research on Food and Health." Presented by D.T. at the Joint Annual Meeting of the Agriculture, Food and Human Values Society (AFHVS) and the Association for the Study of Food and Society (ASFS).  May 29.

Thompson, D.B.  2009.  "The Natural and Natural Food."  Presented as part of the Penn State Science Technology and Society Brown Bag Series, February 19.

Thompson, D.B.  2008.  "Natural Health from Natural Carbohydrate:  Implications for Food Scientists."    Presented to CAFT, at Rutgers University.  October 29.

Thompson, D.B.  2008. Altered alpha-amylase digestion by physical modification of dispersed maize starch.  Presented at the symposium "Starch Utilization, Modification and New Technology," part of the American Chemical Society National Meeting in Philadelphia on August 20.

Thompson, D.B.  2008.  "Natural Health from Natural Carbohydrate:  Implications for Food Scientists."  Presented to the Carbohydrate Division at the Division luncheon at the 2008 IFT Annual Meeting.  June 30.

Thompson, D.B.  2008.  "Some Issues of Science and Ethics Concerning Functional Foods Research."  Presented at a Penn State Workshop titled “Industry-Sponsored Research on Food and Health:  Ethical Challenges and Policy Implications,” co-organized by J. Marks and D.B. Thompson.   March 27.