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Susan Squier on the Responsibility of Consumers

by SKeira Apr 15, 2015
During the recent Paterno Fellows Town Hall Forum on food ethics panelist Susan Squier (Brill Professor of Women's Studies, English, and Science Technology and Society at Penn State University Park) posed an important question:
Do we have a responsibility to explore who benefits and who is harmed by the food we eat, and if so what should we do?
She elaborated on this question in the following way:
This question is about as basic as it can get: human beings have to eat, and ethical human beings desire at best to benefit, and at worst to avoid harming, others.  Just thinking about this issue forces us to confront our own ignorance, and since I am a feminist, the tool I rely on here is the "epistemology of ignorance": the process of exploring "the practices that account for not knowing, that is, for our lack of knowledge about a phenomenon or, in some cases, an account of the practices that resulted in a group unlearning what was once a realm of knowledge."(Tuana 2004). I certainly confronted my own ignorance about food production when I decided to write a book about the practice I'd been engaged in for a number of years: raising chickens, for their eggs and meat.  Here are some of the questions explored in the process: 

  • How are the chickens we eat farmed?  By whom?
  • How are chickens made into what we get in the supermarket?  By whom?
  • Who does the work at each stage of the process?
  • Is that work beneficial or harmful?  How? Why?
  • To whom? The workers? The chickens? The people who eat the chickens?
  • Why didn't I know any of this? Who profited, and who was harmed, by my ignorance?
  • Are there alternatives to that farming practice? 
  • What are the benefits of those alternatives? What are the harms, and to whom? 
  • Should we be involved in those alternatives?
  • For whom?
  • How can we be involved?
How would you answer Prof. Squier's question?