Key Texts

The sections below indicate texts useful in providing an overview of the range of ethical, political and social issues surrounding food. Although we recommend reading beyond the texts listed here, we consider the general overviews, historical perspectives, and the reference works to provide a clear and accessible entry into the food ethics literature.
by rjp218 Apr 22, 2015

General Overviews

In recent years an enormous number of news articles, documentaries and popular books have emerged that seek to guide consumers and the public towards ethical and political food choices. Beyond consumer choice, several important works have also sought to draw attention to the systemic and global forces that shape the way food is produced, distributed and consumed. In addition, a number of edited works aimed at a general academic audience have emerged that cover topics such as aesthetics, biotechnology, environment, sustainability, poverty and global justice. Below are a collection of texts that provide an overview of the scope of ethical issues raised in the production, distribution and consumption of food.

Allhoff, Fritz, and David Monroe, eds. Food & Philosophy:EatDrinkand Be Merry: Blackwell Publishing, 2007.

Allhoff and Monroe edit an accessible collection of essays aimed at the interested reader. Covering topics such as aesthetics, psychology and ethics this collection provides a playful introduction to both food and philosophy.

Gottwald, Franz-Theo, Hans Werner Ingensiep, and Marc Meinhardt, eds. Food Ethics. New York: Springer, 2010.

The essays in this collection address the complexities of the global industrialized food system, and contrasts of famine and overabundance, ethics of factory farming and mixed potential of biotechnology. This volume provides an international perspective and policy-relevant analysis of food practices.

Mepham, Ben, ed. Food Ethics.  New York: Routledge, 1996.

Mepham edits one of the first volumes on food ethics. While over 15 years old, this text provides a window into the recent past of food ethics, demonstrating the pace with which some issues have transformed, while others have remained stable.

Patel, Rajeev Charles. Stuffed and StarvedThe Hidden Battle for the World Food System. Brooklyn, NY: Melville House, 2007.

In this monograph Patel attempts to provide a systemic analysis of the global food system and examine the historical and political contingencies that have lead to a majority of the world starving while a minority has too much food. An accessible text for students with academic rigor applicable for researchers.

Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore'DilemmaNatural History of FourMeals.  New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

This enormously popular book evidences the growing public interest in food. Pollan focuses on the industrial food system, arguing that marketing practices and government subsidies to corn producers has resulted in a glut of cheap foods that are devoid of nutritional value, deceive consumers and push out small scale farmers.

Roberts, Paul. The End of Food.  New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2008.

Similar to Pollan, Roberts writes a journalistic account of the hidden contradictions in the industrial food system that produces cheap foods but also has the potential to harm us through food-borne illness, low nutritional content and an overreliance on oil.

Singer, Peter, and Jim Mason. The Ethics of What We Eat.  Melbourne, VIC: Text Publishing Company, 2006.

In this text Singer and Mason move beyond Singer’s groundbreaking arguments for vegetarianism (Singer, 2002), to address a diversity contemporary issues ranging from dumpster diving to raising children as vegans. Employing Singer’s customary utilitarian lens, this text provides a provocative analysis of the ethics of food relevant for students and researchers.

Historical Perspective

The history of food plays a significant role in framing contemporary debates over the value, ethics and politics of food. A historical perspective serves to broaden the horizon of what is considered ‘normal’, ‘pleasurable’, or ‘healthy’ in food practices. Further, history and food production are intimately entwined, such that food provide a unique window into political and social history. The below texts serve as primers for further research.

Coveney, John. FoodMorals and MeaningThe Pleasure and Anxiety of Eating.  New York: Routledge, 2000.

Coveney begins with an analysis of Christian views on food and morality, and then turning to the Enlightenment period and the growth of scientific understanding of nutrition. Coveney provides valuable insights into the way these historical shifts alter the morality and meaning of food.

Higman, Barry W. How Food Made History, Malden, MA: John Wiley & Sons, 2011.

Higman provides an expansive overview of food production, distribution, preparation, and consumption over the past 5000 years. This text provides brief analysis suitable for students requiring a big picture perspective on food and history.

Thompson, Paul B. The Agrarian VisionSustainability and Environmental Ethics.  Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2010.

Thompson draws on the agrarian tradition to discuss contemporary ethics of sustainable food production, environmental ethics and political philosophy. This is a philosophically rigorous text that is meticulously researched and authoritatively argued. Useful for graduate students and researchers.

Zwart, Hub. “A Short History of Food Ethics.” Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics Vol. 12, no. 2 (2000): 113-126.

Zwart briefly overviews Greek, Jewish and Christian values surrounding food practices and how these traditions provide the background for contemporary debates over food labeling and consumer autonomy. Useful for students as a course reading.


Reference Works and Anthologies

In comparison to medical ethics there are few reference works or anthologies in food ethics. However, a handful of significant collections have been recently published. These collections bring together influential arguments, researchers and ideas relating to the ethics of food production, individual and population health, and the cultural significance of food.

Thompson, Paul B., and David M. Kaplan. (Eds) Encyclopedia of Food and Agricultural Ethics. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer, (forthcoming).

Thompson and Kaplan (forthcoming) are currently editing a multi-volume reference work the covers areas as diverse as cannibalism, ethnic cuisines, war and food, and entries on the perspectives of key philosophers and social theorists.

Kuhse, Helga, and Peter Singer. BioethicsAn Anthology. 2nd ed.  Malden, M.A.: Balckwell Publishing, 2006.

Kuhse and Singer edit a collection of texts central to the bioethics literature. While there are significant differences in the focus and scope of bioethics, these texts provide useful analytic tools that overlap with the ethics of food.

Pence, Gregory E., ed. The Ethics of FoodReader for the Twenty-First Century. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002.

In this volume Pence edits arguably the most comprehensive and global anthology on food ethics, with texts from leading philosophers, food writers, farmers, activists and scientists.

Pojman, Paul, ed. Food Ethics. Boston, M.A.: Cengage Learning, 2011.

In this short collection, Pojman brings together key essays and book sections on food from the Western philosophical tradition. A concise and manageable introduction into some of the key texts and ideas shaping the debates around the ethics of food.