Eating ethics: are some foods morally bad for you?

Saturday 29 October, 1.30pm until 3.00pm, Café

From the growing popularity of farmers’ markets and organic food, to campaigns to stop the building of a ‘super dairy’ or prevent the sale and consumption of foie gras, our choice of food is increasingly regarded as an ethical question. What we consume has become a signifier of who we are and what we stand for. Are you the kind of person who lets your children eat junk food? Do you eat organic, local produce that’s GM-free – or do you follow the herd and shop at Tesco? Are you the sort of person who would let an animal suffer so you can eat foie gras or cheap chicken – or do you prefer your food ‘cruelty free’? Do you eat endangered fish like bluefin tuna and cod, or do you choose the sustainable alternatives? The ethical food choices we face can seem bewildering. Are certain foods actually damaging the planet? Rachendra Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, thinks we should all go vegetarian to save the planet, arguing that producing meat has a bigger impact on global temperatures than transport – and he has high-profile celebrity backing from the likes of Sir Paul McCartney and Gwyneth Paltrow.

With the stakes apparently so high, what we eat is no longer a question of personal preference, but increasingly political. While some ‘ethical eaters’ boycott McDonald’s, battery hens and veal, critics object to what they see as moralising, or simple snobbery, about food. This ‘fight over food’ perhaps also reflects the difficulty we have in understanding where our food comes from, and our estrangement from its production. Ethical consumption suggests what we eat or don’t eat can be a force for good. But when we become so obsessed with conscientious consumption, what happens to the simple pleasure of eating?

Listen to session audio:


Felicity Cloake
journalist and food writer; columnist, Guardian

Matthew Fort
freelance food writer and TV presenter; judge, The Great British Menu

Kirk Leech
interim director, European Animal Research Campaign Centre; government affairs, Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry

Alex Renton
award-winning journalist; writer on food and food policy; author, Planet Carnivore: how cheap meat costs the earth

Rob Lyons
science and technology director, Academy of Ideas; convenor, IoI Economy Forum

Produced by
Kirk Leech interim director, European Animal Research Campaign Centre; government affairs, Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry
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