Food Ethics

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 18 December 2016

Food Ethics

The ethics surrounding food hasn’t always been a major contributor in ones decision on what to eat. In the beginning, we would have to physically hunt or gather our meals in order to survive. The choice of what was for breakfast, lunch or dinner solely relied on what was accessible to us. The ethical questions would only come as a result of a modernized food system, where other options for food became accessible and convenient. In the essay Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace, the author describes lobsters in New England in the 1800’s as having an “Unbelievable abundance (238).

These crustaceous creatures were all over the shores of New England. Wallace writes about the Boston seashore as, “being littered with lobsters after hard storms… (238). ” Yet, Lobster were considered “low-class” and as Wallace states, “…eaten only by the poor and institutionalized (237). ” It was considered unethical to even feed the poor lobster “…more than once a week (238). ” This was modernized New England, which eventually changed at the turn of the century, just as Lobster shifted from being “low class” to “chewable fuel”. As the world became more industrialized, food became centralized.

The shift from small businesses to large companies started to occur. The lobster industry changed as well during these times as Wallace describes, “Maine’s earliest lobster industry was based around a dozen such seaside canneries in the 1840’s, from which lobster was shipped as far away as California… (238). ” Just like the lobster industry in New England, many companies in the United States started to fulfill the demands for products to gain a profit. Ethics became secondary to making money. Corporations would produce so much that they would drive the price down, increasing its affordability and making it more accessible and widely consumed.

Eventually, large companies would become so efficient and affordable, that small businesses like farms and mom and pop shops found it increasingly difficult to compete. Many small companies and farms had to either adjust their products to niche markets or work as a subsidiary to these corporations. Along with mass production of products, was a new manufacturing process. Foods started to become streamlined in such a way that they would grow in the harshest of environments. These new forms of industrialization lead to the creation of processed foods.

The companies found ways to maximize profits while making the costs as affordable as possible for the consumer. The supermarkets offered everything one could think of, packaged and ready to eat. Although the prices for most foods were at an all-time low, hunger and malnutrition still existed. There were also issues arising regarding consumer trust in food safety, and the effects on the human body. As a result of these cost efficient products, people in the United States started to become increasingly heavy, leading to an obesity epidemic and a major health crisis.

The ethical issues involving economical behavior of consumers and agricultural ethics are at question. Is it unethical for corporations to mass produce unhealthy foods, knowing the adverse side effects on the environment and growing rates of obesity in the United States? The trend seemed to lead to, the more affordable the food, the more we consume. Is this a personal problem or are the companies to blame for offering these products to us? We must first look into the goals of a business and if ethics play any part in the obligations to supply our population with affordable food.

The very basic objective to any business is to create a profit. This is what allows companies to continue function and thrive. The best way for this to happen is to make something that is sellable and where there is room for profit. In the food industry corn is not only a commodity it’s a common ingredient in almost every product on our shelves. According to Michael Pollan, in his book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, It is also used to feed most of the animals that become meats in our supermarkets. To say that corn is widely used would be an understatement.

It seemed that we couldn’t produce enough of this plant. Not only is our climate great for growing it, we also were able to store it very effectively. The boom in corn production can be traced back to the nineteen seventies. Since those same years, “…American’s average daily intake of calories has jumped by more than 10 percent (Pollan 102). ” The reason for this increased caloric intake leaves many to question whether people are eating more because it’s less expensive or people are eating the same amounts but the food contains more calories.

Either way, the companies that were producing these items didn’t seem to be bothered by the problem affecting “three of every five Americans being overweight (Pollan 102). ” The truth is that the companies are driven by profits. The Americans who consume these foods create the profits. Additionally, a lot of these companies are traded on the public market and have a responsibility to their shareholders, who subsequently are the same ones buying these foods. So the companies were being driven to make profits for the people invested.

Two of the biggest soda companies in the world, Coca-Cola and Pepsi, have followed these trends as well. As Pollen says, “By 1984, Coca-Cola and Pepsi had switched over entirely from sugar to high-fructose corn syrup. Why? Because HFCS was a few cents cheaper than sugar (thanks in part to tariffs on imported sugarcane secured by corn refiners) and consumers didn’t seem to notice the substitution (104). ”It’s as if these corn companies were monopolizing the industry, trying to turn-over as much product as possible.

The increased production would eventually lead to increased portion sizes. Instead of lowering the prices of products, companies started charging a small upcharge for additional food and soda. This practice of continually turning over product has become so dangerous that now, “…in 2000 the number of people suffering from [overnutrition]-a billion- had surpassed the number suffering from malnutrition-800 million (Pollan 102). ” There is clearly something broken with this system. These companies are catering to our consumer appetites and enabling us to act accordingly.

You would think that the prices of the food being low would solve our food problems globally, but the answer is unfortunately no. These companies are in places where there is both a market for high sales and where they can grow these crops. Most of the areas that are facing malnutrition are in remote areas of the world. These areas wouldn’t make the companies money and therefor there isn’t an incentive for them. On the other hand, America is of course one of the largest consumer countries in the world. Our desire for food is unsurpassed by most counties.

There is no question that Americans have a sweet tooth. It is part of the human makeup to consume high energy foods and is linked to natural selection. According to Pollan, “Add fat or sugar to anything and it’s going to taste better on the tongue of an animal that natural selection has wired to seek out energy-dense foods (107). ” Pollan also suggests that, “natural selection predisposed us to the taste of sugar and fat (its texture as well as taste) because sugars and fats offer the most energy (which is what a calorie is) per bite (106).

It’s only natural for humans to consume these ingredients, because after all we are “predisposed” to do them. This of course doesn’t mean that we are completely free of blame for our overindulging. We are all individuals and are responsible in formulating our own decisions. The companies which provide us with these calorie-packed foods and beverages also list their nutritional information on the packages. If we were to eat any packaged foods, we would be responsible for understanding the health risks involved.

The real problem is whether we have the mental capacity to control our physical urges. There is extensive research that suggests, “…people {presented} with large portions will eat up to 30 percent more (Pollan 106). ” At one time in our history, this might have served us. Now, there is no question that our bodies are becoming poisoned from this. Knowing all of this information, companies continue doing their best to offer these calorie-packed foods. This is evident in just about every corner store and fast food restaurant.

The ethics concerning public safety and effects on the human body are clear. Companies are only concerned over their ability to raise a profit. Their aim to create profits from the overconsumption of high energy foods has been effective in making Americans unhealthy, while continuing to turn over profits. While the companies are certainly a large part of the problem, the consumers are also to blame. They have enabled this overproduction by continuing to consume the same products making them sick.

Additionally, people seem to be ignoring their recommended caloric intakes and are choosing to eat more and more. Companies can only be blamed for producing products with limited nutritional value. They are ethically absolved of their responsibilities if they inform their consumers properly. Their goal is to make profits, not worry whether their consumers are eating the recommended serving size or not. The best way to take control of this issue would to be to consume less and choose healthier options as individuals. The more aware we become as individuals, the healthier we will become as a society.

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  • University/College: University of Arkansas System

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 18 December 2016

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