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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Food System and a Role for Ecological Ethics


This paper analyzes the contemporary food system using ethical philosophy, in hopes that this may help elucidate how to move forward in righting a system that leaves a wake of hunger, obesity, and environmental degradation.  I have chosen to focus on the work of Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess, concentrating on his ecological ethics because of the way in which agriculture represents the meeting of, and blurring between, the human and the natural realms.  My research first involved a survey of popular and academic works on the contemporary food system, focusing on broader analyses of political-economy, human and environmental impacts, and historical development.  My research also involved a survey of Arne Naess’s work, from his earlier writings and articulation of Deep Ecology in the middle of the 20th century until his death in 2009.  My research found that the main obstacle to building a more just food system is not a lack of ethical clarity, but rather the structural barriers of the capitalist economic system.  I argue that ecological ethics must be a catalyst for systematic change, and that the possibility of the immediate realization of an ecological ethos is quite limited within the current political-economic system.

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