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044: Ethics of Food with Dr. Kurush Dalal (Day 12)

Updated: Aug 25, 2022

Thick duty-free plastic bags kept under the mattress for special guests. Bright coloured flip flops, and jelly-like packets floating in the ocean.

A roughly hewn wooden crate filled with Thumbs Up glass bottles in the kitchen. A pyramid of shiny 250 ml Pepsi PET bottles waiting to be consumed.

The Sri Lankan government declares a switch to organic agriculture overnight. Farmers produce 30% less yield, and the national tea industry takes a hit.

A Dutch chocolate company stops imports from child-labour employing cocoa farms in Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast). Those same under-age children begin work in illegal mines to support their fatherless families.

On the last day of the Food and Politics course, Dr. Kurush Dalal, an archeologist, historian and food anthropologist, asked the tough question “Whose ethics is it anyway?” Who decides the ethical framework? Who benefits from this framework and who suffers under it? Do the “well-fed” have the privilege to dictate moral codes for the “hungry”?

He made visible the complex matrix around food ethics which includes players from the government (cheese made from raw milk prohibited in the EU), corporations (with lobbies more powerful than most countries), religious groups (beef ban in India), agricultural scientists (B.T. cotton grown from high-yield, non-regenerative seeds), and consumers (cloth bags, plant based protein). He suggested that the entire territory of food ethics (agriculture, manufacture, labour, service, retail, transportation, food labels and certificates, and waste management) needs to be accounted for in policy changes. And these policies must be implemented in a phased manner by governmental bodies.

Dalal stressed that as a global society, food ethics has largely moved away from ‘individual products’ being taboo (haram/terefah/forbidden) to a closer examination of the ‘processes’ behind them. Hence the emphasis on ‘organically-certified’ farming, natural and regenerative agriculture, living wages, fair-trade etc. These processes are not as straightforward as they seem, and hence food ethics merits a closer exploration.

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