Ethics of Food Course Offers "Food for Thought"
The Popular Honors Class Explores Timely Topics in Food and Eating
"The Ethics of Food," a popular course in the Honors College curriculum, offers enrolled students a smart combination of analytical thought, off-campus ventures and, of course, a variety of food. Honors students must take particular classes to meet requirements for the Honors College, and while this class is desirable based on its topic alone, it also serves to fulfill requirements for ethics as well as civic engagement.
The class is more than just a tasty gimmick to pique student's interest in the study of ethics. The civic engagement portion of the class means that students must apply the theories and concepts they learn from books and lectures to action in the real world. Taking classes like this recently became a requirement for honors students and the Ethics of Food class provides a logical means of incorporating community-based learning into the course load. There is an abundance of farms and apple orchards in the area for the class to tap into. "Because there are organizations like food pantries and animal sanctuaries, it became very easy for me to make it a community-based learning class," explained Professor Joseph Campisi who teaches the class.
That community focus could well be a reason why Ethics of Food has consistently been a popular class. In addition to the local excursions, students also learn about ethical theories similar to how one would in a standard ethics class. They read about philosophers and discuss their theories, before taking these concepts and applying them out in the food industry.
With these theories in mind, Professor Campisi guides students in studying the ethics and morality of different food-related issues in the world today. They attempt to answer questions surrounding relevant, yet unanswered topics such as: Is it ethical to eat animals? Is it ethical to genetically modify food? Should we be eating organic?
Then comes the truly unique aspect of the course--even unique to the study of food. Students go from thinking and talking about these issues to really experiencing them first hand. They head out of the classroom and into local food-based companies to see the implications of food ethics for themselves. These companies include The Lunchbox, the Catskill Animal Sanctuary, the Poughkeepsie Farm Project the Volunteer Migrant and Rural Ministry. The Lunchbox is a soup kitchen involved with the class that provides meals to the hungry and the Catskill Animal Sanctuary is a rescue shelter for farm animals that have been abandoned and abused. The Poughkeepsie Farm Project is a farm near Vassar College and the Volunteer Migrant and Rural Ministry works with farmers and farm workers, advocating for the rights of migrant workers.
Usually, representatives from these companies come into the classroom to explain what they do and how students can get involved as part of their civic engagement requirement. Students can take their pick of any of the four organizations involved in the program and, in this way, are able to tailor their study of food and ethics to their own personal interests and career paths. If a specific job or cause particularly speaks to them, students can spend the rest of the semester exploring that interest.
"They'll take some of what we talk about, in terms of ethics or morality, and use that to inform whatever discipline or even just their everyday life," Professor Campisi hopes.
The students in this class come from all different majors, so, within the topic of Food Ethics, they can still find a way to make it relevant to their own discipline. If they are interested in social justice, students can choose to work with migrant workers; if they want to explore animal welfare, they can work for the animal sanctuary; or if they have a green thumb they may enjoy the Poughkeepsie Farm Project.
Of course, the class would not live up to student expectations without a few snacks! Professor Campisi said that he tries to spice up the class even further by bringing in food based on the topic that they are discussing. For example, if they are talking about organic foods he might bring in organic apples, or non-GMO popcorn if they are discussing genetic modification.
"I try to get the students to see how what we are talking about on the paper reflects a tangible, practical thing like the very food on the plate," said Campisi
Written by Sarah Gabrielli '18
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