PHIL 1440: Ethics of Eating

This is my favorite class at Cornell.


In short, this class teaches students about the world’s food systems with a focus on the United State.  Not only have I learned a lot in this class, but I have learned things that I will remember for the rest of my life (unlike less riveting information like the year Beethoven’s 8th symphony was finished, which I learned in this class). This course teaches students about organic food, factory farming, corn syrup, inhumane/humane slaughtering practices, animal rights and welfare, vegetarianism, and everything in-between.

This class demands one of two things: 1. That you defend the way you eat, or 2. that you change it.

And in early February I stopped eating meat because of what I’ve read, watched, and learned in this class.  But more on this later!

Lets take a look at the specifics of the class:

The books:


All of our readings are interesting and I could see myself reading these books in my free time.  The readings and talks cover topics like:

Why is eating meat more popular among males than females?

Why don’t more people eat dog meat if there is a worldwide food shortage?

Why do people overeat at movie theaters? 

The movies:

We also watch cool documentaries, like Food, Inc.:


And Our Daily Bread:


The professors:

The dynamic duo

Andrew Chignell:



and Will Starr:



are also arguably my favorite professors.  They’re incredibly well-spoken and always ask thought-provoking questions (a result of being philosophy professors!)

The guest speakers:

Jonathan Balcome: a vegan author and ethologist (studies animal behavior), Mr. Balcome spoke to our class about animal pleasure and human relationship to animals.  He is currently writing a book called The Inner Lives of Fishes about the sentience of aquatic animals. 

Brian Wansink: Wansink, a Cornell professor, does research on consumer behavior and human eating habits.  Also known as the “Sherlock Holmes” of food, Wansink has made fascinating discoveries about the way we eat.


Among other things, Wansink has made the following contributions to our food system:

  • Helped McDonald’s add apple slices to the Happy Meal in place of french fries
  • Discovered that people pour 28% more into taller glasses than shorter glasses (hint: use taller glasses from now on!)
  • Discovered that putting fruit in a well-lit area in school lunchrooms causes children to eat more fruit
  • Performed the research that sparked the creation of 100 calorie packs
  • And hundreds of other neat things, all outlined in his great book, Mindless Eating.

The Field Trip

Yesterday, our class went on a field trip to the Cargill “meat processing plant” (slaughterhouse) in Wyalusing, PA.   This plant is one of the two biggest plants on the east coast of the United States.  Because it was two hours away, it became a day-long adventure, leaving at 7 a.m. to get to the plant in time for a full tour. I signed a waiver to say I wouldn’t talk about anything that I saw on the trip, so unfortunately I can’t write about my experience here.  I wish I could tell you about everything I saw and everything I learned there, but I would probably get sued for that.

It happened to Oprah  when on her show, she began talking about Mad Cow Disease, and said, “It has just stopped me cold from eating another burger!”  The day after she said this, meat consumption in the United State dropped by 10% and continued to drop over the next few weeks to a 10 year low.  This caused Texas cattle ranchers to file a $10.3 million dollar lawsuit. Oprah won the case after investing a lot of time and money into it, even moving her show to film in Texas while she was in court.

Going back to my slaughterhouse trip, all I can say is that yes, I saw every part of the process…and I mean every part.   Surprisingly, it didn’t really gross me out too much.  Going on this trip was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done in my time here at Cornell.  Here’s a photo of our entire class, outfitted in hair nets, beard nets, ear plugs, lab coats and hard hats.


Comment with any questions you have! I’ll try to answer them as best I can!

2 thoughts on “PHIL 1440: Ethics of Eating

  1. I was a philosophy major and my courses were in aesthetics,philosophy of political thought…nice that there is an ever expanding view of the concomitants of philosophy.

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