As I think about today’s Philosophy of Food class, I’d like to share a recent blog post from the Australia Blog Daily Life. The post isn’t about food or the philosophy of food. It’s about the wider role of academic philosophy in political life. You can read the original blog post here.

What I’d like to draw your attention to is the idea of philosophy as transformative, and how the author emphasizes that it’s not just intellectually transformative, but life transforming. In the middle of the post, the author says that “philosophy is training for leadership,” which may be true but really isn’t the key point. At the end, however, he nails it: “Philosophy is about including you, not excluding you. It attempts to overcome difference. It untangles knots and delivers us closer to each other.” This is the connection to leadership — self-leadership, self-control, and self-exploration. Ultimately, philosophy challenges ourselves, our pre-conceptions and pre-convictions about ourselves, our lives, and our worlds.

And ultimately, that is what our course on the philosophy of food is about, and what students in our course should be doing and expecting. It’s is about bringing the precision, close examination, and critical analysis to one of the most fundamental activities of our lives and of the human condition — how and why we eat. It is our hope that this course will be as transformative as the blog author’s course in Hegel was. I think students in our course should open themselves up to such a transformative experience: they should expect it; they should prepare for it; and they should welcome it.

Today, we will begin to challenge their conceptions of the modern, industrial food system and their dependence on it. We’ll be watching the movie Fast Food Nation, and although the issue of the slaughter of cattle is ever present in the movie (as all of us who’ve seen it already are well aware), the topic we want to emphasize is not that, but the social and personal costs of industrialized foods in general (including vegetarian and vegan processed foods). From our perspective, the big issues are the costs born by the workers and consumers (not adequately portrayed in the movie, unfortunately) by the system that generates our fast foods. Should we resist such things; do we want to resist such things; and can we resist such things? Those are the questions we’ll be challenging the students in the course with over the next few days.

–Benjamin Hill